Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 189, Issue 10, pp 769–775

Do social parasitic bumblebees use chemical weapons? (Hymenoptera, Apidae)


  • B. O. Zimma
    • Department of Experimental EcologyUniversity of Ulm
    • Department of Experimental EcologyUniversity of Ulm
  • J. Tengö
    • Ecological Research Station of Uppsala University
  • F. Ibarra
    • Institute of Organic ChemistryUniversity of Hamburg
  • C. Schulz
    • Institute of Organic ChemistryUniversity of Hamburg
  • W. Francke
    • Institute of Organic ChemistryUniversity of Hamburg
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00359-003-0451-x

Cite this article as:
Zimma, B.O., Ayasse, M., Tengö, J. et al. J Comp Physiol A (2003) 189: 769. doi:10.1007/s00359-003-0451-x


The bumblebee Bombus (Psithyrus) norvegicus Sp.-Schn. is an obligate social parasite of B. (Pyrobombus) hypnorum L. Behavioural observations indicated that nest-invading B. norvegicus females may use allomones to defend themselves against attacking host workers. However, so far no defensive chemicals used by social parasitic bumblebee females have been identified. We analysed volatile constituents of the cuticular lipid profile of B. norvegicus females. Furthermore, we performed electrophysiological studies and behavioural experiments in order to identify possible chemical weapons. Coupled gas chromatography-electroantennography showed 15 compounds to trigger responses in antennae of the host workers. Using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, the main compound among the cuticular volatiles of B. norvegicus females was found to be dodecyl acetate. A corresponding mixture of synthetic volatiles as well as pure dodecyl acetate showed a strong repellent effect on starved host workers. B. norvegicus females use dodecyl acetate to repel attacking B. hypnorum workers during nest usurpation and subsequently during colony development. Dodecyl acetate is the first repellent allomone identified in bumblebees.


Bombus norvegicusChemical weaponDodecyl acetateRepellent allomoneSocial parasitic bumblebees

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003