Nestmate recognition in social wasps: manipulation of hydrocarbon profiles induces aggression in the European hornet
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The influence of individual cuticular hydrocarbons on nestmate recognition in the European hornet, Vespa crabro L., was investigated. We observed the behavioural response of workers towards differently treated dead conspecifics in a bioassay. Dummies were extracted with dichloromethane and extracts were spiked with microgram amounts of synthetic hydrocarbons naturally occurring on the cuticle of V. crabro. These modified extracts were reapplied to extracted workers that were subsequently tested in the bioassay. Non-spiked nestmate dummies (negative control) and untreated non-nestmate dummies (positive control) were tested in control experiments. The addition of only heneicosane or a mixture of heneicosane, tricosane, and (Z)-9-tricosene to the extracts led to a significant increase of agonistic behaviour in workers leaving the nest for foraging flights. Returning workers reacted much less aggressively than those leaving. This is one of the first behavioural proofs that manipulation of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles can be perceived by a social insect species. The results support the hypothesis that colony-specific cuticular hydrocarbon profiles are involved in the phenomenon of nestmate recognition among social insects.
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