Postmating changes in cuticular chemistry and visual appearance in Ectatomma tuberculatum queens (Formicidae: Ectatomminae)
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In the ectatommine ant Ectatomma tuberculatum, the visual appearance of queens changes after mating and ovarian development in that their cuticle turns from shiny to matte. In this study, we have shown that this change seems to be caused by 15-fold accumulation of hydrocarbons, in particular heptacosane that covers the multiple grooves present on the cuticular surface creating a wax coat in mated fully fertile queens. Analyses of the scrapped wax revealed that it is composed largely of heptacosane. Peak-by-peak comparison of the cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) composition of mated, virgin with developed ovaries and virgin with nondeveloped ovaries revealed significant differences between the queen groups. Although the total amount of the CHC of virgin queens with developed ovaries was not higher than virgin queens that did not have developed ovaries, the composition showed a shift toward the mated queen. While it is possible that the large accumulation of hydrocarbons may give extra physical and chemical protection to queens, we propose that the switch in the relative abundance of heptacosane and nonacosane and perhaps of other components is indicative of being a mating and fertility cue. This is the first report in social insects where external chemical changes are accompanied by changes in visual appearance.
KeywordsCuticular hydrocarbons Fertility cue Wax coat Ant
We are grateful to A. Viana, G. Costa, and J. Santos for their assistance during the fieldwork and M. C. Malherbe and C.-C. Lin for technical assistance. We also thank Naomi Paz for editing the English and C. Alaux and referees for valuable comments on the manuscript. R. R. Hora received a financial support from CAPES, Brazil, Project CAPES/COFECUB no. 244/98-II, and J. Delabie acknowledges his research grant from CNPq, Brazil. This study was conducted under Brazil legal requirements.
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