, Volume 95, Issue 1, pp 55–60 | Cite as

Postmating changes in cuticular chemistry and visual appearance in Ectatomma tuberculatum queens (Formicidae: Ectatomminae)

  • Riviane R. HoraEmail author
  • Armin Ionescu-Hirsh
  • Tovit Simon
  • Jacques Delabie
  • Jacques Robert
  • Dominique Fresneau
  • Abraham Hefetz
Short Communication


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.


Cuticular 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.


  1. Bourke AFG, Franks NR (1995) Social evolution in ants. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  2. Crozier RH, Pamilo P (1996) Evolution of social insect colonies. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  3. Cuvillier-Hot V, Cobb M, Malosse C, Peeters C (2001) Sex, age and ovarian activity affect cuticular hydrocarbons in Diacamma ceylonense, a queenless ant. J Insect Physiol 47:485–493PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dejean A, Lachaud J-P (1992) Growth-related changes in predation behavior in incipient colonies of the ponerine ant Ectatomma tuberculatum (Olivier). Insectes Soc 43:87–99Google Scholar
  5. D’Ettorre P, Heinze J, Schulz C, Francke W, Ayasse M (2004) Does she smell like a queen? Chemoreception of a cuticular hydrocarbon signal in the ant Pachycondyla inversa. J Exp Biol 207:1085–1091PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dietemann V, Peeters C, Liebig J, Thivet V, Hölldobler B (2003) Cuticular hydrocarbons mediate discrimination of reproductives and nonreproductives in the ant Myrmecia gulosa. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:10341–10346PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fletcher DJC, Ross KJ (1985) Regulation of reproduction in eusocial Hymenoptera. Ann Rev Entomol 30:319–343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gibbs AG (2002) Lipid melting and cuticular permeability: new insights into an old problem. J Insect Physiol 48:391–400PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hadley NF (1979) Wax secretion and color phases of the desert tenebrionid beetle Cryptoglossa verrucosa (LeConte). Science 203:367–369PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hannonen M, Sledge MF, Turillazzi S, Sundström L (2002) Queen reproduction, chemical signalling and worker behaviour in polygyne colonies of the ant Formica fusca. Anim Behav 64:477–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Heinze J, Stengl B, Sledge MF (2002) Worker rank, reproductive status and cuticular hydrocarbon signature in the ant, Pachycondyla cf. inversa. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 52:59–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hora RR, Vilela E, Fénéron R, Pezon A, Fresneau D, Delabie J (2005) Facultative polygyny in Ectatomma tuberculatum (Formiciade: Ectatomminae). Insectes Soc 52:194–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Johnson RA, Gibbs AG (2004) Effect of mating stage on water balance, cuticular hydrocarbons and metabolism in the desert harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus. J Insect Physiol 50:943–953PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Keller L, Nonacs P (1993) The role of pheromone in social insects: queen control or queen signal. Anim Behav 45:787–794CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Liebig J, Peeters C, Oldham NJ, Markstadter C, Hölldobler B (2000) Are variations in cuticular hydrocarbons of queens and workers a reliable signal of fertility in the ant Harpegnathos saltator. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97:4124–4131PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Moritz RFA, Simon UE, Crewe RM (2000) Pheromonal contest between honeybee workers (Apis mellifera capensis). Naturwissenschaften 87:395–397PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Peeters C, Ito F (2001) Colony dispersal and the evolution of queen morphology in social Hymenoptera. Annu Rev Entomol 46:601–630PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Peeters C, Monnin T, Malosse C (1999) Cuticular hydrocarbons correlated with reproductive status in a queenless ant. Proc R Soc Lond B 266:1323–1327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Tay WT, Crozier RH (2000) Nestmate interactions and egg-laying behavior in the queenless ponerine ant Rhytidoponera sp. 12. Insectes Soc 47:133–140Google Scholar
  20. Tentschert J, Bestmann HJ, Heinze J (2002) Cuticular compounds of workers and queens in two Leptothorax ant species - a comparison of results obtained by solvent extraction, solid sampling, and SPME. Chemoecology 12:15–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Zinck L, Jaisson P, Hora RR, Denis D, Poteaux C, Doums C (2007) The role of breeding system on ant ecological dominance: genetic analysis of Ectatomma tuberculatum. Behav Ecol 18:701–708CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Riviane R. Hora
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Armin Ionescu-Hirsh
    • 2
  • Tovit Simon
    • 2
  • Jacques Delabie
    • 3
  • Jacques Robert
    • 4
  • Dominique Fresneau
    • 1
  • Abraham Hefetz
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratoire d’Ethologie Expérimentale et Comparée (CNRS UMR 7153)Université Paris 13VilletaneuseFrance
  2. 2.Department of Zoology, George S. Wise Faculty of Life SciencesTel Aviv UniversityRamat AvivIsrael
  3. 3.U.P.A. Laboratório de Mirmecologia, Convênio UESC/CEPLACCentro de Pesquisas do CacauItabunaBrazil
  4. 4.Laboratoire de Physique des Lasers, (CNRS UMR no. 7538)Université Paris 13VilletaneuseFrance

Personalised recommendations