, Volume 99, Issue 5, pp 421–425 | Cite as

Sensory reception of the primer pheromone ethyl oleate

  • Thomas S. Muenz
  • Alban Maisonnasse
  • Erika Plettner
  • Yves Le Conte
  • Wolfgang RösslerEmail author
Short Communication


Social work force distribution in honeybee colonies critically depends on subtle adjustments of an age-related polyethism. Pheromones play a crucial role in adjusting physiological and behavioral maturation of nurse bees to foragers. In addition to primer effects of brood pheromone and queen mandibular pheromone—both were shown to influence onset of foraging—direct worker–worker interactions influence adult behavioral maturation. These interactions were narrowed down to the primer pheromone ethyl oleate, which is present at high concentrations in foragers, almost absent in young bees and was shown to delay the onset of foraging. Based on chemical analyses, physiological recordings from the antenna (electroantennograms) and the antennal lobe (calcium imaging), and behavioral assays (associative conditioning of the proboscis extension response), we present evidence that ethyl oleate is most abundant on the cuticle, received by olfactory receptors on the antenna, processed in glomeruli of the antennal lobe, and learned in olfactory centers of the brain. The results are highly suggestive that the primer pheromone ethyl oleate is transmitted and perceived between individuals via olfaction at close range.


Apis mellifera Honeybee Olfactory glomeruli Primer pheromone Ethyl oleate 



We appreciate the help of Jan Kropf with electroantennography recordings, Dominique Schmitt with olfactory conditioning, Andreas Brandstaetter and Christoph Kleineidam for technical expertise with the dummy stimulation and lab view programs, Dominique Beslay for chemical analyses, and Dirk Ahrens for beekeeping support. Funding was provided by Human Frontier Science Program (RGP0042/2007).

Supplementary material

114_2012_909_MOESM1_ESM.doc (32 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas S. Muenz
    • 1
  • Alban Maisonnasse
    • 2
  • Erika Plettner
    • 3
  • Yves Le Conte
    • 2
  • Wolfgang Rössler
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology, BiozentrumUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.Abeilles et Environment, Laboratoire Biologie et Protection de l’AbeilleINRA UMR 406AvignonFrance
  3. 3.Department of ChemistrySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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