Cuticular hydrocarbon profiles indicate reproductive status in the termite Zootermopsis nevadensis
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Reproductive division of labor in social insects is accompanied by the reliable communication of individual fertility status. A central question is whether there exists a general mechanism underlying this communication system across species. The best way to produce reliable information is through physiological markers tightly associated with reproductive status. Cuticular hydrocarbons exhibit this link to individual fertility in several species of ants, bees, and wasps, and we present the first evidence for such a system in a non-Hymenopteran eusocial species. In the termite Zootermopsis nevadensis, we identified four polyunsaturated alkenes, which only occur in significant amounts on reproductives that are actively producing gametes. These compounds are either absent or only occur in small amounts in soldiers, worker-like larvae, and secondary reproductives with inactive gonads. In contrast to Hymenopteran social insects, both sexes express the reproductive peaks. The reproductive-specific hydrocarbons may promote tending behavior by worker-like larvae or act as a primer pheromone, inhibiting the reproductive development of immature conspecifics.