Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 12, pp 1799–1807 | Cite as

Cuticular hydrocarbon profiles indicate reproductive status in the termite Zootermopsis nevadensis

Original Paper


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.


Fertility signal Queen pheromone Reproductive inhibition Social insects Isoptera Dampwood termite 



We thank the administrators of the Pebble Beach Company for permission to collect termites. We would also like to thank Kevin Haight for assisting with colony collection and maintenance, Thomas Schmitt for supplying a sample of 6,9-nonacosadiene, and Steven Pratt, Thomas Schmitt, and two referees for helpful comments on the manuscript. All experiments were conducted in accordance with American statutes governing research. The project was supported by the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, grant ARZR-2007-02202.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jürgen Liebig
    • 1
    • 3
  • Dorit Eliyahu
    • 1
  • Colin S. Brent
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.US Arid-Land Agricultural Research CenterMaricopaUSA
  3. 3.Center for Social Dynamics and ComplexityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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