Dufour's gland secretion of the queen honeybee (Apis mellifera): an egg discriminator pheromone or a queen signal?
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The role of Dufour's gland secretion as an egg discriminator pheromone was reevaluated by simultaneously exposing workers to two combs, one containing queen- or worker-laid eggs and the second containing treated or untreated worker-laid eggs. Treatments included extracts of Dufour's gland secretion as well as the synthetic esters that were identified in the secretion. Policing was clearly detected both in queenright and queenless colonies by the swift removal of worker, but not of queen eggs. However, neither the glandular secretion nor its synthetic ester constituents were able to protect worker-born eggs from policing. Treated worker eggs were removed significantly faster than queen eggs, and at the same rate as non-treated worker eggs. These results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the secretion serves as an egg-marking pheromone. Chemical analyses of the queen abdominal tips revealed the presence of Dufour's esters, indicating that the glandular secretion oozes out and spreads over the cuticle around the genital chamber. However, contamination while ovipositing may also explain the minute amounts of these esters that were detected on the egg surface. Dufour's gland caste-specific composition suggests that in queens it may constitute a signal that plays a role in queen-worker interactions. Attraction bioassays revealed that the queen secretion, but not that of workers, is very attractive to workers. When applied either on a glass slide or on another worker, a retinue formed around the "surrogate queen". We conclude that Dufour's gland secretion constitutes part of a complex queen signal that is the basis for the social integrity of the honeybee colony.
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