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J Chem Ecol. 2009 Oct;35(10):1151-61. doi: 10.1007/s10886-009-9695-4. Epub 2009 Oct 29.

A review of ant cuticular hydrocarbons.

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  • 1Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.


We compared the published cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profiles of 78 ant species across 5 subfamilies. Almost 1,000 CHCs have been described for these species, composing 187 distinct homologous series and ten hydrocarbon groups. In descending order of occurrence were: n-alkanes > monomethylalkanes > dimethylalkanes > alkenes > dienes>> trimethylalkanes>> methylalkenes > methylalkadienes > trienes > tetramethylalkanes. Odd chain lengths and positions of methyl or double bonds at odd carbon numbers were far more numerous than even chain-length compounds or bond positions. Although each species possess its own unique pattern of CHCs, we found no association between CHC profile and phylogeny. The production of the biosynthetically complex compounds (e.g., methyl branched dienes) by the most primitive living ant suggests that the basic genetic architecture required to produce the rich diversity of CHCs was already present prior to their adaptive radiation. Unlike the ubiquitous n-alkanes and monomethylalkanes, there is a huge diversity of species-specific dimethylalkanes that makes them likely candidates for species and nest-mate discrimination signals.

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