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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Mar 27;98(7):3926-8. Epub 2001 Mar 13.

A nonspecific fatty acid within the bumblebee mating plug prevents females from remating.

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Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule, Experimental Ecology ETH-Zentrum NW, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland.


The best mating strategy for males differs from that of females, because females gain from mating with several males (polyandry), but males gain from monopolizing the females. As a consequence, males have evolved a variety of methods, such as the transfer of inhibitory substances from their accessory glands, to ensure exclusive paternity of the female's offspring, generally with detrimental effects on female fitness. Inhibitory substances have been identified as peptides or other specific molecules. Unfortunately, in social insects male-mating traits are investigated only poorly, although male social insects might have the same fundamental influence on female-mating behavior as found in other species. A recently developed technique for the artificial insemination of bumblebee queens allowed us to investigate which chemical compound in the mating plug of male bumblebees, Bombus terrestris L., prevents females (queens) from further mating. Surprisingly, we found that the active substance is linoleic acid, a ubiquitous and rather unspecific fatty acid. Contrary to mating plugs in other insect species, the bumblebee mating plug is highly efficient and allows the males to determine queen-mating frequencies.

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