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Arthropod Struct Dev. 2007 Mar;36(1):1-9. Epub 2006 Oct 24.

Morphology and ultrastructure of a bacteria cultivation organ: the antennal glands of female European beewolves, Philanthus triangulum (Hymenoptera, Crabronidae).

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Department of Zoology, University of Regensburg, D-93040 Regensburg, Germany; Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, Theodor-Boveri-Institute, University of Würzburg, D-97074 Würzburg, Germany.


Females of a solitary digger wasp, the European beewolf (Philanthus triangulum F.), cultivate symbiotic bacteria of the genus Streptomyces in specialized antennal glands. The streptomycetes are secreted in the subterranean brood cells and protect the offspring against mould fungi. We reconstructed the complex morphology of the antennal glands using 3D-visualization software, investigated the ultrastructure of the glands, and examine the role of the antennal glands as organs for the cultivation of the symbiotic bacteria. The bacteria are cultivated in five antennomeres within large reservoirs that consist of two slightly bent lobes. Each gland reservoir is bordered by a monolayered epithelium lined with a partially reinforced cuticle and when completely filled with bacteria it comprises about half of the antennomere's volume. The opening of the reservoir is covered by gelatinous appendage of the cuticle. The cells of the monolayered epithelium bordering each reservoir show basal invaginations, apical microvilli and numerous vesicles. Each reservoir is surrounded by approximately 400 class 3 gland units that are connected to the reservoir lumen through conducting canals. The class 3 gland cells contain numerous vesicles and a high density of rough endoplasmatic reticulum. In the reservoir lumen, large numbers of symbiotic Streptomyces bacteria are embedded in secretion droplets. Thus, the bacteria are apparently provided with large amounts of nutrients via the gland epithelium and the class 3 gland cell units.

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