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Behav Ecol. 2009 Sep;20(5):1007-1014. Epub 2009 Jul 2.

Queen reproductive state modulates pheromone production and queen-worker interactions in honeybees.

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1
Department of Genetics, North Carolina State University, 3510 Gardner Hall, Box 7614, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.

Abstract

The mandibular glands of queen honeybees produce a pheromone that modulates many aspects of worker honeybee physiology and behavior and is critical for colony social organization. The exact chemical blend produced by the queen differs between virgin and mated, laying queens. Here, we investigate the role of mating and reproductive state on queen pheromone production and worker responses. Virgin queens, naturally mated queens, and queens instrumentally inseminated with either semen or saline were collected 2 days after mating or insemination. Naturally mated queens had the most activated ovaries and the most distinct chemical profile in their mandibular glands. Instrumentally inseminated queens were intermediate between virgins and naturally mated queens for both ovary activation and chemical profiles. There were no significant differences between semen- and saline-inseminated queens. Workers were preferentially attracted to the mandibular gland extracts from queens with significantly more activated ovaries. These studies suggest that the queen pheromone blend is modulated by the reproductive status of the queens, and workers can detect these subtle differences and are more responsive to queens with higher reproductive potential. Furthermore, it appears as if insemination substance does not strongly affect physiological characteristics of honeybee queens 2 days after insemination, suggesting that the insemination process or volume is responsible for stimulating these early postmating changes in honeybee queens.

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