Are queen ants inhibited by their own pheromone? Regulation of productivity via negative feedback


Social organisms have evolved diverse and complex regulatory mechanisms that allow them to coordinate group-level functions. Signals and cues produced by other group members facilitate assessment of the group’s current state, allowing the receiver to adjust its behavior and physiology accordingly. Communication in social insects is predominantly chemical, and the mechanisms regulating processes such as reproductive division of labor are becoming increasingly well understood. Recently, a queen cuticular hydrocarbon (3-MeC31) that inhibits worker reproduction and aggression was isolated in the ant Lasius niger. Here, we find that this pheromone also has a weak negative effect on queen productivity and oogenesis. Because 3-MeC31 is present on both queens and their brood, we suggest that it is used by ants of both castes to adjust their fecundity to the amount of developing brood and the presence of other reproductives. The data suggest that queen pheromones have a multifaceted role in colony organization, allowing queens and workers alike to modulate their behavior and physiology in response to changes in colony composition.

Behavioral Ecology