Chemical communication in mating behaviour of the slave-making ant Polyergus rufescens (Hymenoptera, Formicidae): 3-Ethyl-4-methylpentanol as a critical component of the queen sex pheromone

Insectes Sociaux (Impact Factor: 1.02). 04/2008; 55(2):137-143. DOI: 10.1007/s00040-008-0981-x


The aim of the research reported here was to determine whether 3-ethyl-4-methylpentanol, a minor but crucial component of
the sex pheromone of the North American slave-making ant species Polyergus breviceps, was also a component of the sex pheromone of the European congener Polyergus rufescens. Thus, the contents of mandibular glands of P. rufescens virgin queen were extracted and analysed. The main component of the extracts was methyl 6-methylsalicylate and 3-ethyl-4-methylpentanol
was identified as one of several minor components. Further analyses showed that the insects produce mainly the (R)-enantiomer of the alcohol. Males’ responses to various blends of methyl 6-methylsalicylate with the racemate or the pure
enantiomers of 3-ethyl-4- methylpentanol were tested in field behavioural bioassays. The data showed that blends of methyl
6- methylsalicylate and 3-ethyl-4-methylpentanol were strongly synergistic, with the most active ratios being biased toward
the first component. The addition of other minor components to the binary blend neither increased nor decreased responses
by males. Only the (R)-enantiomer of the alcohol was biologically active; its antipode did not inhibit attraction. The results are discussed in
terms of the evolution of signals, and are compared with the results previously obtained for the allopatric species Polyergus breviceps.

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