Queen and king recognition in the subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes: Evidence for royal recognition pheromones.
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Royal recognition is a central feature of insect societies, allowing them to maintain the reproductive division of labor and regulate colony demography. Queen recognition has been broadly demonstrated and queen recognition pheromones have been identified in social hymenopterans, and in one termite species. Here we describe behaviors that are elicited in workers and soldiers by neotenic queens and kings of the subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes, and demonstrate the chemical basis for the behavior. Workers and soldiers readily perform a lateral or longitudinal shaking behavior upon antennal contact with queens and kings. When royal cuticular chemicals are transferred to live workers or inert glass dummies, they elicit antennation and shaking in a dose-dependent manner. The striking response to reproductives and their cuticular extracts suggests that royal-specific cuticular compounds act as recognition pheromones and that shaking behavior is a clear and measurable queen and king recognition response in this termite species.