Distinct chemical blends produced by different reproductive castes in the subterranean termite Reticulitermes flavipes. Academic Article uri icon


  • The production of royal pheromones by reproductives (queens and kings) enables social insect colonies to allocate individuals into reproductive and non-reproductive roles. In many termite species, nestmates can develop into neotenics when the primary king or queen dies, which then inhibit the production of additional reproductives. This suggests that primary reproductives and neotenics produce royal pheromones. The cuticular hydrocarbon heneicosane was identified as a royal pheromone in Reticulitermes flavipes neotenics. Here, we investigated the presence of this and other cuticular hydrocarbons in primary reproductives and neotenics of this species, and the ontogeny of their production in primary reproductives. Our results revealed that heneicosane was produced by most neotenics, raising the question of whether reproductive status may trigger its production. Neotenics produced six additional cuticular hydrocarbons absent from workers and nymphs. Remarkably, heneicosane and four of these compounds were absent in primary reproductives, and the other two compounds were present in lower quantities. Neotenics therefore have a distinct 'royal' blend from primary reproductives, and potentially over-signal their reproductive status. Our results suggest that primary reproductives and neotenics may face different social pressures. Future studies of these pressures should provide a more complete understanding of the mechanisms underlying social regulation in termites.

published proceedings

  • Sci Rep

altmetric score

  • 4.2

author list (cited authors)

  • Eyer, P., Salin, J., Helms, A. M., & Vargo, E. L.

citation count

  • 4

complete list of authors

  • Eyer, Pierre-AndrĂ©||Salin, Jared||Helms, Anjel M||Vargo, Edward L

publication date

  • January 2021