PerspectiveEvolution

Smells Like Queen Since the Cretaceous

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Science  17 Jan 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6168, pp. 254-255
DOI: 10.1126/science.1249285

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Summary

The hallmark of insect societies is reproductive division of labor. In the presence of a fertile queen, workers do not reproduce. It has long been recognized that chemical substances emitted by queens induce infertility in workers (1). However, the few queen pheromones that have been characterized appeared to be chemically unrelated (13). On page 287 of this issue, Van Oystaeyen et al. (4) show that a class of structurally similar queen-specific hydrocarbons suppresses worker reproduction in ants, wasps, and bumblebees. A comparative analysis indicates that these long-chained saturated hydrocarbons were associated with fertility in solitary ancestors, providing fresh insights into the evolution of queen pheromones and eusociality.