New Bumblebee Study Contradicts Hypothesis That Single Group of Queen Pheromones Controls Reproduction Across Wide Group of Social Insects

Chemical signaling among social insects, such as bees, ants, and wasps, is more complex than previously thought, according to researchers at Penn State and Tel Aviv University. These scientists recently published data conteradicting earlier data that a single group of chemicals controls reproduction across numerous species. "While the hypothesis that many social insect lineages all use the same chemical signals -- known as pheromones -- was fascinating, we were skeptical that such complex behaviors could be regulated by a simple, common mechanism across such very different species," said Etya Amsalem, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in entomology at Penn State. "It seems more likely that pheromones evolved uniquely in different species, as these species experienced different environments and different social pressures." The new results were published in an open-access article in the October 22, 2015 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The article is titled “A Conserved Class of Queen Pheromones? Re-Evaluating the Evidence in Bumblebees (Bombus impatiens).” According to Dr. Amsalem, in January 2014, a study was published suggesting that the chemical signals produced by queens from a variety of species, including bumblebees, ants, and wasps, are very similar. The paper posited that this common group of chemicals is responsible for inhibiting reproduction in workers across these different species. "One of the most fascinating behaviors in social insects is that most of the females in a colony (the workers) do not lay their own eggs, and instead help rear the eggs produced by their mother (the queen)," said Dr. Amsalem.
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