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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Vander Meer, Robert - Bob
item Preston, Catherine

Submitted to: Encyclopedia of Entomology
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/15/2003
Publication Date: 4/30/2004
Citation: Vander Meer, R.K., Preston, C.A. 2004. Social insect pheromones. Encyclopedia of Entomology. 2004. v. 3. p. 2040-2046.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Social insects include the social Hymenoptera (Formicidae, ants; Apidae, bees; Vespidae, wasps) and Isoptera (Termitidae, termites). Social interactions are required for effective food retrieval, brood and queen care, regulation of caste (sexuals/workers), recognition and exclusion of non-nestmates, and other tasks. There are a number of sensory mechanisms available to social insects for communication, e.g. tactile and vibratory, however, chemical communication has evolved to a high level of complexity in these insects. There are advantages to the use of chemical signals as a means of information transfer. The chemicals are relatively small, volatile structures that are energetically inexpensive to biosynthesize and easy to release into the surrounding airspace. Intraspecific chemical signals are called pheromones of which there are two types: a) releaser pheromones that produce an immediate response in the recipient individual and b) primer pheromones that trigger the initiation of a complex physiological response that is not immediately observable. This paper reviews the glandular sources, elicited behaviors, and the chemistry of social insect pheromones. The main behavioral categories of releaser pheromones are recruitment, alarm, sex, and queen recognition. Lastly, we discuss what is currently known about social insect primer pheromones, that appear to function primarily to control reproductive competition.

Last Modified: 06/23/2017
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