Submitted to: Journal of Insect Physiology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/18/2005
Publication Date: 3/20/2006
Citation: Gilley, D.C., DeGrandi-Hoffman, G., Hooper, J.E. Volatile compounds produced by live European honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) queens. J. Insect. Physiol. 52: 520-527. 2006.
Interpretive Summary: A honeybee colony is composed of thousands of adult and immature bees and occupies an area that can grow to several cubic meters. Within the mass of individuals is usually a single queen. For social cohesiveness, it is essential for the queen to communicate her presence throughout the colony. Current models emphasize that physical contact between the queen and workers is required to elicit recognition. However, a model relying solely upon physical contact to communicate the queen's presence does not support the observation that queen loss is rapidly perceived throughout a hive or swarm. A volatile component to the queen pheromone blend could explain the observed behavior. Here we report the identification of a compound from honey bees that is both volatile and queen specific. We show that E-B-ocimene is produced dynamically by queens as a function of egg laying. Greater amounts of the compound are secreted in laying queens compared to non-laying queens or virgins. E-B-ocimene also is found in plants particularly in pollen. Thus, the interpretation of E-B-ocimene by workers could be context dependent: in the context of foraging, E-B-ocimene might cue presence and location of a pollen source; while in the next, E-B-ocimene conveys the presence of a queen and her reproductive state.
Technical Abstract: We describe the identification of a long suspected volatile component of honey bee queen pheromone. We show that E-B-ocimene is produced dynamically as a function of egg laying. Actively laying queens produce more E-B-ocimene than if they have been caged and are unable to lay or if they are virgins. Queens, regardless of laying status, secrete more E-B-ocimene than workers. E-B-ocimene is also ubiquitous in the plant kingdom. Thus, the interpretation of E-B-ocimene as a chemical signal to workers could be context dependent: in the context of foraging, E-B-ocimene might cue the presence and location of a pollen source; in the context of the next, E-B-ocimene conveys the presence of a queen and her reproductive state.