Temporal changes in cuticular hydrocarbons during worker-reproductive transition in the Eastern Subterranean Termite (Blattodea: Rhinotermitidae)

Qian Sun, Kenneth F. Haynes, Xuguo Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In social insects, the reproductive division of labor is often regulated through communication using cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) that indicate caste identity and reproductive status. In many termites, workers retain reproductive potential and can differentiate into ergatoid reproductives, and this process is mediated by the presence of reproductives in sex- and age-specific patterns. However, little is known about the variation of CHCs profiles during this transition. In this study, we analyzed the CHC profiles of workers in comparison with ergatoids of different age, sex, and mating status in the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar) (Blattodea: Rhinotermitidae), one of the most widely distributed termite species in the world. Both female and male ergatoids were characterized by the presence of tricosane and a group of long-chain and methyl-branched hydrocarbons (chain length ≥ 33), which were found in significantly lower quantities from workers. In addition, CHC profiles differed between newly differentiated (3-4 d) and old (20-25 d) ergatoids, but no difference in CHC signatures was found between females and males based on identified compounds. Heneicosane, a previously reported royal recognition pheromone in R. flavipes, was not detected in ergatoids examined in this study. The results of caste- and age-dependent variations suggest that CHCs may act as releaser pheromones that mediate caste recognition and age-related interactions between reproductives, but analytical results of identified compounds in this study do not support CHCs as sex-specific primer pheromones that regulate nestmate fertility. Royal pheromones in termites may involve complex hydrocarbon blends and non-hydrocarbon substances that await further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-653
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of the Entomological Society of America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s) 2020.


  • Caste differentiation
  • Cuticular hydrocarbon
  • Reticulitermes flavipes
  • Termite
  • Worker-reproductive transition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science


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