Water-loss rates increase after mating in queens of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus (Formicidae: Myrmicinae), then increase again after the mated queens excavate an incipient nest. We determined the mechanistic basis for these increased water-loss rates by examining cuticular permeability, respiratory water loss, metabolic rates, and cuticular hydrocarbons for queens at three stages in the mating sequence: unmated alate queens, newly mated dealate queens, and mated queens excavated from their incipient nest. Both total water loss and cuticular transpiration increased significantly following mating, with cuticular transpiration accounting for 97% of the increased water loss. In contrast, metabolic rate and respiratory water loss were unaffected by mating stage. The total quantity of cuticular hydrocarbons did not vary by mating stage. However, relative amounts of four of the most abundant cuticular hydrocarbons did vary by mating stage, as did quantities of n-alkanes and methylalkanes. The general pattern was that percent composition of n-alkanes decreased through the mating sequence, while percent composition of methylalkanes increased over the same sequence. We discuss three mechanisms that might cause these post-mating increases in cuticular permeability. Our data support the hypothesis that part of this increase results from soil particles abrading the cuticle during the process of nest excavation.