An olfactory shift is associated with male perfume differentiation and species divergence in orchid bees

Curr Biol. 2008 Dec 9;18(23):1844-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.10.049.


Saltational changes may underlie the diversification of pheromone communication systems in insects, which are normally under stabilizing selection favoring high specificity in signals and signal perception. In orchid bees (Euglossini), the production of male signals depends on the sense of smell: males collect complex blends of volatiles (perfumes) from their environment, which are later emitted as pheromone analogs at mating sites. We analyzed the behavioral and antennal response to perfume components in two male morphotypes of Euglossa cf. viridissima from Mexico, which differ in the number of mandibular teeth. Tridentate males collected 2-hydroxy-6-nona-1,3-dienyl-benzaldehyde (HNDB) as the dominant component of their perfume. In bidentate males, blends were broadly similar but lacked HNDB. Population genetic analysis revealed that tri- and bidentate males belong to two reproductively isolated lineages. Electroantennogram tests (EAG and GC-EAD) showed substantially lower antennal responses to HNDB in bidentate versus tridentate males, revealing for the first time a mechanism by which closely related species acquire different chemical compounds from their habitat. The component-specific differences in perfume perception and collection in males of two sibling species are in agreement with a saltational, olfaction-driven mode of signal perfume evolution. However, the response of females to the diverged signals remains unknown.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication
  • Animals
  • Bees / anatomy & histology
  • Bees / classification*
  • Bees / genetics
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Benzaldehydes / analysis
  • Benzaldehydes / chemistry
  • Male
  • Mexico
  • Orchidaceae
  • Perfume / chemistry*
  • Pheromones / chemistry
  • Pheromones / physiology
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Species Specificity


  • Benzaldehydes
  • Perfume
  • Pheromones
  • benzaldehyde