Chemical signals in the stingless bee, Frieseomelitta varia, indicate caste, gender, age, and reproductive status

J Chem Ecol. 2009 Oct;35(10):1172-80. doi: 10.1007/s10886-009-9691-8. Epub 2009 Oct 9.


Chemical compounds on the cuticle are a rich source of information used during interactions among social insects. Despite the multitude of studies on these substances and their function in ants, wasps, and honeybees, little is known about this subject in stingless bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae, Meliponini). We studied the chemical composition of the cuticle of the stingless bee, Frieseomelitta varia, by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), to investigate potential chemical variation among castes, gender, age, and reproductive status. We found differences in the cuticular hydrocarbon composition among workers, males, and queens, recording both qualitative and quantitative differences among individuals of different ages and gender. The cuticle of physogastric queens presented a chemical profile that was distinct from all other groups in the analysis, with high relative abundances of alkenes and alkadienes with 27, 29, and 31 carbon atoms. We discuss the possibility that these compounds signal a queen's presence to the colony, thereby initiating all vital worker-queen interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Bees / chemistry*
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Discriminant Analysis
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Reproduction
  • Sex*
  • Skin / chemistry
  • Social Dominance*


  • Hydrocarbons