Acquisition of species-specific perfume blends: influence of habitat-dependent compound availability on odour choices of male orchid bees (Euglossa spp.)

Oecologia. 2013 Jun;172(2):417-25. doi: 10.1007/s00442-013-2620-0. Epub 2013 Feb 27.


Male orchid bees (Euglossini, Apidae, Hymenoptera) expose species-specific blends of volatile chemicals (perfume bouquets) during their courtship display. The perfumes are acquired by collecting fragrant substances from environmental sources, which are then accumulated in specialised hind leg pouches. To balance the perfume composition, the males need to find and collect the required substances in specific relative amounts while facing seasonal, local or habitat-dependent differences in compound availability. Experience-dependent choice of odours, i.e. 'learned avoidance' of recently collected components, has been proposed as the mechanism that mediates the accumulation of the stereotypical compound ratios. In the present study, we used the presence of certain compounds in male hind leg pouches as proxy for the respective local compound availability, and investigated whether differences in content are correlated with differences in chemical choice assays. Our results suggest that volatile availability differs between localities (n = 16) as well as habitats (n = 2; coastal vs. inland) across the Yucatán peninsula, Mexico, for both studied species. Male Euglossa dilemma showed a pronounced preference for benzyl benzoate and eugenol at locations where those compounds were rare in hind leg extracts, as predicted by the learned avoidance model. No equivalent correlations were found for Euglossa viridissima. This is the first study to combine chemical analyses of perfumes with bioassays of odour choice. It strengthens the view that negative feedback from collected odours modifies future chemical choice and helps males to acquire specific perfume blends.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Bees / anatomy & histology
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Benzoates / analysis
  • Ecosystem
  • Eugenol / analysis
  • Extremities / anatomy & histology
  • Male
  • Mexico
  • Odorants*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Species Specificity
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis*


  • Benzoates
  • Volatile Organic Compounds
  • Eugenol
  • benzyl benzoate