ABSTRACT

Division of labor is one of the most striking features in the evolution of eusociality. Juvenile hormone (JH) mediates reproductive status and aggression among nestmates in primitively eusocial Hymenoptera (species without morphologically distinct castes). In highly social species it has apparently lost its gonadotropic role and primarily regulates the division of labor in the worker caste. Polybia occidentalis, a Neotropical swarm-founding wasp, is an ideal model to understand how JH levels mirror social context and reproductive opportunities because of the absence of a clear morphological caste dimorphism. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that JH influences division of labor, ovary activation and cuticular hydrocarbon profiles of workers. Our observations confirmed that a JH analog (methoprene) and an inhibitor of JH biosynthesis (precocene) affected the cuticular chemical profile associated with age polyethism. Also, methoprene and precocene-I treatment of females influenced ovarian activation differently (individuals treated with methoprene expressed more activated ovaries while precocene treatment did not have significant effect). These results suggest that different hormonal levels induce a differential expression of cuticular chemicals associated with workers’ age polyethism, which may be essential for keeping the social cohesion among workers throughout their lives in the colony. Furthermore, JH is likely to play a gonadotropic role in P. occidentalis. JH has apparently undergone certain modifications in social Hymenoptera, presenting multifaceted functions in different species.

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