Main content area

Is the Salivary Gland Associated with Honey Bee Recognition Compounds in Worker Honey Bees (Apis mellifera)?

Martin, Stephen J., Correia-Oliveira, Maria E., Shemilt, Sue, Drijfhout, Falko P.
Journal of chemical ecology 2018 v.44 no.7-8 pp. 650-657
Apis mellifera, Formicidae, adults, alkanes, alkenes, head, hypopharyngeal glands, isomers, mandibular glands, mouth, nestmate recognition, oleic acid, social insects, temperature, wax esters, worker honey bees
Cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) function as recognition compounds with the best evidence coming from social insects such as ants and honey bees. The major exocrine gland involved in hydrocarbon storage in ants is the post-pharyngeal gland (PPG) in the head. It is still not clearly understood where CHCs are stored in the honey bee. The aim of this study was to investigate the hydrocarbons and esters found in five major worker honey bee (Apis mellifera) exocrine glands, at three different developmental stages (newly emerged, nurse, and forager) using a high temperature GC analysis. We found the hypopharyngeal gland contained no hydrocarbons nor esters, and the thoracic salivary and mandibular glands only contained trace amounts of n-alkanes. However, the cephalic salivary gland (CSG) contained the greatest number and highest quantity of hydrocarbons relative to the five other glands with many of the hydrocarbons also found in the Dufour’s gland, but at much lower levels. We discovered a series of oleic acid wax esters that lay beyond the detection of standard GC columns. As a bee’s activities changed, as it ages, the types of compounds detected in the CSG also changed. For example, newly emerged bees have predominately C₁₉-C₂₃n-alkanes, alkenes and methyl-branched compounds, whereas the nurses’ CSG had predominately C₃₁:₁ and C₃₃:₁ alkene isomers, which are replaced by a series of oleic acid wax esters in foragers. These changes in the CSG were mirrored by corresponding changes in the adults’ CHCs profile. This indicates that the CSG may have a parallel function to the PPG found in ants acting as a major storage gland of CHCs. As the CSG duct opens into the buccal cavity the hydrocarbons can be worked into the comb wax and could help explain the role of comb wax in nestmate recognition experiments.