Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 44, Issue 9, pp 796–804 | Cite as

Chemical Communication and Reproduction Partitioning in Social Wasps

  • Francesca Romana DaniEmail author
  • Stefano Turillazzi
Review Article


Social wasps encompass species displaying diverse social organization regarding colony cycle, nest foundation, caste differences (from none to significant dimorphism) and number of reproductive queens. Current phylogenetic data suggests that sociality occured independently in the subfamily Stenogastrinae and in the Polistinae+Vespinae clade. In most species, including those with the simplest social organization, colony reproduction is monopolised by a single or few females. Since their nest mates can also develop ovaries and lay eggs, dominant females must somehow inhibit them from reproducing. Physical interactions in the form of open aggression or, usually, ritualised dominance by the fertile females contribute to fertility inhibition in several species, but it is unlikely to function in large colonies. In the latter case, reproduction within the colony is likely to be regulated through pheromones. Relatively little is known about these semiochemicals. Studies on all the three social wasp subfamilies, revealed that cuticular hydrocarbon components differ in abundance between egg-laying and not egg-laying females and that their composition depends on fertility status. In several species, females have been reported to manifestly react towards females with activated ovaries, but there is little evidence to support the hypothesis that fertile individuals are either recognized through their CHC composition, or that over-represented CHC constituents can inhibit fertility. Moreover, very little information exists on the possibility that exocrine glands release fertility signals or chemicals inhibiting fertility.


Reproduction partitioning Queen pheromone Oophagy Cuticular hydrocarbons Dufour gland Social parasites 



Authors are grateful to Dr. Christina Coster-Longmann for her help in revising the manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology DepartmentUniversity of FirenzeFirenzeItaly

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