Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 38, Issue 10, pp 1289–1297 | Cite as

Chemical Composition of Metapleural Gland Secretions of Fungus-Growing and Non-fungus-growing Ants

  • Alexsandro S. Vieira
  • E. David Morgan
  • Falko P. Drijfhout
  • Maria I. Camargo-Mathias


The metapleural gland is exclusive to ants, and unusual among exocrine glands in having no mechanism for closure and retention of secretion. As yet, no clear conclusion has been reached as to the function of metapleural gland secretion. Metapleural gland secretions were investigated for fungus-growing ants representing the derived attines Trachymyrmex fuscus, Atta laevigata, and Acromyrmex coronatus, the basal attines Apterostigma pilosum and Mycetarotes parallelus, and non-fungus-growing ants of the tribes Ectatommini (Ectatomma brunneum) and Myrmicini (Pogonomyrmex naegeli). Our results showed that the secretions of leaf-cutting ants (A. laevigata and A. coronatus) and the derived attine, T. fuscus, contain a greater variety and larger quantities of volatile compounds than those of myrmicine and ectatommine ants. The most abundant compounds found in the metapleural glands of A. laevigata and A. coronatus were hydroxyacids, and phenylacetic acid (only in A. laevigata). Indole was present in all groups examined, while skatole was found in large quantities only in attines. Ketones and aldehydes are present in the secretion of some attines. Esters are present in the metapleural gland secretion of all species examined, although mainly in A. laevigata, A. coronatus, and T. fuscus. Compared with basal attines and non-fungus-growing ants, the metapleural glands of leaf-cutting ants produce more acidic compounds that may have an antibiotic or antifungal function.


Antibiotic Antifungal Exocrine gland Gas chromatography Hymenoptera Formicidae 



The authors thank the Center for Study of Social Insects (Centro de Estudos de Insetos Sociais – CEIS – UNESP/SP/Brazil – São Paulo State University) for assistance in the collection and identification of specimens used in this study. IAV thanks Keele University for study support, and FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation) for financial support (grant 2008/54301-3) and CNPq (researcher grant).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexsandro S. Vieira
    • 1
    • 2
  • E. David Morgan
    • 2
  • Falko P. Drijfhout
    • 2
  • Maria I. Camargo-Mathias
    • 1
  1. 1.UNESP—Universidade Estadual PaulistaRio ClaroBrazil
  2. 2.Chemical Ecology Group, School of Physical and Geographical SciencesKeele UniversityStaffordshireUK

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