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Journal Article

Is the postpharyngeal gland of a solitary digger wasp homologous to ants? Evidence from chemistry and physiology


Kaltenpoth,  Martin
Max Planck Research Group Insect Symbiosis, MPI for Chemical Ecology, Max Planck Society;

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Strohm, E., Kaltenpoth, M., & Herzner, G. (2010). Is the postpharyngeal gland of a solitary digger wasp homologous to ants? Evidence from chemistry and physiology. Insectes Sociaux, 57(3), 285-291. doi:10.1007/s00040-010-0083-4.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-000F-A1B5-6
The postpharyngeal gland (PPG) was thought to be restricted to ants where it serves a crucial function in the generation of the colony odour. Recently, head glands that closely resemble the PPG of ants were discovered in females of a solitary digger wasp, the European beewolf. The function of this gland necessarily differs from ants: beewolf females apply the secretion of their PPG onto the bodies of paralysed honeybees that serve as larval provisions in order to delay fungus growth. Since ants and digger wasps are not closely related, the occurrence of this gland in these two taxa might either be due to convergent evolution or it is a homologous organ inherited from a common ancestor. Here we test the hypothesis that the PPGs of both taxa are homologous by comparing characteristics of chemical composition and physiology of the PPG of beewolves and ants. Based on reported characteristics of the PPG content of ants, we tested three predictions that were all met. First, the PPG of beewolves contained mainly long-chain hydrocarbons and very few compounds with functional groups. Second, the composition of hydrocarbons in the beewolf PPG was similar to that of the hemolymph. Taking the structure of the gland epithelium and the huge requirements of beewolf females for gland secretion into account this result suggests that the content of the PPG is also sequestered from the hemolymph in beewolves. Third, the chemical composition of the PPG and the cuticle was similar in beewolves since cuticular hydrocarbons derive either from the hemolymph or the PPG. Taking the considerable morphological similarities into account, our results support the hypothesis of a homologous origin of the PPG in beewolves and ants.