Reproductive division of labor in insect societies is regulated through multiple concurrent mechanisms, primarily chemical and behavioral. Here, we examined if the Dufour’s gland secretion in the primitively eusocial bumble bee Bombus impatiens signals information about caste, social condition, and reproductive status. We chemically analyzed Dufour’s gland contents across castes, age groups, social and reproductive conditions, and examined worker behavioral and antennal responses to gland extracts. We found that workers and queens each possess caste-specific compounds in their Dufour’s glands. Queens and gynes differed from workers based on the presence of diterpene compounds which were absent in workers, whereas four esters were exclusive to workers. These esters, as well as the total amounts of hydrocarbons in the gland, provided a separation between castes and also between fertile and sterile workers. Olfactometer bioassays demonstrated attraction of workers to Dufour’s gland extracts that did not represent a reproductive conflict, while electroantennogram recordings showed higher overall antennal sensitivity in queenless workers. Our results demonstrate that compounds in the Dufour’s gland act as caste- and physiology-specific signals and are used by workers to discriminate between workers of different social and reproductive status.
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