Insect queens sterilize workers with similar chemical

A queen wasp returns to her nest. She and other queen ants and bees release similar chemicals to keep their workers sterile.

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Queen ants, bees and wasps all release similar chemicals to quash the reproduction of their workers.

When exposed to chemicals called saturated hydrocarbons that mimick the queen’s scent, the worker insects’ ovaries degraded. In the absence of the queen’s scent, the workers’ reproductive organs developed quickly. A closer look at the compounds suggests that insects may have been using them to signal fertility for roughly 150 million years, researchers report January 16 in Science

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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