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Functional morphology of the postpharyngeal gland of queens and workers of the ant Monomorium pharaonis (L.)

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Eelen D., Børgesen L.W. and Billen J. 2006. Functional morphology of the postpharyngeal gland of queens and workers of the ant Monomorium pharaonis (L.). —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 87: 101–111

The postpharyngeal gland (PPG) is unique to ants and is the largest exocrine gland in their head. In queens of the pharaoh's ant, Monomorium pharaonis, the gland contains approximately 15 finger-like epithelial extensions on each side and opens dorsolaterally in the posterior pharynx. In these ants the PPG morphology varies considerably according to age and mating status. The epithelial thickness increases with age and reaches a maximum at 3 weeks in both virgin and mated queens. A considerable expansion of the lumen diameter occurs in both groups between 4 and 7 days. Virgin queens release their secretion into the gland lumen from an age of 7 days, whereas mated queens accumulate large amounts of secretion in their epithelium. The increasing epithelial thickness, together with the increasing lumen diameter, the presence of numerous inclusions in the epithelium and the release of secretion, are indicative for increasing gland activity. The gland ultrastructure indicates involvement in lipid metabolism and de novo synthesis of lipids. The PPG of workers consists of 12 finger-like tubes at each side. There is a significant difference in epithelial thickness between nurses and repletes and between nurses and foragers. We suggest the PPG serves different purposes in pharaoh's ants: it is likely that the PPG of workers and virgin queens is used to feed larvae. In mated queens the gland probably plays a role in providing the queen with nutritious oils for egg production. The PPG may also function in signalling species nestmate and caste identity, as well as in the reproductive capacity of the queens.

Keywords: Monomorium pharaonis; exocrine glands; histology; postpharyngeal gland; ultrastructure

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Laboratory of Entomology, K.U. Leuven, Naamsestraat 59, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium; 2: Institute of Zoology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication date: 2006-04-01

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