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Insect signalling

Components of giant hornet alarm pheromone


Up to 74 people die each year in Japan after being stung by Hymenopteran insects, with hornets (Vespa spp.) being among the worst offenders1. Here we identify a volatile, multi-component alarm pheromone in the venom of the world's largest hornet, V. mandarinia, and use field bioassays to show that 2-pentanol is its principal active component, and that 3-methyl-1-butanol and 1-methylbutyl 3-methylbutanoate act synergistically with it. The compound 1-methylbutyl 3-methylbutanoate, which may also be a foraging-site-marking pheromone, elicits a strong defensive reaction in the sympatric prey hornet V. simillima xanthoptera. As these chemicals are sometimes used in food flavourings and as fragrances in cosmetics2,3, it is possible that they might provoke a seemingly unwarranted hornet attack on humans.

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Figure 1: Bioassay to evaluate alarm-pheromone activity of samples.
Figure 2: Response by guard hornets (Vespa mandarinia) to impregnated filter paper placed at the entrance to a feral giant-hornet colony containing about 200 workers.


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Correspondence to Masato Ono.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ono, M., Terabe, H., Hori, H. et al. Components of giant hornet alarm pheromone. Nature 424, 637–638 (2003).

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