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In Oecologia

Insect colours assist in body protection, signalling, and physiological adaptations. Colours also convey multiple channels of information. These channels are valuable for species identification, distinguishing individual quality, and revealing ecological or evolutionary aspects of animals' life. During recent years, the emerging interest in colour research has been raised in social hymenopterans such as ants, wasps, and bees. These insects provide important ecosystem services and many of those are model research organisms. Here we review benefits that various colour types give to social insects, summarize practical applications, and highlight further directions. Ants might use colours principally for camouflage, however the evolutionary function of colour in ants needs more attention; in case of melanin colouration there is evidence for its interrelation with thermoregulation and pathogen resistance. Colours in wasps and bees have confirmed linkages to thermoregulation, which is increasingly important in face of global climate change. Besides wasps use colours for various types of signalling. Colour variations of well chemically defended social insects are the mimetic model for unprotected organisms. Despite recent progress in molecular identification of species, colour variations are still widely in use for species identification. Therefore, further studies on variability is encouraged. Being closely interconnected with physiological and biochemical processes, insect colouration is a great source for finding new ecological indicators and biomarkers. Due to novel digital imaging techniques, software, and artificial intelligence there are emerging possibilities for new advances in this topic. Further colour research in social insects should consider specific features of sociality.

Badejo Oluwatobi, Skaldina Oksana, Gilev Aleksei, Sorvari Jouni


Aposematism, Camouflage, Colouration, Hymenoptera, Thermal melanism