The fluorescent alkaloid norharmane has been isolated from Reticulitermes termites and characterized by 1H NMR, UV/Vis, mass spectrometry, and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Microcoil 1H NMR spectroscopy allowed spectra to be obtained from mass-limited material, facilitating the identification of norharmane, which is the major component in termite fluorescence under UV light. Norharmane was uniformly present at ≈1 ng/mg in Reticulitermes tibialis Banks workers, soldiers, and alates; Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar) workers; and Reticulitermes virginicus (Banks) workers. Some termites were observed to fluoresce with less intensity, but no differences in norharmane levels were detected. Mechanisms that may account for fluorescent differences are discussed as are the possible ecological implications of norharmane in termites.
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Vol. 98 • No. 5