© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. Theory predicts that females should invest least in mate searching when young, but increase their effort with age if they remain unmated. Few studies have examined variation in female sexual signalling. Female Dawson's burrowing bees (Amegilla dawsoni) search for males by signalling their receptivity on emergence, but many leave the emergence site unmated and must attract males at feeding sites. Female bees prevented from mating on emergence had more extreme versions of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles that make them attractive to males, lending empirical evidence of adaptive shifts in female mating effort.