The wasp that never cries wolf

Aug 20, 2012
European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) advertise the size of their poison glands to potential predators. Credit: Francisco J. Zamora-Camacho

European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) advertise the size of their poison glands to potential predators, finds a new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Frontiers in Zoology. The brighter the colour, the larger the poison gland.

Aposematism is used by many different animals to warn potential predators that they are poisonous. Usually this takes the form of distinctive colouration or patterns which predators quickly learn to avoid. have conspicuous yellow and black patterns covering their bodies and researchers from University of Granada and the University of Almería found that when they compared the size of a wasp's poison gland to the brightness of its colour there was a direct relationship.

Dr Gregorio Moreno-Rueda, who led this study explained, "It might be thought that bigger have bigger poison glands, and this is indeed true, but even when the data was adjusted to take in to account the size of the insect, a positive correlation between gland size and brightness remained."

But producing both the poison and the distinctive colouration is costly to the wasp. To get around this problem some species, such as hoverflies, have learnt to mimic poisonous ones. But other animals use colouration as a truthful (Zahavian) signal. In this case the wasp would be signalling that it is so strong and healthy that it can waste energy producing bright colour; and a strong and healthy wasp will contain a lot of poison.

Dr Moreno-Rueda continued, "A second possibility is that the pigment is also an antioxidant that helps protect the insect from its own poison or from the by-products of poison production. Consequently an insect which has a lot of poison will also have a lot of colour."

Either way need to beware – a bright wasp will leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Explore further: Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

Related Stories

Study shows insect mimic abilities related to size

Mar 22, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- A group of Canadian researchers who found themselves wondering why some plants or animals are good mimics while others are not, has undertaken a study on the matter and believe they have found ...

Recommended for you

Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

11 hours ago

It doesn't turn into Prince Charming, but a new species of frog discovered in Ecuador has earned the nickname "transformer frog" for its ability to change its skin from spiny to smooth in five minutes.

US gives threatened status to northern long-eared bat

13 hours ago

The federal government said Wednesday that it is listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened, giving new protections to a species that has been nearly wiped out in some areas by the spread of a fungal ...

Mice sing like songbirds to woo mates

14 hours ago

Male mice sing surprisingly complex songs to seduce females, sort of like songbirds, according to a new Duke study appearing April 1 in the Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience.

A new crustacean species found in Galicia

14 hours ago

One reason that tourists are attracted to Galicia is for its food. The town of O Grove (Pontevedra) is well known for its Seafood Festival and the Spider Crab Festival. A group of researchers from the University ...

Ants in space find it tougher going than those on Earth

16 hours ago

(Phys.org)—The results of a study conducted to see how well ants carry out their search activities in space are in, and the team that sent them there has written and published the results in the journal ...

Rats found able to recognize pain in other rat faces

16 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working in Japan with affiliations to several institutions in that country, has found that lab rats are able to recognize pain in the faces of other rats and avoid them ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.