Social wasps accepted more frequently into unfamiliar colonies when both the individual and the group are young

Feb 18, 2014 by Marie Guma-Diaz And Annette Gallagher
This photo shows wasps interacting in social environments. Credit: Floria Mora-Kepfer Uy, University of Miami

Ants, wasps and humans live in highly complex societies. Our organizations share some basic features of group life, like individuals trying to find the balance between cooperation and conflict. Understanding what factors are important for these communities to develop gives us key insights into the evolution of sociality in animals.

A new study, by University of Miami (UM) biologist Floria Mora-Kepfer Uy, looks at colonies of social and explores the acceptance of individuals not related to each other, in a highly organized and adaptable society. The findings show that the age of the individual, and of the , defines the costs and benefits of accepting new members into a group.

The study uses the social wasp Mischocyttarus mexicanus. "These colonies are composed exclusively of females and they make decisions on the colony composition depending on the social and ecological pressures they are exposed to," says Mora-Kepfer Uy, a lecturer in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Nest-switching is common during the initial period of colony establishment, when individual wasps try to join other colonies and existing members have to decide whether to accept or reject new comers. The wasps recognize nestmates from non-nestmates using chemical signals that are specific to each colony.

This photo shows wasps interacting with newcomers in a social environment. Credit: Floria Mora-Kepfer Uy, University of Miami

"If non-nestmates are accepted, they may either become a worker in the colony or instead attempt to take over the reproductive-dominant role, steal, or cannibalize the colony's offspring," says Mora-Kepfer Uy. "Females are, therefore, trying to balance the potential benefits of having additional help with the possible costs of new members acting selfishly."

According to the study, young non-nestmates were accepted more often than old ones, and they were more frequently accepted into young colonies, than in late colonies. It might favor the colony to accept non-nestmates as subordinate workers during the period of colony establishment. The findings also show that late colonies more frequently rejected both young and old non-nestmates, suggesting that risk of acceptance may be too high at this stage.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This video shows a female wasp marked with pink paint that was a recently accepted non-nestmate who became a subordinate worker. A resident female flies in and forces the newly accepted wasp back into the nest to guard the eggs and larvae. Credit: Floria Mora-Kepfer Uy, University of Miami

"The findings imply that the effect of the social context and immediate needs of a group mediate social acceptance in these flexible societies," says Mora-Kepfer Uy. "These factors may help us understand changes in the composition of other complex animals groups, including human societies,"

Explore further: Genome of clonal raider ant provides promising model to study social evolution and behavior

More information: The study is titled "Context-dependent acceptance of non-nestmates in a primitively eusocial insect." The findings are published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Worker wasps grow visual brains, queens stay in the dark

Jan 06, 2014

A queen in a paperwasp colony largely stays in the dark. The worker wasps, who fly outside to seek food and building materials, see much more of the world around them. A new study indicates that the brain ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

20 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...