Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Wasps' Brains Enlarge As They Perform More Demanding Jobs

Date:
March 17, 2004
Source:
University Of Washington
Summary:
Scientists have known for some time that some social insects undergo dramatic behavioral changes as they mature, and now a research team has found that the brains of a wasp species correspondingly enlarge as the creatures engage in more complex tasks.

Scientists have known for some time that some social insects undergo dramatic behavioral changes as they mature, and now a research team has found that the brains of a wasp species correspondingly enlarge as the creatures engage in more complex tasks.

"The amount of change is striking," said Sean O'Donnell, a University of Washington associate professor of psychology and lead author of a new study published in the February issue of Neuroscience Letters. "It is easily apparent with magnification."

O'Donnell said the changes take place in sections of the brain called the mushroom bodies. There is one mushroom body on top of each hemisphere of the wasp brain and the structures have a superficial resemblance to the cerebrum in humans and other vertebrates, he said. The enlargement was centered in a part of the mushroom body called the calyx where neural connections are made.

O'Donnell and other researchers study social insects such as wasps, honeybees and ants as models to understand the role of neuroplasticity in driving complex social behaviors such as the division of labor.

The wasps he studied, Polybia aequatorialis, live in colonies of 2,000 or more workers and the adults undergo striking behavioral changes as they age. They perform different jobs for the colony in a developmental sequence. Workers begin contributing to a colony by performing tasks in the interior of the nest before later moving on to jobs on the nest exterior. Finally, they leave the nest to forage for food and building materials.

O'Donnell and his colleagues from the University of Texas, Austin, found that the mushroom bodies of the wasps progressively increased in size through this sequence. The largest increase came when the insects first switched from working inside to working outside of the nest.

"What is happening is that the complexity of the tasks the insects engage in is increasing," O'Donnell said. "They are going from living in a very constrained spatial area with dim light to working outside the nest where there is a complex sensory environment with higher light levels. Finally, they have to leave the nest to forage for materials and then locate their way home to the nest."

He said social insects have relatively large mushroom bodies compared to solitary insects, such as butterflies or roaches, suggesting that these brain structures play a special role in regulating social behavior.

"This is important because social insects are among the most ecologically successful animals and their impact is huge," O'Donnell said. "They are pollinators, decomposers, predators and herbivores. The biomass of ants alone roughly equals that of humans. Social insects are successful because of their social complexity and division of labor. We are trying to get a handle on how such complex behaviors are driven."

The next step for the researchers involves marking workers on the first day of life and inserting them into colonies to look at the development of neural plasticity. They intend to work with Polybia again, as well as with a primitive social wasp that lives in colonies of several dozen workers, in a comparative analysis to see how neural plasticity evolved.

Co-authors of the study funded by the National Science Foundation are Theresa Jones, a UT associate professor of psychology, and Nicole Donlan, a research technician who also is at UT.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Washington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Washington. "Wasps' Brains Enlarge As They Perform More Demanding Jobs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 March 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/03/040317074847.htm>.
University Of Washington. (2004, March 17). Wasps' Brains Enlarge As They Perform More Demanding Jobs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/03/040317074847.htm
University Of Washington. "Wasps' Brains Enlarge As They Perform More Demanding Jobs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/03/040317074847.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Andy Dixon showed the Daily Mail a screenshot of what he believes to be the mythical beast swimming just below the lake's surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) A new report shows rates of two foodborne infections increased in the U.S. in recent years, while salmonella actually dropped 9 percent. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins