Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The making of a queen: Road to royalty begins early in paper wasps

Date:
September 10, 2010
Source:
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)
Summary:
Social status in paper wasps is established earlier in life than scientists thought, says a new study. While many social insects have distinct castes that differ in appearance and are fixed from birth, paper wasp society is more fluid -- all castes look alike, and any female can climb the social ladder and become a queen. Now, molecular analysis reveals that paper wasp social hierarchy is less flexible than it appears.

Paper wasps of the genus Polistes build nests out of chewed wood pulp.
Credit: iStockphoto/Kevin Dyer

Social status in paper wasps is established earlier in life than scientists thought, says a study published this month in the journal PLoS ONE.

Related Articles


While many social insects have distinct social classes that differ in appearance and are fixed from birth, paper wasp society is more fluid -- all castes look alike, and any female can climb the social ladder and become a queen. Now, molecular analysis reveals that paper wasp social hierarchy is less flexible than it appears. Queens diverge from their lower-status sisters long before they reach adulthood, scientists say.

Slender reddish-brown wasps with black wings, Polistes metricus paper wasps are a common sight throughout the Midwestern and Southeastern U.S. Hidden in papery umbrella-shaped nests in the eaves and rafters of your house, a complex society is hard at work.

Female wasps develop into one of two castes that take on different roles within the nest. While young queens don't work and eventually leave the nest to reproduce and rule colonies of their own, workers forego reproduction and spend their lives defending the nest and raising their siblings.

"All offspring look alike but some work and some don't," said lead author James Hunt, currently a visiting scholar at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC. "The workers are the ones that fly out and sting you if they feel their colony is threatened."

Hunt and his colleagues wanted to find out if hidden molecular mechanisms set some paper wasps on the path to becoming workers, and others to becoming queens. "Many scientists think that paper wasp social status isn't decided until they are adults, but some think there is more to it than that," said Hunt, also a biologist at North Carolina State University.

With co-authors Amy Toth and Tom Newman at the University of Illinois and Gro Amdam and Florian Wolschin at Arizona State University, the researchers measured gene activity and protein levels in young paper wasp larvae before they took on different roles.

Although all wasp larvae look and act alike, the researchers discovered several differences during development that predispose them to one caste or the other.

The larvae that become queens have high levels of a group of proteins that enable them to survive the winter and reproduce next year, whereas the ones that become workers are much shorter-lived and have low levels of these proteins, said Hunt. "There's less upward mobility in the ones that become the workers. They may look just like the future queens, but they are strongly biased toward the worker role."

Future queens also showed higher activity of several genes involved in caste determination in other, more recently evolved insects that have more visible distinctions between castes. "Paper wasps and honey bees are separated by 100 million years of evolution, but we see some of the same gene and protein patterns in paper wasps that lead to different types of adults in bees," he explained.

The results help shed light on how insect social behavior comes to be, Hunt explained. "It is sometimes argued that adult wasps actually choose to become workers in order to help their mother reproduce and raise their sisters -- hence the term 'altruistic,'" he said. "What we found is that really the choice is limited by how they develop as larvae."

Michael Henshaw of Grand Valley State University was also an author on this study.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hunt, J., F. Wolschin, et al. Differential gene expression and protein abundance evince ontogenetic bias toward castes in a primitively social wasp. PLoS ONE, May 17, 2010 DOI: 0.1371/journal.pone.0010674

Cite This Page:

National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "The making of a queen: Road to royalty begins early in paper wasps." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100519173104.htm>.
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). (2010, September 10). The making of a queen: Road to royalty begins early in paper wasps. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100519173104.htm
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). "The making of a queen: Road to royalty begins early in paper wasps." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100519173104.htm (accessed October 26, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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