Biting may drive division of labor among social wasp workers

of incidents and severity of biting increase, the likelihood of an individual leaving the nest to forage increases."

His observations show that an individual wasp's life cycle tends to follow a pattern. The individual begins inside the colony's nest and then progresses to the outside, where it engages in biting behavior that sends other wasps off the nest to forage. Finally, it becomes the target of biting and goes off to forage. However, some individuals seem to spend most of their lives as either biters or recipients.

"This does not seem to be related to ovary development or body size so this behavior does not seem to be connected to reproductive status," he said. "We don't know what drives biting behavior. There is a possibility that it might be genetic, or it could be chemical because we do know that social insects tend to react chemically to each other."

He plans further work to determine the root of biting behavior in P. occidentalis.

Scientists like O'Donnell study social insects looking for clues about how social behavior evolved and how it is maintained since there are elements that are shared among all social animals. Social aggression is one such characteristic that is almost universal among animal groups from insects to primates.


Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

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