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Taking a bite out of a fellow worker helps wasps recruit new foragers

est were removed for at least two hours and until none arrived for at least one hour of continuous monitoring.

"The rate of foraging slowed down and stopped completely, placing stress on the colony because materials the colony needs, primarily food, are not coming in. So the colony needs to recruit new workers to make up for the loss," O'Donnell explained.

On the final day observers watched each colony, noted the behavior of the marked individuals to see which insects were foragers, and recorded all biting interactions.

O'Donnell said the biting did not always provoke an individual to begin foraging immediately, noting the biting seems to have a cumulative effect. Some insects were bitten multiple times for hours before leaving the nest to forage.

"Going off the nest to forage, where they are exposed to all kinds of stresses and dangers, is probably the biggest change these animals face in their lives," he said.

O'Donnell plans future studies to learn what determines which members of a colony are doing the biting and which are being bitten. He suspects that biting recipients are recognized based on something chemical on their body surface, as well as by an age component.

O'Donnell and other scientists 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 ranging from insects to primates including humans.


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Contact: Joel Schwarz
joels@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
27-Mar-2006


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