While feeding their colony's larvae, a paper wasp queen and other dominant females periodically beat their antennae in a rhythmic pattern against the nest chambers, a behavior known as antennal drumming.
The drumming behavior is clearly audible even to human listeners and has been observed for decades, prompting numerous hypotheses about its purpose, says Robert Jeanne, a professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Many have surmised that the drumming serves as a communication signal.
"It's a very conspicuous behavior. More than once I've discovered nests by hearing this behavior first," he says.
Jeanne and his colleagues have now linked antennal drumming to development of social caste in a native paper wasp, Polistes fuscatus. The new work is described in a study published in the Feb. 8 issue of Current Biology by Jeanne, UW-Madison postdoctoral researcher Sainath Suryanarayanan and John Hermanson, an engineer at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis.
Paper wasp colonies, like many other social insects, have distinct castes — workers, which build and maintain the nest and care for young, and gynes, which can become queens, lay eggs and establish new nests.
Both workers and gynes hatch from eggs laid by the colony's queen, but gynes develop large stores of body fat and other nutrients to help them survive winter or other harsh conditions, start a new nest, and produce eggs. Workers have very little fat, generally cannot lay eggs and die off as the weather turns cold.
"The puzzle has been how the same egg, the same genome can give rise to two such divergent phenotypes," says Suryanarayanan, who led the work as part of his doctoral studies.
Among honeybees, the key has been traced to the nutritional quality of the food fed to developing larvae: future queens receive the nutrient-rich "royal jelly," while future workers receive stored pollen and nectar. However, there is no evidence that paper wasps feed their young workers and gynes differently, he says.
Rather, the new work shows that exposure to simulated antennal drumming biases developing larvae toward the physiological characteristics of workers rather than gynes. The finding indicates that the wasps may use antennal drumming to drive developing larvae toward one caste or the other.
The researchers brought colonies into the lab and hooked up piezoelectric devices, designed by Hermanson, to the nests to produce vibrations that simulate antennal drumming. When they introduced the signal to late-season nests that would normally be producing gynes, the hatched wasps resembled workers instead, with much lower fat stores.
Suryanarayanan and Jeanne previously reported field studies that show antennal drumming is very frequent early in the season, when colonies are pumping out workers to expand and maintain the nest and take care of young. The behavior drops during the course of the season to nearly zero by late summer, the time when the reproductive wasps — males and future queens — are being reared.
"We think it initiates a biochemical signaling cascade of events," Suryanarayanan says. "Larvae who receive this drumming may express a set of genes that is different from larvae who don't, genes for proteins that relate to caste." Some possibilities might include hormones, neurotransmitters or other small biologically active molecules, he adds.
Much is known about the effects of stressors, including mechanical stress or vibrations, on animal development and physiology. Intriguingly, one study found that young mice exposed to low-frequency vibrations developed less fat and more bone mass than other mice. But the wasp's use of vibration to communicate with its own young sets it apart.
"This is the first case we know of a mechanical vibratory signal that an animal has evolved to modulate the development of members of its own species," says Jeanne.
The research was funded by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, and the UW-Madison Department of Zoology and College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
— Jill Sakai, 608-262-9772, email@example.com
Robert Jeanne | EurekAlert!
A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences