Study: Indian paper wasps have favourite spots in their nests

Non-random space use allows wasps that exchange food to be located close to each other.  

Indian paper wasps distribute themselves non-randomly in their nests, a strategy that may help them exchange food efficiently and avoid the spread of infections, according to a new study by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

Ph.D student Nitika Sharma and Raghavendra Gadagkar, DST Year of Science Chair Professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc., carried out the study that was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

According to a release from the IISc., using a mathematical technique generally used by ecologists to demarcate places frequently visited by large animals in the outdoors, the researchers demarcated spaces on nests where wasps spent over 50% of their time. For a majority of the wasps, this space was less than 50% of the area of the nest, suggesting real preference and not simply a chance occurrence.

Two reasons why

The researchers tested and ruled out most of the ideas that have been advanced by researchers studying ants and honey bees. They did not find any evidence that dominant wasps pushed subordinates to the periphery; that active wasps moved automatically to the periphery; that wasps engaged in feeding the larvae stayed close to the brood; or that wasps chose their locations so as to avoid their queens. Instead, they found support for two other ideas: non-random space use helps efficient food transfer among adults and helps avoid the spread of infection, the release said.

“Ants and honey bees store food in their nests and the task of the nurses is to transfer the food from its storage location to the larvae. Paper wasps do not store food; they eat insects and spiders and have not invented refrigeration. Forager wasps bring morsels of food back to the nest from time to time. This is unloaded by one or more wasps at the nest which is then distributed to several other wasps that partake of some of it themselves, and offer the rest to the larvae, distributed all over the nest. Non-random space use allows wasps that exchange food with each other to be located close to each other, making food distribution more efficient,” the release stated.

Queen wasps

Another function of non-random space use is to limit the spread of such infection, which comes with spreading of food all across the nest. Queens, who are the most evolutionarily-valuable members of the colony, avoid being physically close to the foragers, who are most likely to carry infections, the release said.

“Social life brings with it many advantages, but also many challenges. The Indian paper wasps seem to have found a formula to maximise the benefits of social life while minimising its costs — non-random space use,” states the release.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 1:50:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/study-indian-paper-wasps-have-favourite-spots-in-their-nests/article29621882.ece

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