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Mating Success in the Polyandrous Social Wasp Vespula maculifrons


Michael Goodisman, School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, 310 Ferst Drive, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA. E-mail:


The mating decisions made by social insect males and females profoundly affect the structure of colonies and populations. However, few studies have used experimental approaches to understand mating behavior and mate choice in social insect taxa. This study investigated mating success in the polyandrous social wasp Vespula maculifrons. Mating trials were designed to test predictions that characteristics of body size and colony-of-origin would affect mating success. We first investigated if size differences existed among individuals and found that males from different colonies differed significantly in the size of nine morphological traits. However, male trait size was not significantly associated with male mating success. In contrast, females from different colonies differed significantly in only six of the nine measured traits, and four of these traits were associated with successful mating behaviors. Specifically, the correlated traits of gaster length, third tergum length, antennal length, and total length were positively associated with female mating success. Thus, long females experience mating advantages over females that are short. We also found that males and females from one particular colony displayed significantly greater mating activity than individuals from other colonies. Thus, the colony from which individuals originate plays an important role in determining mating success. Finally, our experiments failed to detect any evidence of nestmate avoidance during the mating trials. Overall, our data suggest that social insect reproductives may experience differential mating success based on their phenotype or developmental environment.