Antennal Drumming, Trophallaxis, and Colony Development in the Social Wasp Polistes fuscatus (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)


Sainath Suryanarayanan, Department of Entomology, Russell Laboratories, 1630 Linden Dr., Madison, WI 53706, USA.


Parental care is an important component of social behavior in both vertebrates and invertebrates. Social wasps are a useful system for investigating the interplay between behaviors associated with the feeding of larvae by adults and their role in the evolution and maintenance of sociality. Females of the primitively eusocial wasp genus Polistes perform conspicuous vibratory behaviors closely associated with adult–larva feeding interactions. Prior research strongly indicates that these signals are directed toward the larvae, but their function(s) remain unclear. Existing hypotheses on the function(s) have posited releaser effects on larvae, either stimulating or inhibiting release of larval saliva, a nutrient-rich glandular secretion attractive to adults. Polistes fuscatus queens perform antennal drumming (AD), a behavior in which they rapidly beat their antennae synchronously on the rims of the nest cells during the feeding of larvae. We used radiolabeled prey to show that adults extract juice from the prey, which they subsequently regurgitate to larvae immediately following each AD burst. We also show that no saliva is imbibed by the queen during the contact. These results are consistent with the inhibition hypothesis on the function of AD, but not the stimulation hypothesis. We further demonstrate that AD is first performed on nests when the oldest larvae reach the third instar, and that the third instar is the first to produce measurable volumes of larval saliva. Removal of third-, fourth-, and/or fifth-instar larvae from single-foundress, pre-pupal-stage colonies did not cause a reduction in the queen’s AD rates compared with controls, suggesting that later-stage larvae do not maintain AD behavior via an immediate releaser effect. We propose instead that third-instar larvae, possibly via chemical components of the salivary secretion itself, modulate the physiology of queens so as to indirectly cause the onset and maintenance of AD behavior.