The morphology of Van der Vecth's organ as a tool to measure caste dimorphism in Polistes paper wasps: a comparative approach


Corresponding author: Iacopo Petrocelli (


Given the centrality of chemical communication in social insects, there are many selective pressures acting on morpho-functional traits that mediate chemical pheromones. On the last gastral sternite of Polistes females, there is an important exocrine surface secreting chemical pheromone, named Van der Vecht's organ. It is involved in chemical defence of the nest, in rank and nestmate recognition, preventing workers from direct reproduction. Allometric differential growth of phenotypic traits between castes of social insects is generally considered as an indication of incipient physical castes. European Polistes present different nesting strategies and reproductive choices. Here, we carry out a comparison of Van der Vecht's organ size between castes of four European Polistes to provide a general measure of dimorphism. We show that Van der Vecht's organ of Polistes dominula and Polistes nimphus foundresses shows an allometric development being enlarged with respect to workers. Otherwise, no allometries have been highlighted in the other two studied species (i.e. Polistes associus and Polistes biglumis). Therefore, our data show that neither rigid monogyny nor specific nesting habits foster the evolution of true morphological castes in primitively eusocial taxa. Thus, at least two other species of Ezuropean Polistes show real evidence of incipient morphological castes.