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    Description

    Understanding the proximate mechanisms of caste development in eusocial taxa can reveal how social species evolved from solitary ancestors. In Polistes wasps, the current paradigm holds that differential amounts of nutrition during the larval stage cause the divergence of worker and gyne (potential queen) castes. But nutrition level alone cannot explain how the first few females to be produced in a colony develop rapidly yet have small body sizes and worker phenotypes. Here, we provide evidence that a mechanical signal biases caste toward a worker phenotype. In Polistes fuscatus, the signal takes the form of antennal drumming (AD), wherein a female trills her antennae synchronously on the rims of nest cells while feeding prey-liquid to larvae. The frequency of AD occurrence is high early in the colony cycle, when larvae destined to become workers are being reared, and low late in the cycle, when gynes are being reared. Subjecting gyne-destined brood to simulated AD-frequency vibrations caused them to emerge as adults with reduced fat stores, a worker trait. This suggests that AD influences the larval developmental trajectory by inhibiting a physiological element that is necessary to trigger diapause, a gyne trait.

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    Citation

    Suryanarayanan, Sainath; Hermanson, John C.; Jeanne, Robert L. 2011. A mechanical signal biases caste development in a social wasp. Current biology. Vol. 21, no. 3 (Feb. 8, 2011): p. 231-235.

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    Keywords

    Wasps, hymenoptera, Polistes fuscatus, insect societies, insect behavior, phenotype, insect genetics, larval behavior, insect larvae, antennae, drum language, animal nutrition, developmental biology, developmental genetics, body size, diapause, animal communication, caste

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