Wasps found to ‘choose’ favourite spaces

New findings

We humans may have our living rooms, studies and game rooms, where we prefer to hang out. Popular belief holds that animals, especially insects, have no particular interest in the locations where they congregate.

But, a new study by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) throws this idea out of the window. 

Findings by Professor Raghavendra Gadagkar and PhD student Nitika Sharma of the Centre for Ecological Sciences shows that Indian paper wasps are capable of “choice” because they have “favourite places” in their nests.

Some of this is a matter of life and death. While ants and honey bees store their food in special locations, which are then doled out by special “nurse” drones, paper wasps operate differently. 

The wasps distribute themselves non-randomly in their nests and food (primarily insects and perishable meat) brought back by foraging is distributed almost immediately to members of the hive and larvae. 

“Since the food is perishable, this method helps mitigate the spread of pathogens, which could decimate the colony,” Professor Gadagkar said.

Organising work

He added that the findings offer lessons on “how to efficiently organise work in society to minimise the spread of infection in densely populated situations.”

For the study, Sharma and Gadagkar chose the Ropalidia marginata (the Indian paper wasp), 20 to 30 of which are found living in small paper nests. 

In the study, the authors detailed that they collected six nests of wasps from different locations in the city, and transplanted them into a vespiary, where the insects were free to fly around and forage.

Using video footage, the researchers established a pattern: that wasps often “choose” spaces non-randomly, outside as well as inside their nests.

The study was published in the proceedings of the Royal Society.

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