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Index > News Blog > News > ScienceDaily: Rhythmic Vibrations Guide Caste Development in Social Wasps

ScienceDaily: Rhythmic Vibrations Guide Caste Development in Social Wasps

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Future queen or tireless toiler? A paper wasp's destiny may lie in the antennal drumbeats of its caretaker. While feeding their colony's larvae, a paper wasp queen and other dominant females periodically beat their antennae in a rhythmic pattern against the nest chambers, a behavior known as antennal drumming.

The drumming behavior is clearly audible even to human listeners and has been observed for decades, prompting numerous hypotheses about its purpose, says Robert Jeanne, a professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Many have surmised that the drumming serves as a communication signal.

"It's a very conspicuous behavior. More than once I've discovered nests by hearing this behavior first," he says.

Jeanne and his colleagues have now linked antennal drumming to development of social caste in a native paper wasp, Polistes fuscatus. The new work is described in a study published in the Feb. 8 issue of Current Biology by Jeanne, UW-Madison postdoctoral researcher Sainath Suryanarayanan and John Hermanson, an engineer at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis.

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