Wasps Do Something Adorable To Signal That There's Food Nearby

An adult German yellowjacket wasp foraging on some flowers. JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0

Social insect species need to work together to survive, and that includes finding food. They aren’t able to shout about it when they find some, of course, which means they have to come up with rather inventive ways to wave their hands at each other. Honey bees do a waggle dance to indicate the presence of resources; some ant species leave pheromone trails.

As it turns out, some wasps engage in a bit of drumming. Specifically, they drum their bellies – well, their abdomens, technically known as their gasters – against different parts of the nest. This so-called gastral drumming is performed by worker wasps, and these idiosyncratic sounds communicate the presence of availability of food.

As explained in a new study, published in The Science of Nature, this new revelation overturns an alternate hypothesis about this well-documented drumming behavior that’s persisted for five decades. It was thought, without much substantial evidence, that gastral drumming (GD) occurred because the wasps were letting each other know they were hungry.

Instead, it appears that the team have provided the first evidence that wasps have complex communication behavior with regards to dinnertime, much like their other eusocial insect compatriots. It’s a form of recruitment, a way of saying to each other “hey, I’ve found something to chow down on!” and to get help foraging for it.

In order to come to this conclusion, the pair of researchers – from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and LaGuardia Community College/CUNY – focused on Vespula germanica, a yellowjacket wasp species. Regular wasp nests are notoriously difficult to peer inside, so instead, the team created artificial wasps nests on the fifth floor of a laboratory building, complete with see-through roofs and floors.

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