Wet Wasps Build Nests

New research suggests water helps social wasps determine the best nest-building strategy

06-01-2004 // Roger Di Silvestro

How social wasps, which build and live in nests, coordinate their nest-building tasks has puzzled scientists for many years, because these insects lack the complex communication skills of bees and ants. Individual wasps specialize in various construction jobs, including builder wasps that monitor nests for construction needs, pulp wasps that provide the builders with building material and water wasps that forage for water, which they give to the pulp wasps for making pulp. But how do they know which job needs to be done when?

New research by biologists at East Tennessee State University suggests that the answer is water. The researchers have found that the wasps keep track of the amount of water in the nest, which the biologists call the "common stomach." When wasps detect that the nest has an abundance of water, the water foragers turn into builders, and nest construction experiences a boom without any need for the release of fragrant body chemicals, in the style of ants, or for elaborate instructional dances, the way bees do it.

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