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Drumming Wasps

February 17, 2011

A drum-like beat determines whether a baby paper wasp will become a worker or a future queen.



Drumming up workers….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

For years, scientists have known that paper wasps drum their antennae in a rhythmic fashion against their nests, but no one knew why. To find out, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison simulated artificial drumming and then examined the offspring that emerged from the nests. Entomologist Sai Suryanarayanan led the study.

SAI SURYANARAYANAN (University of Wisconsin, Madison):

The brood which emerged from colonies which had received the simulated drumming had physiological characteristics like workers.


He says from genetically identical eggs, paper wasp larva can develop into either workers or future queens, depending on how their genes are expressed.


We think that the vibrations are initiating a signaling cascade of biochemical events that culminate in differential gene expression.


He says this is the first time an animal has been documented using vibrations to influence the development of its offspring. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.