, Volume 89, Issue 4, pp 176-179

Docile sitters and active fighters in paper wasps: a tale of two queens

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Ropalidia marginata and Ropalidia cyathiformis are sympatric, primitively eusocial paper wasps widely distributed in peninsular India. We compare the two species, especially their queens, in an attempt to begin to understand the role of the power of queens over their workers, in social organisation and evolution. Queens of R. marginata have lower levels of activity, rates of interactions and dominance behaviour, compared with queens of R. cyathiformis. For the same variables, R. marginata queens are either indistinguishable from or have lower values than their workers, while R. cyathiformis queens have higher values than their workers. R. marginata queens never occupy the top rank while R. cyathiformis queens are always at the top of the behavioural dominance hierarchies of their colonies. R. marginata queens thus do not appear to use dominance behaviour to suppress reproduction by their workers, while R. cyathiformis queens appear to do so. These different mechanisms used by the two queens to regulate worker reproduction give them different powers over their workers, because R. marginata queens are completely successful in suppressing reproduction by their nestmates while in R. cyathiformis colonies, other individuals also sometimes lay eggs. There is also some evidence that the different powers of the queens result in different mechanisms of regulation of worker foraging in the two species – decentralised, self-regulation in R. marginata and relatively more centralised regulation by the queen in R. cyathiformis. Thus we show here, perhaps for the first time, that the power of the queens over their workers can have important consequences for social organisation and evolution.

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