, Volume 103, Issue 3, pp 149–164 | Cite as

Morphology and function of sternal glands in polistine wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)

  • R. L. Jeanne
  • H. A. Downing
  • D. C. Post


The morphology of sternal glands and associated cuticular specializations are described for female polistine social wasps. Their distribution among 25 of the 28 genera of the subfamily is examined in light of what is known of the functions of these glands. Species in which queens found colonies independently of workers (four genera plus part of Ropalidia) have clusters of ducted gland cells on the sixth (terminal) gastral sternite. In all species examined the gland cells open into a tuft of long setae which probably functions as a reservoir/applicator brush. There is at least circumstantial evidence for all five genera that this gland produces an ant repellent substance that is smeared onto the nest petiole, where it serves as a defensive barrier against ants. The remaining genera (20 plus part of Ropalidia) consist of species in which queens are accompanied by a swarm of workers in the initiation of a new colony. In 12 of these genera females have a gland of ducted cells on sternite 5 (penultimate), associated with cuticular sculpturing of various types. Experimental or circumstantial evidence for several of these genera indicates that the product of this gland is used to lay an odor trail that guides the swarm from the parent nest to a new nest site. One genus has a similar gland on the sixth sternite, another has glands on both the fifth and the sixth, and the remaining six genera lack any evidence of sternal glands. The independent-founding species of Ropalidia have a sixth sternal gland associated with a tuft of setae, while the swarm-founding species have the tuft but lack the gland. Our interpretation of this is that the gland produces an ant repellent substance in the independent-founding species, but in the swarm-founding Ropalidia such a substance is of little value and so the gland has been lost.


Developmental Biology Circumstantial Evidence Nest Site Duct Cell Gland Cell 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. L. Jeanne
    • 1
  • H. A. Downing
    • 1
  • D. C. Post
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EntomologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA

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