, Volume 95, Issue 9, pp 787–792

Yellowjackets (Vespula pensylvanica) thermoregulate in response to changes in protein concentration

  • M. A. Eckles
  • E. E. Wilson
  • D. A. Holway
  • J. C. Nieh
Original Paper


Social insects can modulate body temperature to increase foraging efficiency; however, little is known about how the relative value of protein resources affects forager body temperature. Such regulation may be important given that colony growth is often limited by protein availability. In this paper, we present what are, to our knowledge, the first data for social insects showing that thoracic temperatures (Tth) of foragers increase with the protein content of food resources. In an introduced population of western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica), we measured Tth of foragers collecting high-quality protein (100% canned chicken) and low-quality protein (50% canned chicken, 50% indigestible alpha-cellulose by volume) at different ambient air temperatures (Ta). Wasps foraging on 100% chicken consistently exhibited higher Tth compared to wasps foraging on 50% chicken. After correcting for Ta, the mean Tth for wasps collecting 100% chicken were 1.98°C higher than those of individuals collecting 50% chicken. We suggest that this mechanism may increase foraging efficiency in this and other social wasp species.


Foraging Thermoregulation Vespula Protein Wasp 


  1. Allen ME (1989) Nutritional aspects of insectivory. PhD dissertation. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MIGoogle Scholar
  2. Bertram SM, Gorelick R, Fewell JH (2003) Colony response to graded resource changes: an analytical model of the influence of genotype, environment, and dominance. Theor Popul Biol 64:151–162PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Coelho JR (1991) The effect of thorax temperature on force production during tethered flight in honeybee (Apis mellifera) drones, workers, and queens. Physiol Zool 64:823–835Google Scholar
  4. Coelho JR, Ross AJ (1996) Body temperature and thermoregulation in two species of yellowjackets, Vespula germanica and V. maculifrons. J Comp Physiol B 166:68–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dyer FC (2002) The biology of the dance language. Annu Rev Entomol 47:917–949PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dyer FC, Seeley TD (1987) Interspecific comparisons of endothermy in honeybees (Apis)—deviations from the expected size-related patterns. J Exp Biol 127:1–26Google Scholar
  7. Esch H (1976) Body-temperature and flight performance of honey bees in a servo-mechanically controlled wind-tunnel. J Comp Physiol 109:265–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gambino P (1990) Mark recapture studies on Vespula pensylvanica (Saussure) queens (Hymenoptera, Vespidae). Pan-Pac Entomol 66:227–231Google Scholar
  9. Gambino P (1992) Yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica) predation at Hawaii volcanoes and Haleakala National Parks: identity of prey items. Proc Hawaii Entomol Soc 31:157–164Google Scholar
  10. Gruner DS, Foote D (2000) Management strategies for western yellowjackets in Hawaii. Report to the Hawaii Secretariat for Conservation BiologyGoogle Scholar
  11. Heinrich B (1984) Strategies of thermoregulation and foraging in 2 vespid wasps, Dolichovespula maculata and Vespula vulgaris. J Comp Physiol B 154:175–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Heinrich B (1993) Hot-blooded insects: mechanisms and evolution of thermoregulation. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  13. Hendrichs J, Katsoyannos BI, Wornoayporn V, Hendrichs MA (1994) Odour-mediated foraging by yellowjacket wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae): predation on leks of pheromone-calling Mediterranean fruit fly males (Diptera: Tephritidae). Oecologia 99:88–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Herrera CM (1997) Thermal biology and foraging responses of insect pollinators to the forest floor irradiance mosaic. Oikos 78:601–611CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hodges D (1984) The pollen loads of the honeybee: a guide to their identification by colour and form, 1st edn. International Bee Research, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Hunt JH, Baker I, Baker HG (1982) Similarity of amino acids in nectar and larval saliva—the nutritional basis for trophallaxis in social wasps. Evolution 36:1318–1322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hunt JH, Buck NA, Wheeler DE (2003) Storage proteins in vespid wasps: characterization, developmental pattern, and occurrence in adults. J Insect Physiol 49:785–794PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kay A (2002) Applying optimal foraging theory to assess nutrient availability ratios for ants. Ecology 83:1935–1944CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kovac H, Stabentheiner A (1999) Effect of food quality on the body temperature of wasps (Paravespula vulgaris). J Insect Physiol 45:183–190PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lee KP, Raubenheimer D, Simpson SJ (2004) The effects of nutritional imbalance on compensatory feeding for cellulose-mediated dietary dilution in a generalist caterpillar. Physiol Entomol 29:108–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Malham JP, Rees JS, Alspach PA, Beggs JR, Moller H (1991) Traffic rate as an index of colony size in Vespula wasps. N Z J Zool 18:105–109Google Scholar
  22. Michener CD, Michener MH (1951) American social insects. Van Nostrand Rheinhold, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Nieh JC, Sanchez D (2005) Effect of food quality, distance and height on thoracic temperature in the stingless bee, Melipona panamica. J Exp Biol 208:3933–3943PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Nieh JC, Contrera AAL, Rangell J, Imperatriz-Fonseca VL (2003) Effect of food location and quality on recruitment sounds and success in two stingless bees, Melipona mandacaia and Melipona bicolor. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 55:87–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Nieh JC, Leon A, Cameron S, Vandame R (2006) Hot bumble bees at good food: thoracic temperature of feeding Bombus wilmattae foragers is tuned to sugar concentration. J Exp Biol 209:4185–4192PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pankiw T, Page Jr RE (2000) Response thresholds to sucrose predict foraging division of labor in honeybees. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 47:265–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pankiw T, Rubink WL (2002) Pollen foraging response to brood pheromone by Africanized and European honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). Ann Entomol Soc Am 95:761–767CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pernal SF, Currie RW (2001) The influence of pollen quality on foraging behavior in honeybees (Apis mellifera L.). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 51:53–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Reid BL, Macdonald JF (1986) Influence of meat texture and toxicants upon bait collection by the German yellowjacket (Hymenoptera, Vespidae). J Econ Entomol 79:50–53Google Scholar
  30. Scheiner R, Page RE, Erber J (2004) Sucrose responsiveness and behavioral plasticity in honey bees (Apis mellifera). Apidologie 35:133–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Schmaranzer S, Stabentheiner A (1988) Variability of the thermal behavior of honeybees on a feeding place. J Comp Physiol B 158:135–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Seeley TD, Camazine S, Sneyd J (1991) Collective decision-making in honey bees—how colonies choose among nectar sources. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 28:277–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Stabentheiner A (2001) Thermoregulation of dancing bees: thoracic temperature of pollen and nectar foragers in relation to profitability of foraging and colony need. J Insect Physiol 47:385–392PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Stabentheiner A, Hagmüller K (1991) Sweet food means “hot dancing” in honeybees. Naturwissenschaften 78:471–473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Underwood BA (1991) Thermoregulation and energetic decision-making by the honeybees Apis cerana, Apis dorsata and Apis laboriosa. J Exp Biol 157:19–34Google Scholar
  36. Waddington KD (1990) Foraging profits and thoracic temperature of honey-bees (Apis mellifera). J Comp Physiol B 160:325–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Waddington KD, Nelson CM, Page RE (1998) Effects of pollen quality on the dance of foraging honey bees. Anim Behav 56:35–39PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Woods WA, Heinrich B, Stevenson RD (2005) Honeybee flight metabolic rate: does it depend upon air temperature? J Exp Biol 208:1161–1173PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. A. Eckles
    • 1
  • E. E. Wilson
    • 1
  • D. A. Holway
    • 1
  • J. C. Nieh
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Biological Sciences, Section of Ecology, Behavior, and EvolutionUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

Personalised recommendations