, Volume 96, Issue 2, pp 297–302 | Cite as

The energetic costs of stereotyped behavior in the paper wasp, Polistes dominulus

  • Susan A. WeinerEmail author
  • William A. WoodsJr.
  • Philip T. Starks
Short Communication


Polistes wasps engage in many behavioral interactions. Although there has been debate over the meaning of these interactions, these stereotypical behaviors can be used to determine a colony’s linear dominance hierarchy. Due to the implicit relationship between behavioral and reproductive dominance, behavioral interactions are commonly used to distinguish the reproductively dominant alpha foundress from the beta foundress. It has been suggested that in order to maintain reproductive control, the alpha foundress is forced to remain at a physiologically constrained activity limit. This, in turn, may allow aggressive interactions to be used as determinants influencing reproductive partitioning between cooperating individuals. Energetic costs can place important limitations on behavior, but the energetic cost of the interactions has not previously been measured. To address this, we measured the CO2 production of 19 non-nestmate pairs displaying interactive and noninteractive behavior. The rate of energy used during interaction behavior was positively associated with published rankings of aggression. However, our results indicate that interactions are not very energetically costly in Polistes, particularly when compared to the likely cost of foraging. These data suggest that maintaining reproductive dominance is not very energetically expensive for the dominant and that the dominant foundress expends energy at a lower rate than the subordinate foundress.


Polistes dominulus Energetics Dominance hierarchies Reproductive skew 



We thank R.D. Stevenson for the use of respirometry equipment. This project was partially funded by the Tufts Biology department. This research was conducted in compliance with the current laws of the United States of America.

Supplementary material (168 kb)
ESM S1 This video shows a brief mutual antennation between two individuals in the respirometry chamber. (MOV 167 KB) (1.2 mb)
ESM S2 This video demonstrates a dart in a respirometry chamber. (MOV 1.19 MB) (327 kb)
ESM S3 This video demonstrates one individual biting the other in a respirometry chamber. (MOV 326 KB) (1.9 mb)
ESM S4 This video demonstrates two individuals grappling in a respirometry chamber. (MOV 1.94 MB) (1.2 mb)
ESM S5 This video demonstrates one individual buzz-walking in a respirometry chamber. (MOV 1.16 MB)


  1. Appleby MC (1980) Social rank and food access in red deer stags. Behaviour 74:294–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartholemew GA, Casey TM (1978) Oxygen consumption of moths during rest, pre-flight warm-up and flight in relation to body size and wing morphology. J Exp Biol 76:11–25Google Scholar
  3. Blatrix R, Herbers JM (2004) Intracolonial conflict in the slave-making ant Protomognathus americanus: Dominance hierarchies and individual reproductive success. Insectes Soc 51:131–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown KM, Keenan SF, Banks PD (2005) Dominance hierarchies in xanthid crabs: Roles in resource-holding potential and field distributions. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 291:189–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carefoot TH, Taylor BE, Brett K (1998) A day in the life of an isopod: Time and energy allocations in the semiterrestrial Ligia pallasii. Isr J Zoology 44:463–471Google Scholar
  6. Dapporto L, Turillazzi S, Palagi E (2006) Dominance interactions in young adult foundresses of a paper wasp: a play-like behaviour? J Comp Psychol 120:394–400PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. De Bruyn EH, Van Den Boom DC (2005) Interpersonal behavior, peer popularity, and self-esteem in early adolescence. Soc Dev 14:555–573CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. de Waal FB (1986) The integration of dominance and social bonding in primates. Q Rev Biol 61:459–479PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dewsbury DA (1982) Dominance rank, copulatory behavior, and differential reproduction. Q Rev Biol 57:135–159PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dickinson MH, Lighton JRB (1995) Muscle efficiency and elastic storage in the flight motor of Drosophila. Science 268:87–90PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Forkman B, Haskell MJ (2004) The maintenance of stable dominance hierarchies and the pattern of aggression: Support for the suppression hypothesis. Ethology 110:737–744CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gobin B, Heinze J, Strätz M, Roces F (2003) The energetic cost of reproductive conflicts in the ant Pachycondyla obscuricornis. J Insect Physiol 49:747–752PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hack MA (1997) The energetic costs of fighting in the house cricket, Acheta domesticus L. Behav Ecol 8:28–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hunt JH (2006) Evolution of castes in Polistes. Ann Zool Fennici 43:407–422Google Scholar
  15. Kammer AE, Heinrich B (1978) Insect flight metabolism. Adv Insect Physiol 13:133–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Keller L, Perrin N (1995) Quantifying the level of eusociality. Proc Royal Soc B 260:311–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Liebert AE, Starks PT (2006) Taming of the skew: transactional models fail to predict reproductive partitioning in the paper wasp Polistes dominulus. Anim Behav 71:913–923CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lighton JRB, Fielden LJ (1995) Mass scaling of standard metabolism in ticks: a valid case of low metabolic rates in sit-and-wait strategists. Phys Zool 68:43–62Google Scholar
  19. Matsumasa M, Murai M (2005) Changes in blood glucose and lactate levels of male fiddler crabs: Effects of aggression and claw waving. Anim Behav 69:569–577CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mennil DJ, Ramsay SM, Boag PT, Ratcliffe LM (2004) Patterns of extrapair mating in relation to male dominance status and female nest placement in black-capped chickadees. Behav Ecol 15:757–765CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nonacs P, Liebert AE, Starks PT (2006) Transactional skew and assured fitness return models fail to predict patterns of cooperation in wasps. Am Nat 167:467–480PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nonacs P, Reeve HK, Starks PT (2004) Optimal reproductive-skew models fail to predict aggression in wasps. Proc Royal Soc B 271:811–817CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pardi L (1948) Dominance order in Polistes wasps. Phys Zool 21:1–13Google Scholar
  24. Pfennig DW, Reeve HK, Shellman JS (1983) Learned component of nestmate discrimination in workers of a social wasp Polistes fuscatus (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Anim Behav 31:412–416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pratte M (1989) Foundress association in the paper wasp Polistes dominulus Christ. (Hymen. Vesp.). Effects of dominance hierarchy on the division of labour. Behaviour 111:208–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Reeve HK (1991) Polistes. In: Ross KG, Matthews RW (eds) The Social Biology of Wasps. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, pp 99–114Google Scholar
  27. Reeve HK, Nonacs P (1992) Social contracts in wasp societies. Nature 359:823–825CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Reeve HK, Keller L (2001) Tests of reproductive-skew models in social insects. Ann Rev Entomol 46:347–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Reeve HK, Ratnieks FL (1993) Queen-queen conflict in polygynous societies: mutual tolerance and reproductive skew. In: Keller L (ed) Queen Number and Sociality in Insects. University Press, Oxford, pp 45–85Google Scholar
  30. Reeve HK, Starks PT, Peters JM, Nonacs P (2000) Genetic support for the evolutionary theory of reproductive transactions in social wasps. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 267:75–79PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Reinhold K (1999) Energetically costly behaviour and the evolution of resting metabolic rate in insects. Funct Ecol 13:217–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Roberts SP, Harrison JF (1999) Mechanisms of thermal stability during flight in the honeybee Apis mellifera. J Exp Biol 202:1523–1533PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Ros AFH, Becker K, Oliveira RF (2006) Aggressive behaviour and energy metabolism in a cichlid fish, Oreochromis mossambicus. Physiol Behav 89:164–170PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Röseler P, Röseler I (1989) Dominance of ovariectomized foundresses of the paper wasp, polistes gallicus. Insectes Soc 36:219–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rossi AM, Hunt JH (1988) Honey supplementation and its developmental consequences: Evidence for food limitation in a paper wasp, Polistes metricus. Ecol Entomol 13:437–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Scott J, Lockard J (2006) Captive female gorilla agonistic relationships with clumped defendable food resources. Primates; Journal of Primatology 47:199–209PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Starks PT, Fischer DJ, Watson RE, Melikian GL, Nath SD (1998) Context-dependent nestmate discrimination in the paper wasp, Polistes dominulus: A critical test of the optimal acceptance threshold model. Anim Behav 56:449–458PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Starks PT, Turillazzi S (2006) Special Issue, Polistes paper wasps: Emergence of a model genus. Ann Zool Fennici 43:385–624Google Scholar
  39. Sumana A, Starks PT (2004) The function of dart behavior in the paper wasp, Polistes fuscatus. Naturwissenschaften 91:220–223PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tentschert J, Kolmer K, Hölldobler B, Bestmann HJ, Delabie JHC, Heinze J (2001) Chemical profiles, division of labor and social status in Pachycondyla queens (hymenoptera: Formicidae). Naturwissenschaften 88:175–178PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tibbetts EA, Reeve HK (2000) Aggression and resource sharing among foundresses in the social wasp Polistes dominulus: testing transactional theories of conflict. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 48:344–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Turilazzi S, West-Eberhard MJ (1996) Natural history and evolution of paper-wasps. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  43. West-Eberhard (1969) The social biology of polistine wasps. Miscellaneous Publications University of Michigan Museum of Zoology 140:1–101Google Scholar
  44. Wilson EO (1971) The insect societies. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  45. Woods WA, Heinrich D, Steveson RD (2005) Honeybee flight metabolic rate: does it depend on air temperature. J Exp Biol 208:1161–1173PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Woods WA Jr., Hendrickson H, Mason J, Lewis SM (2007) Energy and predation costs of firefly courtship signals. Am Nat 170:702–708PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan A. Weiner
    • 1
    Email author
  • William A. WoodsJr.
    • 1
  • Philip T. Starks
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA

Personalised recommendations