Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 65, Issue 4, pp 633–640 | Cite as

Co-occurrence of three types of egg policing in the Norwegian wasp Dolichovespula norwegica

  • Wim Bonckaert
  • Adam Tofilski
  • Fabio S. Nascimento
  • Johan Billen
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks
  • Tom Wenseleers
Original Paper


In insect societies, workers often try to challenge the reproductive monopoly of the queen by laying their own eggs. Successful worker reproduction, however, is frequently prevented by queen policing or worker policing, whereby either the mother queen or non-reproductive workers selectively kill worker-laid eggs. Recently, a third mechanism—“selfish” worker policing—has also been described in which the workers selectively police worker-laid eggs but also lay eggs themselves. Here, we present results from the monogynous wasp Dolichovespula norwegica, which show that all three kinds of policing—queen policing, worker policing and “selfish” worker policing—co-occur. The net effect of these three kinds of policing collectively favoured the queen’s reproduction, as within 1 day 44% of the worker-laid eggs versus only 8% of the queen-laid eggs were eaten. Of the worker-laid eggs that were killed by workers, approximately two thirds were eaten by the reproductive workers even though these made up only a small proportion, 8%, of the work force. This means that policing workers obtained both direct fitness benefits as well as indirect (inclusive) fitness. In addition, we show that worker policing was carried out by a limited, specialised set of workers that was estimated to constitute approximately one quarter of the whole colony and of which 66% were non-reproductive.


Reproductive conflict Vespinae wasps Worker reproduction Selfish worker policing Queen policing Worker policing 



We would like to thank the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation through Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT-Vlaanderen) and the Research Foundation Flanders (grant no. GNM-B5996-KAN2006) for funding. We are also very grateful to Kristel Vuerinckx and Tom Vanhove for help with video analysis and to Kristien Erven for help with the genotyping.

Supplementary material

265_2010_1064_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (65 kb)
(PDF 65 kb)


  1. Bonckaert W, Vuerinckx K, Billen J, Hammond RL, Keller L, Wenseleers T (2008) Worker policing in the German wasp Vespula germanica. Behav Ecol 19:272–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boomsma JJ, Ratnieks FLW (1996) Paternity in eusocial Hymenoptera. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 351:947–975CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bourke AFG (1988) Worker reproduction in the higher eusocial Hymenoptera. Q Rev Biol 63:291–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bourke AFG (1999) Colony size, social complexity and reproductive conflict in social insects. J Evol Biol 12:245–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bourke AFG (2005) Genetics, relatedness and social behaviour in insect societies. In: Fellowes MDE, Holloway GJ, Rolff J (eds) Insect evolutionary ecology. CABI, Wallingford, pp 1–30Google Scholar
  6. Bourke AFG, Franks NR (1995) Social evolution in ants. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  7. Brunner E, Heinze E (2009) Worker dominance and policing in the ant Temnothorax unifasciatus. Insect Soc 56:397–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crozier RH, Pamilo P (1996) Evolution of social insect colonies. Sex allocation and kin selection. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  9. D’Ettorre P, Heinze J, Ratnieks FLW (2004) Worker policing by egg-eating in the ponerine ant Pachycondyla inversa. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 271:1427–1434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Daly D, Archer ME, Watts PC, Speed MP, Hughes MR, Barker FS, Jones J, Odgaard K, Kemp SJ (2002) Polymorphic microsatellite loci for eusocial wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Mol Ecol Notes 2:273–275Google Scholar
  11. Endler A, Liebig J, Schmitt T, Parker JE, Jones GR, Schreier P, Hölldobler B (2004) Surface hydrocarbons of queen eggs regulate worker reproduction in a social insect. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:2945–2950PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Foster K, Ratnieks F (2000) Facultative worker policing in a wasp. Nature 407:692–693PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Foster KR, Ratnieks FLW (2001a) Paternity, reproduction and conflict in vespine wasps: a model system for testing kin selection predictions. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 50:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Foster KR, Ratnieks FLW (2001b) The effect of sex-allocation biasing on the evolution of worker policing in hymenopteran societies. Am Nat 158:615–624PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Foster KR, Ratnieks FLW (2001c) Convergent evolution of worker policing by egg eating in the honeybee and common wasp. Proc R Soc Lond B 268:169–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Foster KR, Ratnieks FLW, Gyllenstrand N, Thoren PA (2001) Colony kin structure and male production in Dolichovespula wasps. Mol Ecol 10:1003–1010PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Foster KR, Gulliver J, Ratnieks FLW (2002) Worker policing in the European hornet Vespa crabro. Insect Soc 49:41–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Halling LA, Oldroyd BP, Wattanachaiyingcharoen W, Barron AB, Nanork P, Wongsiri S (2001) Worker policing in the bee Apis florea. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 49:509–513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hamilton WD (1964) The genetical evolution of social behaviour I & II. J Theor Biol 7:1–52PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hammond RL, Keller L (2004) Conflict over male parentage in social insects. PLoS Biol 2:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hartmann A, Wantia J, Torres JA, Heinze J (2003) Worker policing without genetic conflicts in a clonal ant. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 100:12836–12840PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Helanterä H, Tofilski A, Wenseleers T, Ratnieks FLW (2006) Worker policing in the common wasp Vespula vulgaris is not aimed at improving colony hygiene. Insect Soc 53:399–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hughes WOH, Oldroyd BP, Beekman M, Ratnieks FLW (2008) Ancestral monogamy shows kin selection is key to the evolution of eusociality. Science 320:1213–1216PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kellner K, Trindl A, Heinze J, D’Ettorre P (2007) Polygyny and polyandry in small ant societies. Mol Ecol 16:2363–2369PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lee ET, Wang JW (2003) Statistical methods for survival data analysis, 3rd edn. Wiley-Interscience, HobokenCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Liebig J, Monnin T, Turillazzi S (2005) Direct assessment of queen quality and lack of worker suppression in a paper wasp. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 272:1339–1344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Michener CD, Brothers DJ (1974) Were workers of eusocial Hymenoptera initially altruistic or oppressed. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 71:671–674PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Monnin T, Peeters C (1997) Cannibalism of subordinates’ eggs in the monogynous queenless ant Dinoponera quadriceps. Naturwissenschaften 84:499–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nielsen R, Tarpy DR, Reeve HK (2003) Estimating effective paternity number in social insects and the effective number of alleles in a population. Mol Ecol 12:3157–3164PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nonacs P (2006) Nepotism and brood reliability in the suppression of worker reproduction in the eusocial Hymenoptera. Biol Lett 2:577–579PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ohtsuki H, Tsuji K (2009) Adaptive reproduction schedule as a cause of worker policing in social Hymenoptera: a dynamic game analysis. Am Nat 173:747–758PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Oldroyd BP, Halling LA, Good G, Wattanachaiyingcharoen W, Barron AB, Nanork P, Wongsiri S, Ratnieks FLW (2001) Worker policing and worker reproduction in Apis cerana. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 50:371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Oster GF, Wilson EO (1978) Caste and ecology in the social insects. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  34. Pamilo P (1991) Evolution of colony characteristics in social insects 1. Sex allocation. Am Nat 137:83–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pirk CWW, Neumann P, Hepburn R, Moritz RFA, Tautz J (2004) Egg viability and worker policing in honey bees. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101:8649–8651PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Queller DC (2000) Relatedness and the fraternal major transitions. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 355:1647–1655CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Queller DC, Strassmann JE (1998) Kin selection and social insects. Bioscience 48:165–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ratnieks FLW (1988) Reproductive harmony via mutual policing by workers in eusocial Hymenoptera. Am Nat 132:217–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ratnieks FLW, Reeve HK (1992) Conflict in single-queen hymenopteran societies: the structure of conflict and processes that reduce conflict in advanced eusocial species. J Theor Biol 158:33–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ratnieks FLW, Visscher PK (1989) Worker policing in the honeybee. Nature 342:796–797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ratnieks FLW, Foster KR, Wenseleers T (2006) Conflict resolution in insect societies. Annu Rev Entomol 51:581–608PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Robinson GE (1992) Regulation of division of labor in insect societies. Annu Rev Entomol 37:637–665PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Saigo T, Tsuchida K (2004) Queen and worker policing in monogynous and monandrous colonies of a primitively eusocial wasp. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci (Suppl) 271:S509–S512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Starr CK (1984) Sperm competition, kinship, and sociality: a review of modern theory. In: Smith RL (ed) Sperm competition and the evolution of animal mating systems. Academic, Orlando, pp 427–464Google Scholar
  45. Stroeymeyt N, Brunner E, Heinze J (2007) “Selfish worker policing” controls reproduction in a Temnothorax ant. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 61:1449–1457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Thorén PA, Paxton RJ, Estoup A (1995) Unusually high frequency of (CT)n and (GT)n microsatellite loci in a yellow jacket wasp, Vespula rufa (L.) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). Insect Mol Biol 5:141–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Trivers RL, Hare H (1976) Haplodiploidy and the evolution of the social insects. Science 191:249–263PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. van Zweden JS, Furst MA, Heinze J, D’Ettorre P (2007) Specialization in policing behaviour among workers in the ant Pachycondyla inversa. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 274:1421–1428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Velthuis HHW, Araujo Alves D de, Imperatriz-Fonseca VL, Duchateau MJ (2002) Worker bees and the fate of their eggs. Proc Exp Appl Entomol NEV Amsterdam 13:97–102Google Scholar
  50. Wang J (2004) Sibship reconstruction from genetic data with typing errors. Genetics 166:1963–1979PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wang J, Santure AW (2009) Parentage and sibship inference from multilocus genotype data under polygamy. Genetics 181:1579–1594PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wenseleers T, Ratnieks FLW (2006a) Comparative analysis of worker reproduction and policing in eusocial Hymenoptera supports relatedness theory. Am Nat 168:E163–E179PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wenseleers T, Ratnieks FLW (2006b) Enforced altruism in insect societies. Nature 444:50–50PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wenseleers T, Tofilski A, Ratnieks FLW (2005a) Queen and worker policing in the tree wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 58:80–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wenseleers T, Badcock NS, Erven K, Tofilski A, Nascimento FS, Hart AG, Burke TA, Archer ME, Ratnieks FLW (2005b) A test of worker policing theory in an advanced eusocial wasp, Vespula rufa. Evolution 59:1306–1314PubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Wilson EO (1971) The insect societies. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wim Bonckaert
    • 1
  • Adam Tofilski
    • 2
  • Fabio S. Nascimento
    • 3
  • Johan Billen
    • 1
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks
    • 4
  • Tom Wenseleers
    • 1
  1. 1.Zoological InstituteCatholic University of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Pomology and ApicultureAgricultural UniversityKrakowPoland
  3. 3.Departamento de BiologiaFFCLRP - Universidade de São PauloRibeirão Preto - SPBrasil
  4. 4.Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, Department of Biological and Environmental ScienceUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations