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Body temperature and thermoregulation in two species of yellowjackets, Vespula germanica and V. maculifrons


In spite of the abundance and broad distribution of social wasps, little information exists concerning thermoregulation by individuals. We measured body temperatures of the yellowjackets Vespula germanica and V. maculifrons and examined their thermoregulatory mechanisms. V. germanica demonstrated thermoregulation via a decreasing gradient between thorax temperature and ambient temperature as ambient temperature increased. V. maculifrons exhibited a constant gradient at lower ambient temperatures but thorax temperature was constant at high ambient temperatures. Head temperature exhibited similar patterns in both species. In spite of low thermal conductances, a simple heat budget model predicts substantial heat loads in warm conditions in the absence of thermoregulation. Both species regurgitated when heated on the head. A smaller volume of regurgitant was produced at lower head temperatures and a larger volume at higher head temperatures. Small regurgitations resulted in stabilization of head temperature, while large ones resulted in 4°C decreases in head temperature. Regurgitation was rare when wasps were heated upon the thorax. Abdomen temperature was 3–4°C above ambient temperature, and approached ambient temperature under the hottest conditions. No evidence was found for shunting of hot hemolymph from thorax to abdomen as a cooling mechanism. The frequency of regurgitation in workers returning to the nest increased with ambient temperature. Regurgitation may be an important thermoregulatory strategy during heat stress, but is probably not the only mechanism used in yellowjackets.

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M b :

body mass

M th :

thorax mass

T a :

ambient temperature

T ab :

abdomen temperature

T b :

body temperature

T h :

head temperature

T th :

thorax temperature

C t :

thermal conductance


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Communicated by L.C.-H. Wang

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Coelho, J.R., Ross, A.J. Body temperature and thermoregulation in two species of yellowjackets, Vespula germanica and V. maculifrons . J Comp Physiol B 166, 68–76 (1996).

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Key words

  • Thermoregulation
  • Body temperature
  • Regurgitation
  • Hymenoptera
  • Vespidae