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Males, but not females, mate with multiple partners: a laboratory study of a primitively eusocial wasp Ropalidia marginata


The intense interest in social Hymenoptera, on account of their elaborate sociality and the paradox of altruism, has often suffered from considerable gender imbalance. This is partly due to the fact that worker behaviour and altruism are restricted to the females and partly because males often live off the nest. Yet, understanding the males, especially in the context of mating biology is essential even for understanding the evolution of sociality. Mating patterns have a direct bearing on the levels of intra-colony genetic relatedness, which in turn, along with the associated costs and benefits of worker behaviour, are central to our understanding of the evolution of sociality. Although mating takes place away from the nest in natural colonies of the primitively eusocial wasp Ropalidia marginata, mating can be observed in the laboratory if a male and a female are placed in a transparent, aerated plastic container, and both wasps are in the range of 5–20 days of age. Here, we use this setup and show that males, but not females, mate serially with multiple partners. The multiple mating behaviour of the males is not surprising because in nature males have to mate with a number of females, only a few of whom will go on to lay eggs. The reluctance of R. marginata females to mate with multiple partners is consistent with the expectation of monogamy in primitively eusocial species with totipotent females, although the apparent discrepancy with a previous work with allozyme markers in natural colonies suggesting that females may sometimes mate with two or three different males remains to be resolved.

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This study was supported by the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology and Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. RS was supported by a senior research fellowship of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. RS and RG designed the study; MCS and SS made the quantitative behavioural observations; RS dissected the female wasps; RS and MCS analysed the data; RG supervised the study; RS, MCS and RG co-wrote the paper. We thank three anonymous referees for useful comments that helped improve this paper.

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Shilpa, M.C., Sen, R., Samudre, S. et al. Males, but not females, mate with multiple partners: a laboratory study of a primitively eusocial wasp Ropalidia marginata . Insect. Soc. 59, 61–65 (2012).

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  • Social wasps
  • Ropalidia marginata
  • Mating behaviour
  • Multiple mating
  • Single mating