Virgin wasps develop ovaries on par with mated females, but lay fewer eggs

Abstract

In the primitively eusocial wasp Ropalidia marginata, mating is not necessary for a female wasp to develop her ovaries, lay eggs, and even to become the sole egg layer of her colony despite the presence of other mated nestmates. Here, we show that virgin wasps do not differ from their mated counterparts in the extent and rapidity of their ovarian development, in the proportion of individuals that build a nest and laid eggs, and in the time taken to do so. However, a significantly larger proportion of virgin females showed resorbing oocytes, and laid fewer eggs as compared to mated individuals. Thus, virgin females have the ability to develop ovaries and lay eggs but also to refrain from necessarily laying all mature eggs produced, before mating opportunities arise. This dual ability would be adaptive in haplodiploid, tropical species with perennial nesting cycles and frequent opportunities for workers to become replacement queens or solitary nest foundresses throughout the year.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by grants from the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. RG and SS designed the study, SS performed dissections and data analysis, MCS carried out behavioural observations, body size measurements and maintained wasps, RG supervised the work and SS and RG co-wrote the paper. We thank Ruchira Sen and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to R. Gadagkar.

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Shukla, S., Shilpa, M.C. & Gadagkar, R. Virgin wasps develop ovaries on par with mated females, but lay fewer eggs. Insect. Soc. 60, 345–350 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-013-0299-1

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Keywords

  • Eusociality
  • Mating
  • Ovarian development
  • Virgin females
  • Nest initiation