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Relationship between the age of Vespa velutina workers and their defensive behaviour established from colonies maintained in the laboratory


As the structural bases of insect societies are essential to colony survival, nests must be protected from predation. Nest defence behaviours are among the most important roles assigned to worker members. However, in hornet societies, temporal polyethism (age-dependent division of labour among workers) is assumed to be weak. Few studies have investigated this phenomenon, probably because hornet nests are aggressively defended and dangerous to approach. In the present study, we propose a method for rearing nests of Vespa velutina, a species newly introduced into Europe. This method enables the handling of hornets, and thus the design of experiments. By marking all newly emerged hornets, we recorded aggressiveness in workers of different ages from three captive colonies. We observed that nest defence behaviour in V. velutina depends on the age of the workers. Nest defence appears to be mediated by the queen, probably through pheromones that promote nest organization. We also identified a previously unreported but important behaviour in V. velutina that workers are aggressive towards male hornets. This behaviour might be a strategy to avoid inbreeding. Collectively, our results provide new research perspectives for the management of social hymenopteran predators.

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This research was financially supported by INRA, a grant from Région Aquitaine and the French Ministry of Environment. This research was undertaken within the Labex COTE research project. We would like to thank Mr. C. Lacoste, Mrs. M. Desrois and SDAR services from INRA Bordeaux-Aquitaine for constructing our V. velutina proof cages and Mr. J. Martrenchar and Mr. D. Barnier for collecting the nests. We also thank Mr. B. Chauvin, Mrs. E. Segura, Mrs. A. Tourat and Mrs Q. Médalin for their technical help. We also thank Dr. O. Le Gall for his personnal encouragements.

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Correspondence to D. Thiéry.

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Because of the risks engendered by the aggressive and invasive nature of V. velutina, handling rules must be respected. Collecting nests in the field and their manipulation in the laboratory require appropriate protection (complete body protection) to avoid stings that could provoke an anaphylactic reaction in people allergic to Hymenoptera venom. Handlers and observers should not stay alone in the vicinity of the cage, and unauthorized persons should keep away from the experimental room. We disclaim all responsibility for people who do not adhere to these instructions.

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Monceau, K., Bonnard, O. & Thiéry, D. Relationship between the age of Vespa velutina workers and their defensive behaviour established from colonies maintained in the laboratory. Insect. Soc. 60, 437–444 (2013).

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  • Division of labour
  • Inbreeding
  • Queen control
  • Social insects
  • Temporal polyethism
  • Vespidae
  • Yellow-legged hornet