Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 62, Issue 4, pp 455–463 | Cite as

The stinging response of the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris): plasticity and variation in individual aggressiveness

  • D. SantoroEmail author
  • S. Hartley
  • D. M. Suckling
  • P. J. Lester
Research Article


We studied the variability and plasticity of individual aggressiveness in a social insect, describing and quantifying the sting extension response (SER) of the common wasp Vespula vulgaris. As a proxy for individual aggressiveness we measured the SER of individual wasps, scoring the extent by which the sting was extruded in response to a mild electric shock (7.5 or 12 V for 2 s) on a scale from 0 to 1. We found that wasps vary greatly in their stinging propensity and aggression thresholds and that individuals change their SER during their life. Extremely aggressive or docile phenotypes, showing at first consistent mutual differences on different days, tended to converge over time and developed comparable SER responses later in their life. Older individuals tended to be more aggressive. Wasp size was not related to the stinging phenotype. Wasp foragers had a less pronounced sting extension than individuals previously involved in nest defense. For the same individual, the aggressive response was proportional to the intensity of the negative stimulus. We discuss the advantages of the SER bioassay as a tool to measure individual aggressiveness, plasticity and inter-individual variability in the Aculeata group, and its great potential in comparative and learning studies.


Behavior Inter-individual variability Sting extension Aculeata Apis mellifera 



We thank Lloyd Stringer for his help during nest excavation, Flore Mas and Rafael Barbieri for insightful advice during data collection and analysis, Michael Breed, Kevin Loope and one anonymous reviewer for their suggestions. This work was funded by Victoria University of Wellington.

Supplementary material

40_2015_424_MOESM1_ESM.docx (482 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 482 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Santoro
    • 1
    Email author
  • S. Hartley
    • 1
  • D. M. Suckling
    • 2
  • P. J. Lester
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food ResearchChristchurchNew Zealand

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