The Science of Nature

, 103:80 | Cite as

Facial patterns in a tropical social wasp correlate with colony membership

  • David Baracchi
  • Stefano Turillazzi
  • Lars Chittka
Short Communication


Social insects excel in discriminating nestmates from intruders, typically relying on colony odours. Remarkably, some wasp species achieve such discrimination using visual information. However, while it is universally accepted that odours mediate a group level recognition, the ability to recognise colony members visually has been considered possible only via individual recognition by which wasps discriminate ‘friends’ and ‘foes’. Using geometric morphometric analysis, which is a technique based on a rigorous statistical theory of shape allowing quantitative multivariate analyses on structure shapes, we first quantified facial marking variation of Liostenogaster flavolineata wasps. We then compared this facial variation with that of chemical profiles (generated by cuticular hydrocarbons) within and between colonies. Principal component analysis and discriminant analysis applied to sets of variables containing pure shape information showed that despite appreciable intra-colony variation, the faces of females belonging to the same colony resemble one another more than those of outsiders. This colony-specific variation in facial patterns was on a par with that observed for odours. While the occurrence of face discrimination at the colony level remains to be tested by behavioural experiments, overall our results suggest that, in this species, wasp faces display adequate information that might be potentially perceived and used by wasps for colony level recognition.


Face recognition Insect cognition Individual recognition Nestmate recognition Visual signals 



The authors thank Prof. Rosly Hashim and Dr. Iacopo Petrocelli for their support in Malaysia and Drs. Francesca Romana Dani and Alessandro Massolo for providing chemical data. DB was supported by a Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship. LC is supported by an ERC Advanced Grant and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award.

Supplementary material

114_2016_1406_ESM1_ESM.docx (57 kb)
Fig. ESM 1 (DOCX 57 kb)
114_2016_1406_ESM2_ESM.docx (72 kb)
Fig. ESM 2 (DOCX 71 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Paris 13, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Laboratoire d’Ethologie Expérimentale et ComparéeVilletaneuseFrance
  2. 2.Biological and Experimental Psychology, School of Biological and Chemical SciencesQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Università degli Studi di Firenze, Dipartimento di BiologiaSesto FiorentinoItaly

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