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The development of biting interactions and task performance in a tropical eusocial wasp

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Swarm-founding wasp workers (genus Polybia) exhibit developmental changes in task specialization known as temporal polyethism. Young workers typically remain inside the nest, followed by a period of working on the exterior nest surface, and later by foraging. Polybia workers on the nest exterior engage in biting interactions with their nest mates, and workers that are bitten are more likely to forage. To assess whether biting interactions influence the rate of temporal polyethism in P.aequatorialis, I tested for associations between on-nest workers' receiving biting and their ages at onset of foraging. As predicted, most workers were bitten several days before they began foraging. Workers that were bitten sooner after appearing on the nest surface also began foraging sooner. Furthermore, workers that were bitten at higher rates began foraging at younger ages. These patterns suggest that biting interactions play a role in initiating the onset of foraging. Most workers continued to receive biting after they began foraging, and workers were more likely to depart the nest immediately after being bitten. Therefore, biting apparently also functions to maintain foraging behaviour.


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