bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Waspish communication

I think wasps (yellow jackets in the USA) get a really bad press, especially from beekeepers. So I'm glad to see a news release from the University of Wisconsin about a study of the interaction and communication of wasps.

First of all, for you wasp-haters:
“Wasps are really fairly docile,” says Bob Jeanne, an entomologist at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “If you don't jostle the nest, and if the wind is blowing from the nest towards you, you can actually get quite close to observe them.”
I'd agree with that. Wasps are quite friendly!

Jeanne notes that wasps have several communication strategies, including chemical, mechanical and visual signals, as well as situational cues. For example, “on a dry day, a forager wasp who returns with water might have the water unloaded by a worker wasp right away. That cues the forager there is a high demand for water, and she might decide to get more water immediately.” On the other hand, says Jeanne, if the forager has to wait with her cargo for a minute or two, she might deduce that there is no pressing need for water, and not depart to forage right away.
Jeanne also thinks that wasps use scents rather than dances to locate food sources.

Well, I watch wasps around my supers of newly extracted comb and they certainly seem to pick up that smell very quickly.

And to any bristling beekeeper who says that wasps rob and destroy their bee colonies, I cam only say that I've suffered that just once and that was because the colony was very weak.


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