Foraging the Familiar

Yellow Jacket

Yellow Jacket

Social Hymenoptera are successful because of the ability to forage efficiently and store food. Upon discovery of a food resource, social insects have the ability to remember that location and return repeatedly until the food is exhausted. Humans behave similarly. When we find food we like at a convenient market, we remember the market and return knowing that we can expect to find what we seek. This is efficient as the search process leading to food discovery can be time consuming. Memorizing a location and returning to the same location can save time and allow a forager to make more successful trips in a day. Yellow jackets, Vespula germanica, memorize the location where they last found food and will return to the area repeatedly. The wasps are most likely using visual landmarks to return to a location.

D’Adamo & Lozada* provided food to a colony of yellow jackets and studied the response when the food was relocated nearby. The wasps continued to search the area even though odor cues were no longer present in the area. As time without finding food increases, the wasps will quit that location and initiate a search for the new food source using odors and other cues. Wasps that experienced more food reward trips at the initial location took longer to quit that location and were less likely to quit. D’Adamo & Lozada also placed colored visual markers near a food source and studied yellow jacket response. When food was moved to a new location, the wasps were more likely to quit the original food location and search for a new food source if the visual markers were altered.

Food for yellow jackets is patchy in space and time. The search behavior of the yellow jackets increases foraging efficiency by reducing the time spent foraging for food. It also suggests that wasps that have found a suitable food in plentiful supply are less likely to locate another food source even if it is better quality.

*Paola D’Adamo & Mariana Lozada. 2014. How Context Modification can Favor the Release of Past Experience in Vespula germanica Wasps, Enabling the Detection of a Novel Food Site. J Insect Behavior. 27:395-402.
DOI 10.1007/s10905-013-9434-0

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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