Efficiency In Numbers

paper wasp

Left: Paper wasps feed their larvae (look in the open cells) and guard their nest. The cells closed with silk caps contain pupae.
Right: An adult wasp rolls a caterpillar into a ball to take back to the nest and feed to the hungry larvae.

Studies of wasp colonies have found that efficiency of many tasks increases as colony size increases.  A founding queen must build her nest, and feed her brood while acting alone.  The queen must forage for wood, turn the wood into pulp and construct cells, a process that takes many trips.   Once the cells are built, the queen must alternate between defense of the nest and foraging to feed her brood.  After the brood becomes adults, some individuals can stay with the nest performing building and brood defense tasks.  As the size increases, the task of building cells is further subdivided.  Wasps that specialize in foraging carry larger loads and make fewer trips to accomplish the same work saving both time and energy.  Workers that specialize in pulping and nest building are able to complete their work more quickly.  In insect societies as in human societies, division of labor by individuals that specializes makes the colony or society more efficient.

Jennifer H. Fewell & Jon F. Harrison. Scaling of work and energy use in social insect colonies. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. pp 1-15.

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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