Colony Size & Competition Efficiency

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.

Some social insects rely on resources that are ephemeral, have much competition and exploitation in a timely manner is important to securing the resources. Social insects can effectively compete for these resources against their competitors through large numbers. Imagine a resource that is only available for 3 hours at a travel time from the nest of 5 minutes round trip and an insect requires 1 minute to load and unload. An individual working alone could make could make 30 such trips in the 3 hours and acquire 30 loads of the resource. At the end of the 3 hours, the individual would begin a search for a new resource that might require an extended time.

Imagine instead a forager in a large social insect colony with a forager that travels to the resource and back but instead of returning right away, spends the next 5 minutes directing 110 foragers to the site. The larger colony can sequester 100 times more resource in the same 3 hours that the single individual can. While the foragers are busy returning with resource, other individuals can engage in finding the next resource and redirect the foragers to the next resource with no time loss searching. By division of labor with a few foragers scouting for new resources while the bulk of foragers exploit known resources, less time per individual is lost to scouting and more time in productive collection of resource.

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.
This entry was posted in behavior, by jjneal, Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

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