Magazine article Science News

Males as Nannies? First Test for Wasps' Hidden Baby-Care Skills

Magazine article Science News

Males as Nannies? First Test for Wasps' Hidden Baby-Care Skills

Article excerpt

If scientists kidnap all adult females from a wasp nest, the young males--which normally just hang around without working--will pitch in and feed at least some of the larvae, researchers find. This shows that male wasps have the wherewithal to do a job.

The scientists removed female workers from the nests of the southern Indian wasp Ropalidia marginata. The study is the first systematic test of job skills in a social bee or wasp, says Raghavendra Gadagkar of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

With help from Gadagkar's colleague Ruchira Sen, the males came through. However, they fed larvae "less efficiently" than the regular nursemaids do, Gadagkar and Sen report in the February Animal Behaviour.

In the bees, wasps, and other social insects of the order Hymenoptera, females feed the young, hunt, and serve as soldiers. Males get their meals delivered and just wait around until it's time to find a female to fertilize. In contrast, young male termites work along with their sisters.

In a few wasp species, biologists have on occasion observed males giving food to larvae.

The researchers brought 14 wasps' nests into the lab. To make sure that the test wasps had enough to eat, Sen set dishes of food just outside the nests. In colonies where she had removed the females, the males didn't go out to eat. Sen "mastered the art of patiently and tenderly hand-feeding the males;' says Gadagkar.

Males that Sen fed did some larva nannying, although not in the standard ways. …

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