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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 May 22;275(1639):1189-96. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1779.

On status badges and quality signals in the paper wasp Polistes dominulus: body size, facial colour patterns and hierarchical rank.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e Genetica, Universit√† degli Studi di Firenze, Florence, Italy.


To establish a dominance order, social animals often rely on indicators of fighting to avoid costly aggressive encounters. In some species, individuals use colour patterns to signal their social status. Recent studies claimed that facial markings in the eusocial paper wasp Polistes dominulus are status badges that allow co-foundresses to form a linear hierarchy based on individual quality. Here, we evaluated facial patterns in natural populations of P. dominulus, in its native range, to observe whether the marks reflect overall wasp quality in different contexts. We used the same measures of clypeus patterns used by earlier studies, but did not find that they functioned as status badges. Our analyses showed no evidence that visual markers are related to: (i) size, (ii) probability of surviving winter, (iii) social rank in spring associations, or (iv) health status (assessed by the presence of strepsipteran endoparasites). Size, however, is important. Larger wasps are more likely to survive the winter and to acquire the dominant position in spring associations. Larvae infected with endoparasites become smaller adult wasps. These findings suggest that body size is a reliable quality indicator on which wasps build their social networks, and that clypeus patterning is not involved.

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