Costs, benefits, and plasticity of construction of nest defensive structures in paper wasps


Various animals build nests with defensive structures to deter predation on offspring. Construction of nest defensive structures can reduce the probability of predation but will involve various costs. Here, we examined both the costs and benefits of the construction of a nest defensive structure in a paper wasp, Polistes chinensis antennalis, and clarify whether the paper wasp changes the level of defensive structures of nests depending on predation risk. A foundress (queen) of the paper wasp starts a colony in spring and maintains her nest alone until the emergence of workers. At this stage, pupae in the nests are sometimes preyed on by conspecifics of other nests. The intruder needs to break the cocoon, which seals the entrance of the cell, to extract the pupa from the cell. Foundresses often apply nest material (pulp) to the surface of cocoons in their nests. We found that pulp on a cocoon increased the time an intruder required to break the cocoon. This result shows that the pulp structure on cocoons helps to prevent predation on pupae. On the other hand, pulp on cocoons involved costs, including time required to collect pulp and being a potential obstacle to the emergence of workers from the cocoon. Additionally, we found that the amount of pulp on cocoons was greater in nests under higher predation risk than nests under lower predation risk. These results suggest that pulp on cocoons is a nest defensive structure, and foundresses adjusted the construction of the defensive structure depending on predation risk.

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We thank all members of our laboratory for their helpful discussions. We appreciate the improvements in English usage made by Edanz Group Japan. The first author is supported by the Global COE Program (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Tokyo, Japan; Center of excellence for Asian conservation ecology as a basis of human–nature mutualism). The second author is supported by Grant-in-Aid for Challenging Exploratory Research (no. 25650149) and Grant-in-Aids for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (no. 22370010) and the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (S9) of the Ministry of the Environment, Tokyo, Japan.

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Correspondence to Sho Furuichi.

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Communicated by W. T. Wcislo

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Predation by a foundress of P. chinensis on a pupa in another conspecific nest. The playback speed is 4× real-time (MPG 5215 kb)

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Predation by a foundress of P. chinensis on a pupa in another conspecific nest. The playback speed is 4× real-time (MPG 5215 kb)

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Furuichi, S., Kasuya, E. Costs, benefits, and plasticity of construction of nest defensive structures in paper wasps. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68, 215–221 (2014).

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  • Animal architecture
  • Construction behavior
  • Nest predation
  • Defensive structure
  • Plasticity
  • Predation risk