How to Design Experiments in Animal Behaviour
Continuing to explore the fascinating world of the Indian paper wasp Ropalidia marginata, in this article, we will ask how wasps choose their queens in another context. In the previous article in this series, we saw how a simple experiment revealed that wasps fight, i.e., indulge in dominance-subordinate interactions, and the winner becomes the queen and the loser becomes the worker. This was in the context of new nest foundation. But context matters. When the same wasps once again have to decide who will be their next queen if the first one dies or is experimentally removed, the same rules do not hold. The wasps in a mature colony continue to show dominance-subordinate interactions and can even be arranged in a dominance hierarchy, but the dominance ranks of the wasps do not predict who their next queen will be. How they choose their next queen in this context continues to be an enduring mystery. In this article, I will describe four simple experiments that have helped us come close to nailing the culprit, although I must confess that we have not yet found the smoking gun—the chase is on, and we are hot on the trail—please join in!
KeywordsRopalidia marginata paper wasp potential queen queen pheromone dominance behaviour cryptic successor
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I thank my former students Annagiri Sumana, Sujata Deshpande, Anindita Bhadra, Aniruddha Mitra, Alok Bang and Anindita Brahma for helpful comments on a draft of this article.
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