A diapause pathway underlies the gyne phenotype in Polistes wasps, revealing an evolutionary route to caste-containing insect societies

James H. Hunt, Bart J. Kensinger, Jessica A. Kossuth, Michael T. Henshaw, Kari Norberg, Florian Wolschin, Gro Amdam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


Colonies of social wasps, ants, and bees are characterized by the production of two phenotypes of female offspring, workers that remain at their natal nest and nonworkers that are potential colony reproductives of the next generation. The phenotype difference includes morphology and is fixed during larval development in ants, honey bees, and some social wasps, all of which represent an advanced state of sociality. Paper wasps (Polistes) lack morphological castes and are thought to more closely resemble an ancestral state of sociality wherein the phenotype difference between workers and nonworkers is established only during adult life. We address an alternative hypothesis: a bias toward the potential reproductive (gyne) phenotype among Polistes female offspring occurs during larval development and is based on a facultatively expressed ancestral life history trait: diapause. We show that two signatures of diapause (extended maturation time and enhanced synthesis and sequestration of a hexameric storage protein) characterize the development of gyne offspring in Polistes metricus. Hexameric storage proteins are implicated in silencing juvenile hormone signaling, which is a prerequisite for diapause. Diverging hexamerin protein dynamics driven by changes in larval provisioning levels thereby provide one possible mechanism that can cause an adaptive shift in phenotype bias during the Polistes colony cycle. This ontogenetic basis for alternative female phenotypes in Polistes challenges the view that workers and gynes represent behavior options equally available to every female offspring, and it exemplifies how social insect castes can evolve from casteless lineages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14020-14025
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 28 2007


  • Caste development
  • Hexameric storage proteins
  • Juvenile hormone
  • Life-history pleiotropy
  • Social behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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