Satellite nests, early males, and plasticity of reproductive behavior in a paper wasp

R. E. Page, D. C. Post, R. A. Metcalf

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38 Scopus citations


The Polistes fuscatus variatus population demonstrated a remarkable amount of reproductive behavioral plasticity. At least 14% of all nests produced a few males early in the season, before the emergence of the majority of reproductives. At least 17% of all nests were part of polydomous colonies that consisted of 2-9 separate nests with 2-9 foundresses. During the 1st year of study, 10 satellite nests were founded, some of which contained mated, spring-produced females and, in late summer, produced male and female offspring. Early males apparently mate with early-season reproductive females that supersede orphaned nests or oviposit on satellites. The small number of males produced may represent a trade-off between their early-season reproductive value and their cost later in the season. The cost of an early male is the reproductive value of males and females that could have been produced in late summer if resources had been invested in workers. Satellite nest were closely associated with polydomous colonies, suggesting that a reduction in the ability of alpha foundresses to maintain their reproductive dominance of polydomous colonies leads to the expression of alternative reproductive behavior. Functional polygyny results in reduced genetic relationships between adults and reproductive offspring and should favor behavior that increases individual reproduction. Satellite nests were functionally like additional nests in polydomous colonies, but alpha foundresses (queens) were never observed on them, and spring-produced female offspring appear to have been the sole egg layers. Other unmated, nonreproductive (presumably worker) offspring incorporated satellite nests into the set of nests they worked. -from Authors

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)731-748
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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