When a wasp starts hovering around a picnic you can guarantee its friends won’t be far behind.
Now scientists have discovered why – it alerts others to the food by going back to the nest and banging its stomach. Researchers described it as the wasp equivalent of ringing a dinner bell. The result is a plague of the pests swarming to picnics, barbecues and other al fresco meals.
Worker wasps have long been observed to drum their abdomens against different parts of a nest. It was previously assumed that this was a sign of hunger.
But the new research by Dr Benjamin Taylor, assistant biology professor at LaGuardia Community College in New York, found it may be a way of alerting others to food – and even its quality.
The study, published in the journal The Science of Nature, looked at a species of wasp called the German yellowjacket – commonly associated with ruining outdoor meals. Dr Taylor found the wasps produced various ‘rhythmic’ sounds by tapping their abdomen against different parts of the nest in what appears to be a sign of advanced social communications in the insect world.
He said: ‘They often show up at picnics, ball games – anywhere they can get hold of some food. The behaviour I studied is called gastral drumming. When they produce this behaviour they drum their gaster – which is essentially their abdomen – against different parts of the nest in a rhythmic fashion. For nearly five decades, researchers thought it was a signal of hunger.
‘What my team found was that they are somehow informing each other that there’s good food nearby. This is incredibly exciting. In the social insect world, we call this behaviour “recruitment”. For years many people believed wasps do not produce such a behaviour. Our research showed they do.’
He added that the wasps carried out different types of drumming. This suggests they may also be able to tell others about the quality of the food available.
© Daily Mail