The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 64: 267 - 273 (2020)

Vol 64, Issue 4-5-6

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in India - Second Part

The effect of age on non-reproductive division of labour in the tropical primitively eusocial wasp, Ropalidia cyathiformis

Published: 23 June 2020

Sruthi Unnikrishnan* and Raghavendra Gadagkar

Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India


Division of labour among workers (non-reproductive division of labour), a characteristic feature of eusocial insects enables the efficient functioning of their colonies. In many advanced insect societies division of labour is based on age (age polyethism). Primitively eusocial insects however are believed to have a weak age polyethism. Here we investigated the role of age in non-reproductive division of labour in the tropical primitively eusocial wasp, Ropalidia cyathiformis and compared it with that in Ropalidia marginata, a congeneric species that exhibits relatively strong age polyethism. Age had a significant effect on the first performance of the four tasks studied; tasks were initiated in the sequence feed larva, build, bring food and bring building material. We measured task performance as the absolute frequency of tasks performed (FTP) and the probability of performing a task relative to other tasks (PTP) and age as absolute age in days since eclosion as well as relative age compared to nestmates. FTP varied significantly with both absolute and relative age, although absolute age explained more variance. PTP varied significantly with absolute age but not always with relative age. This is contrary to R. marginata, where more variation is explained by relative age than by absolute age. There was no trade-off between intranidal and extranidal tasks in R. cyathiformis unlike in R. marginata where the frequency of intranidal tasks decreased and that of extranidal tasks increased with age. We conclude that age polyethism is weak and less flexible in R. cyathiformis compared to that in R. marginata.


age polyethism, social evolution, worker polyethism, highly eusocial, Ropalidia cyathiformis

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