In order to gain insights into the mechanistic basis of caste and behavioral differences in Polistes paper wasps, we examined abdominal lipid stores and ovary development in Polistes metricus females in four groups: foundresses, queens, workers, and gynes. Queens had the largest ovaries, followed by foundresses, workers, and gynes. Gynes had 6x higher lipid stores than the other groups, and lipid stores were lower in foragers (foundresses, workers) than non-foragers (queens, gynes). Lipid levels and ovary development were negatively correlated across the four groups, but removing gynes from the analysis revealed a significant positive correlation for foundresses, workers, and queens, suggesting different energy allocation strategies for gynes vs. other groups. Expression levels of 9 genes (including three in the insulin pathway), examined in a previous study, correlated with either lipid stores or ovary development. These correlative results suggest important relationships between nutrition, reproduction, and division of labor in primitively social insects. We also show that it is possible to assign P. metricus females to one of the four female groups on the basis of wing wear (an indicator of foraging experience), lipid stores, and ovary development, which can facilitate caste-specific collections for future studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-84
Number of pages8
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Caste
  • Foraging behavior
  • Gene expression
  • Nutrition
  • Ovary development
  • Polistes metricus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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