Do paper wasps have personalities? Physiological and genomic mechanisms of personality in Polistes fuscatus
Social insects offer a unique opportunity to study personality at both the group and individual level. Polistes fuscatus paper wasps are prime subjects due to their primitively social nature and small colony sizes. Our experiment examines the variation and consistency of exploratory and bold behaviors, as well as their possible underlying physiological and genetic mechanisms, in Polistes fuscatus wasps. To determine individual and colony personality, twelve colonies of marked individuals were observed for on-nest responses to three stimuli: novel conspecific (competition), caterpillar larvae (prey) and empty cage (control). After the observation period wasps were flash-frozen and analyzed for ovary development and lipid content. Results indicate individual wasps’ behavior is repeatable over time, showing evidence of personality. The expression of several genes linked with exploratory and bold behavior will also be determined through brain dissection and gene expression quantification through real time PCR. We will then assess whether ovary development, lipid stores, or gene expression are associated with an individual’s behavior, shedding a possible light on the influences of physiology and genetics on personality and behavior.