Standing out in crowd better than blending in, claims wasps study

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Washington, Oct 16 (ANI): Being a standout can be beneficial, at least for paper wasps, where fights between nest-mates determine colony's dominance hierarchy.

In nests with multiple queens, wasps fight to sort out the colony's dominance.

Studies have shown that easily recognized wasps were less likely to be the targets of aggression than were look-alike wasps.

"It's good to be different, to wear a nametag advertising your identity," said graduate student Michael Sheehan, who collaborated on the research with evolutionary biologist Elizabeth Tibbetts.

In species like P. fuscatus, where multiple queens establish communal nests and raise offspring cooperatively, they also compete to form a linear dominance hierarchy.

In the new study, lead researchers Sheehan and Tibbetts wanted to see if individual wasps benefit not only by being able to recognize others, but also by being recognizable themselves.

To investigate the pros and cons of being a standout, the researchers altered the wasps' facial patterns and set up groups of four unrelated wasp queens, in which three wasps looked alike and one looked distinctively different from the others.

They found that distinctively-marked wasps were less likely to be the targets of aggression than were look-alike wasps.

"Given that receiving aggression is costly, in terms of injury or energy expenditure, these results indicate that being distinctive is beneficial," Sheehan said.

"We've shown the benefit to an individual of being different. Now we want to explore how a group benefits from diversity," Sheehan added.

The benefits of being recognizable may extend beyond wasp societies, Tibbetts said.

"For example, have you ever wondered why there is so much variation in human facial features? One possibility is that a mechanism similar to that found in wasps is operating in humans: those with unusual faces, who are easy to identify, may do better than those with more similar faces. Over evolutionary time, this would result in the huge variation in human faces that we see today," the expert added.

The study appears in journal Evolution. (ANI)

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