In French Guiana, my main experiment involves plucking the queen from unsuspecting wasp colonies to (literally) see what happens. It takes about a day before those left behind realise that some kind of royal alien abduction has taken place. You can almost smell the tension. Nobody stops to pay their respects. The colony is plunged into a tiny power vacuum, a moment of private societal crisis in which only one wasp can wrestle control. That's the brutal charm of primitively-eusocial wasps - in principle, anyone could be egg-layer. It's a cut-throat meritocracy, in which the most thuggish pretenders to the throne end up in power.
Thibault and I recorded this scramble for control as it played out on a number of colonies over three hot weeks this summer. And I'm still recording it now, as most of the colonies were filmed in order to be analysed back in Bristol. I can then visualise this violent data in the form of networks (the network above, for instance, is a snapshot of eight hours of aggression over four days on a particular colony, in which each node is a wasp and each 'edge' an act of dominance). From this I'll be able to piece together the social status of the particular wasps I'm interested in using social network analysis, which will be the really intriguing bit. It's a bit like being God looking down to watch the back-stabbing Borgias take over Rome. Here goes into pandemonium!
Blog belonging to Patrick, studying the weird and wonderful mysteries of neotropical wasps in French Guiana and Panama
Adventures of a
of a young ZOOLOGIST