Communication by electrical means in social insects

Dmitry V. Galushko, Natalya Y. Ermakov, David J. Bergman, Jacob S. Ishay*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social insects, belonging to the order Hymenoptera, maintain a fixed, optimal temperature in their nest. Thus, in social wasps and hornets, the optimal nest temperature is 29°C, despite the fact that they are distributed in regions of varying climates both in the northern and southern hemispheres of the globe. Since hornets and bees are relatively small insects, determination of their own body temperature as well as that of their nest and the brood was made via thermometers or by the use of infrared (IR) rays. It has been suggested that thermoregulation in social insect colonies is effected primarily by the adult insects via muscle activation, that is, fluttering of their wings, which can raise both their own and the ambient temperature by many degrees centigrade. However, the larval brood can also contribute to the thermoregulation by acting as heat resources and thereby raising the ambient temperature by 1-2°C. To this end, the adult hornets are endowed with a well-developed musculature and their larvae, too, have muscles that enable them to move about. Not so the hornet pupae which are enclosed in a silk envelope (the cocoon), with a rather thick silk cap spun by the pupating larvae, and have rather undeveloped muscles. In the latter instance, it stands to reason that the pupae benefit from the nest warming achieved primarily by the adult hornets, but how is the information regarding their thermal needs relayed from them to the adults? Previously we showed that the adult hornets are attracted to the pupae by pheromones released by the latter, but such chemical compounds can only convey information of a general nature and we are still left with the question as to how the adult hornet can gauge or ascertain the temperature of a single insulated pupa. The present study provides evidence that the hornet pupa can indeed transmit information regarding its body temperature via electrical means.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-141
Number of pages11
JournalPhysiological Chemistry and Physics and Medical NMR
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004


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