Queen wasps pass down their personality to worker wasps, says a new study in which brave scientists poked wasps with paintbrushes.
For the study, published in the journal Animal Behavior, scientists gathered 30 wasp nests and poked the queens using a paintbrush. There were a variety of reactions: Some flew away after being poked twice. (Smart.) Some didn’t care, staying where they were even after being poked 50 times. And some — the wasps that I personally identify with — got mad and stung the brush.
When the wasp eggs hatched, the scientists vibrated the colonies and made it look like a predator was approaching. This solved the problem of not being able to poke all the worker wasps one by one to see how they’d react. The worker wasps responded to the threats in the same way that their queen had responded to the paintbrush. So, if a queen is unwilling or too stubborn to leave the nest, her descendant worker wasps are as well.
“You can predict if colonies will survive in the wild, by looking at the queen,” study co-author Colin Wright told New Scientist. This is because the queen and the wasps have different roles. If a queen leaves, it’s probably escaping. If a worker wasp leaves, it probably has to deal with the threat. So if stubborn queen wasps lead to stubborn worker wasps, they might not be getting out there to attack the threat as much as they should. So maybe sometimes the queen isn’t setting the best example.