Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Life and Death of a Florida Queen

Colonies are founded in the spring by a single queen that mated the previous fall and overwintered as an adult, usually under the bark of a log. Nests may be aerial or terrestrial, depending in part upon the species of the wasp. Some species may construct both types of nest. Regardless of location, each nest is a series of horizontal combs completely surrounded by a paper envelope. Initially, the solitary queen must not only construct the paper brood cells, but also forage for food, lay eggs, feed her progeny, and defend the next from intruders. When the first offspring emerge as adults they assume all tasks except egg laying. The queen devotes the remainder of her life to this task and does not leave the nest again. For most of the season the colony consists of sterile worker females which are noticeably smaller than the queen. Each worker tends to persist at a given task, such as nest building or feeding larvae, for a given day, but may change tasks if the need arises. Working habits apparently are not associated with age as they are in the honeybee. Workers progressively feed larvae a diet of masticated flesh of adult and immature insects, other arthropods, and fresh carrion. Lepidopterous larvae appear to be a favorite food. In autumn, larger cells are constructed for the crop of new queens. Larvae in these cells receive more food than do those in normal cells. At the same time, the queen begins to lay unfertilized or male eggs in either large or small cells. After emergence, the new queens mate and seek shelter for the winter. These will be the founders of next spring's colonies. The old founder queen dies, and the workers begin to behave erratically until social order breaks down. With winter's arrival, the remaining colony dies.

text from the University of Florida.

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