Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

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Grumble
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Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Grumble » Fri Aug 21, 2020 7:24 pm

I was told today that killing a wasp attracts other wasps because they emit a ‘warning’ pheromone when they die. This seems like a piece of science that has been through google translate a few times, might be true or partly true or a complete old wives tale.

It is an idea that’s out there, e.g. this from the Irish Independent:
8 Killing wasps can be counter productive

If you kill one, it will warn the rest of its colony to be on the alert. A dying wasp will release chemical signals that tell others in the vicinity to be on the defensive.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by sTeamTraen » Sun Aug 23, 2020 11:38 am

I can imagine this happening, but I wonder how far these pheromones are supposed to travel, and how much is secreted in all directions. I think it would have been much better if wasps had evolved radio frequency transmission. Come on God, get your finger out.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by bmforre » Mon Aug 24, 2020 5:20 am

sTeamTraen wrote:
Sun Aug 23, 2020 11:38 am
I can imagine this happening, but I wonder how far these pheromones are supposed to travel, and how much is secreted in all directions. I think it would have been much better if wasps had evolved radio frequency transmission. Come on God, get your finger out.
I believe he made wasps before making Maxwell and Marconi so needed building blocks were lacking.

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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by tenchboy » Mon Aug 24, 2020 8:31 am

All I have to add is that yes, I have heard of this before and from sufficiently reliable sources and over a sufficiently long period of time to believe that it could indeed be true.
I have no personal observational evidence to back it up however: I don't ever remember seeing an en masse attack by the rest of the swarm following the death of one of its members.

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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Grumble » Mon Aug 24, 2020 9:20 am

Can anyone get access to this? Seems relevant to the question.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/a ... 2910830195
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by science_fox » Mon Aug 24, 2020 10:14 am

Grumble wrote:
Mon Aug 24, 2020 9:20 am
Can anyone get access to this? Seems relevant to the question.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/a ... 2910830195
It's a whole book. I feel slightly uneasy about PMing that much, but I can certainly get hold of just a paper if you wish.
V. Alarm Pheromones
In social insects, the defense of the colony is critical for all colony members (Hermann & Blum, 1981, Schmidt, 1990). For this reason, a strong selection for rapid communication to recruit nestmates against predators or intruders led to the evolution of alarm pheromones (Wyatt, 2003). Alarm pheromones of social insects are, after sex pheromones, the most commonly produced class of chemical signals and they have evolved independently within all major taxa (Blum, 1985).

Alarm behavior has been defined as “any response to a disturbance of the colony that increases the likelihood that colony members will take defensive actions” (Landolt et al., 1998). Alarm pheromones are responsible to arouse colony members' awareness of a potential threat to the colony, to direct the wasps toward the target in an aggressive manner and finally to attack it. Alarm pheromones are challenging to be defined as it is often difficult, during bioassays, to dissociate these stimuli from others - and thus alarm response is often confused with strict defense, recruitment or attraction (Blum, 1985). Actually, an alarm pheromone consists of several components where only one or few could be the active compounds responsible of eliciting alarm behavior, while the others could either work synergistically with those or serve to other functions (Billen and Morgan, 1998).
So to answer the Q yes some wasp species do emit alarm pheromones. It is always more complicated than that.

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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Sciolus » Mon Aug 24, 2020 11:22 am

tenchboy wrote:
Mon Aug 24, 2020 8:31 am
All I have to add is that yes, I have heard of this before and from sufficiently reliable sources and over a sufficiently long period of time to believe that it could indeed be true.
I have no personal observational evidence to back it up however: I don't ever remember seeing an en masse attack by the rest of the swarm following the death of one of its members.
Come on tb, get out in the fields and do the experiment.

Isn't is fairly well established that trees emit pheromones is response to various environmental insults such as disease, parasites and grazing? I don't see why most lifeforms that communicate chemically wouldn't do this.

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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon Aug 24, 2020 11:50 am

Sciolus wrote:
Mon Aug 24, 2020 11:22 am
tenchboy wrote:
Mon Aug 24, 2020 8:31 am
All I have to add is that yes, I have heard of this before and from sufficiently reliable sources and over a sufficiently long period of time to believe that it could indeed be true.
I have no personal observational evidence to back it up however: I don't ever remember seeing an en masse attack by the rest of the swarm following the death of one of its members.
Come on tb, get out in the fields and do the experiment.

Isn't is fairly well established that trees emit pheromones is response to various environmental insults such as disease, parasites and grazing? I don't see why most lifeforms that communicate chemically wouldn't do this.
In relation to the bolded bit, traits that evolve by natural selection tend to do so only if there's sufficient benefit to the individual organism in question or its genes (generally offspring or close relatives) to offset the costs.

Social wasps are mostly non-reproductive individuals protecting the queen, so they might be expected to have behaviours to benefit other individuals around them which will tend to be from the same colony. In the case of trees, I expect that it's often the case that the other individuals around them contain a high proportion of siblings and offspring, as their seeds can't disperse over long distances without some help.

But that's not always the case. For instance, lot of insects or marine invertebrates have a planktonic life stage where they go drifting around in the wind or ocean currents, in which case the organisms around them would be competitors rather than comrades in the struggle for existence. Things like grasses often have tiny, wind-dispersed seeds, with the same consequence.

Given their fairly uniquely high levels of genetic relatedness I'd consider wasps as among the most likely organisms to have a mechanism like that. Super interesting stuff.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by tenchboy » Mon Aug 24, 2020 12:50 pm

Sciolus wrote:
Mon Aug 24, 2020 11:22 am
tenchboy wrote:
Mon Aug 24, 2020 8:31 am
All I have to add is that yes, I have heard of this before and from sufficiently reliable sources and over a sufficiently long period of time to believe that it could indeed be true.
I have no personal observational evidence to back it up however: I don't ever remember seeing an en masse attack by the rest of the swarm following the death of one of its members.
Come on tb, get out in the fields and do the experiment.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by AMS » Mon Aug 24, 2020 1:10 pm

If the point is to defend the queen and the nest from attack, rather than any individual member, it might be an over-reaction to go for an all-out assault to avenge the death of a single wasp far from the colony. So it would make sense for any alarm mechanism to factor in the distance from the nest too.

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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon Aug 24, 2020 5:22 pm

AMS wrote:
Mon Aug 24, 2020 1:10 pm
If the point is to defend the queen and the nest from attack, rather than any individual member, it might be an over-reaction to go for an all-out assault to avenge the death of a single wasp far from the colony. So it would make sense for any alarm mechanism to factor in the distance from the nest too.
Possibly that's taken care of 'automatically' - the further the dead wasp is from the colony, the fewer other workers will detect the pheromones, as concentrations of both dissipate with distance from the source.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by FredM » Tue Aug 25, 2020 11:30 am


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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Grumble » Tue Aug 25, 2020 4:14 pm

FredM wrote:
Tue Aug 25, 2020 11:30 am
Response may be species dependent. This from 1987, suggests group response for the social southern yellow jackets.
Am I reading that right, when I think that essentially the smell of venom makes other wasps come and apply venom? So killing a wasp might not cause others to come, but provoking one into a stinging attack might make others come and sting you too? So if you’re going to kill one, do it quickly.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by FredM » Tue Aug 25, 2020 6:38 pm

I’ve only got access to the abstract but it appears to be saying that the alarm pheromone is produced in the venom glands, alongside the venom.

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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Grumble » Tue Aug 25, 2020 7:22 pm

FredM wrote:
Tue Aug 25, 2020 6:38 pm
I’ve only got access to the abstract but it appears to be saying that the alarm pheromone is produced in the venom glands, alongside the venom.
It would be interesting to know if it’s injected with the venom or if it sprays into the air when the venom is injected.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Boustrophedon » Wed Sep 02, 2020 5:10 pm

We have a slight wasp problem so I dug out the old wasp traps and filled them up and hung the round the kitchen door.
These traps are glass bottles with and indented base and a hole in the bottom, the wasps crawl in , can't find their way out and drown in the fruit juice you filled it up with.
Image

As usual it takes a while for the first wasp to go in and die, but once one has gone in a huge number follow soon after. Obviuosly the first wasp releases something that then attracts the other.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by basementer » Wed Sep 02, 2020 6:04 pm

Might be a "hey I've found sugar, come and tuck in" signal rather than "oh f.ck I'm dying, come and avenge me"?
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Boustrophedon » Wed Sep 02, 2020 9:07 pm

basementer wrote:
Wed Sep 02, 2020 6:04 pm
Might be a "hey I've found sugar, come and tuck in" signal rather than "oh f.ck I'm dying, come and avenge me"?
This is possibly true. Then something gross kicks in and the festering pile of decaying wasps becomes irresistible to even more wasps.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Grumble » Tue Sep 15, 2020 10:21 pm

Our house wasp nest is quite productive at the moment. We haven’t attempted to kill any so can’t comment further on the pheromone. The wasps are coming into the house in the bathroom and emerging from under the bath. They’re pretty easy to shoo out, normally quite dopey tbh. Today was a record - when my wife came back from work she found 21 in the bathroom. I suspect when the temperature drops next week there will be fewer of them around.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Grumble » Wed Sep 16, 2020 8:24 pm

I’ve spent a lot more time shooing the wasps out than actually looking at them, but I think my wasp family are Saxon wasps, not Vespa Vulgaris.
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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Fishnut » Thu Sep 17, 2020 11:16 am

Anecdotal evidence but my dog disturbed a wasps nest on monday while we were walking around a field and they definitely chased after us. Every time we stopped for me to check him over (they were burrowing into his fur!) they caught up with us and started on the attack again. I only got stung twice, fortunately, and I think his fur protected him, but they didn't go after my mum's dog who was also with us which I'd have expected to be the case if they just went after whatever was around. I felt pretty sure there were some pheromones involved to keep them following us quite as fanatically as they did. I'm not keen on testing this experimentally however - I'm still swollen and in pain two days later!

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Re: Wasp death pheromone - truth or fiction?

Post by Grumble » Fri Sep 18, 2020 11:06 am

Photo of wasp behind spoiler. Fairly confident it’s a Saxon Wasp, Dolichovespula saxonica. Not noted as being present here according to my guide map, but not very far away so definitely plausible.

Spoiler:
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