Why a sense of rhythm could turn you into a worker drone

A new study reveals that some wasps beat their young into becoming subservient workers while they're still in the womb. The scary part is that their techniques could work on mammals, too.

For years scientists were puzzled by the nurturing behavior of the paper wasp. Wasp eggs were placed in chambers and covered, allowing them to develop into larvae. That was pretty standard for most bee and wasp-like insects. However, the dominant female paper wasps would periodically march over and beat their antennae against the nest chambers. This was not a light tap. Occasionally, scientists were able to find the wasp's nest just by the sound of the drumming. Big mammals with poor hearing being able to locate a nest by sound has to be a pretty big disadvantage to the wasps. What does the musical display provide to make it all worth it?


It turns out that anntennal drumming provides a new generation of tireless workers. In honeybees, queens are divided from workers by the diet they're fed. In paper wasps, it may just be that they're able to get a few hours of sleep. Nest chambers that experienced drumming pop out workers, thin and strong with little fat. Nest chambers that do not experience drumming, on the other hand, produce fat, happy queens that can lay eggs.

Lest anyone think that this has no horrific implications for humanity, because wasps are so far removed from us, science has provided some unsettling research. Infant mice were subjected to low frequency vibrations, and promptly gained much less fat and much denser bones than mice who didn't grow up on a subwoofer. Enough tummy drumming could produce a thin, dense boned little human worker.

Via University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter