Growth and pruning of mushroom body Kenyon cell dendrites during worker behavioral development in the paper wasp, Polybia aequatorialis (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2009 Nov;92(4):485-95. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2009.06.007. Epub 2009 Jun 17.


Adult workers of some social insect species show dramatic behavioral changes as they pass through a sequence of task specializations. In the paper wasp, Polybia aequatorialis, female workers begin adult life within the nest tending brood, progress to maintaining and defending the nest exterior, and ultimately leave the nest to forage. The mushroom body (MB) calyx neuropil increases in volume as workers progress from in-nest to foraging tasks. In other social Hymenoptera (bees and ants), MB Kenyon cell dendrites, axons and synapses change with the transition to foraging, but these neuronal effects had not been studied in wasps. Furthermore, the on-nest worker of Polybia wasps, an intermediate task specialization not identified in bees or ants, provides the opportunity to study pre-foraging worker class transitions. We asked whether Kenyon cell dendritic arborization varies with the task specialization of Polybia workers observed in the field near Monteverde, Costa Rica. Golgi-impregnated arbors in the lip and collar calyces, which receive a predominance of olfactory and visual input, respectively, were quantified using Sholl's concentric circles and a novel application of virtual spherical probes. Arbors of the lip varied in a manner reminiscent of honeybees, with foragers having the largest and in-nest workers having the smallest arbors. In contrast, arbors of the collar were largest in foragers but smallest in on-nest workers. Thus, progression through task specializations in P. aequatorialis involves subregion specific dendritic growth and regression in the MB neuropil. These results may reflect the sensitivity of Kenyon cell dendritic structure to specialization dependent social and sensory experience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Dendrites / physiology*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Mushroom Bodies / cytology*
  • Mushroom Bodies / growth & development
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neuropil / cytology
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Environment
  • Wasps / cytology
  • Wasps / growth & development*