SALMON: Study And Learning Materials ONline
Home location by digger wasps
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UCISA award winning website developed by Dr Paul Kenyon (retired) to support students studying
evolutionary psychology and behavioral neuroscience in the Department of
Psychology, University of Plymouth, Devon, UK
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Tinbergen's experiment on home location by digger wasps
This exercise complements
web pagedescribing the use of ethological techniques to investigate animal behaviour.
Adult female digger wasps, Philanthus triangulum, build nests in sand.
The nest consists of an entrance tunnel leading to several 'rooms' each
containing a developing larva. The wasp catches bees on hunting trips and
stores this food in each room occupied by a larva. This behaviour begs
Does a wasp return to her own nest?
Does each wasp have more than one nest?
How does a wasp recognize her own nest when she returns from a hunting
Point to ponder:
You can probably think of ways to answer the first two questions. Tip
you need some way of identifying individual wasps and their nests.
Tinbergen carried out an elegant experiment to answer the last question:
Whilst the wasp was in the burrow, Tinbergen placed a circle of pine cones
around the entrance.
When she emerged, the wasp reacted to the new situation by a wavering
orientation flight before flying off.
Tinbergen displaced the pine cones to one side of the nest, observed her
behaviour when she emerged, and then waited for her to return from hunting
When the wasp emerged from the nest she made several flights around the
nest before flying off to hunt for bees.
Returning with prey, the wasp flew to the circle of pine cones even though
it had been moved during her absence.
These diagrams show the arrangement of pine cones during training and
testing. The animation shows the wasp's flight behaviour during training
and test conditions. You may need to watch it repeat a few times to understand
what is going on.
Do wasps use scent to navigate?
Tinbergen conducted a further experiment
to see if wasps use scent to navigate.
A wasp was trained to use pine cones and scented plates (plates drenched
in pine oil) as landmarks to its nest
When the cones drenched in pine oil (scented plates) were moved
to one side of the real nest and the pine-cone circle and non-scented plates
to the other, the wasp choose to alight on the pine cones. She ignored
the scented plates.
Tinbergen, 1951. The Study of Instinct . Oxford University