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Temporal polyethism is a common mechanism of worker specialization observed in social insect species with large colony sizes, Vespula wasp colonies consist of thousands of monomorphic workers, yet studies based on small cohorts of workers report that temporal polyethism is either weak or completely absent in different Vespula species. Concerned that the small sample size of these studies precluded detection of temporal polyethism, several hundred, known-age Vespula germanica (F.) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) workers were studied. High variability was found in the sequence and diversity of tasks workers perform, suggesting that V. germanica colonies exhibit weak temporal polyethism. The most common order in which tasks were taken up was 1) nest work, 2) pulp foraging, 3) carbohydrate foraging, and 4) protein foraging. However, only 61% of the wasps performed more than two of the tasks during their lives. Thorax size had a significant negative effect on the age at first foraging, but the magnitude of the effect was small. The daily ratio of task generalists to specialists was relatively constant despite the high turnover of workers, growth of the colony, and the colony's transition from rearing worker larvae to rearing reproductives. Over the course of their lives, 43% of the workers averaged more than one kind of task performed per day. Life history traits are identified that may explain why vespines with large colonies use a generalist strategy of labor division rather than the specialist strategy observed in honey bees (Apis mellifera) and large colonies of wasps (Polybia occidentalis).
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