Associative learning of food odors by paper wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae)

Primary Author: Megan Asche

Faculty Sponsor: Richard Zack


Primary College/Unit: Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences

Category: Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

Campus: Pullman




Principal topic

Traps and bait stations that utilize attractants can manage paper wasp populations without pesticides. The purpose of this experiment is to test the associative learning behavior of paper wasps and evaluate their level of attraction to three plant-based odors. The hypothesis tested was that wasps exposed to food inoculated with an odor would show a higher level of attraction to that odor than wasps that were not previously exposed.


Wasps were separated into two groups, “naïve” and “experienced.” Naive wasps were fed an odorless sugar water solution and experienced wasps received a sugar water solution with a 1% concentration of an odor. After the feeding, wasps were placed into a flight tunnel and the level of attraction to the odor was scored.


Strong evidence for associative learning behavior by spring queens and workers has been shown. However, the fall queens and males were less successful. The difference in learning ability between these groups may be because, in nature, spring queens and workers both forage for food, while fall queens and males do not.

This research was funded by U.S. Air Force. Paper wasps form swarms and aggregations on air control towers in late summer and autumn. These wasps can be a hazardous to people and negatively impact equipment. The ability of paper wasps to learn and respond to chemical cues associated with a food may provide an opportunity to manipulate them. These results suggest we can develop a “train and trap” strategy for controlling paper wasps.