Insights into insect cognition through mirror-induced behaviour in paper wasps

In: Behaviour
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  • 1 Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, , 251 Bessey Hall, Ames, IA 50011, , USA
  • | 2 Programs in Biology and Environmental Science, Iowa State University, , 251 Bessey Hall, Ames, IA 50011, , USA
  • | 3 Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, , 1344 Advanced Teaching and Research Building, Ames, IA 50011, , USA
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Mirror studies have uncovered evidence for self-awareness in several non-human animals; however, this approach has not been extended to invertebrates. Here, we examined mirror responses of Polistes paper wasps, insects with high social cognitive abilities. We used a highly replicated design, exposing wasps to mirror self-recognition (MSR) test stimuli (mirror, facial marking) and several control stimuli (non-reflective surfaces, invisible marks, and sham marks). We found that nest-founding queen wasps respond to mirrors with increases in antennation and touching over non-reflective surfaces. Visible marks also resulted in more exploratory behaviours (antennating and touching the mirror), but decreases in self-directed behaviours typically used as indicators of MSR. While this experiment does not support the notion that wasps possess self-awareness, it shows that wasps respond to subtle alterations in their visual environment and appearance with exploratory behaviour. This work thus increases our understanding of insects’ cognitive abilities, suggesting high levels of perceptual richness.

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