How does an ordinary paper wasp become a queen? Does she have royal bloodlines? Is she born with a silver spoon in her mandibles? To answer these burning questions, a group of scientists recently conducted a study of young paper wasp larvae. These scientists learned that social status in the wasp 'queendom' is decided before they become adults.
The secret to which of the little larvae were destined to ascend to the throne, and which would toil as workers? Protein. According to lead researcher James Hunt, the larvae that become queens have high levels of a group of proteins that enable them to survive the winter and reproduce next year, whereas the ones that become workers have low levels of these proteins.
So, the protein-pumped paper wasps become young queens that don't work and eventually leave the nest to reproduce and rule colonies of their own. Those with lower levels of protein forego reproduction and spend the season defending the nest (i.e. stinging) and raising their siblings... not quite as glamorous a calling.