trophallaxis

This morning’s name was yellowjacket, a kind of wasp — relevant now that we’re in high summer, getting into yellowjacket season. That led me to the excellent technical term trophallaxis. Here’s the Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica, the scourge of picnics in this part of the world:

From Wikipedia, where the technical term comes up:

Yellow jacket or yellowjacket is the common name in North America for predatory wasps of the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula… Most of these are black and yellow like the Eastern yellowjacket Vespula maculifrons and the Saxon wasp Dolichovespula saxonica … Despite having drawn the fear and loathing of humans, yellow jackets are in fact important predators of pest insects.

… Adults feed primarily on items rich in sugars and carbohydrates, such as fruits, flower nectar, and tree sap, and larvae feed on proteins, such as insects, meats, and fish. Adult workers chew and condition the meat fed to the larvae. Larvae, in return, secrete a sugar material relished by the adults; this exchange is a form of trophallaxis. In late summer, foraging workers pursue other food sources from meats to ripe fruits, or scavenge human garbage, sodas, picnics, etc., since larvae in the nest fail to meet requirements as a source of sugar.

In brief, from NOAD2, with etymology:

the mutual exchange of regurgitated liquids between adult social insects or between them and their larvae. ORIGIN early 20th cent.: from tropho– ‘nourishment’ + Greek allaxis ‘exchange.’

More from Wikipedia:

Trophallaxis … is the transfer of food or other fluids among members of a community through mouth-to-mouth (stomodeal) or anus-to-mouth (proctodeal) feeding. It is most highly developed in social insects such as ants, termites, wasps and bees. The word was introduced by the entomologist William Morton Wheeler in 1918. The behaviour was used in the past to support theories on the origin of sociality in insects.

Among other things, trophallaxis allows members of an insect community to recognize each other.

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