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Cheating is Severely Punished in the Paper Wasp Society

July 25th, 2016

Humans are great liars. We practically depend on our ability to lie when it comes to the survival of our species. Both men and women lie and deceive in order to improve their chances of finding a good mate, getting a good job, and achieving a good social position. Let’s be honest. We’d be screwed if we couldn’t lie. So, naturally, one thing scientists are curious about in insects is if they also lie to get ahead in life. Specifically, Elizabeth Tibbetts of the University of Michigan asked, “Why don’t animals cheat by signaling that they are strong when they are actually weak?” Well, it seems that in the insect world cheating is severely punished. If a paper wasp for example gives an inaccurate signal, they will then have to face a host of damaging social and physiological effects.

One unique characteristic of paper wasps is the black patterns on their faces. These patterns actually communicate a wasp’s fighting ability. The more fights a wasp has one will reveal itself through them having more black patterns on their face. This signals to other wasps that you don’t want to mess with this wasp. In a rather mean experiment Tibbetts and her team painted some wasps faces with extra black patches to erroneously signal that they had a higher fighting ability. They were then paired with other honest wasps in a fight. They found that the cheating wasps were treated more aggressively by their partner, receiving a good old fashioned butt-whooping. This wasn’t the only punishment they received, however. Even their own bodies were negatively affected by the cheating. After being severely beaten by the honest wasp, the cheater’s juvenile hormone levels, which is linked to their levels of aggression, fertility, and dominance, was drastically lower after the fight. This means that their own body slumped in defeat, admitting they were losers who aren’t as cool as the other wasps. Adversely, the wasp that won against the cheater experienced an increase in these hormones. This just proves that cheaters never prosper…ya hear!

Do humans exhibit any physiological clues that reveal when they are lying?

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