Scientists who study animal behavior at the nonprofit Zoological Society of London, or ZSL, have been tracking the habits of Panama's paper wasp by using radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags.

Paper wasps, bumblebees and honeybees are eusocial insects, meaning they habitually float back and forth between nests. ZSL scientist and research fellow Seirian Sumner uses RFID technology to monitor the behavior of both female and male wasps to record the drifting habits to determine the root cause of the behavior.

Sumner said antennaes were placed on the entrances to 33 wasp nests under three buildings in Panama while RFID tags with unique identifiers were attached to the thoraxes — the portion of the body between the head and the abdomen — of 422 female paper wasps. The antennaes recorded the tag number each time a wasp flew in or out of a nest, representing nearly 6000 observation hours.

The data showed that 56% of wasps visited nests where their close relatives lived. The drifters, especially female wasps, behaved as workers at the nests they visited by helping to raise the young of their relatives. As a result, scientists determined drifting wasps are capable of increasing the chance their genetic material will be carried on, Sumner said.

“Like the workers in most eusocial insect societies, these drifting wasps do not reproduce themselves but instead pass on their genes by helping raise relatives,” she said. “We were excited to discover that they did this by helping on several different nests, rather than just their home nest.”

To learn more about the ongoing study, visit www.zsl.org.