PLoS ONE, vol. 6, issue 7 (2011)
Hornets, the largest social wasps, have a reputation of being facultatively nocturnal. Here we confirm flight activity of hornet workers in dim twilight. We studied the eyes and ocelli of European hornets (Vespa crabro) and common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) with the goal to find the optical and anatomical adaptations that enable them to fly in dim light. Adaptations described for obligately nocturnal hymenoptera such as the bees Xylocopa tranquebarica and Megalopta genalis and the wasp Apoica pallens include large ocelli and compound eyes with wide rhabdoms and large facet lenses. Interestingly, we did not find any such adaptations in hornet eyes or ocelli. On the contrary, their eyes are even less sensitive than those of the obligately diurnal common wasps. Therefore we conclude that hornets, like several facultatively nocturnal bee species such as Apis mellifera adansonii, A. dorsata and X. tenuiscapa are capable of seeing in dim light simply due to the large body and thus eye size. We propose that neural pooling strategies and behavioural adaptations precede anatomical adaptations in the eyes and ocelli when insects with apposition compound eyes turn to dim light activity.
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