Do insects seek revenge if you try to kill them

So three people, Brodi, gnoitall, and WhyNot, have said some form of No.

With no snark intended, does anyone have a cite for this, or at least the background to be able to authoritatively make such a statement?

I ask because I really am curious about the answer, but the fellow who patched my tire today at the tire store would probably have said “No, don’t be silly,” and why should I believe him?

Next time, ask the tire-patcher-fellow. He may have the answer. He could be patching tires while working on his insect thesis.

I know a few scientists who are dogged by drosophila revenge squads. Or so they claim. I’m not aware of any detailed studies on the matter.

Insects just dont have enough brains to do that- I mean, bees collectively have a sort of intelligence, but it’s not that sort of smarts. Their eyes also likely cant recognize a person.

I also said “No” but I qualified with pheromones. I do have an advanced degree in Zoology.

As a professional biologist with some familiarity with neurobiology, I have the background to authoritatively state that insects don’t remotely have the level of neurological development to be capable of anything that can be considered revenge. In fact, the idea is so far-fetched I don’t think that it’s necessary for us to prove this negative. There would even be few vertebrates, probably including only the more intelligent birds and mammals, that would even have memories long enough to make the concept possible.

In most cases, animals are only going to attack in order to defend themselves. Even when animals recognize individuals that have hurt them in the past, they probably only attack as a pre-emptive defense. It’s not because of any sense of justice or retribution.

Well you probably wont believe this but a friend of mine said that he once walked into his shed and there was this big wasp colony. He saw them and slowly backed away. He began to daily walk in and walk out and soon they had an “understanding” that he wouldnt harm them and they would not go after him. It worked well that he easily could just walk in and out doing his business and the wasps would peacefully go about theirs. While if another person tried this, the wasps went after them. Well once he walked in and one particular wasp was being aggressive towards him. He left and when he came back, that wasp was dead and the others were acting peaceful. It seems they “took care of one of their own”.

So while you might think a particular wasp might not be so smart, hive insects can form a central “brain” and have higher level thinking. This is why often beekeepers can work around their own hives and not get stung while the bees will attack newcomers.

How do you know it was that particular wasp that was dead, was he wearing a little jacket or something?

Cool story, bro.


Nailed it in the first 6 words, Urbanredneck.

That, at least, is probably true. Apiarists are well aware of this. Their bees become used to their presence and are much less aggressive than they are to strangers. But that’s not surprising, all animals can become habituated to certain stimuli. I can happily play with my dog, but if a stranger comes into my yard, they will get attacked. That sort of habituation is normal for all animals.

It’s also not revenge in any possible sense.

How did he know that wasp was dead? Wasps die all the time. How did he identify a random dead wasp as the one that had attacked him?

Yes, I’m fully aware that the story sounds strange. How can he ID just one wasp? I dont know. He said when he walked back in all the wasps were peaceful except and one was lying there dead where had not been a dead wasp before. This is something maybe a scientist could investigate.

Again I do know bees and other insects can show amazing behaviors which show a collective “hive” mind. Ex. bees doing their “dance” which show where sources of nectar lie. Ants and termites forming symbiotic relationships with and even “farming” other insects LINK. They are really amazing little critters so while I know the story sounds odd, I wouldnt put it past them.

I’ve been a working PhD entomologist for almost 20 years.

Insects are, to put it bluntly, dumb as hell (notwithstanding some of the amazing things honeybee hives can do - on an individual level bees are dumb too). Pretty much everything they do is hard-wired into their nervous system. You can chop off their heads and they really don’t notice; they’ll keep on trying to do their thing until they starve or desiccate.

Sure, you can condition them to stimuli. They can even “learn” to an extent. But planning? Revenge? it is to laugh.

When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way. . .

Hmmmm, mozchron the PhD entomologist or UrbanRedneck’s friend . . . I dunno…


First, it was a she wasp. Secondly, he recognized her by her waspish waist.

You guys are making me laugh this morning. Pool, I can’t stop laughing at your post.

But maybe the aggression was death throes or something. That’s probably what I’d have thought, rather than that the wasp hive had taken revenge on my behalf.

No, it doesn’t actually sound strange. It sounds like fairly ordinary events over-interpreted by someone antropomorphizing wasps.

I expect different wasp species have different instincts for personal space, but for many you need to actually disturb the nest or flail around in the vicinity before they act on the threat. Your friend obviously didn’t, and it’s possible they even were acclimatized to his presence somewhat, whether it be through accepting his body odour as a normal occurence or whatever. He interpreted that as “an understanding”, while in reality it was just a case of not triggering the wasps’ threat-sensors.

Now whatever it was your friend considered as a wasp “being aggressive towards him”, it was not something the hive-mind considered a breech of that non-existing “understanding” and punished by death, but it’s at least possible that the aggressive wasp and the dead wasp were and of the same and that the agressive behaviour was due to a dysfunction of some sort that either killed it or caused the other wasps to kill it. But that’s by no means certain, even if it’s more plausible than the interpretation you present.

Awesome! Thanks Colibri, DrDeth, and mozchron for humoring me and saying why your answers are better than the tire guy’s (his own unknown college study path notwithstanding).

I bet that bugs you. :cool:

My guess is that it is a variety of the “Clever Hans” effect.

The first man’s demeanor and body language do not trigger the wasps’ attack response, not because they “recognize” him and have an “understanding” with him, but rather because the man has grown used to them and acts calm, moves slowly, etc. - even if not conciously.

Others become tense and nervous when they spot the wasps, startle, etc. and this triggers the wasps’ defensive actions - making the person (understandably) more nervous, leadong to a bad feedback loop.

The man interprets this as “cleverness” on behalf of the wasps, but it isn’t. It is a simple reaction to the man’s own body language, of which he is unaware.