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Dead Ants & Wasp Nests

July 7, 2014

Bone house wasps place dead ants in their nests to ward off predators and parasites.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Dead ants and baby wasps. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Many wasps lay their eggs in chambers within the stem of a plant, with an empty outermost cell for protection. So University of Freiburg entomologist Michael Staab was puzzled to discover a new species of wasp that instead fills this outer chamber with dead ants. His team dubbed the new species – which lives in southeast China – the “bone-house” wasp. And they’ve found that the macabre strategy protects its larvae from predators.

journal.pone.0101592.g002

(A) Overview of a nest. Individual brood cells are separated by thin walls of soil material. (B) The nest is closed by a vestibular cell filled with dead ants. (C) Contents of a vestibular cell. (D) Female bone-house wasp. Photographs: Merten Ehmig (A, B), Michael Staab (C, D).

MICHAEL STAAB (University of Freiburg):

And that might either camouflage the nest by scent or, if the nest smells like the nest of ants, ants are usually well defended, a possible predator or parasitoid might have had negative experiences with ants before and thus avoid the scent of ant nests.

HIRSHON:

His team is now working with chemists to identify what chemicals from the dead ants might be turning away would-be nest predators.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.