Show Details

Dead Ants & Wasp Nests

July 7, 2014

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



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.


(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.


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.