Newly discovered wasp species, with dead ants in walls of its nest

A typical nest of the bone-house wasp D. ossarium containing four brood cells with a pupae each. Photo credit: Merten Ehmig

From LiveScience:

Newfound Wasp Literally Has Skeletons in Its Closet

By Megan Gannon, News Editor | July 02, 2014 02:58pm ET

A newly discovered wasp has been keeping a gruesome secret: It stuffs ant corpses into the walls of its home.

As far as scientists know, the behavior is unique in the animal kingdom. The new creature has been named Deuteragenia ossarium, or the “bone-house wasp,” after the historical ossuaries piled high with human skeletons found in monasteries or graveyards.

“It was a totally unexpected discovery,” said Michael Staab, a researcher at the University of Freiburg in Germany. [Zombie Animals: 5 Real-Life Cases of Body-Snatching]

Skeletons in the closet

Staab had been studying the homemaking habits of cavity-nesting wasps in eastern China, and he and his colleagues had set up trap nests in the Gutianshan National Nature Reserve, a subtropical evergreen forest in the Yangtze River Basin that’s home to steep cliffs and animals like clouded leopards and Asian black bears.

Cavity-nesting wasps may live in self-made holes or pre-existing tunnels in plants or pieces of wood. These cavities typically contain several brood cells — the wasp equivalent of a single hexagon in a beeswax comb — which are separated by thin walls made of bits of plant, resin or soil. Scientists have even found bits of insects in the mix.

But when Staab’s team collected the trap nests, they found something unusual: In 73 of the nests, the researchers discovered an outer cell packed with the whole bodies of dead ants. The species behind the corpse houses was a spider-hunting wasp previously unknown to science. The findings were detailed today (July 2) in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

A smelly shield

Staab said he was puzzled by the discovery until he considered the location of the carcass-filled cells. The dead ants were always found in an outer vestibular cell, a chamber built by a female wasp to close the nest after she lays eggs.

Wasp architects may favor dead ants as a building material because of the way their carcasses smell, Staab and his team suspect. Scents on the ants’ bodies, even in death, might offer camouflage or protection from predators — a red flag to stay away — as many ants are fierce defenders of their nests, the researchers wrote. The ant most commonly found in walls of wasp homes was Pachycondyla astuta, an aggressive ant species with a mean sting that’s abundant in the region.

Because the brood cells are where the wasps’ larvae live, this strategy may help ensure the survival of their young.

Staab said he and his colleagues never directly observed the wasps building one of their bone houses, nor did they see the wasps kill ants to turn them into “bricks.”

“However, due to the very good condition of all ant specimens in the ant chambers, we assume that the wasp must actively hunt the ants and not collect dead ants from the refuse piles of ant colonies,” Staab told Live Science in an email.

Other wasps — especially parasitic ones — resort to similarly grisly measures to protect their offspring. The parasitic wasp Dinocampus coccinellae, for example, hijacks ladybug bodies, turning its victims into zombie slaves that keep predators away from its larvae. And elsewhere in the animal world, other creatures — even snakes — have taken advantage of the bad reputation of ants to survive. A 2009 study in the journal Insectes Sociaux described how banded cat-eyed snakes lay their eggs in the fungus-filled chambers of aggressive leaf-cutter ants to keep their reptilian babies safe before they hatch.

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescienceFacebookGoogle+. Original article on Live Science.

Editor’s Recommendations

Ants in outer space, new research

This video says about itself:

Space Station Live: Science Aboard Cygnus

10 Jan 2014

Associate International Space Station Program Scientist Tara Ruttley talks with NASA Public Affairs Officer Josh Byerly about the science being carried to the station aboard Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft.

After butterflies in space, now ants in space.

From Science, Space & Robots:

Ant Farms Sent to International Space Station to Study Microgravity Conditions

Orbital’s Antares rocket launched from NASA’s Wallop’s Flight Facility in Virginia on Thursday, January 9. reports that there are ant farms aboard this latest mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The Ants in Space experiments will help students will compare how ants‘ behavior differs in space and on Earth. The experiment is similar to one in 2012, in which Nerfertiti [sic; Nefertiti], the Spidernaut, spent 100 days in space.

HD cameras will record the ants living on the International Space Station. Software will analyze their movement patterns and interaction rates. Students in grades K-12 will get to observe the videos in near real-time and conduct their own classroom experiments.

There will be eight different ant habitats containing three areas: nest area, Forage Area 1 and Forage Area 2. Each area is separated by a sealed doorway. Each nest area contains about 100 Tetramorium caespitum or pavement ants.

Associate International Space Station Program Scientist Tara Ruttley talks about the Ants in Space experiment in this video.

Posted on January 12, 2014

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Rare Dutch ants discovery

This video says about itself:

ANTS – Nature’s Secret Power (Full)

They have inhabited our planet for millions of years, and yet no living creature seems more alien to us. Award-winning cameraman Wolfgang Thaler and Bert Hoelldobler, a leading ant authority, bring us face-to-face with the mysterious world of these social insects. Special macro film technology introduces us into the fascinating world of ants as no film did before.

Dutch conservation Natuurmonumenten reports about ants at their nature reserve Eerder Achterbroek.

This autumn, sixteen ant species were found there. They included two rare species: Formica pressilabris; and Formica truncorum.

New phylogenomic analyses suggest that ants and Apoidea (hunting wasps and bees) are more closely related than we had previously believed: here.

These ants can build floating rafts, resilient bridges and temporary shelters using nothing but their own bodies: here.

Ants stay clean by squirting substance out of their butts: here.

Scientists with freezer reveal secrets of fire-ant raft building: here.

‘Pirate’ ant discovery in the Philippines

Cardiocondyla pirata female

From Wildlife Extra:

New species of ‘pirate’ ant with highly unusual pigmentation found in the Philippines

Eye-patch ant posing questions

May 2013. Scientists have discovered a new enigmatic species of ant in the Philippines. The pirate ant (Cardiocondyla pirate)

sic; pirata

engages the imagination with a bizarre colouring pattern that has not been recorded anywhere in the world before. The female ants can be recognized by a distinctive dark stripe across the eyes that resembles a pirate eye patch, which inspired the scientists to choose the name Cardiocondyla pirate.

“On a collection trip to the Philippines we looked for different species of the genus Cardiocondyla which is known for its astonishing morphological and behavioural diversity of male ants. During the search we discovered a previously unknown species in the cracks of big stones in a shady streambed. Due to the darkness of the rainforest and the translucent body parts of the tiny ants they were nearly invisible. Under bright light and a magnifier we detected the stripe across the eyes and so we always referred to these ants as “the pirates”, said Sabine Frohschammer, PhD student Universität Regensburg.

What remains a mystery for scientists is the adaptive significance of the very unusual pigmentation pattern. The poor vision and the fact that these ants mate in the dark exclude one of the most obvious hypotheses that the dark patch serve as a sign for sexual differentiation and thus a cue for recognition during mating.


A possible guess about the function of this bizarre pirate-like coloration pattern is that it serves as a tool to distract and confuse the enemy. The combination of the dark stripes together with a rather translucent body when living could leave the impression in predators that the anterior and posterior body parts are in fact two separate objects.

However even if this hypothesis is true the enigmatic pigmentation pattern of Cardiocondyla pirata will continue to engage the minds of scientists as the question remains: “Which predator with a high-performance visual system preys on these tiny ants?” comment the authors of the study.

The study was published in the open access journal Zookeys.

Talking about pirates: here is a music video about Captain Hook and Peter Pan.

The music is by Chipz.

British insect photography competition

This video is called UK Dragonflies – Southern Hawker, Migrant Hawker & Common Darter.

From Wildlife Extra:

Bug and insect photography competition

Wildlife presenter Nick Baker launches bug photography competition

May 2013. Wildlife charity, Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust has launched a bug photography competition to encourage people to take a closer look at the bugs on their doorstep.

Participants will be asked to take a photo of their favourite bug or the sheer diversity and beauty of bugs and submit it to Buglife. As long as the photo includes a bug and has not been digitally enhanced, it can be submitted to the competition

Age categories

There are three age categories, 8 years and under, 9 to 15 years and adults (16 years and over).

Judging panel

The judging panel includes wildlife presenter, Nick Baker and professional photo journalist Carlos Reyes-Manzo, and Buglife entomologist Steven Falk. The photos will be judged on technical skill, diversity, originality and creativity of composition.

Susan Thompson, Buglife Development Officer said ‘By taking part in the bug photography competition we hope that people will engage with bugs and take an interest in conserving them’.

Prizes include a bespoke bug walk and macro photography experience for up to 10 people.

To take part in the competition visit and post your bug photo on the Buglife bug photography competition Flickr group. Competition closes on 30 September 2013.

Louise took photos of the balls and showed them to colleagues, but they got no closer to identifying the strange phenomenon. It was only when she passed the images on to Martin Harvey, a leading fly expert, that the answer was revealed. The fly concerned turned out to be Atherix ibis, part of ibis fly family. Martin explained that the flies are known to adopt this strange behaviour, but that it was ‘not often seen': here.

Britain: October 2013. The flying ant survey (Yes, there really is one) ran from 22nd July to 22nd August and it revealed that there were not one but four peaks in flying ant appearances, with smaller peaks in between: here.

Turkish ants, first checklist

This video says about itself:

Ants in Gulusluk, Turkey

Ants eating a Honey Nut Cheerio.

From Zootaxa journal:

First annotated checklist of the ant fauna of Turkey (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Trakya University Faculty of Sciences, Department of Biology, 22030 Edirne-TURKEY.


The first annotated checklist of the ants of Turkey is presented. A total of 306 valid names of species-group taxa (286 species, 20 subspecies) is recorded based on literature records and additional newly collected material carried out since 1998. Synonyms are included. New localities are added for some poorly known species.

Four species (Tapinoma subboreale, Formica georgica, Formica lugubris and Lasius balcanicus) are reported for the first time and thirteen species (Bothriomyrmex atlantis, B. meridionalis, Tapinoma madeirense, Camponotus robustus, Formica fuscocinerea, F. gagatoides, Rossomyrmex minuchae, Messor barbarus, Monomorium glabrum, M. salomonis, Myrmica vandeli, Stenamma westwoodii and Tetramorium forte) are excluded from the list of Turkish ants.

Ant-eating dinosaurs?

Alvarezsaur family tree

From Dinosaur Tracking blog:

October 17, 2012

Did Dinosaurs Eat Ants?

If there’s one group of dinosaurs that needs better PR, it’s alvarezsaurs. They’re among the strangest dinosaurs to have ever evolved, yet outside of dinosaur die-hards, few people have ever heard of them. They’re not one of those classic forms–the sauropods, tyrannosaurs, stegosaurs, or ceratopsids–that have been cherished for the past century. Paleontologists only recently began to uncover their bones. Alvarezsaurus itself was named in 1991, but it and its close relatives didn’t quite get swept up in the same wave of dinomania as their other Mesozoic cousins.

Alvarezsaurs weren’t big, toothy, or menacing. That’s part of makes them so special. Alvarezsaurus, Mononykus and their relatives from Cretaceous Asia, South America and North America were small dinosaurs–these feathered dinos ranged from the size of a pigeon to about the size of a turkey. In fact, these dinosaurs were so avian in nature that there was once a debate about whether alvarezsaurs were non-avian dinosaurs or birds that had lost the ability to fly. Since those early debates, numerous studies have confirmed that they were non-avian dinosaurs that were closely related to the strange therizinosaurs and ostrich-like ornithomimosaurs.

But the strangest thing of all is the mystery of what alvarezsaurs ate.

Despite being short, alvarezsaur arms weren’t wimpy. Not at all. Alvarezsaur forelimbs were very stout and included one robust finger tipped in a big claw. (Among these dinosaurs, the total number and development of the fingers varied, but they’re connected by having one finger that was bigger than the others.) In contrast, these dinos often had a reduced number of very small teeth.

Paleontologists thought they saw a connection between these traits and a life feeding on social insects. Mammals such as pangolins and ant-eaters also have stout, heavy-clawed arms and are toothless–a functional pairing that goes with a life of tearing into ant and termite nests to slurp up the scurrying insects in their nests.

Could alvarezsaurs have done the same? So far, it’s the most popular hypothesis for their bizarre nature. In a 2005 paper, paleontologist Phil Senter proposed that Mononykus would have been capable of the kind of scratch-digging needed to rip open social insect nests. Then, in 2008, Nicholas Longrich and Philip Currie described the alvarezsaur Albertonykus in deposits that also contained traces of Cretaceous termites. Alvarezsaurs seemed to have the right equipment and live at the right time to be social insect predators.

But we don’t really know. No one has published any direct evidence that Albertonykus or any other alvarezsaur ate ants or termites. The hypothesis is certainly a reasonable one, but we still need a test of the idea. Fossil feces may eventually hold the answer.

If paleontologists eventually uncover dinosaur dung of appropriate size that contains ants or termites and comes from a habitat shared by alvarezsaurs, that discovery would strengthen the ant-eating hypothesis. A cololite would be even better. While coprolites are petrified feces that have already been excreted, cololites are fossil poop preserved inside the prehistoric creature’s body prior to expulsion. If paleontologists found an alvarezsaur with a cololite containing termites, that would be direct evidence that these dinosaurs truly did snarf down hordes of insects. For now, though, we can only hope that some lucky fossil hunter makes such a discovery.

Ant slave ‘rebellions’

This video from the USA says about itself:

Acorn ant (Temnothorax longispinosus) larva close-up and a worker feeding a larva.

Courtesy of Jo­han­nes Gu­ten­berg Uni­vers­ity Mainz in Germany and World Science staff:

Slave ant “rebellions” found to be common

Sept. 27, 2012

Ants held as slaves in nests of oth­er ant spe­cies of­ten dam­age their op­pres­sors through acts of sab­o­tage, ac­cord­ing to new re­search.

Ant re­searcher Su­sanne Foit­zik of Jo­han­nes Gu­ten­berg Uni­vers­ity Mainz in Ger­ma­ny said she in­i­tially not­ed the “re­bel­lion” be­hav­ior three years ago, in find­ings re­ported in the April 2009 is­sue of the jour­nal Ev­o­lu­tion. More re­cent re­search, she said, has re­vealed that the phe­nomenon—seen among ants that are en­slaved in or­der to raise their mas­ters’ off­spring—is wide­spread.

In three ant popula­t­ions in West Vir­gin­ia, New York, and Ohio, Foit­zik ex­plained, en­slaved work­ers of the ant spe­cies Tem­notho­rax long­i­spin­os­us have been ob­served ne­glect­ing and kill­ing the off­spring of their slave­mak­ers rath­er than car­ing for them. As a re­sult, only 45 per­cent of the slave­mak­ers’ off­spring sur­vived on av­er­age—lit­tle over half the sur­viv­al rate of the slave spe­cies’ brood in its own free-liv­ing nests.

The Amer­i­can slave-making ant Pro­to­mog­nathus amer­i­canus is a “so­cial par­a­site” of an an­cient line­age that de­pends en­tirely on oth­er ant spe­cies, called the host spe­cies, to sur­vive. Slave work­ers care for the brood in par­a­site nests, br­ing food to their mas­ters and feed them, and even de­fend the nest.

The ants be­come slaves when work­ers from the slave-making ant col­o­ny at­tack the nests of the spe­cies T. long­i­spin­os­us, kill the adults, and steal the brood. Back in the mas­ters’ nest, which can be in hol­low acorns, nut­shells, or twigs, the slave­mak­ers ex­ploit the nat­u­ral brood care be­hav­ior of the emerg­ing slave work­ers. The slaves feed and clean the lar­vae, the maggot-like off­spring of their mas­ters.

“Probably at first the slaves can­not tell that the lar­vae be­long to anoth­er spe­cies,” said Foit­zik. As a re­sult, 95 per­cent of the brood sur­vives the lar­val stage. But the situa­t­ion changes when the lar­vae be­come pu­pae, or un­dergo their met­amor­phosis in­to the adult stage. “The pu­pae, which al­ready look like ants, bear chem­i­cal cues on their cu­ti­cles [shell-like skele­tons] that can ap­par­ently be de­tected. We have been able to show that a high frac­tion of the slave­maker pu­pae are killed by slave work­ers.”

The pu­pae are ei­ther ne­glected or ac­tively killed by be­ing at­tacked and torn apart, the re­search­ers found. Sev­er­al slaves at once may as­sault a pu­pa, which can­not move or de­fend it­self dur­ing the pu­pal stage and is al­so un­pro­tected by a cocoon—P. amer­i­can­us be­ing one of a num­ber of ant spe­cies which, for un­clear rea­sons, don’t make co­coons.

In par­a­site nests in West Vir­gin­ia, only 27 per­cent of the pu­pae sur­vived, and in the New York col­o­nies, only 49 per­cent, Foit­zik said. In Ohio, the sur­viv­al chances of the Amer­i­can slave-making ant was a bit high­er at 58 per­cent—but this was still well be­low the sur­viv­al rate of 85 per­cent for pu­pae of the “slave” spe­cies when in their own free-liv­ing nests.

A ques­tion is pre­cisely what mem­bers of the “slave” or host spe­cies achieve by re­belling.

“The en­slaved work­ers do not di­rectly ben­e­fit from the kill­ings be­cause they do not re­pro­duce,” said Foitzik. But their free rel­a­tives in the sur­round­ing area—which might very well be their sisters—indi­rectly ben­e­fit, she not­ed, as slave­maker col­o­nies weak­ened by re­bel­lions are less capa­ble of suc­cess­fully launch­ing new raids.

In­ter­est­ingly, Foit­zik added, ge­o­graph­ic dif­fer­ences in the slave spe­cies’ re­sponses fit pre­dic­tions of ev­o­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry that popula­t­ions will evolve dif­fer­ent traits in re­sponse to dif­fer­ent pres­sures from their lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment. An ex­am­ple: while host ants in New York are very ag­gres­sive and of­ten suc­cess­fully thwart slave raids, West Vir­gin­ian hosts prof­it more from the slave re­bel­lion be­cause, as ge­net­ic anal­y­ses in­di­cate, the neigh­bor­ing col­o­nies are more of­ten close rel­a­tives to the “re­bels.”

Heron uses ants to catch fish

The green heron from North America, using bread as bait to catch fish, mentioned in another blog post here, is not unique.

This is a video of another green heron using bread to catch fish.

And green herons are not the only heron species doing such things. And you don’t have to go to Africa to see a black heron doing its umbrella trick either.

Translated from in the Netherlands:

Grey heron uses ants as bait

Marlene van Soest sent this remarkable message on a grey heron fishing with bait.

“Our garden with a pond is just outside the center of Leiden.
When disturbed the fish hide under a rock plateau.

Sometimes we feed the fish. They then go to their hideaway first and will emerge later.

During the holidays there was a grey heron, with a special way of fishing, unfortunately a successful way.

With its bill, the bird grabbed some ants who were about to fly away and dropped them into the pond.

When a few fish wanted to eat that tidbit, they were eaten themselves … “

Marlene van Soest had to span a net over the pond to save the fish.

In an earlier Vogeldagboek Dr. J. T. Lumeij (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University), said, in response to a question by me, that it was not known whether bitterns used bait.

“Other herons do so though, like striated herons with pieces of bread or insects.

Herons use different techniques to catch prey.”

That turned out to be very true in Leiden!