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 the Netherlands: here.

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.