Friday, January 6, 2017

Tool Using Wasp

Ammophila procera the Common Thread-waisted Wasp  -  REK
I have been watching Becky Swearingen's video of a Thread-waisted Wasp preparing a home for her offspring.  It appears to be Ammophila procera the Common Thread-waisted Wasp which we discussed in a recent blog.  It had previously brought a paralyzed insect into a hole it had created.  She goes on from there:
"I watched it as it entered the hole, brought out a little bit of dirt, dropped it and then reentered the hole repeating the process. This went on for some time and then the wasp wandered around checking out small bits of rock – tiny pieces of rock until it found the perfect one. She picked it up, went back to its hole and dropped in in the opening, where it was a perfect fit. The wasp then scuffed some dirt over the covered hole and was gone."
A. procera working on its hole for egg deposit - Becky Swearingen.
In Planet of the Bugs, Scott Shaw describes the evolution of wasps' parenting strategies.  In prehistoric times, the earliest versions (Version 1.0) of wasps were gentle creatures, unless you happened to be another insect. Their tail end came equipped with an ovipositor, a tube which would lay an egg on a victim and the larva would emerge and start to feed.  The next versions of wasp (Versions 1.xx) could deposit the egg through the victim's skin.

Sometime in the late Jurassic period, wasp Version 2.0 came out with modifications to the ovipositor, converting it to a stinger, handy for self-defense as well as killing prey for it to feed upon. Some time around then some wasp's venom was modified to simply paralyze the prey, preserving it alive and prolonging the time its larva could devour the insect at leisure from the inside.

With more time, some wasps began picking up the paralyzed insect and hauling it to a protected place, laying an egg on each one before sealing up the entrance.  Mud daubers stuffed their prey in mud tubes while solitary wasps like our thread-waist wasp used holes in the ground or hollow plant stems.  This would frequently include placing a stone in the entrance as Becky describes.  As Shaw* points out, "Wasps were the first stone tool users, tens of millions of years before the first primate or human picked up a rock."

Don't forget to watch Becky's Thread-waisted Wasp video. 

Planet of the Bugs, Scott R. Shaw, 2014.  This is my favorite book at present, a breezy look at insect evolution over the last 400 million plus years.  It goes beyond anatomy to describe how behaviors evolved in concert with other plants and animals.