Macabre Wasp Stacks Ant Skeletons in Its Home
The U.S. Geological Survey is posting photos of insects on itsFlickr page
, offering a macro look at this hidden world. First up, this Festive Tiger Beetle (
) was found on top of a butte in Badlands National Park that had ancient windblown sand at its crest. Here, this sand specialist can build its long burrows.SEE ALSO: Bug Photos to Haunt Your Dreams
This Agapostemon bee species is one of the most common native bees in the eastern United States. In almost any field there can be hundreds, if not thousands, of these bees visiting a wide variety of blooming plants. One of the largest of the sweat bees, it still goes undetected if you don't get down on your knees, face close, among the flowers. This one was collected at Colorado National Monument, Mesa County, Colo.Animals and Bugs That Look Like Flowers
This wild bee (
), a female from Grand Tetons National Park, was collected as part of a study of climate change. Most species in this genus are black , but a few, like this one, are as the Latin in name implies, glittering jewels.Bugs Make Art: Photos
This is an unknown species of Robber Fly from Charles County, Md. Robber flies, a very large and widespread type of fly, feed on many different kinds of insects, making them a key player in maintaining the insect balance in different environments.SEE ALSO: Scary Fly, Dragon, New Dolphin in Week's Animals
One species of the rarely seen leafcutting bee, this is
from the sandhills of North Carolina. Leafcutter bees are so called because they cut plant leaves to create the cells in their nests. The bees tend to build their homes in rotted wood or in the strong stems of plants.Cockroaches: The Ultimate Survivors: Photos
is a type of jumping spider. This one was found in Beltsville, Md., but
lives in fields and prairies across North America. It feeds on seasonal plants.Animal Superpower -- The Eyes Have It: Photos
Sam Droege, USGS
Eggplant Tortoise Beetles like eggplants (go figure), eating holes in the plants' leaves. From the underside, the insects look quite queenly, with their ruffled collars. This one was gathered at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, in Anne Arundel County, Md.Grab-and-Go Beetle Hoards Poo and Gallops
The Karner blue butterfly,
Lycaeides melissa samuelis
, is endangered. Karner blue butterflies feed on nectar from many different types of flowers, but their larvae can survive on the leaves of only one specific plant, which has been decimated by habitat loss or change.7 Insects You'll Be Eating in the Future
Deer flies like this one, despite their groovy eyes, deliver a ferocious bite. And no wonder: when the female bites (males don't bite), she lacerates the skin and when the blood flows, sponges it up with her mouth. There are over 110 species of deer fly.Caterpillar to Butterfly in 3D: Photos
Centris bees, like this one, make their homes in holes, either in trees or in the ground.
The biggest visual difference between damselflies and dragonflies are their wing positions when resting. Dragonflies hold their wings open, while damselflies close them above their backs. This Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly (
) was found on a Beltsville, Md. stream.
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)
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.
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.
A freshly hatched adult female bone-house wasp (Michael Staab and Merle Noack
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.
More from LiveScience:
Googly Eyes: Photos of Striking Wasp Faces
Mind Control: Gallery of Zombie Ants
The 10 Most Diabolical and Disgusting Parasites