This week's news that the bone-house wasp creates its nests out of dead ants is a reminder that insects and birds sometimes select unusual items to craft their homes. The materials, no matter how weird, usually turn out to have some useful function. The newly discovered wasp,
, uses dead ants like insulation, stuffing the ant bodies between walls. Michael Staab of the University of Freiburg and colleagues found that the ants emit "a diverse array of organic compounds." Few insects want to mess with ants, so the scent may "repel predators, as most ant species ferociously defend their colonies against intruders," the authors write in in PLOS ONE.
Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons
A warbling vireo in California constructed a nest entirely out of facial tissues, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The tissues were warm and insulating for the little bird and its family. Warbling vireos love shade trees, and are still found in many Canadian and U.S. backyards, but extensive spraying of pesticides has decreased their populations considerably, according to the National Audubon Society.Photos: Impressive Bird Flying Formations
Logan King, Wikimedia Commons
Warbling vireos may go for comfort, but Chihuahuan ravens look for sturdiness when selecting nest materials. They even make nests out of barbed wire, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Humans use barbed wire a lot and put it outside, so the birds must figure, why not take advantage of it? The ravens also enjoy frequent feasting at garbage dumps. The sturdy and intelligent bird makes the most of what humans have done to the landscape.Photos: Birds-of-Paradise Evolved in Lost Worlds
Achim Hering, Wikimedia Commons
Tiny hummingbird nests usually go unnoticed, but the Cornell Lab of Ornithology documents that a ruby-throated hummingbird on Long Island constructed its nest out of fiberglass roofing insulation. Evenings can be chilly in the region, so this hummingbird benefitted from the high tech, lightweight material.Photos: Stunning Images of Rare Albino Hummingbird
Ken Thomas, Wikimedia Commons
Paper wasps really do make their own paper, which they construct out of gathered fibers from dead wood and plant stems, as well as their own saliva. Their paper nests feature open combs with cells for rearing the wasp's brood. The stinging insects also excrete a chemical on the paper to help repel ants.Wasp Has Its Own Zinc-Tipped Drill Bit
Rainer Zenz, Wikimedia Commons
Certain species of swiftlet, such as the White-nest swiftlet (
), craft their nests out of strands of their own gummy saliva. That would seem to be a major turn-off to humans and others, but in some cultures, the nests are delicacies when dried and served simmered in broth. Biologists at the National University of Singapore and other avian experts believe that demand for the nests has caused population declines.7 Insects You'll Be Eating in the Future
Hilary Dotson, Flickr
To one crafty Carolina wren, discarded hairpins must have seemed like very sturdy twigs. They bend as twigs do, can attach to one another, and come in easy-to-carry sizes. The wren made its nest almost entirely out of the hairpins.
Zorion, Wikimedia Commons
Many birds are waste-not, want-not creatures. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology documents, "Double-crested cormorants off the coast of Labrador (Canada) salvaged from a sunken trading vessel pocketknives, pipes, hairpins, and combs to construct their nests."Biggest Shipwreck Finds in History
Melissa Bube, Flickr
"A canyon wren in Fresno, California, constructed its nest on the beam of an office building," reports the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "The nest was made entirely of office supplies including paper clips, pins, rubber bands, thumbtacks, shoelaces, needles, wire, matches, and toothpicks; it weighed 2.5 pounds."
Pauline Schafer, Tobias Hagge, Texas; Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Pigeons are not picky, but they are not dumb either. While nests like this made out of cigar and cigarette butts look awful, there is a method behind the avian madness. Ecologists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that the butts help to repel pests of pigeons, such as parasitic mites. The insecticide effect comes from tobacco leaves remaining in the butts. Many compounds in cigars and cigarettes are known to be carcinogens, but researchers haven't yet determined which is worse for the birds: the cancer risk or the health problems often caused by parasites. While scientists continue to mull that over, pigeons continue to create butt-lined abodes.Like People, Pigeons Can Categorize