Most species of animals are classified by scientific names, and are known to the public by one or more common names. Unfortunately today’s animal doesn’t have a common name. I’ve called it a social wasp because that’s the group the species belongs to, and will refer to it as ‘wasp’ for the remainder of this post.
These wasps are found in rainforests in southeast Asia, and are particularly common in Malaysia. They build nests in humid areas, such as near water or in caves. Despite their preference for living in nests, these wasps tend to build their nests in open spaces, and sometimes near humans. Because of this tendency, this species is one of the more well-known of its genus.
This species of wasp is long and thin, with males having white stripes on their bodies and females being black or dark brown. Nests usually house up to six males and six females, along with over 30 larvae. The nests are quite primitive for wasps, and are constructed from plant materials.
Social behaviour in these wasps follows a reasonably complex system for wasps. The female with the most reproductively developed ovaries is the most dominant. She bullies and intimidates the females with the next most developed ovaries, and generally ignores those with undeveloped ovaries. This is thought to occur because dominant females may be able to repress reproductive development in subordinate ones, and the alpha female isn’t too concerned about being usurped by females with tiny little ovaries.
Members of wasp colonies are very aggressive, especially to those who are not members of their nests. They can recognize their nest-mates, and will attack any other wasps. Experiments have shown that these wasps can recognize their friends even when those friends are corpses, which implies the recognition is not due to active signalling on the wasps’ parts.
This species has an enlarged gland on its abdomen that secretes special substances, the main purpose of which is to protect the wasps’ nests. The wasps will rub their secretions along the stems that run to their nests, which catch any pesky invaders, such as ants. Other functions of the secretions include self-grooming, which can protect against diseases, and rearing broods.
Insects often have complex lifestyles, and although these wasps certainly don’t have as rich a social life as many bees and ants do, I still think they are pretty cool. Especially that part about guarding their nests against ants. That’s thinking ahead.