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Bone-house Wasp: Morbid Motherhood

ESF Top 10 New Species of 2015

  • A female of Deuteragenia ossarium in its natural ecosystem in South East China
    Photograph: Michael Staab

  • Overview of a Deuteragenia ossarium nest showing the unique nest-protection strategy, and, close-up photograph of the nest seal, which is filled with dead ants
    Photograph: Merten Ehmig

  • Close-up photograph of the nest seal, which is filled with dead ants
    Photograph: Merten Ehmig

  • A female of Deuteragenia ossarium in its natural ecosystem in South East China
    Photograph: Michael Staab

Bone-house Wasp: Morbid Motherhood

ESF Top 10 New Species of 2015

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About the Bone-house Wasp

Name: Deuteragenia ossarium

How it made the Top 10: This insect, which tops out at about a half-inch (15mm) in length, has a unique way to protect its offspring. The wasp constructs nests in hollow stems with several cells, each separated by soil walls. The wasp kills and deposits one spider in each cell to provide nourishment for her developing young.  Once her egg is laid, she seals off the cell and hunts a spider for the next cell. Rather than provisioning the final or vestibule cell with a spider, she fills it with as many as 13 bodies of dead ants, thus creating a chemical barrier to the nest. This is the first animal known to take this approach to securing the front door to a nest. This species, found in Gutianshan National Nature Reserve in eastern China, has significantly lower parasitism rates than similar cavity-nesting wasps. Camouflage is supplied by a veil of volatile chemicals emitted by the dead ants, thwarting enemies that hunt wasp larvae by scent.

Kingdom: Animalia

Family: Pompilidae

Etymology:  The epithet is from the Latin ossarium, meaning an ossuary or bone-house. 

Type Locality:  China, Zhejiang Province, Gutianshan National Nature Reserve

Holotype:  Insect Collection, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing.

Size: 7.4 to 15.2 mm

More information: Michael Staab, Michael Ohl, Chao-Dong Zhu, and Alexandra-Maria Klein. 2014. A unique nest-protection strategy in a new species of spider wasp.  PLoS ONE 9(7): e101592.

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