Insect Cribs


Honey bees are the ultimate social creatures and they’ve evolved to organize themselves in complex and interesting ways in order toprogress and optimize the productivity of their species In fact, they’re what we call “eusocial” animals This is a term given to organisms that live in multi-generational groups, cooperatively take care of their young, have a caste system, and have a division of labor. In eusocial societies, the workers, soldiers, caretakers and reproducers are different not only in their behaviors but in their physiologies as well For instance, a worker bee can’t reproduce at all. There can only be one reproducer: the queen bee, and her name is Beyonce. Eusociality has been observed in the order hymenoptera, which includes the bees, wasps and ants as well as in termites But that doesn’t mean that every species within the order are eusocial. There are varying degrees of social groupings and a lot can be learned about their lifestyles by looking at the places they call home. So today, we bring you Insect Cribs. Fire ants. Fire ants are pretty crazy. They invaded the United States in the 1930s and spread like, well, wildfire. If they encounter a flood, they’ll band together into a giant ball and float away. The queen of one of these colonies can live up to 7 years and give birth to a thousand eggs a day So, needless to say they’re fairly difficult to get rid of and very resilient creatures. “Wherever man is, there the ant is also.” This is an upside down cast nest of a fire ant colony. It was created by pouring molton aluminum into the colony, which made impressions of the various tunnels and chambers. The method was developed by ant scientist Walter Tschinkle, who wanted to know more about what the underground ant homes looked like. They’re hard to draw and observe in 3 dimensions, so instead he had the idea to pour casting material into them What results is an intricately detailed impression of the colony, and reveals information about the colony’s size and scope. Carpenter Ants Not all eusocial ants make nests in the ground There’s nothing quite like living in what you think is a stable property, only to learn that the walls of your home are essentially made out of swiss cheese. And if that’s so, you can thank Carpenter Ants. Even though they’re a total nuisance to the homeowners, they play an important ecological role by helping to speed up the decaying process in nature There are more than a thousand species and although they live in and bore through wood, they’re not eating it. Carpenter ants are unable to digest plant cellulose Instead, they forage on dead insects They’ll eat the internal fluids and juices, then decapitate their prey and bring the head back to the colony so the insect’s brains can be fed to a choice family member. These ants also receive nutrition by milking aphids like a herd of little invertebrate cows. The aphids feed on plant sap, which is rich in sugars. Ants love sugars, so they use touch and chemical receptors to create herds of aphids and entice them to excrete those excess sugars out of their butts, on command. The ants eat the fluid, which scientists call honeydew, but lets be honest, it’s sugar poop. Delicious. Stinging Ants Ants don’t only live in dead trees. some living trees have made accommodations for them, too. Certain species of acai and vachellia trees and stinging ants have evolved to co-exist in a mutually beneficial way. These trees have hollow thorns, or in the case of the Whistling Thorn Vachellia, grow special bulbous thorn chambers that the ants can chew a hole into and that becomes their home. A single colony of ants will dominate a tree, and rush out to prevent herbivores from attacking the leaves. In return for the security, the tree provides the ants with food and nutrients But it’s been observed by some scientists that the absence of giraffes and elephants, like when a border fence is placed around a tree, over a number of of years the tree produces fewer thorns and resources for the ants, who have nowhere else to go, and there exists a high competition for trees Let’s just say it’s a relationship that’s a work in progress. Weaver Ants And when a plant doesn’t directly adapt to the presence of its host ants, some species have constructed their own homes, and they’re enlisting their kids to help out. Weaver ants live in trees and build their own nests out of it’s leaves with silk. But the adults can’t produce the silk themselves, so they pick up a larvae in their mandibles and use it like a glue stick, gently squeezing and moving back and forth to stitch the leaves together. The entire colony lives in these melon-sized nests- the queen and her entire hard working family. Paper Wasps Wasps have different social structures than most ants and bees, and there are many different kinds of social wasps. You’re probably most familiar with yellow jackets, which are semi-social insects. In a semisocial structure, there can be a dominant queen, but all members can reproduce and she can be overthrown if she becomes week or replaced if she dies. These wasps make delicate papery nests by mixing their saliva with wood fibers and then regurgitating the paste to build individual chambers for eggs. You can easily find these nests hanging from a tree, or probably your garage. and the colors of the nest can change depending on what sort of wood or paper is available. Given colored options, they’ll make a rainbow nest. Gall Wasps Some wasp species don’t live socially and therefore, don’t need social structures. Gall wasps lay each of their eggs into individual plant and leaf stems. The wasp uses an ovipositer, which looks like a big hypodermic needle, to insert an egg into the stem of a plant. The plant responds by creating a large swollen growth around the egg, and then the egg hatches, and the larva develops and grows by feeding off of the plant material. Plant galls have been majorly important to human commerce for thousands of years, because they contain high concentrations of tannins. Some of the first permanent writing ink was created by combining iron salts and tannic acids from these insect galls. But they’ve also been used in dyes, lamp fuel, and medicines. Potter wasps Like gall wasps, potter wasps live solitarily. But since they take care of their young for a certain amount of time, they’re considered sub-social animals. Instead of simply laying their eggs in a plant and moving on, The female potter wasp begins constructing vessels out of mud, and they resemble tiny little pots. As she’s building up the home, she ventures out to collect snacks for her baby, but instead of killing the prey, which are usually small caterpillars, she paralyses them. That way they don’t begin spoiling before the larvae can hatch and get around to chowing down. Then she lays her egg and seals up the container. Mud Daubers Similar to potter wasps, mud daubers create clay and mud containers to house their offspring But, they’re also insects with unintentional destructive tendencies. Instead of making a single chamber at a time, some make long, narrow tubes with multiple chambers The female deposits a paralysed spider into each chamber, drops in an egg, and then seals them up. But if they find a preexisting tube, they’ll use that instead, like in a case where a plastic pipe was left behind a shelf in a post office in Arkansas, and a mud dauber set up shop. But more seriously, mud daubers have been known to create nests in pilot tubes and outflow valves on airplanes. They’ve been responsible for at least 3 major airline crashes that killed more than 200 people since 1980. Termites And, to bring it back to the beginning, where queen honeybees are at the top of their reproductive game, Queen termites are essentially slaves to their colonies A queen and king termite will bury themselves underground and begin reproducing- and fast. A termite queen can lay an egg every 3 seconds for 15 years, resulting in a quarter of a billion babies in her lifetime. So some of these colonies can grow to be more than 30 feet high. Her body becomes so big and distended that she becomes imprisoned within her royal chamber, constantly being tended to by her offspring, who will eventually kill her by licking her to death, draining her body of all of its fats and fluids. It still has brains on it

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