Phylogenetic analysis (using DNA to figure out the family tree of life) of Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) has shown that eusociality (societies in which the many give up their own reproduction to support the reproduction of the few) first evolved, in every case studied so far, in monogamous species, in which all offspring have the same mother and father. [more inside]
Social insects are the most altruistic animals we know of, always ready to give their lives for Queen and Colony. Or... almost always. Possibly deranged researcher Kevin Loope collected colonies of yellow jacket wasps from the wild and video-taped instances of matricide, when workers turn on the queen and kill her. His study helped confirm the hypothesis that this happens most often when all the wasps have the same father.
The Queen of Trees is a documentary (52 minutes) on the sycomore fig tree, focusing on the intricate mutualism between a fig tree and its fig wasp. Filmmakers Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble spent two years camped out in the Kenyan bush to capture fascinating scenes of life around the sycomore, including inside the figs.
Do insect societies share brain power? The society you live in can shape the complexity of your brain--and it does so differently for social insects than for humans and other vertebrate animals. [more inside]
Parasitic Junk in Your Trunk "The little monsters jump off the adult wasp host, and scamper over to a wasp nest’s nursery. There they use enzymes to dissolve their way into the larval wasps, drop off their legs, and get busy eating. They wrap themselves in an envelope of their own skin, and also make a blanket from their host’s skin tissue. And here is where things get really weird."
Deadly Asian giant hornets - aka Vespa mandarinia - kill at least 41 people in China. Hundreds more have been hospitalized by these 2+ inch beasts with a sting that packs a human-tissue dissolving neurotoxin. Survivor stories are terrifying. Think you are safe in the U.S. or Britain? Nope and nope. (via @BitterOldPunk)
One wasp can seriously ruin your picknick. A wasp nest in or near your home can be dangerous to your health. A yellowjacket wasp nest? Serious trouble. Now imagine a wasp nest holding a million yellowjackets.
A recent paper* documents a previously undocumented strategy, fraught with human psychological parallels, of a potentially adaptive mechanism against parasitism: self-medication via alcohol intoxication. [more inside]
Congrats, Peer Fish. And you too, Covington Stanwick. Inside Lacrosse announces the 2012 All-Name Lacrosse Men's and Women's teams. [more inside]
How fairy wasps cope with being smaller than amoebas. They're so small that they lay their eggs inside the eggs of thrips. Their brains are 50 times less complex than houseflies' brains. They're only the third smallest insect! (video) [more inside]
Dr. Justin O. Schmidt likes insects of the persuasive sort, the ones that bite, sting or squirt venom in your eyes. In the course of his entomological studies all over the world, he has met the defenses of about 150 different insects, and he has rated them, creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. On the low end: sweat bees, whose sting is "light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm." On the high end: Bullet ants, whose venomous bites cause "pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel." And it can last for hours, leaving you "quivering and still screaming from these peristaltic waves" [of pain]. [more inside]
Scientists recruit wasps for war on terror No it is not some B movie from the 1950's. Scientists at a Georgia laboratory have developed what could be a low-tech, low-cost weapon in the war on terrorism: trained wasps.
The Tao of Skinny-Dipping. [nytimes reg required] After long days spent defending their positions atop New York's most competitive fields, Manhattan's alpha males need to unwind. From mistresses to treadmills, these men have as many forms of relaxation as sources of stress. But some of the city's titans have a secret. They meet around private pools in private clubs and swim together, naked.