If you’re looking for an excuse to not sleep tonight (or any other night), here’s some nightmare fodder: According to researchers from the University of Freiburg, the “bone-house wasp” rounds out its already horrifying nest with a chamber built out of dead ant carcasses. This, the researchers believe, is meant as a deterrent to predators in the interest of protecting its young. The fact that it terrifies humans is just a nice side-benefit.
“When I first saw one of these ant-filled chambers, I thought immediately of the ancient Great Wall of China. Just like the Great Wall protected the Chinese Empire against attacks from raiding nomad tribes, the ant wall protects the offspring of this newly described wasp species from enemies,” said study author Michael Stabb.
The wasp, found in the forests of southeast China, is formally named Deuteragenia ossarium. It belongs to a rather macabre family known as “spider wasps,” so named because in their multi-celled nests, each chamber contains a paralyzed spider intended to feed the wasps’ larvae. The “bone-house wasp” follows suit, only instead of leaving the final chamber empty, it fills it with dead ants because nature exists solely to disturb you.
Of course, the function of the ant graveyard is more mundane than it sounds. It’s believed that all of those dead ants make the nest smell an awful lot like an ant nest, something most predators would be remiss to provoke. The study appears to bear this out: They found that “bone-house wasp” nests were attacked much less than other wasp nests in similar ecosystems.
“The discovery of a new species raises new questions. We want to understand why biodiversity is important for a functioning ecosystem,” said study author Dr. Alexandra-Maria Klein. The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Image credit: Michael Staab