Living With Wasp Venoms

Paper wasps

Left: Paper wasps feed their larvae (look in the open cells) and guard their nest. The cells closed with silk caps contain pupae.
Right: An adult wasp rolls a caterpillar into a ball to take back to the nest and feed to the hungry larvae.

Wasps have diversity of lifestyles from internal parasitoid to solitary hunter to social wasp. The function of venoms has evolved to complement the lifestyle. Venoms are produced by only the female wasps in accessory glands of the reproductive system. In many insects, the accessory glands produce materials such as defensive liquids or glues that coat the eggs or attach them to surfaces. In parasitoids, eggs are injected into other insects. Many parasitoid venoms have a protective function such as crippling the immune system of the host that enable larvae to successfully develop.

Wasps that hunt prey and provision nests can have venoms that immobilize or paralyze the prey without killing it. The living host tissues are preserved while the larva feeds and develops develops and the host remains in the nest. Social wasps, such as paper wasps do not use their stings to subdue prey. They attack and butcher their prey with their mouthparts and bring chunks of food back to the nest. Their stings are used instead to deter predators and robber of their nest.

Different lifestyles have led to a divergence in the composition of venoms. Wasp venoms are a huge source of bioactive materials many with unique properties.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in behavior, Biomaterials, by jjneal. Bookmark the permalink.

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