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Wasps Are Our Friends: Part II

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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The second in our series promoting the breadth and value of wasps features the gorgeous Orasema, a tiny metallic wasp that lives in ant nests.

An adult wasp in a nest of Pheidole big-headed ants.

Young wasps feed on developing ant brood. When they mature, the winged adults leave the nest to fly and mate. After mating, Orasema biology gets weird. Instead of sensibly returning to an ant nest to lay eggs, females make their little grub-like larvae do the work.  Eggs are laid in leaves. On hatching, the young larvae hang out in the vegetation, attempting to hook a passing ant and catch a lift.

A female Orasema wasp lays her egg in a tiny slit she cuts in a leaf. Upon hatching, the tiny larva will hitch a ride on an ant back to a nest. The apparent "sting" on this animal is not a stinger but an ovipositor, an egg-laying organ.

Like the vast majority of wasps, Orasema is not aggressive and does not sting.

photo details:
Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x lens on a Canon 20D (top), 7D (bottom)
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec (top)
ISO 200, f/13, 1/200 sec (bottom)
diffuse off-camera twin flash (both)

Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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