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The Give and Take of Food in a Paper Wasp Nest

8-7-13  paper wasp nest 011Like all adult wasps, bees, and ants, adult paper wasps are limited to liquid diets – they have no chewing mouthparts, and the passageway between their head and abdomen, where food is digested, is so narrow that pieces of food wouldn’t fit through it. Wasp larvae (the white grub-like organisms in the upper third of the pictured wasp nest cells) are able to eat a wider range of food, due to mouthparts and their body structure. Adult paper wasps capture and feed caterpillars and other insects to their larvae. The larvae then digest their food and produce saliva rich in nutrients. The adult wasp proceeds to scrape her abdomen across the nest, producing a vibration that signals to the larvae to release some of their carbohydrate-rich saliva which the adult then drinks. (Cells covered with white paper nest material contain wasp pupae.)

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9 responses

  1. anthony brainerd

    This is pretty amazing! I wonder who figured out this process…
    Thanks, Mary

    August 7, 2013 at 11:45 am

    • I know, I often wonder about the people who discovers things like this and how on earth they first observed them!

      August 7, 2013 at 11:51 am

      • Micky

        I have the same question at Pat. How do they make the paper if they can’t chew??

        August 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm

  2. Marilyn

    This is amazing ~ I had no idea! How did this procedure evolve, one might wonder…

    August 7, 2013 at 12:31 pm

  3. Jean Harrison

    Fascinating. I had no idea adult wasps didn’t eat the insects they catch until after processing by the larvae. Thank y ou, Mary, for the fascinating information in every single post.

    August 7, 2013 at 1:15 pm

  4. Pat Nelson

    I find this interesting, but am left confused. On numerous other sites I’ve read that paper wasps construct their nests by collecting plant and wood fibers and chewing them to mix with their saliva to create the paper paste. Or is this a different kind of chewing — external as opposed to internal?

    August 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    • Excellent question, Pat! My guess is that they CAN chew, but cannot swallow anything solid, but I will have to research this. Thanks for getting my brain cells working.

      August 7, 2013 at 4:22 pm

  5. Kathie Fiveash

    It looks like both the passage between the head and the thorax and the thorax and the abdomen are very narrow. Is it the actual digestive tube that is narrow all the way through the thorax? Do ants also convert food somehow to liquid?

    August 7, 2013 at 5:36 pm

  6. Nan

    Wow, This amazing! I never knew this until your post! Thank you!

    August 7, 2013 at 7:17 pm

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