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Wasps Can Literally Scare Their Prey To Death

Wasps Can Literally Scare Their Prey To Death

Some young adults choose to study entomology hoping to spend the rest of their lives with insects. There are plenty of insect enthusiasts in the world. However, one college student, Alex Baranowski, is considered an entomology “savant.” Alex has had a lifelong obsession with insects, and he has indulged this obsession without restraint ever since he was a young child. During his high school years, Alex raised several different insects within his own home. These insects included mantises, moths and butterflies. Alex has even conducted his own scientific experiments in order to understand the nature of particular insects that are not well described in existing scientific literature. As a result of these experiments, Alex has shed more light on the life cycles of particular insects. Even professional entomologists have found the results of Alex’s scientific inquiries to be insightful. Alex is currently able to conduct more sophisticated insect-related experiments with the proper equipment, as he is now a coastal fellow at the University of Rhode Island. Alex is mainly focusing on predator/prey insect relations. Specifically, Alex is studying the relationship between wasps and luna caterpillars.

Alex is curious as to how insect prey respond when exposed to predators. Luna moths are preyed upon by wasps. Luna moths only live as adults for a single week, and they struggle their entire lives to avoid their wasp predators. Wasps often succeed in locating defenseless luna moths when they are still in their larval stage as caterpillars. Wasps will rip the caterpillars apart and bring chunks of them back to their nests in order to keep their offspring well fed. So do these luna caterpillars know that wasps are after them? How would a luna caterpillar respond if placed into a jar with a wasp? These are the answers that Alex is hoping to answer.

Alex set up a cage where luna caterpillars and wasps were in close proximity to each other, but a transparent barrier prevents the wasps from killing the caterpillars. Every day Alex would make a variety of observations and take measurements, such as weighing the caterpillars, and monitoring their growth rate. It turns out that caterpillars do, in fact, recognize the danger posed by wasps, as the caterpillars are scared to death, literally. The caterpillars would stop moving, which helped them avoid detection by wasps. Unfortunately for the caterpillars, this also means that they could not eat or drink. The luna caterpillars eventually succumbed to death caused by starvation or dehydration.

Do you believe that all insect prey can instinctively recognize the presence of a predatory insect?



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