I’m having a sick-day at home today after fainting (low blood pressure) and landing splat on my face. Very sore. To cheer myself up I scanned the press releases and spotted this article – and thought I’d blog it because not only is it quite interesting (to me, at least) but one of the researchers (Ian Hardy) is an old friend from my University days… who stuck at research rather than disappearing into accountancy like so many of our contemporaries did.

Chemical exchanges show wasps are bad losers

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Female bethylid wasps fighting (left) and on host larva (right) (Cedit: Sonia Dourlot)

“For the first time scientists… have recorded ‘chemical exchanges’ undetectable by the human nose which take place between females of a species of bethylid wasp – Goniozus legneri, when they fight over larvae on which they lay their eggs. Not only have they discovered that chemical exchanges take place, but also that it is always the losing wasp that releases the potent gas [an insect version of pepper spray – presumably this gives the loser a chance to get away… but why doesn’t it then take advantage and turn on the victor? Too damaged?].

While the research was primarily aimed at improving the understanding of animal behaviour, lead researcher Dr Ian Hardy, from the University of Nottingham, explains that there is great potential for applied spin-offs:

    “Bethylid wasps kill the larvae of many insects that are pests of crops, such as almonds, coffee and coconut, ruining harvests and costing industry thousands of pounds. These wasps could be used as a cheap and effective biological control to kill the larvae, avoiding the use of expensive and polluting pesticides. But for successful biological control, we need a good knowledge of wasp behaviour, including how wasps from the same and different species interact. Understanding these patterns can inform us of the best combinations of species to release against a given crop pest.”

Very wise to be cautious about if/how to employ these wasps as biological controls – wouldn’t want repeats of some of the attempts, for example the use of harlequin ladybirds (and the rest…) where things didn’t quite go according to plan.