An email came in today from Brush Freeman, an entomologist on the Texas entomology listserve. He linked to a couple of pictures he took recently of a wasp that builds its home out of the ultimate in recycled materials–bird poop.
Now an insect using discards from other living things is not unusual. Paper wasps (the inventors of paper, long before the Egyptians) tear off strips of wood from dead trees to chew up and turn into their pulp nests. But the use of bird droppings as nesting material took me by surprise a couple of summers ago when I was trying to solve an unusual insect question.
These pictures of a cabin show white plaster-like material filling cavities on the outside as well as indoors on what appears to be a cutting board or table. In the second shot, a grub can be seen in one of these holes that has been dug out. These wasps appear to belong to the insect family Sphecidae, a large group usually referred to as the solitary wasps. The genus Trypoxylon appears to be responsible for some of this bird dropping collection.
Brush was the one who shed light on this behavior last year when he noted that he had watched the wasps doing this since he was a kid. If you want to see wasps in action, he suggests looking underneath barn swallow nests during the summer. Just another example of interesting insect behavior. Now if we humans could just come up with better, environmentally-friendly way of handling our messes…