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What on earth! Male mason wasps can attack predators with their genitalia, study shows

New Delhi Edited By: Riya TeotiaUpdated: Dec 20, 2022, 12:42 PM IST
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Japanese researchers have found that male mason wasps can use their genitalia as a defence mechanism against predators. 

All types of insects are born with some kind of defence mechanism. From camouflaging into the leaves to producing repellant odours, insects use all kinds of ways to defend themselves from probable predators. One such defence mechanism also includes, the genitalia of an insect! Yes, you read that right.

Researchers in Japan have discovered that male mason wasps can use sharp spines on their genitalia to restrict being swallowed by predators. The team of researchers came to this conclusion after experimenting on 17 tree frogs with 17 male mason wasps. They noticed that while all the frogs attacked the wasps, just over a third ultimately rejected the insects.

The authors of the study published in the journal Current Biology about the experiment, said, "Male wasps were frequently observed to pierce the mouth or other parts of frogs with their genitalia while being attacked". 

On the contrary, when the three frogs were introduced to the male wasps whose genitalia was removed, all of the frogs ate the insect, despite being still bitten. 

What do researchers say about their observation of male mason wasps?

Observing this, the team came to an inference and said, "Therefore, genital spines appear to play a role in preventing tree frogs from swallowing male wasps". Further study also shows that these spines do not appear to be used during the time of mating, which further adds volume to the observation made by the researchers. 

Mason wasp, also known as potter wasp, generally belongs to the subfamily of Vespidae, but sometimes they are also considered a separate family by themselves, called Eumenidae.

What defence mechanism do the female mason wasps use?

The female mason wasps also have a lethal weapon, though it was observed by the team that they were less likely to be attacked by tree frogs and are more likely to be rejected. But if and when they feel threatened, or see a potential predator, they can also use their egg-depositing organ as a weapon. Their egg-depositing organ has a sting which emits venom as a defence against a hostile environment.

Why is this study important?

Researchers said that the study highlighted the importance of male genitalia as a defence against predators as there are very few studies which demonstrate such a function. "Males of several hawkmoth species produce ultrasound using their genitalia to jam bat sonar", they said.

Prof Seirian Sumner of University College London, author of Endless Forms: the Secret World of Wasps, said while male wasps did not sting, they could use their genitalia in “mock” stings. Usually, she added, this felt like a “bracing tickle” but it can be spiky enough to cause the wasp to be released from human hands.

(With inputs from agencies)

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