Packing A Sting

Male wasps take a stab at attaining sexual equality.

The experiment was set up in the lab of Shinji Sugiura, an ecologist in Japan :

Seventeen tree frogs were left with punny male mason wasps in contained environments. Instead of having snacks, the frogs were stung in the mouth.

With this observation, Dr. Sugiura and his colleagues confirmed a hunch that male wasps protect themselves with stingers pointed on their genitalia, protective mechanisms similar to those used by females.

When a predator dares get too close to a female wasp, she can use her ovipositor - her egg-laying tube organ - to deliver a venomous jab. Less is known about male wasps' defenses. 

Males lack a venomous ovipositor for stinging, so they've evolved to look as menacing as females to scare predators.

In some species, such as the common wasp and the velvet ant, males have developed ''pseudo-stings"-two spins on the tip of the abdomen or on the genitalia - to look fierce. Whether these actually fool predators is questionable, though, and most scientists  assumed males to be unarmed.

The experiments conducted by Dr. Sugiura and his colleagues suggest that penis-spikes might indeed work. Although their lances don't deliver any venom, ''male wasp 'stinging' is very similar to the female stinging behavior,'' he said. 

When the scientists placed the frogs with wasps whose genitalia had been removed, the frogs gobbled the insects unperturbed. [ Sofia Quaglia ].


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