Another Odd Couple
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A few days ago I published a photo of an encounter between a Giant Mesquite Bug and a fly (“Can We Be Friends?”). I continue to stake out the mesquite trees in the area over by Sabino Dam and I photographed another encounter between species just the other day.
I really like this photo. There’s a whimsical quality to it — the wasp seems to be curious about the tiny (about 1/16th of an inch long) ant that has invaded its space. If you look closely at the photo you’ll see that the wasp has stripped a layer of tissue from the mesquite bean pod and the resulting wound is oozing a bit of fluid. The little ant is feasting on the fluid, which probably contains sugars.
Paper wasps and ants are both members of the insect order Hymenoptera and they are fairly close relatives. Hundreds of millions of years of evolution have produced some profound differences between the very small ant and the relatively gigantic wasp but there are also a surprising amount of close similarities. The two insects have very similar body shapes and structures and both species are social in that they live in close-knit cooperatives comprised of siblings produced by a common parent.
Paper wasps can be predatory. They attack and kill caterpillars, which they feed to their offspring. However, I doubt very much that this wasp was thinking of the ant as potential food for the kids. The wasp is a specialist in that it focuses on caterpillars. Other creatures, like ants, are just not on the menu.
Photograph taken with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 mm f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 125, f14 @ 1/160.