European Yellow Jacket Wasp vs. Australian Bull Ant (and other ant-wasp clashes)

Ant – Wasp clash is a rather frequent interspecific competitive interaction between the two social insect groups. At first glance wasps may seem to be at an advantage by being aerial. On the other hand, ants can achieve high numbers and squirt formic acid which is a potent neurotoxin for most animals. Wasps and ants both can bite and sting and therefore they are somehow equal rivals. The main footage featured above was filmed in the Kosciuszko National Park of Australia where the European Wasp is a pest.

Not all Ant – wasp clash is competitive. Wasps have been observed to be taking defensive action against ants coming too close to their hives by picking up and dropping ant scouts looking for wasp larvae. This defensive behavior may be the origin of the behavior seen for the first time in the South Island of New Zealand yellow jacket wasps. The European wasp (Vespula vulgaris) is an invasive colonial insect that has spread in almost every continent including New Zealand.

There, researchers have noticed that the familiar defensive behavior of the wasps turned into a competitive advantage against local ant species who are known to be rather aggressive. In a study published in Biology Letters, researchers recorded wasps on video while flicking ants away instead of instigating a fight. They have a good reason for doing so since the rival ants in the footage are capable of squirting formic acid:

In the study, the researchers set up 20 separate bait stations containing tuna fish and observed ants being flung 62 times. The wasps didn’t take the ants far, usually dropping them only a few centimeters away from the tuna which was still quite effective. Roughly 47 percent of the encounters, the ants were confused enough and could not return back to the tuna. Even when the ants did make it back, the wasps were victorious in 3 out of 4 of the time.

In the following footage filmed at the Georgia State Botanical Garden in Athens, GA, USA, you can see another interspecific clash between the black carpenter ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus) and the yellow jacket wasp over a deceased earthworm. At the beginning the wasp is quick in locating the prey and works fast to cut a decent chunk using her mandibles. As you can notice, there is a large group of Aphaenogaster lamellidens ants already recruited on the earthworm. The wasp successfully cuts a carriable piece (while repeatedly kicking Aphaenogaster ants off) and flies away. In her next attempt however a carpenter ant worker arrives on the scene and stands her ground. The wasp doesn’t give up but the carpenter ant dominates the competition. Size does matter in this insect eat insect world. In another interaction you can Aphaenogaster ants take a yellow jacket wasp.

 

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