Saturday, April 14, 2012

Paper Wasp

I thought this article about the Paper Wasp was so interesting.* Even if you don't love paper as much as I do, I'm sure you'll agree that it's an amazing creature. Here is what it says:

The Engineering Instinct of the Paper Wasp

Paper wasps have been described as masters of
engineering. Why is this description fitting?
Consider: As its name suggests, the paper wasp
builds and maintains its compound nest out of a
special kind of paper, which it manufactures itself.
The insect collects fibers of plants and of dead wood
from all kinds of places—logs, fence posts, telephone
poles, and building materials. It then chews
the cellulose-rich material, adding a sticky, highprotein
saliva. When applied, the resulting paste
dries to form a light, firm, yet tough, paper. Moreover,
the saliva has special properties that enable
the paper to generate and absorb heat, thus maintaining
the right temperature in the brood comb on
cool days.
The wasp builds its nest “mouthful by mouthful.”
The finished product is a waterproof, paperumbrella-
covered cluster of hexagonal cells—the
hexagon combining strength and efficiency. Wasps
that live in wetter areas simply add more oral secretion
because of its water-resistant properties. That
said, the insects select sites that offer some kind
of protective overhang. From this they suspend their
downward-facing nests by a stalk, or petiole. Moreover,
paper wasps do no harm to the environment
—unlike our papermaking processes, which pollute
air, water, and land!
Understandably, architects and researchers are
studying the wasp’s products with a view to designing
superior building materials that are lightweight,
strong, more flexible, and biodegradable.
What do you think? Did an insect with
a brain roughly the size of two grains of sand figure
out papermaking and nest architecture by itself? Or
are its chemical- and mechanical-engineering skills
evidence of design?
- A number of wasp species build paper nests. The cells therein serve
as chambers for eggs, which develop into larvae.
This article reminded me of one of my favorite stores called The Paper Source. Their logo (above) is actually an impression of a paper wasp. You can read more about it here.

* From the February 2012 Awake!

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