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Image of the Week: Ruby-tailed wasp

4 Jul, 2014

Ruby tailed wasp


There are over 100,000 different species of wasp on Earth and the majority of these are parasitic. Indeed for almost every pest insect, there is at least one wasp species that preys on it or acts as a parasite to it. This helps naturally control the numbers of pests.

Most of us will be familiar with the yellow and black stripes of the common wasp, but perhaps the most striking species is that of the ruby-tailed wasp, as pictured above. Its distinctive colours make it a truly remarkable sight with the head and thorax having a metallic blue-green, almost turquoise appearance whilst the rear half is a breathtakingly rich red. It is this colour that gives this wasp its name.

The image above was taken using a microscope while the wasp was in its distinguishing defensive position – their concave body shape allows them to roll up (much like hedgehogs do) when threatened. The photographer, Spike Walker, used two electronic flashes to highlight the vibrant colours of the wasp.

Ruby-tailed wasps are also known as “cuckoo wasps” because they lay their eggs in the nests of other wasps and bees. When hatched, their larvae then feast on the newborn larvae of their hosts.

Some species of ruby-tail are now very rare in Britain and are listed as ‘nationally scarce’.

Image credit: Spike Walker, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.

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