Spiny penis found on male wasps to ward off predators

Only females can sting predators and inject toxins into them. Therefore, it is widely believed that male wasps

completely defenseless. However, as part of a new study, scientists have proven that some of them can avoid certain death by using non-poisonous, but extremely spiky genitals.

Two thin retractable "genital spikes" are locatedon either side of the phallus of the male stonemason wasp (Anterhynchium gibbifrons). According to a new study published in the journal Current Biology, some wasps use them to hold females in place during mating. However, male stonemason wasps seem to use them differently, at least in laboratory settings. Instead, they only brandish their spiky phalluses when confronted by a suspected predator, such as the hand of a scientist.

Misaki Tsuji, study co-author and studentThe Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences at Kobe University in Japan was studying the life cycle of stonemason wasps when she felt a sudden "stabbing pain" in her finger. She held in her hands a male wasp, which she considered harmless.

Tsuji and her collaborator, Shinji Sugiura, developedan experiment to see if males can use their genitals to fend off predators they encounter in the wild. They brought Japanese tree frogs (Dryophytes japonica) to the lab, placed them in containers with male stonemason wasps, set up cameras, and waited.

Male stonemason wasps can sometimes escape predators by piercing them with their genital spines. Image courtesy of Shinji Sugiura

When tree frogs open their mouths toto devour wasps, the insects wounded the frogs and pricked them with genital spines. However, most of the wasp's defensive efforts were in vain, as almost 65% of the insects ended up being eaten anyway. But in 35.3% of cases, the tree frogs spat out the resisting wasps and left them alone.

The team repeated the experiment with male wasps that had their genitals removed. It turned out that all insects without genitalia were quickly swallowed, although the males continued to bite the frogs.

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