Insect Architects

After a few months off for house painting one minute bugs is back!

I was prompted to write this post after completing an article for Hort Journal Australia on a similar topic. My argument in the Hort Journal piece was that insects are not mathematical or engineering geniuses, and that their behaviour is dictated by the instincts they have evolved with. All very scientific and anti-anthropomorphic. The post here is a bit different. Let’s marvel at the exquisite perfection of some of the structures that insects build.

Our first architects are moths of the family Psychidae – the case moths. These are harmless creatures found in most gardens throughout Australia. Cases are spun by caterpillars from silk to which twigs, sand, moss, lichen, leaves or bark are attached. The cases can open and close at each end, the front end for feeding and the rear end for ejecting droppings. I believe the species illustrated below is Lepidoscia arctiella – look at how precise those little bits of twig are!


Adult male moths have wings but the females are wingless and remain in their cases after they have pupated. Mating and egg laying also takes place within the case. When the eggs hatch the tiny larvae lower themselves on silken threads from the rear end of the case. Larvae begin feeding and building their own cases, and as the larvae grows so does the case. The case moth illustrated below is another species of Lepidoscia. This case is a work of art!


Our next master builders are paper wasps of the family Vespidae. Paper wasps are social insects that build multi-celled nests from chewed wood mixed with saliva. Females lay an egg in each cell, and the hatching maggot-like larvae are fed with chewed up insects, usually caterpillars. Adult wasps feed on flower nectar. Nests may be located under tree branches, on rock walls, or unfortunately also under eaves of houses, in carports or on fences where they can be a nuisance. Paper wasps possess powerful stings and some people are highly allergic to their venom. The wasps on the nest below are of the genus Polistes.


It’s only when you take a close look at the inside of a nest that you can see the precision with which these wasps build. It’s hard to believe that this (below) is made from chewed up wood and saliva!

wsp nest

Video of a master builder – Potter wasp building her nest.


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