If you check under the eaves of your home or garage, you might notice that paper wasps have been busy building nests. Through wind, rain, and snow, those nests provide a sturdy and waterproof home for wasp colonies. But how are they made at from what materials? Sherry Ritter, one of our favorite biologists at the design table, explains.

AskNature Nuggets | Episode 19

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Transcript:
This is a paper wasp’s nest. I find these fascinating not only because they’re beautiful but because they’re actually just made out of cellulose (or chewed up wood) and saliva. Now the wasp uses a saliva that has a lot of protein in it and that protein mixed with the cellulose creates a water insoluble but also waterproof covering.

Now, it’s interesting that in rainy environments, they actually use more protein in their saliva in order to make it more waterproof. And because protein is pretty expensive from a wasp’s standpoint because they have to go get more insects to get more protein, they’re only going to use it if they really need it. So if this is in a dry environment or protected from overhead, they’re not going to use as much protein.

So I’m wondering if we can use this idea to make non-toxic, waterproof paper or other biodegradable materials. (Holds up honeycomb) And in case you wondered, this is what the inside of the nest looks like… but that’s another story.

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