Otterman speaks... (2003-2007)
Weblog about cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore.
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Otterman speaks...

Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives

List of Categories : travel * museum * cycling * Singapore Naturalist * science * kakis * mangroves * movies * mac and the internet * meow * NUS * life in Singapore * lit * world *

Sat 27 Aug 2005

Potter wasp central in NUS

Category : Singapore Naturalist

My fascination with potter wasps and their nest building skills began after an ecology practical in 1988. Ecologist extraordinaire D H Murphy had us scour the campus for a variety of nests, and empty their contents - prey, larvae, egg - in separate vials. Back in the lab we used a bomb calorimeter to calculate the energy contained in prey and larvae.

Then we did simple calculations to predict the energy transfer between two trophic levels (prey to larvae) . The results suggested an anomalously high efficiency of energy transfer. If this was the norm, we would be faced with an entirely different ecosystem and state of evolution!

Eventually, it slowly dawned on us that the energetic contribution of the mother potter wasp had gone unnoticed.


Finding a clean, complete cell to spin that yarn, however, was never easy. There was evidence of insect parasitism, fungal attacks, disease-assumed deaths, break-ins by even bigger predators or happy endings that spoke of young wasps having emerged after pupation.

In those days, a significant threat faced by the wasps were cleaners, who would pound away to destroy the nest, leaving only a stain to bear witness to an attempt to propagate. In 1989, I managed to stop the KE VII cleaner just as she reversed a mop handle and raised it above her head, poised to destroy the nest on the railing just outside my door. Obviously an old hand, she accepted my explanation and that nest of larvae survived to emerge.

The brick walls of the old Sheare's and Kent Ridge Halls on Lower Kent Ridge Road were a good host to these hymentopteran residents. The cement grooves between bricks provided a suitable habitat in which nests were nestled, especially in shady, less frequented corridors and behind loosely-fitted notice boards.

The underside of the many bridges connecting this complex on the slopes of the ridge gave rise to a multitude of unmolested nests, and a good source of mud and clay for the industrious mothers.

All gone now.

Still, they are about campus in nooks and crannies but I wonder if there is a potter wasp central in our midsts, somewhere.

Posted at 5:00AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | , .