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Red-Throated Caracaras Rely on Fly-by Tactics to Avoid Wasp Stings

Dec 28, 2013 07:15 AM EST

The Red-Throated Caracaras, a species of bird native to the Central and South America uses physical force to pillage wasp nests instead of using chemicals, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by researchers from Simon Fraser University, reported that the birds depend on a fly-by technique to chase away wasps carrying a nasty sting.

"Researchers had previously thought that the birds must produce powerful wasp-repellant chemicals that allow them to take nests without getting stung, but the hypothesis has never been tested," Sean McCann, one of the study authors.

The Red-Throated Caracaras are found in Central and South American forests. The bird species feeds heavily on wasp brood.

For the study, researchers placed cameras in the Nouragues Field Station in French Guiana to observe the Caracaras' hunting technique. They found that wasps in smaller nests don't usually defend their young ones during the bird attack. However, nests with large number of wasps mount a counter-attack by stinging their predator.

However, the birds employ a fly-by tactic to get to the food source (wasp larvae) without getting stung. These fly-bys knock down the wasp nests, driving the adult insects away.

Species of wasps in temperate regions get only one chance to reproduce and therefore defend their brood aggressively. According to researchers, Neotropical wasps have several chances to reproduce, which is why they quickly abandon their nests. These wasps choose to conserve their workers, rather than the larvae.

 "Rather than chemical repellency, the behavioral tactics of the birds appear to rely on the wasps' ability to swarm and find new nests upon severe nest disturbance. They lose the brood in the nest, but retain the worker force," McCann said in anews release.

The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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