In a forested region of northern Vietnam, scientists were surprised to discover wasp nests that glow green under ultraviolet light. The discovery represents a milestone in the study of animal behavior, indicating that these glowing nests may serve as light signals to help wasps return home at the end of the day, or it could be a way to keep larvae safe from ultraviolet rays. The discovery was reported in a recent issue of the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
The wasp nest looks like a cluster of hexagons. What is more interesting is that they were created by multiple species of paper wasps from the Polistes genus. The bottom of the nests was protected with cocoon caps that were meant to keep the larvae safe.
“We were very surprised to find such strongly fluorescent biomatter. We were not searching for wasp nests in particular. To our knowledge, this phenomenon has not been observed in the past, neither by scientific researchers nor by any photographers,” declared senior author Bernd Schöllhorn, professor of chemistry at the University of Paris.
The team of researchers was exploring the Vietnamese rainforests in order to find new fluorescent insects. For this reason they all had ultraviolet LED torches with them. Ultimately, this led to the discovery of the glowing wasp nests. The nests look completely normal during daytime, and they look white if they are under white light. Compared to other Polistes species, all nests are fluorescent, but the intensity of the glow varies for each one.
“Potential biological functions of these interesting fluorescence properties of the studied biomaterial are discussed. The discovery of this striking example of a fluorescent terrestrial biomaterial may contribute to the debate on adaptive biological functions of natural fluorescence and falls in line with the growing interest in biodiversity and bio-inspiration,” reads the study.