Wasp Uses Zinc-Tipped Ovipositor to Drill Into Fruits

May 29, 2014 09:25 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro


Researchers have discovered a toothed, zinc-tipped 'drill bit' perched on the ovipositor of a parasitic wasp.

By using sophisticated measurement tools, a team from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore found that wasp's fruit-drilling and egg-laying tool, has teeth enriched with zinc, according to BBC News.

Their study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Researchers believe that the fig wasp's egg-laying technique could inspire the design of new tools for microsurgical techniques.

The female parasitic fig wasp made its way through a difficult, unripe fig to find the larvae of other pollinating insects already developing inside, according to BBC News.

Its offspring will then feed on these larvae as they develop inside the fig.

"She uses her ovipositor... pushing this needle inside (the fruit) at the location, where she has decided to lay her eggs," said lead researcher Dr. Namrata Gundiah, according to BBC News. "She has to test the chemical environment inside the fruit as she's doing this, and she wants to complete this process fast, because as you see in (the) video, there are predators nearby waiting for her."

To figure out how the wasp managed the arduous task, the team captures images with an electron microscope of the insect's egg-laying appendage, or ovipositor, according to BBC News.

This showed that its end resembled a drill bit, with sharp-edged tooth structures that allowed it to get through unripe fruit.

Taking measurements from this tiny drill bit revealed the presence of zinc, and that it was "only at these teeth-like structures," causing researchers to think the zinc is there to harden the tips, according to Dr. Gundiah.

The technique could be applied to cut through rock and other hard materials, according to Dr. Namrata.

"In inhospitable places, this could [provide] a clever way to get samples back for us," Namrata said. "In the end though, it's the fun of seeing how nature works, rather than finding a utilitarian value for it. I'm sure if we look at it long enough, there will be lots of applications that will emerge just knowing how things work in nature."

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