biology zoology blog benno meyer rochow unusual nest

Unusual nests and places

Unusual nests and places: you’d never think of this one!

Nests to shelter eggs, the young of a species and its parent(s) are constructions that are being employed by a wide range of very different animals. Nests may be made entirely from material that is produced by the nest maker alone as, for example, in spiders that spin a cocoon to house their eggs or as in anabantoid labyrinth fishes like the Siamese fighting fish and the South American catfishes of the genus Hoplosternum, which construct nests of air bubbles that these fish spit into a pile that then floats on the surface of the water.

Unusual foam nests for their offspring are also made by some frog species such as the tungara mud puddle frog Engystomops pustulosus or the South African foam nest tree frog Chiromantis xerampelina without the use of material other than water and their own sticky secretions. However, nests for eggs made with material that is wholly collected as with the nests of crocodiles or that of the stickleback fish or that of most birds and mammals (in the latter two sometimes with some ‘padding’ of hairs or feathers or even saliva as in the ‘edible bird nests’ of Indian and Chinese swiftlets) are most common. Nest decorations with artificial and often brightly coloured items are known from birds and even stickleback fish and although they make the nest more conspicuous, the females apparently like such decorations. Insects, of course, and especially the social species like termites, ants, wasps, and bees do not decorate their nests, whether they are called mounds, hills, or hives, but these insects are certainly famous nest builders and I come to that now.

What prompted me to write this blog was information I got from some reader of my blogs about an unusual place that nests of the honey bee Apis mellifera, the wasp Paravespula vulgaris and a red squirrel Sciurus vulgaris were found in: a mummified human corpse! Łukas Szleszkowski and co-workers reported recently that nests of these three species were found in the corpse of a man that had gone missing in September 2003 in Lower Silesia (Poland), but had left a note that he intended to kill himself. Thirteen years later the skeletonised remains of this man with partial clothing and a noose made of an electric cable around the neck were found high up a spruce tree. Genetic analyses showed that the remains of the man in the tree belonged to the person that had gone missing in 2003.

Finding a variety of insects, especially numerous kinds of beetle species and flies on a corpse is not at all unusual, but finding a nest of a honey bee and one of a wasp plus that of a squirrel in a human corpse must be considered highly peculiar. However, the position of the body high in the tree prevented it from being dismembered and consumed by scavenging forest animals. When the person’s inner organs had decayed and the corpse then provided a cavity covered by strong denim (the trousers), the remains served as a nest for squirrels protected by the fabric. The hollow body became the home of honey bees for some years and at one stage was also inhabited by wasps that built their nest in it. Although wasps prefer to nest underground, they do also occupy hollow trees and moreover prey on bees and could have been attracted to the bee’s nest in search of protein and sugar.

Other unusual nest sites, but certainly not as spectacular as the one just mentioned, are on record for termites and ants. Birds nesting in letter boxes, in a discarded shoe, an ashtray, inside a lamp post or right in front of the light of a traffic signal are mentioned on various webpages of unusual nesting places. Dummy nests to fool a predator are known to be built by penduline tits (yes, I’m afraid that really is their official name), but have I seen any such unusual nesting places? No, not for birds, but remember the earlier blog, in which I did report the occurrence of a rat and its nest under the bonnet of my car in Jamaica? I’d think that that’s pretty unusual too.

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2019.
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