JANUARY
2007

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

1-25-07

Most Insects Not Homebodies

The first definition of home, according to many dictionaries, is "one's dwelling place, abode of one's family." A home is a physical structure, a roof over our heads, some might say.

Very few human concepts are more widely embraced than that of a home as a dwelling place. Most people pride themselves in the structure that they call home, regardless of how meager or majestic it might be. A man's home is his castle, we say. If a person, by choice or fate, does not have a dwelling place, they are said to be homeless. As a general rule, the rest of the human population has pity for homeless folks.

The idea of home goes beyond the physical protection provided by structural dwelling places. Sayings like "Home is Where the Heart Is," "There's No Place Like Home" and "Home, Sweet Home" suggest the emotional connection to one's domicile. We also use the term home to connect to places, such as our hometown or our home state. The term home office is often used to describe the headquarters of an industry.

Humans are not the only animals that have an attachment to a home. Many are the stories of animals that have found their way back "home" after having been moved to other locations. The movie "Homeward Bound" is a heartwarming story depicting the trials and tribulations of two dogs and a cat finding their way home.

Many species of seasonal migratory birds have been shown to return to the summer locations where they were hatched and reared. Pacific salmon come home to the river where they were hatched to lay eggs of their own. Homing pigeons get their name because they will fly miles to get home.

What about insects? Do these six-legged creatures have homes? Jean Henri Fabre, the great late 19th-century French naturalist addressed the issue in his essay, "The Cricket." Fabre says that the greater part of insects shelter themselves in a temporary refuge that is "obtained without labor, and abandoned without regret." In other words, when it is necessary, insects hide where they can. Fabre says that only crickets, rabbits and man have accomplished construction of a suitable "dwelling place."

When it comes to building homes I think Fabre has left out a number of animals that practice such behavior. Birds build all kinds of nests for their eggs and young. Many rodents construct homes in the soil and fashion nests as well. Squirrels construct "nests" of leaves as shelter from the elements.

All of the social insects -- the bees, wasps and termites -- construct a type of home where the colony lives. Termites and some ants fashion their nests in soil with individual chambers used for specific purposes, such as rearing young or growing or storing food. Whether they live a solitary or a social life, most types of bees construct nests of some sort. Many bees will dig a soil burrow or find a cavity that already exists to appropriate for their use. Bumble bees will move into a cavity, such as an abandoned mouse burrow or wall spaces in a building. Yellow jackets practice a similar nesting behavior.

Some wasps build their nest of chewed wood or mud. Most of these wasps construct their home in some protected site, such as under the eve of a building. The bald-faced hornet is a wasp that also makes a nest out of chewed wood, but, in this case, it is attached to a tree limb. These grey-colored, globe-shaped wasp nests are popular decorator items in our own houses.

Honey bees are the most recognizable of the insect home dwellers. These cavity nesters will appropriate a hollow tree as a home site. Honey bees also commonly live in made-to-order homes called hives. Hive-dwelling bees could be considered tenets of the hive owner. The landlord extracts rent payment from the tenets in the form of honey.

Honey bees seem not to mind that they are just renters. They maintain and defend their home as if they were the owners for a very good reason. Home is not only where these insects live, it is also where their food store of honey is located. To honey bees, the old saying of "Home, Sweet Home" has real meaning!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox