Just when you thought the world of entomology couldn’t possibly get any weirder, we bring you…
~ (drumroll, please) ~
The Fairy Wasp!
Fairy wasps are some of the tiniest little critters in the world. The entire bug is about the size of your average single-celled organism.
How can this even be possible, considering that the individual cells that make up the fairy wasp have to be even more teensy-weensier than an amoeba? Well, it turns out that in order to scale things down this far, the fairy wasp had to sacrifice something and that something was much of its nervous system.
As the folks over at io9.com put it in a recent article, “The fairy wasp, otherwise known as the fairyfly, is a parasitic insect that can measure as little as 200 micrometers long, making it roughly the size of unicellular organisms like amoebas or paramecia. Of course, this insect isn’t a one-celled organism, which means its thousands of individual cells have to be shrunk down to unbelievably small sizes.
Size, or rather the lack thereof, definitely has its advantages. For one thing, when you’re that small you’re basically off the menu for most predators. Also, being almost microscopic means you can invade other insects’ eggs undetected.
But there’s a pretty hefty trade-off for the creatures’ biology, especially considering that as much as 95% of neurons in adult fairy wasps don’t have a nucleus.
Speaking of which… that’s pretty surprising in and of itself, especially considering a nucleus is generally considered a pretty crucial part of a cell, particularly since it contains the cell’s genetic material. And while baby fairy wasps do feature a full set of nuclei in their neurons, they lose them as they grow older.
The io9.com article goes on to state, “This sacrifice is apparently what allows fairy wasps to remain so ridiculously tiny, and losing so many seemingly crucial nuclei doesn’t actually matter all that much, considering fairy wasps are still able to do all their complicated behaviors, like flying around and invading other eggs. It almost makes you wonder why us bigger species still bother with all these cellular extravagances… you know, like fully functioning neurons.”
Well, call me a hidebound traditionalist, but I suspect most of us prefer our neuron nuclei right where we’ve always kept them.
But in case you ever get the urge to get small… and I mean really small… start thinking in terms of dumping the excess nuclei in your neurons!
Until then, boys and girls, geeks and nerdlings, appreciate the glorious wonder of the world around you!