Not only do beewolves have a badass name, but they also have badass symbionts. Beewolves are a group of wasps that prey on bees (hence the badass name). These wasps lay their eggs underground in burrows, on carcasses of insects that the carnivorous larva eat once they hatch. An obvious downside to leaving your precious eggs underground with a larder of dead meat is that all sorts of bacteria and fungi could take over the chamber. A species of Philanthus beewolf has formed a symbiotic association with a species of Actinobacteria* that produce a cocktail of nine antibiotics that are incorporated into the larva’s cocoon and protect them from microbial nasties during hibernation. The mother houses these symbiotic bacteria in antennal glands which she then secretes onto the nursery ceiling. The larva then use these bacterial deposits while spinning its cocoon. The presence of this bacteria on the cocoon increases the larva’s chances of survival. The fact that this bacteria produces a cocktail of antibiotics is important as multiple antibiotics can act synergistically; the degree of protection is greater than the sum of its parts. This concept of combination therapy is used in human treatment and can protect baby beewolves from a broad range of pathogens.
* it’s worth noting that this is within the same group of bacteria that fungus growing ants use to protect their fungal garden (good fungus) from parasitic fungi (bad fungus).
Johannes Kroiss, Martin Kaltenpoth, Bernd Schneider, Maria-Gabriele Schwinger, Christian Hertweck, Ravi Kumar Maddula, Erhard Strohm, Aleš Svatoš: Symbiotic streptomycetes provide antibiotic combination prophylaxis for wasp offspring. Nature Chemical Biology, Advance online publication, February 28, 2010, DOI 10.1038/nchembio.331