Invasive wasps can take down airplanes

A keyhole wasp on a 3D-printed replica of an airspeed measurement device found on some airplanes.
Credit: House et al (2020) PLOS ONE, CC BY

Dime-sized wasps may be able to knock airplanes out of the air due to their proclivity for building nests in plane parts critical for navigation. Keyhole wasps (Pachodynerus nasidens) are native to Central America and the Caribbean, so-called for their tendency to lay their nests in large, old-school keyholes. But in 2013, an Airbus was forced to abruptly land after takeoff in Brisbane, Australia when the airspeed readings of the plane came back dysfunctional. Investigations revealed that invasive keyhole wasps had laid their nests in the tube used to measure airspeeds on the plane. Since then, 26 wasp-related issues were reported at the Brisbane Airport. In laboratory tests conducted as a follow up, these wasps were responsible for 39 instances of fully blocked airspeed measurement tools for airplanes. The researchers cautioned that the wasps could present a growing threat to tropical and subtropical regions as they continue to spread across the world. “The consequences of not managing this clever but dangerous pest could be substantial,” they said in a press release.

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