Wasps on Autopilot

Katharine Merow asks what’s buzzing around in the head of the Sphex wasp.

Folks who think about thinking for a living have a favorite genus of wasp. These cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind dig those insects whose scientific names begin with Sphex: Sphex ichneumoneus, Sphex diabolicus, and what I presume to be the king of them all, Sphex rex. Laymen, who prefer English descriptions of insects to the invocation of Linnaean Latin, call these six-legged stingers ‘digger wasps’ or ‘cicada killers’. There are over 130 known species.

Sphex wasp

They have delicately-furred thoraxes that taper to the original wasp waists.

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