Did you know wasps taught us to make modern paper?
October 10th, 2016 by Mike MacDonald in wasps
Are paper wasps responsible for modern paper as we know it today?
Paper around the world originally came from a variety of sources
In america paper was originally created from old cotton and linen rags. In china it was created from bamboo and mulberry plants. The original sources that paper was made from were not the easiest to grow and cultivate as renewable resources. As technology advanced paper became more and more of a valuable resource.
Unfortunately you can’t make paper from fur or anything from animals so that also eliminated one unlimited renewable resource that could be easily harvested. People had been looking for a better way to create paper for hundreds of years since it was first invented.
The Chinese options of bamboo and also sometimes silk were often too heavy to be effective in the case of bamboo, or too expensive for everyday use like silk. Some scientists eventually started to see the connection of wasp nests and their paper like substance they seemed to be made from.
How paper wasps build their nests
Thanks to a nature walk by a French scientist named René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, scientists began to observe that wasps were making their nests out of a paper like substance that was far more durable than anything they had witnessed up to that point. Paper wasps take wood and chew it down until it is a pulp and mix it with their saliva and then make their nests from the pieced together pulp.
Scientists had a very hard time duplicating this process, and even though the concept was first brought up around 1666, the wide acceptance and use of wood to make paper didn’t even start for over 150 years after that. Even then the methods weren’t that effective and many of the early books and paper began to disintegrate after a few years.
We stole the idea from paper wasps and after thousands of years we mastered it
Paper has been around in various forms for thousands of years, obviously some versions were more crude than others. The idea from paper wasps finally took hold in the mid 1800’s and after much trial an error wood based paper has become the norm.
Wasps had it down since the beginning and we took almost 2000 years to figure it out. With the mass expansion and new ease of making quality paper at a fraction of the cost this also lead to the new boom and greater forms of mass communication for humanity as a whole. It’s interesting that watching a few bugs building their home could have such an impact on such an important resource humans have used over the centuries. So the next time you swing a newspaper or book at a wasp, pause to contemplate the irony of the situation!
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