Every animal needs water. This vital substance propels all life on earth, from the largest of mammals to the smallest of wasps.
Footage captured in Nasiriyah, Iraq shows a curiously mesmerizing scene of a wasp getting pummeled by drops of water coming from a pipe. At first glance, the wasp seems to be trying to catch the water, but the water proves to be too heavy and the wasp keeps returning to be dropped again drip by drip.
But the wasp is not, in fact, engaging in some Sisyphean feat. The wasp is rather gathering water—and drinking.
“It's pretty common to see wasps collecting water,” says Elizabeth Tibbetts, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor at the University of Michigan. “Wasps return to a good foraging site day after day, so I bet that wasp has visited the dripping pipe many times.”
Indeed, the wasp returned several times to fetch water, according to videographer Ahmed Abbas. He captured this footage on June 22, when the temperature climbed eight degrees above the historical average to reach 111 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wasps don’t just drink water. They use it “for lots of different things: they mix water with wood pulp to construct their nest, use water for cooling their nest on hot days, and share the water with nest-mates and larvae,” Tibbetts explains. (Related: Animals, like wasps, become more altruistic in changing environments.)
These insects collect and transfer the water by first swallowing it and then regurgitating into other wasp’s mouths, in a process called trophallaxis, Tibbetts says.
Wasps can often be found hovering near water since it’s so important to stay hydrated, especially when it’s very hot and dry. But they have to be careful because if their wings get too drenched, they won’t be able to fly.
In the video, Tibbetts says that the wasp is “maneuvering carefully to get a drink without getting too wet.”
It’s a delicate and mesmerizing dance.