New unusual bee species discovered with dog-like snout

Published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, author Dr Kit Prendergast named the new species after her pet dog Zephyr.

A new native bee species with a dog-like “snout” has been discovered in Perth bushland though Curtin-led research that sheds new light on our most important pollinators.

Published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, author Dr Kit Prendergast, from the Curtin School of Molecular and Life Sciences, has named the new species after her pet dog Zephyr after noticing a protruding part of the insect’s face looked similar to a dog’s snout, and to acknowledge the role her dog played in providing emotional support during her PhD.

Dr Prendergast said the rare and remarkable finding would add to existing knowledge about our evolving biodiversity and ensure the bees, named Leioproctus zephyr, were protected by conservation efforts.

“When I first examined the specimens that I collected during my PhD surveys discovering the biodiversity of native bees in urbanised regions of the southwest WA biodiversity hotspot, I was instantly intrigued by the bee’s very unusual face,” Dr Prendergast said.

Insects in general are so diverse and so important, yet we don’t have scientific descriptions or names for so many of them.

Dr Kit Prendergast

“When I went to identify it, I found it matched no described species, and I was sure that if it was a known species, it would be quite easy to identify given how unusual it was in appearance.

“You can only confirm a particular species once you look at them under a microscope and go through the long process of trying to match their characteristics against other identified species, then going through museum collections.

“When perusing the WA Museum’s Entomology collection, I discovered that a few specimens of Leioproctus zephyrus had first been collected in 1979, but it had never been scientifically described.”

Dr Prendergast said she was excited to play a role in making this species known and officially naming them.

“Insects in general are so diverse and so important, yet we don’t have scientific descriptions or names for so many of them,” Dr Prendergast said.

“The Leioproctus zephyr has a highly restricted distribution, only occurring in seven locations across the southwest WA to date, and have not been collected from their original location. They were entirely absent from residential gardens and only present at five urban bushland remnants that I surveyed, where they foraged on two plant species of Jacksonia.

“Not only is this species fussy, they also have a clypeus that looks like a snout. Hence, I named them after my dog Zephyr. She has been so important to my mental health and wellbeing during the challenging period of doing a PhD and beyond.”

Through DNA barcoding, Dr Prendergast was able to confirm that the new species was most closely related to other species of unidentified Leioproctus.

Originally published by Curtin University. Republished with permission.

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More and more people are becoming aware of the dangers posed by invasive hornets

A study published in the open access journal NeoBiota reveals that citizens and stakeholders are becoming more and more aware of the Asian yellow-legged hornet

Wasps and hornets have a remarkable capacity of surviving transportation and establishing invasive populations in new areas. In some cases, this can generate massive environmental and socio-economic impacts. Such is the case of the Asian yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina), which has been spreading throughout Europe and worldwide, threatening to seriously impact beekeeping.

However, research shows that such invasions do not go unnoticed. A team of researchers working on the Asian yellow-legged hornet in Italy (Dr Jacopo Cerri from the University of Primorska, Slovenia, and Dr Simone Lioy, Prof. Marco Porporato and Prof. Sandro Bertolino, from Turin University, Italy) discovered that citizen awareness about invasive hornets is increasing

Asian yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina) attacking a colony of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in Italy. Photo by Prof. Marco Porporato

Moreover, they found that the relevant stakeholders – such as beekeepers – are aware of the hornet’s impacts. They consider the Asian yellow-legged hornet as one of the major causes of honey bee decline in Italy, comparing its effects to those of pesticides, and believing it causes more damage than diseases or other native insects.

To evaluate public awareness of this invasive hornet,the researchers adopted an innovative methodology, which they describe in a paper in the open-access journal NeoBiota. In addition to surveying beekeepers, the authors also analysed Internet searches, focusing on Google queries and visits to relevant Wikipedia pages.

Honey bee. Photo by Andy Murray, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The team found that beekeepers stayed up to date with information on the Asian yellow-legged hornet thanks to a wide range of different channels, such as the Internet, specialized magazines, and activities with other members of their community. Interestingly, they found that conventional media and mailing lists seemed to be of little contribution to knowledge on this species.

With high reproductive potential and no specialized predators, the Asian yellow-legged hornet predates intensively upon the western honey bee, which could decrease pollination, undermine honey production and inflict consequences for the overwinter survival of colonies. It also limits the foraging activity of honey bees by determining a “foraging paralysis”, a state in which honey bees do not leave the colony, fearing its predation. On top of that, as the species builds its nests mainly in or near urban areas, it poses a risk of stings to people, which in some cases could lead to fatalities.

An increased consciousness in citizens and stakeholders will hopefully lead to a higher number of ‘aware eyes’ able to spot invasive hornets in different environments, the researchers explain. Timely reporting of their presence would allow the speedy activation of more appropriate management measures, containing any possible damages before it’s too late.

Research article:       

Cerri J, Lioy S, Porporato M, Bertolino S (2022) Combining surveys and on-line searching volumes to analyze public awareness about invasive alien species: a case study with the invasive Asian yellow-legged hornet (Vespa velutina) in Italy. NeoBiota 73: 177-192. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.73.80359

A star in subtropical Japan: a new species of parasitoid wasp constructs unique cocoon masses hanging on 1-meter-long strings

A new species of parasitoid wasp that constructs remarkable star-shaped cocoon masses is reported from the biodiversity hot spot Ryukyu Islands. Japanese researchers observed how the wasps construct “stars” after making their way out of the moth larvae they inhabit during their own larval stage. In their study, published in the open-access journal Journal of Hymenoptera Research, the team discuss the ecological significance of the cocoon mass and the evolution of this peculiar structure.

A unique “star” was discovered from the Ryukyu Islands, a biodiversity hot spot in subtropical Japan: a star-shaped structure that turned out to be the cocoon mass of a new species of parasitoid wasp. Researchers Shunpei Fujie (Osaka Museum of Natural History), So Shimizu, Kaoru Maeto (Kobe University), Koichi Tone (Okinawa Municipal Museum), and Kazunori Matsuo (Kyushu University) described this parasitoid wasp as a new species in the open-access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

The new parasitoid wasps, Meteorus stellatus. Photo by Fujie S

Parasitoid wasps parasitize a variety of organisms, mostly insects. They lay eggs in the host, a larva of hawk moth in this case, where the wasp larvae later hatch. After eating the host from the inside out, the larvae spin threads to form cocoons, in which they pupate, and from which the adult wasps eventually emerge. 

The larvae of Meteorus stellatus emerging from a host moth. Photo by Tone K

Larvae of the newly discovered parasitoid wasp form star-shaped masses of cocoons lined up in a spherical pattern, suspended by a thread that can reach up to 1 meter in length. The structure, 7 to 14 mm wide and 9 to 23 mm long, can accommodate over 100 cocoons.

The star-shaped cocoon mass and the cable of the new parasitoid wasps. Photo by Shimizu S

Despite its peculiarity, the wasp species constructing these masses had not been previously described: morphological observation and molecular analysis revealed that it was new to science. The authors aptly called it Meteorus stellatus, adding the Latin word for “starry” to its scientific name.

Thanks to the recent publication, we now have the first detailed report about the construction of such a remarkable cocoon mass in parasitoid wasps. We can also see what the process looks like, as the researchers were able to film the wasps escaping from the moth larvae and forming the star-shaped structure.

Why does M. stellatus form cocoons in such a unique structure?

The authors of the study believe this unique structure helps the wasps survive through the most critical time, i.e. the period of constructing cocoons and pupating, when they are exposed to various natural enemies and environmental stresses. The star shape most likely reduces the exposed area of individual cocoons, thus increasing their defense against hyper-parasitoids (wasps attacking cocoons of other parasitoid wasps), while the long thread that suspends the cocoon mass protects the cocoons from potential enemies like ants.

“How parasitoid wasps have evolved to form such unique masses instead of the common individual cocoons should be the next thing on our ‘to-research’ list,” say the authors.

Research article:

Fujie S, Shimizu S, Tone K, Matsuo K, Maeto K (2021) Stars in subtropical Japan: a new gregarious Meteorus species (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Euphorinae) constructs enigmatic star-shaped pendulous communal cocoons. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 86: 19-45. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.86.71225

Dolichomitus meii Wasp Discovered in Amazonia Is Like a Flying Jewel

“The species’ striking colouring protects it from birds that prey on insects. They do not snatch the wasp sitting on the tree trunk as they think it will taste bad or that it is dangerous.”

Parasitoid wasps (Hymenoptera) are one of the most species rich animal taxa on Earth, but their tropical diversity is still poorly known. Now, scientists have discovered the Dolichomitus meii and Polysphincta parasitoid wasp species previously unknown to science in South America. The new species found in the rainforests entice with their colours and exciting habits. Researchers at the University of Turku have already described 53 new animal species this year.

Researchers at the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku, Finland, study insect biodiversity particularly in Amazonia and Africa. In their studies, they have discovered hundreds of species previously unknown to science. Many of them are exciting in their size, appearance, or living habits.

“The species we have discovered show what magnificent surprises the Earth’s rainforests can contain. The newly discovered Dolichomitus meii wasp is particularly interesting for its large size and unique colouring. With a quick glance, its body looks black but glitters electric blue in light. Moreover, its wings are golden yellow. Therefore, you could say it’s like a flying jewel,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Diego Pádua from the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) in Brazil, who has also worked at the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku.

Dolichomitus parasitoid wasps are parasitic on insect larvae living deep in tree trunks. They lay a single egg on the insect larva and the wasp hatchling eats the host larva as it develops.  

Dolichomitus meii
The Dolichomitus meii wasp was discovered in western Amazonia. Its body looks black but glitters electric blue in light. The wasp lays its eggs on insect larvae living deep in wood. It reaches the host larvae with a long ovipositor. Picture: Filippo De Giovanni and Rodrigo Araújo

“The ovipositor of the Dolichomitus meii wasp is immensely long. It sticks the ovipositor into holes in the wood and tries to find host larvae inside. The species’ striking colouring protects it from birds that prey on insects. They do not snatch the wasp sitting on the tree trunk as they think it will taste bad or that it is dangerous,” says Professor of Biodiversity Research Ilari E. Sääksjärvi from the University of Turku.

Polysphincta Parasitoid Wasps Manipulate the Behaviour of the Host Spider

At the same time as the publication on the Dolichomitus meii species, the researchers published another research article on South American wasp species. The article describes altogether seven new wasp species belonging to the Polysphincta genus.

Polysphincta bonita refers to the species’ beautiful appearance. The species is parasitic on spiders. Picture: Diego Padúa and Ilari E. Sääksjärvi

The Polysphincta parasitoid wasps are parasitic on spiders. The female attacks a spider in its web and temporarily paralyses it with a venomous sting. After this, the wasp lays a single egg on the spider, and a larva hatches from the egg. The larva gradually consumes the spider and eventually pupates.

“The wasps that are parasitic on spiders are extremely interesting as many of them can manipulate the behaviour of the host spider. They can change the way a spider spins its web, so that before its death, the spider does not spin a normal web to catch prey. Instead, they spin a safe nest for the parasitoid wasp pupa,” describes Professor Sääksjärvi.

Researchers at University of Turku Have Already Discovered 53 New Species This Year

The new species are often discovered through extensive international collaboration. This was also the case with the newly published studies.

“For example, the discovery of the Dolichomitus meii species was an effort of six researchers. Moreover, these researchers all come from different countries,” says Professor Sääksjärvi.

The work to map out biodiversity previously unknown to science continues at the University of Turku and there are interesting species discoveries ahead.

“I just counted that, in 2021, the researchers of the Biodiversity Unit at the University of Turku have described already 53 new species from different parts of the globe – and we’re only halfway through the year,” Sääksjärvi announces cheerfully.

The discoveries of the research group were published in the Biodiversity Data Journal and ZooKeys.

Research articles:

Di Giovanni F, Pádua DG, Araujo RO, Santos AD, Sääksjärvi IE (2021) A striking new species of Dolichomitus Smith, 1877 (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae; Pimplinae) from South America. Biodiversity Data Journal 9: e67438. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.9.e67438

Pádua DG, Sääksjärvi IE, Spasojevic T, Kaunisto KM, Monteiro RF, Oliveira ML (2021) A review of the spider-attacking Polysphincta dizardi species-group (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae, Pimplinae), with descriptions of seven new species from South America. ZooKeys 1041: 137-165. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1041.65407

The ants, bees and wasps of Canada, Alaska and Greenland – a checklist of 9250 species

Knowing what species live in which parts of the world is critical to many fields of study, such as conservation biology and environmental monitoring. This is also how we can identify present or potential invasive and non-native pest species. Furthermore, summarizing what species are known to inhabit a given area is essential for the discovery of new species that have not yet been known to science.

American Pelecinid Wasp (Pelecinus polyturator) from Driftwood Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Henri Goulet

For less well-studied groups and regions, distributional species checklists are often not  available. Therefore, a series of such checklists is being published in the open-access, peer-reviewed Journal of Hymenoptera Research, in order to address the issue for a group of organisms that, despite its size and diversity, is still poorly known: the insect order Hymenoptera, which includes ants, bees and wasps. The surveyed area spreads across northern North America, which comprises Canada, Alaska (U.S.) and Greenland (Denmark), and occupies about 9.3% of the world’s total land mass.

The last distributional survey of Hymenoptera in North America was published in 1979, where about 6000 described species were recorded from Canada and 600 from Alaska. The current survey lists 8933 species in Canada and 1513 in Alaska, marking an increase of 49% and 152%, respectively. A total of 9250 described species are recorded from northern North America. Considering that there are approximately 154,000 described species of Hymenoptera, northern North America has about 6% of the current world total. 

A cuckoo wasp of the genus Hedychridium from Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Henri Goulet

Highlights of the series will include updated distributions of over 900 species of bees, which will provide valuable insight into native pollinators at a time when honey bees are in decline. Nearly 230 species of ants and over 100 species of vespid wasps (hornets and yellow jackets) are recorded, including pest species such as the widespread pharaoh ant and the newly invasive Asian giant hornet in British Columbia.

Pigeon tremex (Tremex columba) from Manitou Lake, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Henri Goulet

By far, the majority of species of Hymenoptera found in northern North America and the world are parasitoids, which develop on or in other invertebrate hosts and are therefore of great interest to the biological control of pests. Of the 9250 species recorded, more than three-quarters (over 7150 species) are parasitoids. These distributional lists provide essential baseline information required prior to undertaking studies to introduce biological control agents of invasive pests that may have escaped their native, natural enemies when they arrived in North America.

Megarhyssa macrura from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Henri Goulet

The topical collection “Checklists of the Hymenoptera of Canada, Alaska and Greenland” is to contain a total of eleven papers, where the introduction and the first two checklists: of sawflies (758 species) and one of the groups of “microhymenoptera” (the chalcidoid parasitic wasps) (1246 species) have just been published.The other checklists are to follow over the next several years. The associated data are also being uploaded to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), allowing for periodic updates over time.

When complete, this will be the largest species checklist for any group of organisms in northern North America. Considering that it is estimated that we currently have documented less than half of the species of Hymenoptera present in northern North America, there is still a great amount of work to do on this fascinating group of insects.

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Original sources:

Bennett AMR (2021a) Checklists of the Hymenoptera of Canada, Alaska and Greenland – Introduction. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 82: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.82.60054

Bennett AMR (2021b) Checklist of the Hymenoptera of Canada, Alaska and Greenland. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Checklist dataset https://doi.org/10.5886/4piso5 [accessed via GBIF.org: 12 March 2021].

Goulet H, Bennett AMR (2021) Checklist of the sawflies (Hymenoptera) of Canada, Alaska and Greenland. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 82: 21-67. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.82.60057

Huber JT, Bennett AMR, Gibson GAP, Zhang YM, Darling DC (2021) Checklist of Chalcidoidea and Mymarommatoidea (Hymenoptera) of Canada, Alaska and Greenland. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 82: 69-138. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.82.60058

New ant species named in recognition of gender diversity

A newly discovered miniature trap jaw ant from the evergreen tropical forests of Ecuador bears the curious Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey, among hundreds, which are also named in honour of people, but end with -ae (after females) and –i (after males). This makes the newly described ant perhaps the only species in the world to have a scientific name with the suffix –they, thus celebrating gender diversity.

A view of the head of Strumigenys ayersthey

The insect was first found by Philipp Hoenle of the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, during a cooperative investigation of the Reserva Río Canandé in 2018. The reserve belongs to the NGO Jocotoco, and preserves a small part of the highly threatened biodiversity hotspots called the Chocó.

Hoenle reached out to taxonomic expert Douglas Booher of Yale University. Soon, Booher responded with excitement that this species was unlike any other of the 850+ species belonging to its genus. As a result, the team described the previously unknown to science species and its remarkable trap-jaw morphology in a research paper, published in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal ZooKeys.

Curiously, it was no other but lead singer and lyricist of the American alternative rock band R.E.M. Michael Stipe that joined Booher in the writing of the etymology section for the research article. This is the part in the publication, where they honor their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers and explain the origin of the species name.

“In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinized portmanteau honoring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments – Strumigenys ayersthey”. The ‘they’ recognizes non-binary gender identifiers in order to reflect recent evolution in English pronoun use – ‘they, them, their’ and address a more inclusive and expansive understanding of gender identification.”

A side view of Strumigenys ayersthey

Current nomenclature practice on how to name animal species after people only differentiates between male and female personal names, offering respectively the ending -ae for a woman or -i for a man.

The research team additionally propose that the -they suffix can be used for singular honorific names of non-binary identifiers.

A micro-CT scan of Strumigenys ayersthey

When asked about the choice of a name for the ant, Booher said: “Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity. Small changes in language have had a large impact on culture. Language is dynamic and so should be the change in naming species – a basic language of science”. 

With their choice, the team invites the scientific community to keep pace with the likes of Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary and HSBC Bank, who have also adapted their own institutional practices, language usage and recognition to represent gender diversity.

“The discovery of such an unusual rare ant highlights the importance of scientific exploration and conservation of the Chocó region in Ecuador, which is at the same time one of the most biodiverse and threatened areas on our planet.”

the researchers add in conclusion.

Strumigenys ayersthey can be distinguished by its predominantly smooth and shining cuticle surface and long trap-jaw mandibles, which make it unique among nearly a thousand species of its genus. The researchers haven’t been able to obtain more specimens of the species, which suggests that it’s rare. 

Original source:

Booher DB, Hoenle PO (2021) A new species group of Strumigenys (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) from Ecuador, with a description of its mandible morphology. ZooKeys 1036: 1–19. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1036.62034

Under Extinction Pressure: Rare Australian bee found after 100 years

A widespread field search for a rare Australian native bee (Pharohylaeus lactiferus) that had not been recorded for almost a century found the species has been there all along – but is probably under increasing pressure to survive. Prior to this study, only six individuals had been found, with the last published record of this Australian endemic bee species, from 1923 in Queensland.

Male Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee. Photo by James Dorey.

A widespread field search for a rare Australian native bee (Pharohylaeus lactiferus) that had not been recorded for almost a century found the species has been there all along – but is probably under increasing pressure to survive. Prior to this study, only six individuals had been found, with the last published record of this Australian endemic bee species, from 1923 in Queensland.

“This is concerning because it is the only Australian species in the Pharohylaeus genus and nothing was known of its biology,”

Flinders University researcher and biological sciences PhD candidate James Dorey says in the new scientific paper in the peer-reviewed, open-access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

The ‘hunt’ began after bee experts Olivia Davies and Dr Tobias Smith raised the possibility of the species’ extinction based on the lack of any recent sightings. The ‘rediscovery’ followed an extensive sampling of 225 general and 20 targeted sampling sites across New South Wales and Queensland.

Along with extra bee and vegetation recordings from the Atlas of Living Australia, which lists 500 bee species in New South Wales and 657 in Queensland, the Flinders researchers sought to assess the latest levels of true diversity, warning that habitat loss and fragmentation of Australia’s rainforests, along with wildfires and climate change, are likely to put extinction pressure on this and other invertebrate species.  

“Three populations of P. lactiferous were found by sampling bees visiting their favoured plant species along much of the Australian east coast, suggesting population isolation,”

Mr Dorey reports.

Highly fragmented habitat and potential host specialisation might explain the rarity of P. lactiferus.

Additionally, the scientists remind of previous findings that Australia has already cleared more than 40% of its forests and woodlands since European colonisation, leaving much of the remainder fragmented and degraded.

“My geographical analyses used to explore habitat destruction in the Wet Tropics and Central Mackay Coast bioregions indicate susceptibility of Queensland rainforests and P. lactiferus populations to bushfires, particularly in the context of a fragmented landscape,”

Mr Dorey says.

The study also warns the species is even more vulnerable as they appear to favour specific floral specimens and were only found near tropical or sub-tropical rainforest – a single vegetation type.

“Collections indicate possible floral and habitat specialisation with specimens only visiting firewheel trees (Stenocarpus sinuatu), and Illawarra flame trees (Brachychiton acerifolius), to the exclusion of other available floral resources.”

Known populations of P. lactiferus remain rare and susceptible to habitat destruction (e.g. caused by changed land use or events such as fires), the paper concludes.

“Future research should aim to increase our understanding of the biology, ecology and population genetics of P. lactiferus.”

Female Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee. Photo by James Dorey.

“If we are to understand and protect these wonderful Australian species, we really need to increase biomonitoring and conservation efforts, along with funding for the museum curation and digitisation of their collections and other initiatives,”  

Mr Dorey says.

Research paper:

Dorey JB (2021) Missing for almost 100 years: the rare and potentially threatened bee, Pharohylaeus lactiferus (Hymenoptera, Colletidae). Journal of Hymenoptera Research 81: 165-180. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.81.59365

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New DNA barcoding project aims at tracking down the “dark taxa” of Germany’s insect fauna

New dynamic article collection at Biodiversity Data Journal is already accumulating the project’s findings

About 1.4 million species of animals are currently known, but it is generally accepted that this figure grossly underestimates the actual number of species in existence, which likely ranges between five and thirty million species, or even 100 million. 

Meanwhile, a far less well-known fact is that even in countries with a long history of taxonomic research, such as Germany, which is currently known to be inhabited by about 48,000 animal species, there are thousands of insect species still awaiting discovery. In particular, the orders Diptera (flies) and Hymenoptera (especially the parasitoid wasps) are insect groups suspected to contain a strikingly large number of undescribed species. With almost 10,000 known species each, these two insect orders account for approximately two-thirds of Germany’s insect fauna, underlining the importance of these insects in many ways.

The conclusion that there are not only a few, but so many unknown species in Germany is a result of the earlier German Barcode of Life projects: GBOL I and GBOL II, both supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) and the Bavarian Ministry of Science under the project Barcoding Fauna Bavarica. 

In its previous phases, GBOL aimed to identify all German species reliably, quickly and inexpensively using DNA barcodes. Since the first project was launched twelve years ago, more than 25,000 German animal species have been barcoded. Among them, the comparatively well-known groups, such as butterflies, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, bees and wasps, showed an almost complete coverage of the species inventory.

In 2020, another BMBF-funded DNA barcoding project, titled GBOL III: Dark Taxa, was launched, in order to focus on the lesser-known groups of Diptera and parasitoid Hymenoptera, which are often referred to as “dark taxa”. The new project commenced at three major German natural history institutions: the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (Bonn), the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology (SNSB, Munich) and the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, in collaboration with the University of Würzburg and the Entomological Society Krefeld. Together, the project partners are to join efforts and skills to address a range of questions related to the taxonomy of the “dark taxa” in Germany.

As part of the initiative, the project partners are invited to submit their results and outcomes in the dedicated GBOL III: Dark Taxa article collection in the peer-reviewed, open-access Biodiversity Data Journal. There, the contributions will be published dynamically, as soon as approved and ready for publication. The articles will include taxonomic revisions, checklists, data papers, contributions to methods and protocols, employed in DNA barcoding studies with a focus on the target taxa of the project.

“The collection of articles published in the Biodiversity Data Journal is an excellent approach to achieving the consortium’s goals and project partners are encouraged to take advantage of the journal’s streamlined publication workflows to publish and disseminate data and results that were generated during the project,”

says the collection’s editor Dr Stefan Schmidt of the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology.

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Find and follow the dynamic article collection GBOL III: Dark Taxa in Biodiversity Data Journal.

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Death from below: the first video of a parasitic wasp attacking caterpillar underwater

Named after fictional monster Godzilla, a parasitic wasp becomes the first observed and filmed to dive underwater for several seconds, in order to attack and pull out caterpillar hosts, so that it can lay its eggs inside them before releasing them back in the water.

A very few species of parasitoid wasps can be considered aquatic. Less than 0.1% of the species we know today have been found to enter the water, while searching for potential hosts or living as endoparasitoids inside of aquatic hosts during their larval stage.

Within the subfamily Microgastrinae (family Braconidae), only two species have previously been recorded to be aquatic, based on their parasitism of aquatic caterpillars of moths. However, none has been known to actually dive in the water.

Recently, during their research work in Japan, Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana of the Canadian National Collection of Insects and his team found and recorded on camera the first microgastrine parasitoid wasp that dives underwater for several seconds, in order to attack and pull out caterpillar hosts, so that it can lay its eggs inside them before releasing them back in the water.

Interestingly, the wasp, which was described as a new to science species in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific Journal of Hymenoptera Research, was given the awe-striking name Microgaster godzilla, because its emergence out of the water reminded the scientists of the Japanese iconic fictional monster Godzilla.

In the video, the female wasp can be seen walking over floating plants as it searches for hosts, specifically larvae of the moth species Elophila turbata, which constructs a portable case from fragments of aquatic plants and lives inside it near the water surface. Once the wasp finds one of those cases, it first probes it repeatedly with its antennae, while moving around. Eventually, it forces the larvae to come out of the case and parasitizes it by quickly inserting its ovipositor. In some cases, the wasp has to submerge completely underwater for several seconds, in order to find and pull the caterpillar out of its case. To do this, the species has evolved enlarged and strongly curved tarsal claws, which are thought to be used to grip the substrate as it enters the water and looks for hosts.

A female wasp Microgaster godzilla seeks out a moth caterpillar, dives in the water and pulls it out of its case, in order to parasitize it by quickly inserting its ovipositor.
Video by Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana

As for the curious choice of name for the new species, Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana explains:

“The reasons why we decided to use the name of Godzilla for the wasp species are interesting. First, being a Japanese species, it respectfully honours Godzilla (Japanese: ゴジラ, Hepburn: Gōjira), a fictional monster (kaiju) that became an icon after the 1954 Japanese film of the same name and many remakes afterwards. It has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese popular culture worldwide. Second, the wasp’s parasitization behaviour bears some loose resemblance to the kaiju character, in the sense that the wasp suddenly emerges from the water to parasitize the host, similar to how Godzilla suddenly emerges from the water in the movies. Third, Godzilla has sometimes been associated, albeit in different ways, with Mothra (Japanese: モスラ, Hepburn: Mosura), another kaiju that is typically portrayed as a larva (caterpillar) or an adult moth. As you can see, we had biological, behavioural and cultural reasons to justify our choice of a name. Of course, that and having a bit of fun, because that is also an important part of life and science!”

Beyond unusual behaviours and funny names, Dr. Fernandez-Triana wants to emphasize the importance of multidisciplinary work and collaboration. The team that published this paper got to know each other at an international meeting devoted to biological control (The 5th International Entomophagous Insects Conference in Kyoto, Japan, 2017). 

“I was very impressed by several presentations by Japanese grad students, which included video recordings of parasitoid wasp biology. As a taxonomist, I am always impressed with the quality of research done by colleagues in other fields. In this case, we saw an opportunity to combine our efforts to study the wasp in detail and, when we found that it was a new species, we described it together, including adding the filmed behaviour to the original description. Usually, taxonomic descriptions of parasitoid wasps are based on dead specimens, with very few details–often none–on its biology. Thanks to my biocontrol colleagues, we could add more information to what is known about the new species being described. Hopefully we can continue this collaboration and combined approach for future studies”.

Original source:

Fernandez-Triana J, Kamino T, Maeto K, Yoshiyasu Y, Hirai N (2020) Microgaster godzilla (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Microgastrinae), an unusual new species from Japan which dives underwater to parasitize its caterpillar host (Lepidoptera, Crambidae, Acentropinae). Journal of Hymenoptera Research 79: 15-26. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.79.56162

First Australian night bees recorded foraging under the cover of darkness

Original post by Flinders University, Australia

Australian bees are known for pollinating plants on beautiful sunny days, but a new study has identified two species that have adapted their vision for night-time conditions for the first time.

The study by a team of ecology researchers has observed night time foraging behaviour by a nomiine (Reepenia bituberculata) and masked (Meroglossa gemmata) bee species, with both developing enlarged compound and simple eyes which allow more light to be gathered when compared to their daytime kin.

Published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, the researchers explain that this improved low-light ability could potentially also exist in other Australian species secretly active at night, with their image processing ability best observed through high-resolution close-up images. 

Lead author PhD Candidate James Dorey, in the College of Science & Engineering at Flinders University, says the two Australian bee species active at night and during twilight hours are mostly found in Australia’s tropical north, but there could potentially more in arid, subtropical and maybe even temperate conditions across the continent.

“We have confirmed the existence of at least two crepuscular bee species in Australia and there are likely to be many more that can forage both during the day and into the early morning or evening under low light conditions. It’s true that bees aren’t generally known to be very capable when it comes to using their eyes at night, but it turns out that low-light foraging is more common than currently thought,”

says Mr Dorey.

“Before this study, the only way to show that a bee had adapted to low-light was by using difficult-to-obtain behavioural observations, but we have found that you should be able to figure this out by using high-quality images of a specific bee.”

Mr Dorey says bees that forage during dim-light conditions aren’t studied enough with no previously reliable published records for any Australian species.  

“Our study provides a framework to help identify low-light-adapted bees and the data that is needed to determine the behavioural traits of other species. This is important as we need to increase efforts to collect bee species outside of normal hours and publish new observations to better understand the role that they play in maintaining ecosystems.”

The researchers outline why more needs to be understood about the behaviour of bee species to help protect them from the potential impacts of climate change. 

“Global weather patterns are changing and temperatures in many parts of Australia are rising along with the risk of prolonged droughts and fires. So, we have to improve our understanding about insects pollinating at night or in milder parts of the day to avoid potential extinction risks or to mitigate loss of pollination services.” 

“This also means we have to highlight the species that operate in a narrow window of time and could be sensitive to climatic changes, so conservation becomes an important concern. Because quite frankly, we have ignored these species up until now.”

Publication:

Dorey JB, Fagan-Jeffries EP, Stevens MI, Schwarz MP (2020) Morphometric comparisons and novel observations of diurnal and low-light-foraging bees. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 79: 117–144. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.79.57308