With flying colors: Top entomology students honoured with wasp species named after them

The highly divergent parasitic wasps have long been causing headaches to scientists. At one point, taxonomists began using some genera as “dumping grounds for unplaced members”, simply to organise the species.

Two entomologists from the University of Kentucky, USA – Drs. Michael J. Sharkey and Eric Chapman, have recently addressed one such issue by describing ten new genera and many more new species and combinations. The resulting paper is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Scabagathis emilynadeauaeInterestingly, among the newly described species there are two wasps named after two excellent entomology students: Leuroagathis paulbakeri and Scabagathis emilynadeauae. Both Mr. Paul Baker and Ms. Emily Nadeau scored 100% during an Entomology class in 2015. Paul passed the written exam with flying colours, while Emily did best on the weekly quizzes.

One of the new genera (Chimaeragathis) is named after the Greek mythological monster Chimera. Known as the sibling of the infamous Cerberus and Hydra, the Hellenes would describe Chimera as a horrid hybrid comprising several animals – usually a lion, a goat, and a serpent. The scientists have picked this name as a reference to the multiple diagnostic characters of the genus. In turn, each of those characters consists of a set of features used to diagnose related genera.Chimaeragathis eurysoma

To breed, the females of these wasps lay eggs inside the early stages of caterpillars of various moths. At first, the larva develops quietly as if unnoticed by the host. By the time the caterpillar is ready to spin a cocoon, the parasitoid ‘awakes’ and consumes the host from the inside.

The aim of the present study is to revise the representatives of a tribe of braconid parasitoid wasps inhabiting Southeast Asia with a focus on Thailand. While having described a lot of new taxa, the scientists have saved another batch of new species for a separate future paper.

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Original source:

Sharkey MJ, Chapman E (2017) Ten new genera of Agathidini (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Agathidinae) from Southeast Asia. ZooKeys 660: 107-150. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.660.12390

New species of parasitic wasp discovered in the eggs of leaf-rolling weevils in Africa

A new species of parasitic wasp has been obtained from the eggs of weevils, associated with bushwillows, collected and identified by Dr. Silvano Biondi. Given the tiny insect from northeastern Gabon is the first record of its genus for West-Central Africa, the researchers Dr. Stefania Laudonia and Dr. Gennaro Viggiani, both affiliated with Italy’s University of Naples Federico II, decided to celebrate it by assigning the species a name that refers to the continent. Their team has published the findings in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Named Poropoea africana, the new species belongs to a large worldwide group of wasps well-known as egg parasitoids of leaf-rolling weevils. Using characteristically long ovipositors, they lay their own eggs in the eggs of the hosts, found in cigar-like rolls.

The new wasp measures less than 2 mm. It can be distinguished from related species by a number of characters, including the structure of the antennae, and the front and hind legs, which are more robust than the middle ones. The latter, which is a unique trait for the genus, seems to be an adaptation to host parasitisation, where the modified legs likely support the body and improve the propulsive efficiency of the ovipositor.

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Original source:

Laudonia S, Viggiani G, Biondi S (2017) A new species of Poropoea Foerster from Africa (Hymenoptera, Chalcidoidea, Trichogrammatidae). ZooKeys 658: 81-87. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.658.11501

Rarely-seen event of ant brood parasitism by scuttle flies video-documented

While many species of scuttle flies are associated with ants, their specific interactions with their hosts are largely unknown. Brood parasitism (attacking the immature stages, rather than the adult ants), for example, is an extremely rarely observed and little-studied phenomenon. However, a research team from the USA and Brazil, led by Dr. Brian Brown, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, have recently video-documented two such occasions. The observations are published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

One of the videos, taken in Brazil, shows female scuttle flies attacking ants evacuating their nest. Having had their colony exposed, worker ants try to carry the brood to the nearest shelter. The flies follow these workers on foot, and bump into them in attempt to make them drop the larvae. The scientists have provided a video of an ant which, when harassed, left a larva in a partially exposed position and fled. Immediately, the fly attacked the larva, laying an egg inside its body. The fact that the flies attack the relatively soft-bodied larvae explains the puzzling structure of the ovipositor (egg-layer) of this species (Ceratoconus setipennis), which appears much less hardened than the ovipositor of species attacking adult ants. As a result of the present observation, however, their association with ants is no longer a mystery.

The second footage, filmed in Costa Rica, shows an undescribed species of scuttle fly (genus Apocephalus) that fly above the ants. When they spot a worker carrying brood, it would plunge down to it, approach the ant from behind and land on the (in this case) pupa. Then, it flips over onto its back, keeping the pupa between itself and the ant, while it lays an egg into the pupa from an upside-down position.

“The video documentation of two very different types of brood parasitism of ant species by scuttle flies was recorded in two countries within just a few months of one another,” conclude the authors. “This hints at the many remarkable behaviors of phorid flies that may still await discovery by the patient observer. It appears brood parasitism may not be as rare as was once assumed, and that there may be a tremendous amount of information to uncover about these behaviors.”

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Original source:

Brown B, Hash J, Hartop E, Porras W, Amorim D (2017) Baby Killers: Documentation and Evolution of Scuttle Fly (Diptera: Phoridae) Parasitism of Ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) Brood. Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e11277. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e11277

Ottawa confirmed as the biodiversity hotspot for a subfamily of wasps in North America

What usually comes to mind when speaking about biodiversity hotspots are tropical regions, pristine areas and magnificent forests. Meanwhile, it is quite rare that a city in a temperate zone is considered significant in terms of biodiversity, much less mentioned as a hotspot. Yet, the city of Ottawa together with its surroundings, despite having population surpassing 1 million people, is now confirmed to be the locality in North America with the most recorded species of braconid wasps in the subfamily Microgastrinae, a group of parasitic insects that attack caterpillars and play an important role in the natural biocontrol of agriculture and forestry pests.

A study published in ZooKeys reports 158 species within 21 different genera of Microgastrinae for Ottawa. “To put this into perspective,” says Dr. Jose Fernandez-Triana, affiliated with the Canadian National Collection of Insects and lead author of the paper, “if Ottawa (a relatively small area of less than 7,800 km2) would be considered as a country itself, its species total would rank 17th among all countries in the world.”

image-3-sathon-cinctiformisThere are close to 200 species of microgastrine wasps known from Canada and around 350 – from North America. Thus, the fauna in Ottawa equals to three quarters of the total recorded for the entire country, and almost half of all species in the Nearctic region. In fact, the diversity in the Canadian capital represents by far the highest number of species ever recorded for a locality in North America, a consequence of the city being a transition from an eastern deciduous forest biome to a boreal biome, with small areas of unusual habitats like dunes, alvars, floodplains and bogs.

Based on the analysis of almost 2,000 specimens, collected between 1894 and 2010, and housed in the Canadian National Collection of Insects, the paper also reports two new species for North America and two additional species records for Canada and Ontario, as well as dozens of new additions to the regional fauna. Seasonal distribution showed several peaks of activity, in spring, summer, and early fall.

The study highlights the incredible diversity of parasitoid wasps and how much remains to be discovered, even in temperate areas and/or city environments. “It is possible that southern localities in North America are eventually found to be more diverse than Ottawa,” notes Dr. Fernandez-Triana. “But for that to happen one would need to find an area that has a variety of habitats and has also been thoroughly sampled over the years, with thousands of specimens available for study.”

“In the meantime,” jokes the scientist, “the citizens of the Canadian capital will have the bragging rights in North America, at least for microgastrine wasp diversity.”image-2-dolichogenidea-cacoeciae

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Original source:

Fernandez-Triana J, Boudreault C, Buffam J, Mclean R (2016) A biodiversity hotspot for Microgastrinae (Hymenoptera, Braconidae) in North America: annotated species checklist for Ottawa, Canada. ZooKeys 633: 1-93. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.633.10480