One species described multiple times: How taxonomists contribute to biodiversity discovery

While working on a rare little known group of Oriental wasps that most likely parasitise the eggs of grasshoppers, locusts or crickets, not only did a team of four entomologists discover four previously unknown species, but they also found that another four species within the same genus (Habroteleia) were in fact all one and the same – a fifth species discovered more than a century ago.

Their study, published in the open access journal Zookeys, comes as a fine example illustrating the important role played by taxonomists in puzzling out the Earth’s biodiversity.

The research was conducted by doctorate candidate Huayan Chen and Dr. Norman F. Johnson, both affiliated with The Ohio State University, USA, Dr. Elijah J. Talamas, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, USA, and Dr. Lubomír Masner, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Prior to their study, there were only nine species known in the genus that had been described over the last 113 years from India, Japan and the Philippines.

However, following careful analyses, most of those species turned out to be synonyms of another one discovered in distant 1905, H. flavipes. Because of this species having been described and named five times in total through the years, the richness of the genus has been greatly inflated.

In their turn, having identified four new species belonging to the same genus after studying additional material collected from Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, and the Fijian archipelago, the scientists have maintained the species number in the group intact.

Additionally, the team provides a detailed illustrated identification key to all members of the genus in their paper. This list of characteristic features is set to prevent similar taxonomic confusion in the future.

In conclusion, Chen and colleagues have significantly advanced our understanding of the diversity and biogeography of the rare parasitoids, amongst which there might be some that will eventually prove to be helpful in pest management.

“Taxonomic revisions are essential for the fundamental understanding of biodiversity and its conservation. Taxonomists play a critical role in this process,” explains the lead author.

###

Original source:

Chen H-y, Talamas EJ, Masner L, Johnson NF (2018) Revision of the world species of the genus Habroteleia Kieffer (Hymenoptera, Platygastridae, Scelioninae). ZooKeys 730: 87-122. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.730.21846

New parasitoid wasp likely uses unique saw-like spines to break out of its host body

About the size of a sesame seed, a new species of wasp from Costa Rica, named Dendrocerus scutellaris, has elaborate branched antennae that could be used for finding mates. Or hosts.

The new insect is described by PhD candidate Carolyn Trietsch, Dr. István Mikó and Dr. Andrew Deans of the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State, USA, together with Dr. David Notton of the Natural History Museum in London, UK. Their study is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

The wasp is a parasitoid, meaning that its larvae feed on a live host insect. There are two types of parasitoids: ectoparasitoids, which lay their eggs on or near the host, so that the hatchling larvae can attach to and feed on the insect from the outside; and endoparasitoids, which lay their eggs directly inside the host, so that the larvae can eat them from the inside out.

Unfortunately, to puzzle out the new wasp’s lifestyle, the researchers could only rely on specimens collected back in 1985, which had spent the past few decades stored in the collections of the Natural History Museum of London before being loaned to the Frost Museum at Penn State for research.

What can you learn about a wasp’s lifestyle from specimens that are over 30 years old? Even though the new species has never been observed in the wild, researchers managed to learn a lot by looking at the wasps’ morphology, concluding that the species is likely an endoparasitoid.

The larva of an endoparasitoid wasp needs a safe place to develop and mature, so when it is done feeding on its host, it may stay inside the host’s body where it can develop undisturbed. Once it is fully grown, the adult wasp either chews or pushes its way out, killing the host if it isn’t already dead.

Unlike its close relatives, the new species does not have pointed mandibles for chewing. Instead, it has a series of spines along its back. While the wasp is emerging, it may rub these spines against the host and use them like a saw to cut open the body. Once emerged, it flies off to mate and continue the cycle.

“While their lives may sound gruesome, parasitoid wasps are harmless to humans and can even be helpful,” explain the scientists. “Depending on the host they parasitize, parasitoids can benefit agriculture by controlling pest insects like aphids that damage crops.”

It is currently unknown what the new species feeds upon, but naming the species and bringing it to attention is the first step in learning more about it.

###

Original source:

Trietsch C, Mikó I, Notton D, Deans A (2018) Unique extrication structure in a new megaspilid, Dendrocerus scutellaris Trietsch & Mikó (Hymenoptera: Megaspilidae). Biodiversity Data Journal 6: e22676. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.6.e22676

A race against pine: Wood-boring wasp in North America threatened by a Eurasian invader

Invasive species have diverse impacts in different locations, including biodiversity loss, as a result of native species being outcompeted for similar resources. A U.S. research team, led by Dr. Ann Hajek, Cornell University, studied the case of an aggressive Eurasian woodwasp that has recently established in North America and poses a threat to a native species. Their study is published in the open-access journal NeoBiota.

Most woodwasps play an essential part in the forest ecosystem, as they decompose wood, preferring dying or felled trees. They do so by laying their eggs in the wood underneath the tree bark. Curiously, the wasps also deposit a symbiotic fungus and venom that shuts down the tree’s defenses. As the tree weakens, the fungal infestation begins and the the tree starts to rot. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the rotten wood before they emerge. This relationship is called obligate since the survival of the wasp is impossible without the fungal infestation.

IMG_2322Originating from Eurasia, the presence of the invasive species is dangerous because it can kill healthier pines. It has long been established in the southern hemisphere causing economic issues due to its attacks on pines. While pines have been introduced to that part of the world, they are native to North America, where the invasive wasp could be far more devastating.

Now that the invasive woodwasp has already been identified in the States, the scientists seek to find a way to protect its frail competitor, reporting a rapid decline in the North American species.

“We would often observe both species emerging from the same infested pine trees, but the ratios changed with time,” explains Dr. Ann Hajek.

“Shortly after the invasive colonizes an area, the native wasps emerging from the trees would equal the invasive. However, a few years later, the natives started to get fewer and fewer.”

It turned out that the Eurasian woodwasp has larger venom glands and produces more eggs, thanks to its greater body size. Furthermore, it emerges earlier than the North American species, so that it can find and colonize the most suitable trees first. By the time the native species lays its eggs, the authors speculate, most of the preferred trees are already occupied by the invasive, leaving a reduced supply of habitat for the newcomer’s larvae.

“Woodwasps are difficult to study and their biologies are generally poorly understood,” note the authors. “While the native species appears to be outcompeted from pines that both species prefer, it is possible that populations of the native can be sustained in trees less desirable to the invasive or unavailable during the time and place that the invasive is present.”

The scientists call for additional research on the native woodwasp in southeastern pine forests in USA, before the invaders spread to that area with extensive pine forests.

###

Original source:

Hajek AE, Henry JC, Standley CR, Foelker CJ (2017) Comparing functional traits and abundance of invasive versus native woodwasps. NeoBiota 36: 39-55. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.36.14953

A genus of European paper wasps revised for the first time using integrative taxonomy

The European and Mediterranean species of the paper wasp genus Polistes were recently revised by scientists at the SNSB-Zoologische Staatssammlung München (ZSM).

For the first time for this group scientists applied an integrative taxonomic approach which combines traditional morphological methods with modern DNA barcoding.

As a result, the researchers were able to identify a new species from Morocco. For this well-researched wasp group, this is an actual sensation.

The study is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The Munich researchers analysed more than 260 wasp specimens collected from across the study area with the help of DNA barcoding.

They managed to identify all species and determine their distribution. In addition, based on the genetic data, they were able to evaluate morphological characters for each species and created a completely new key for identification.

The wasps of the genus Polistes belong to the family Vespidae. The genus is represented by 17 species in Europe and the Mediterranean, with four species occurring in Germany. Within the genus, 13 species are social, with the queen overwintering and founding a new nest with up to 200 workers. Four species are parasitic and have no workers.

Although Polistes has been well-known in Central Europe for more than 200 years, knowledge of Mediterranean species has so far been scarce. Many species of the genus exhibit only subtle morphological differences and show high levels of colour variation, further complicating their identification.

An important result of this research is the separation of species of the Polistes gallicus species complex into three distinct species. Moreover, the genetic data led to the discovery of a new species, represented by a single specimen from the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco. This was an unexpected result for the researchers. The species was named Polistes maroccanus.

Another very surprising result was the discovery of high levels of genetic variation within Polistes dominula, a species commonly found in Central Europe, indicating the presence of up to three different and hitherto unrecognized species – a case requiring further investigation.

Integrative taxonomy is an approach that combines different scientific methods to reliably differentiate species. In particular, DNA barcoding has proven to be a useful technique for the identification of species and for the discovery of new species. The method allows to identify most species quickly and accurately, even those species that are difficult to identify using traditional methods based on morphological characters.

DNA barcoding uses a short gene fragment that differs in almost all species worldwide. The sequences are stored in an online database and can be used for identification. The method derives its name for being reminiscent of the barcodes similar to those found on products in supermarkets that allow quick and error-free identification at the checkout.

DNA barcoding is part of a global research initiative led by the Canadian scientist Paul Hebert from the University of Guelph. The ZSM is a project partner and involved in assembling DNA barcodes of the German animal species. In addition to ZSM researchers, scientists from Switzerland and the Netherlands contributed to the Polistes project.

###

Original source:

Schmid-Egger C, van Achterberg K, Neumeyer R, Morinière J, Schmidt S (2017) Revision of the West Palaearctic Polistes Latreille, with the descriptions of two species – an integrative approach using morphology and DNA barcodes (Hymenoptera, Vespidae). ZooKeys 713: 53-112. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.713.11335

The ‘Star dust’ wasp is a new extinct species named after David Bowie’s alter ego

During her study on fossil insects of the order Hymenoptera at China’s Capitol Normal University, student Longfeng Li visited the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, carrying two unidentified wasp specimens that were exceptionally well-preserved in Burmese amber. This type of fossilized tree resin is known for the quality of the fossil specimens which can be preserved inside it. Being 100 million years old, they provide an incredible view into the past.

The subsequent analysis of the specimens revealed that both represent species new to science. Furthermore, one of the wasps showed such amazing similarities to a modern group of wasps that it was placed in a currently existing genus, Archaeoteleiawhich has long been considered as an ancient lineage. The species are described in a study published in the open access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

However, Archaeoteleia has changed since the times when the ancient wasp got stuck on fresh tree resin. The authors note that “a novice might not recognize the characters that unite the fossil with extant species”. For instance, the modern wasp species of the genus show visibly longer antennal segments and a different number of teeth on the mandible when compared to the fossil. In turn, the description of the new extinct species enhances the knowledge about living species by highlighting anatomical structures shared by all species within the genus.

This fossil wasp with living relatives received quite a curious name, Archaeoteleia astropulvis. The species name, astropulvis, translates from Latin to ‘star dust’. The discoverers chose the name to refer to both “the ancient source of the atoms that form our planet and its inhabitants”, as well as to commemorate the late David Bowie’s alter ego – Ziggy Stardust.

Unlike the Star dust wasp, the second new species belongs to a genus (Proteroscelio) known exclusively from Cretaceous fossils. Likewise, it is a tiny insect, measuring less than 2mm in length. It also plays an important role in taxonomy by expanding the anatomical diversity known from this extinct genus.

10388_Proteroscelio nexus

The authors conclude that their discovery, especially the Star dust wasp and its placement in an extant genus, where it is the only fossil species, “exemplifies the importance of understanding the extant fauna of a taxon to interpret fossils”.

“Such union of fossil and extant morphologies is especially illuminating and requires examination of both kinds of specimens,” they add.

###

Original source:

Talamas EJ, Johnson NF, Buffington ML, Dong R (2016) Archaeoteleia Masner in the Cretaceous and a new species of Proteroscelio Brues (Hymenoptera, Platygastroidea). In: Talamas EJ, Buffington ML (Eds) Advances in the Systematics of Platygastroidea. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 56: 241-261. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.56.10388

Of Star Trek, Mark Twain and helmets: 15 new species of wasps with curious names

A total of fifteen new species of parasitic wasps have been described from across the Neotropical region. Apart from belonging to a peculiar group of wasps distinct with large and elongated bodies, the new insects also draw attention with the curious names they have been formally assigned with.

Among them, there are species named after characters from the television series Star Trek and Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, and five wasps bearing species names all translating to ‘helmet’. The study, conducted by graduate student Katherine C. Nesheim and Dr. Norman F. Johnson, both affiliated with the Ohio State University, USA, and Dr. Lubomír Masner, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The larvae of the studied wasps parasitise the eggs of lanternflies and planthoppers. These species inhabit exclusively the Neotropical region, with their range stretching from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the north to Misiones in southern Paraguay. Despite being quite abundant in the region, these insects have remained under-researched until recently.

One of the newly discovered wasp is named Phanuromyia odo, where the species name odo refers to the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fictional character of the same name. In the popular sci-fi television series, Odo belongs to a species of shapeshifters called Changelings. The reason for the scientists to associate the parasitoid with the character is the spectacular variability observed within the insect species. In fact, it was this peculiarity that, at some point, led the entomologists believe they were dealing with two separate species.

P_pauper
Phanuromyia pauper

The authors do not make a clear statement that the new species P. pauper has a name inspired by the famous novel The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. Instead, they justify their choice with the fact that the species lacks a specific morphological feature – thus making it ‘poor’. On the other hand, the authors confirm that the new species called P. princeps is of ‘blue blood’ indeed, having its name derive from the other main character of the same book. Furthermore, both species are reported to look a lot like each other.

P_princeps
Phanuromyia princeps

Among the curious names in the list of new species, there are also five wasps whose scientific names all translate to ‘helmet’ in three different languages – Greek, Latin and Old Norse. The reason behind is that they have unusually large heads, which reminded the scientists of a “knight wearing a helmet”. Likewise, a related species received a name that in Latin means ‘wearing a hood’.

There is also a species, whose name means ‘having long hair’, and another called ‘constellation’ in Latin.

###

Original source:

Nesheim KC, Masner L, Johnson NF (2017) The Phanuromyia galeata species group (Hymenoptera, Platygastridae, Telenominae): shining a lantern into an unexplored corner of Neotropical diversity. ZooKeys 663: 71-105. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.663.11554

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.

###

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 named after ancient god of evil Set shows wicked behavior

Being able to manipulate its host’s behavior while growing inside of it, a new species of parasitic wasp seems to have deservedly received the name of the ancient Egyptian god of evil and chaos Set. Discovered in the southeastern United States, the new species, also called the crypt-keeper wasp, parasitizes crypt gall wasps, which in turn infest live oak. The research team led by Dr. Scott P. Egan of Rice University published their discovery in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Once parasitized, the crypt gall wasp cuts a hole through the gall it has built around itself, and plugs its head in it right before being killed. Meanwhile, the larva of the crypt-keeper wasp feeds, grows, and pupates on the insides of its host. As soon as it is ready to emerge as an adult, it takes a ‘shortcut’ out of the crypt gall straight through the head capsule of its prey, leaving chunks of exoskeleton behind in the ‘crypt’. The team has published a parallel paper (Weinersmith et al. 2017) documenting this manipulation and exploring the fitness benefit to E. set in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

To justify the comparison between the new wasp and Set, the scientists point out that the deity is said to have control on evil animals, such as hyenas and serpents. Furthermore, according to the ancient Egyptian mythology, he trapped his good-hearted brother Osiris in a crypt and killed him. Then, he chopped his body into small pieces and scattered them all over the world.

The new wasp, described under the name Euderus set belongs to a genus of approximately 77 species with a cosmopolitan distribution. The species is a tiny insect measuring between 1.2 and 2.3 mm in length, but under a microscope, it is one of the most colorful. Its colors are shiny metallic, varying from olive green to turquoise to iridescent blue, depending on lighting and age. Originally discovered near Inlet Beach, Florida, it has now been found across the U.S. Gulf coast, including sites in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

###

Original source:

Egan SP, Weinersmith KL, Liu S, Ridenbaugh RD, Zhang MY, Forbes AA (2017) Description of a new species of Euderus Haliday from the southeastern United States (Hymenoptera, Chalcidoidea, Eulophidae): the crypt-keeper wasp. ZooKeys 645: 37-49. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.645.11117

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

###

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