Chocolate biscuits and Doctor Who: Ten new species of wasps
Ten new species of parasitoid wasp have been described in a paper by Erinn Fagan-Jeffries (University of Adelaide) and colleagues, in a study that utilised specimens from Bush Blitz expeditions across Australia.
Whilst some of the wasps are named in honour of entomologists who collected specimens, or who featured prominently in her career, Erinn was also inspired by snacks and pop culture. One wasp is named Sathon oreo as the antennae are dark brown with a thick white stripe in the middle… like an Oreo chocolate biscuit!
Meanwhile, the new species Choeras zygon is named for the Zygon race of aliens in the BBC television series Doctor Who. The Zygons in Doctor Who are shapeshifters, which Erinn relates to the way this species of wasp subtly changes what it looks like in particular populations. Zygon aliens also consume their host whilst inhabiting them, a trait particularly relevant to parasitic wasps.
The braconid wasp subfamily Microgastrinae, to which these wasps belong, inject their eggs into live caterpillars, and the baby wasps slowly eat the caterpillar from the inside out. As gruesome as it sounds, they are very important in ecosystems for regulating native caterpillar populations and have also been used successfully as biocontrol agents for caterpillar pest species.
Microgastrine wasps are incredibly diverse, with around 120 species described from Australia and possibly another thousand waiting to be named!