New wasp species may be friends of agriculture

Jun 20, 2014 by David Ellis

University of Adelaide researchers have discovered large numbers of new species of tiny Australian parasitic wasps - some of which may have potential as new biological control agents of insect pests in agriculture.

Eighteen new of "chelonine" wasps have been discussed and described in detail in the journal Insect Systematics & Evolution. These are among 150 new species discovered by School of Earth and Environmental Sciences PhD student Rebecca Kittel during her three-year project.

The tiny wasps - up to 4mm in length - all have a fascinating biology. The adult wasps inject their eggs into the eggs of their host moths. The growing wasp larvae feed and develop inside the developing moth caterpillar, eventually emerging from the caterpillar as it dies. The wasp larvae then form a cocoon until environmental conditions are right for the adult to emerge and begin the life cycle again.

"This biology and the fact that each targets only one specific moth means that they are potentially ideal candidates for development as biological control agents of agricultural pests," says Ms Kittel.

"Wasps from this family have been successfully introduced to Australia as controls, for example against the potato tuber moth. It's important, however, that these wasps are properly identified and described so that agricultural researchers can work with known species."

As part of her project, Ms Kittel has been sent 5,000 specimens of chelonine wasps from all over Australia to identify. 250 of those specimens were found to be examples of the 18 just published.

The new group - from the genus Phanerotomella Szépligeti - was previously considered a small genus, known only from three previously described species - now redescribed in this paper. "Recent intensive collecting has revealed a much more species rich group than had been thought," says Ms Kittel.

To properly identify and describe the new wasps, Ms Kittel has measured over 30 characters on each wasp including overall size, length of wing and various ratios such as the size of the eye in relation to the head.

"Sometimes they look similar at first glance, but with these measurements and detailed images, they can be clearly distinguished from all other species," she says. One distinguishing feature is that they look as if they are always smiling. "They are very friendly looking and indeed, they can be very good friends to us," says Ms Kittel.

Project supervisor Professor Andrew Austin, from the University's Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity, says: "These are a very important group of insects - both for their position in maintaining ecological balance and for their potential as natural control agents of . This work has laid the foundation for research to make good use of these native insects."

The are relatively rare but found in environments across Australia from the tropics to arid lands - wherever moths are found.

Explore further: Wyoming, Brazilian scientists discover new wasps

More information: "Systematics of the parasitic wasp genus Phanerotomella Szépligeti (Hymenoptera: Braconidae: Cheloninae) for Australia, with descriptions of 18 new species." Rebecca N. Kittel, et al. Insect Systematics & Evolution, May 2014. DOI: 10.1163/1876312X-45032120

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Newly discovered wasp is a parasitic piggyback

Jul 25, 2013

A previously unknown species of parasitoid wasp that rides on the back of damselflies before laying eggs inside their eggs, has been discovered in Taiwan by a team of scientists, including an entomologist ...

Mummy-making wasps discovered in Ecuador

May 08, 2014

Some Ecuadorian tribes were famous for making mummified shrunken heads from the remains of their conquered foes. Field work in the cloud forests of Ecuador by Professor Scott Shaw, University of Wyoming, ...

More to biological diversity than meets the eye

Mar 13, 2014

Most of us already imagine the tropics as a place of diversity—a lush region of the globe teeming with a wide variety of exotic plants and animals. But for researchers Andrew Forbes and Marty Condon, there's ...

Recommended for you

Team defines new biodiversity metric

3 hours ago

To understand how the repeated climatic shifts over the last 120,000 years may have influenced today's patterns of genetic diversity, a team of researchers led by City College of New York biologist Dr. Ana ...

Changes in farming and climate hurting British moths

10 hours ago

Britain's moths are feeling the pinch – threatened on one side by climate change and on the other by habitat loss and harmful farming methods. A new study gives the most comprehensive picture yet of trends ...

User comments : 0