Based on its clever use of pheromones, an entirely new species of parasitic cuckoo wasp has been discovered
Credit: Photo: Arnstein Staverløkk, NINA, CC BY3.
Cuckoo hornets – also called emerald hornets – are some of the prettiest insects we have, with their colorful exterior facades that sparkle like jewels. However, these beauties also caused a lot of headaches.
“We usually distinguish insects from one another by their appearance,” says Frode Ødegaard. “But cuckoo wasps are very similar to each other which makes it difficult.”
Ødegaard is an entomologist at NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) Museum and belongs to the European Research Group that has now described the recent contribution to species diversity. The new species is very rare, and only one specimen has been found on the List Peninsula in Norway’s Agder County.
For more than 200 years, insect researchers have struggled to sort cuckoo wasps into the correct “species boxes,” and to identify which characteristics are differences within species and which are species-specific differences.
In the past ten years, DNA bar coding has made a major breakthrough by making it possible to distinguish the different types of cuckoo wasps from one another by looking at differences in their genetic material.
“But it’s not always that easy either. In this case, we had cuckoo wasps with microscopic differences in appearance and very small differences in their DNA,” Odegaard says.
“The next step was to look at the language of each wasp to see if it belonged to different species,” he says.
Insects communicate with each other through pheromones – in other words, they have a chemical language. The closely related species often have completely different languages to prevent them from interbreeding.
The cuckoo wasp is an insect with above-average language abilities. They are parasites, which means that they behave like a cuckoo and lay their eggs in the nests of bees and other wasps. Larvae grow rapidly and hatch before the host’s eggs. Then they eat the eggs, larvae, and food supplies arranged by the host in the nest.
“When you live as a parasite, it is important that you not be caught, so the cuckoo wasp may also learn the language of its host,” Odegaard says.
By conducting a very small language study, the researchers were able to discover that almost identical cuckoo wasps do indeed belong to different species. They use different hosts – this means that they also speak completely different languages.
“The evolutionary evolution associated with the sponge of other species is happening very quickly. This is why you can have two species that are really genetically similar but still belong to two different species,” says Ødegaard.
When a new species is described, a name must be given to it, and Frode Ødegaard was fortunate enough to have the honor of naming the newcomer.
A naming competition was announced among researchers in Europe working with cuckoo wasps, then the proposals received were voted on. It turns out that my proposal actually received the most votes! Ødegaard says.
“As mentioned, the new hornet is very similar to another species called Chrysis brevitarsis, so the new species was named Chrysis parabrevitarsis, which means ‘the one standing next to brevitarsis.’
Ødegaard was also responsible for giving the species its slightly simpler Norwegian name than sporegullveps. He does not hide the fact that he found it wonderful to be able to name a new species.
“In a way, you put yourself in the perspective of immortality, because those species will always have that name. There is something very basic about it.”
The only known specimen of this cuckoo wasp was captured and installed in a group of insects. So it may seem morally reprehensible and unnecessary for that lonely person to be stuck with a needle.
“Even with today’s advanced methods, the use of live animals in such studies is not possible,” says Odegaard. “Fortunately, collecting individual samples has no effect on the population.”
“Insects have enormous reproductive potential, and it is the size and quality of the habitat that determines the viability of a population, not whether the birds have eaten any samples or have collected an insect hunter.”
He adds that the collected insects are absolutely essential for researchers to be able to identify and describe their diversity and thus nurture viable populations for future generations.
You can read more about how Frode combined his role in the mass killing with the conservation biologist on his blog (in Norwegian): http: // www.
Reference: Frode Ødegaard et al: Analyzes of the cutaneous hydrocarbon profile help elucidate the species identity of land-installed cuckoo wasps (Hymenoptera: Chrysididae), Including the type of material, and the disclosure of evidence for the coded species Insect Methodology and DiversityVolume 5, Issue 1, January 2021, 3, https: /