Science

Waspthulu discovered in Indonesia

News of an amazing new species discovery!

“The jaw-dropping, shiny black wasp appears to be the “Komodo dragon” of the wasp family.

It’s huge. The male measures about two-and-a-half-inches long, Kimsey said. “Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed. When the jaws are open they are actually longer than the male’s front legs. I don’t know how it can walk. The females are smaller but still larger than other members of their subfamily, Larrinae.”

I’m not so sure about the Komodo Dragon bit, but I’d go for “Waspadon”, or maybe “Hymenoptosaurus”.

These wasps are in a group commonly known as digger wasps or sand wasps, and typically are predators.  The biology of this species is still not known well.  Taxonomic entomologists tend to pin first, ask questions later.To be fair, untangling the life history of an insect is an incredibly complex task.  Lots of an insect’s life happens in places very inaccessible to humans. Treetops of a rainforest. Underground. Inside the body of another insect.  It can take decades to begin to understand where and how insects make a living.

waspzilla

I can’t wait to find out what this thing eats, and what those freaky jaws on the male are for!  Usually when you have sexual dimorphism in a species (males and females have very different appearances), that means it’s somehow involved in mating displays, or conflict over mating. Perhaps these jaws are the equivalent of deer antlers, or beetle horns.

Unfortunately, finding out more about this species will not be easy:

“Sulawesi, a large Indonesian island located between Borneo and New Guinea, is known not only for its endemic biodiversity, but its rainforest and its proximity to the equator.  Development threatens plant and animal life. The terrain was steep, slippery and overall, physically challenging, Lynn Kimsey said. “This part of Sulawesi gets about 400 inches of rain a year,” she said. “We were told that Sulawesi has a dry and rainy season. But the only difference we could see between the dry and rainy season is that during the dry season, it rains only in the afternoon.

Kimsey is a collaborator of a five-year $4 million grant awarded to UC Davis scientists in 2008 to study the biodiversity of fungi, bacteria, plants, insects and vertebrates on Sulawesi, all considered threatened by logging operations and mining developments. Much of the mountain was logged two decades ago and now there are plans for an open pit nickel mine, Kimsey said.”

Pit mining has a dismal record for being environmentally friendly–one major pit mine in Indonesia dumps its tailings directly into the ocean.  It’s entirely possible that we will never know more about this species than the few specimens collected.

The grant funding this research is looking, in part, for species of medicinal and commercial value in the Sulawesi rainforest before it’s plowed up. I think we should care about this wasp not because it has utilitarian value to us, but because it is another example of the amazing evolutionary history and diversity of life on earth .  I don’t know how to save that area, and make it possible for the people living there to thrive as well as wasps. But I can hope.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Charles Darwin

bug_girl

Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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5 Comments

  1. It looks like something designed for a movie! “Okay, it’s all matte black and has giant jaws. How about some spikes?” “Yeah, but just some subtle ones under the abdomen.” “Wow, that looks freaky!”

  2. Maybe the mandibles are sexual, designed for something like amplexus where the male is able to hold onto the female during copulation and stay on after for a long time to block other males while the two of them in locked embrace buzz through the air.

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