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Newly discovered parasitoid wasp

Andrew Polaszek, Natural History Museum

Download this image from Wellcome Collection.

Light micrograph of a tiny parasitoid wasp (Wallaceaphytis kikiae) viewed from above. Parasitoid wasps lay their eggs inside other insects. After hatching, the larvae feed on their host, eating it alive from the inside out. This is a new genus of parasitoid wasp recently discovered in the rainforests of Borneo, where a single female wasp was found mixed in with thousands of other insects. It measures only 0.75 mm in length and has unusual antennae, legs and wings. It’s named after Alfred Russel Wallace, who coauthored the first ever publication on evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin and who himself identified new insects while in Borneo in the mid-19th century. Even today, Borneo is still known to be rich with other undiscovered species.

How are parasitoid wasps beneficial?

Despite their gruesome-sounding life cycle, parasitoid wasps can be very beneficial because they often lay their eggs in agricultural pests. The wasp pictured here belongs to the family Aphelinidae, one of the most effective groups of biological pest control agents. Biological pest control uses the natural enemies of unwanted pests to hunt them, limiting their numbers and the damage they cause; for example, close relatives of this wasp belonging to the genus Aphytis successfully control populations of scale insects (sap-sucking agricultural pests), which attack oranges and other citrus fruits around the world. The female wasps lay their eggs inside the scale insects, which are then killed by the wasp larvae. Adult wasps also feed directly on scale insects.