An unexpected discovery has stumped entomologists studying insects in the rainforests of the western Amazon, reports Science Daily.
In what has been deemed a unique ecosystem, nestled between the Andes and the Amazonian lowland rainforest, researchers have stumbled upon a previously unknown and very unusual species of wasp.
The newfound wasp species, dubbed Clistopyga crassicaudata, is parasitoid, meaning that it uses live hosts to deposit its larvae. While other wasp species are known for the same behavior — for example, the Ichneumonidae group (imaged above), which lay their eggs on other invertebrates — this newly discovered wasp species takes the cake.
The strange thing about it is that it sports a giant stinger, which the research team believes is used not only for laying eggs but also for injecting venom into the host in order to paralyze it.
Described in a new study published in the journal Zootaxa, this peculiar wasp species is different from any other and was found by an international team of scientists from Finland, Colombia, Spain, and Venezuela.
According to study co-author Ilari E. Sääksjärvi, C. crassicaudata‘s immense stinger is unlike anything he’s seen before.
“I have studied tropical parasitoid wasps for a long time but I have never seen anything like it. The stinger looks like a fierce weapon.”
Sääksjärvi, who is a professor of Biodiversity Research at the University of Turku in Finland, describes the giant stinger as “not only long but also very wide, in comparison with the size of the species.”
The scientist explains that the female wasp isolates a live target and uses its large stinger to immobilize it, then lays her eggs on or inside the host, which gradually becomes consumed by the hatching larvae. This gruesome method ensures that the growing larvae have a fresh and steady meal until they are fully developed.
In the case of C. crassicaudata, the unfortunate target is often a spider. This is because — just as its name suggests it — the new wasp species belongs to a rare genus called Clistopyga, which “specializes in laying their eggs into spiders or spider egg-sacks,” notes the University of Turku.
Six other new wasp species of the same group have also been uncovered in the area, residing mainly in the Andean forests of tropical South America. These species are described in the same study and have been named C. isayae, C. kalima, C. nigriventris, C. panchei, C. splendida, and C. taironae.
This specific region, considered an area of transition between the Andes and Amazonia’s endangered rainforest, is teeming with biodiversity. Future expeditions into this rich ecosystem could help scientists learn more about the habits of C. crassicaudata, which at this point can only be surmised.
For instance, no one really knows what species of spiders this wasp usually targets or if it has other tricks up its, well, stinger. As Sääksjärvi points out, another species of Clistopyga parasitoid wasp that he studied in the past “could use its stinger as an intricate felting needle and handily close the spider’s web nest trapping the paralyzed inhabitant within.”
“The giant stinger of the current species is very likely a highly sophisticated tool as well, but unfortunately we can only guess at its purpose.”
Finding even more Clistopyga wasps out there could offer additional clues about how these insects evolved, while simultaneously help conserve the Amazonian rainforest.
“Beautiful and exciting species with strange habits catch people’s attention and highlight the importance of maintaining vulnerable ecosystems,” says Sääksjärvi.