You named that new wasp species what?

  Last updated April 11, 2019 at 4:01 pm

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Discovering new wasp species is notable – but naming them after Doctor Who aliens and snack foods is legendary.


new wasp species Sathon oreo

The new wasp species Sathon oreo – inspired by the dark brown antennae with a thick white stripe in the middle. Credit: Dr Erinn Fagan-Jeffries


Taxonomy is a great way to honour friends and family: you can name a new species after them.


University of Adelaide entomologist Dr Erinn Fagan-Jeffries has taken a slightly different tack, however. She’s named two recently discovered wasps after biscuits and TV aliens.


“I named one wasp Sathon oreo as the antennae are dark brown with a thick white stripe in the middle… like an Oreo chocolate biscuit,” she explains.


And Choeras zygon? Inspired by the Zygon race of aliens in the cult series Doctor Who.


“Zygon aliens consume their host whilst inhabiting them, a trait particularly relevant to parasitic wasps.”


Obvious, really.


Choeras Zygon. Credit: Erinn Fagan-Jeffries


Not just Zygons


Fagan-Jeffries is sometimes a little more conventional with her other decisions, it must be said. Four new wasps acknowledge entomologists who inspired her early in her career – Michael Braby (Dolichogenidea brabyi), Gary Taylor (Dolichogenidea garytaylori), Michael Keller (Dolichogenidea kelleri), and Jan Forrest (Dolichogenidea forrestae).


And then there’s Choeras bushblitz, named after the Bush Blitz species discovery program, a partnership between the Australian Government, BHP and Earthwatch Australia to document plants and animals across the country. More than 1660 new species have been discovered since 2010, 17 of them wasps.


Eight of the 10 new species of parasitic microgastrine wasp Fagan-Jeffries identified are based on material collected during Bush Blitz surveys.


new wasp species Choeras Bushblitz Bush Blitz

Choeras Bushblitz. Credit: Erinn Fagan-Jeffries


Naming species is fun but important


Naming new species is fun – but it’s also important. Until taxonomists name and formally describe a species, it is difficult for other researchers to do anything with it.


Species discovery and documentation is the foundation of all environmental biology and directly underpins studies in fields as disparate as ecology, conservation, biological control, and biosecurity.


As Fagan-Jeffries and colleagues Professor Steven Cooper and Professor Andrew Austin note in a paper published in the journal Zootaxa, Australia has an estimated 205,000 species of insects (though that is probably a serious underestimation) but only 69,000 are formally described.


Microgastrine wasps are a perfect example. More than 2700 species have been described worldwide, but there are believed to be around 40,000 species.


Modern technology is helping to find them.


“Whilst new species of microgastrines can be discovered simply by sorting material in museum collections, surveys such as Bush Blitz have been instrumental in collecting fresh specimens from remote locations that are viable for DNA sequencing,” the researchers write.


“DNA data allow for faster, directed taxonomy, enabling species delimitation and descriptions that combine both molecular and morphological evidence into a comprehensive approach.”


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You named that new wasp species what?




About the Author

Nick Carne
Nick Carne is an Adelaide-based freelance writer who has worked as a reporter, editor and producer for print, electronic and online media and in a range of corporate and government communications roles. He collaborated closely with academics on university campuses for more than a decade and lived to tell the tale.

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