An international team of biologists has discovered a new species of the cuckoo wasp genus Chrysis living in Norway.
The term ‘cuckoo wasp’ refers to the cuckoo-like way in which these insects lay eggs in the nests of unrelated host species.
Also known as emerald wasps, they are small, seldom exceeding 1.2 cm (about 0.5 inch) in length. The color is usually metallic green or blue.
All cuckoo wasps are solitary, external parasites, mostly of full-grown bee or wasp larvae. The larvae grow quickly and hatch before the host’s eggs. Then they eat the eggs, the larvae and the food supply that the host has arranged in the nest.
“Normally we distinguish insects from each other by their appearance, but cuckoo wasps are so similar to each other that it makes it difficult,” said co-author Dr. Frode Ødegaard, a researcher in the Department of Natural History at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Insects communicate with each other through pheromones — in other words, they have a ‘chemical language.’
Very closely related species often have completely different ‘languages’ to prevent them from interbreeding.
Dr. Ødegaard and colleagues were able to discover that two almost identical cuckoo wasps from Norway did indeed belong to different species.
The two species use different hosts — and that means that they also speak completely different ‘languages.’
“We had two cuckoo wasps with microscopic differences in appearance and very small differences in DNA,” Dr. Ødegaard explained.
The new species lives in the dunes of the Lista peninsula in the municipality of Farsund, Agder county, Norway.
Scientifically named Chrysis parabrevitarsis, it is known from only a single specimen.
“Even with today’s advanced methods, using live animals for studies like this isn’t possible, but collecting individual specimens fortunately has no impact on the population,” Dr. Ødegaard said.
“The insects have enormous reproductive potential, and the size and quality of the habitats are what determine the viability of the population, not whether any specimens are eaten by birds or collected by an insect researcher.”
“The collected insects are absolutely crucial for researchers to be able to map and describe their diversity and thus take care of viable populations for posterity.”
Chrysis parabrevitarsis is described in a paper in the journal Insect Systematics and Diversity.
Villu Soon et al. 2021. Cuticular Hydrocarbon Profile Analyses Help Clarify the Species Identity of Dry-Mounted Cuckoo Wasps (Hymenoptera: Chrysididae), Including Type Material, and Reveal Evidence for a Cryptic Species. Insect Systematics and Diversity 5 (1): 3; doi: 10.1093/isd/ixab002