23 March 2012

New Wasp Species Discovered in Indonesia: Megalara Garuda, The King of Wasps

Wasps are insects in the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita. These insects are neither a subspecies of the bee or of the ant.

Wasps prey on other insects. Wasps contribute to the natural control and natural biocontrol of other species. Parasitic wasps are increasingly used in agricultural pest control as they prey mostly on pest insects and have little impact on crops.

Contrary to popular belief, most wasps are solitary and do not sting or attack humans. Only a few are aggressive such as the Yellow Jacket. Wasps are distinguishable from bees by their pointed lower abdomens and the narrow "waist," called a petiole, that separates the abdomen from the thorax. There are about 30,000 sub species of wasps identified to date.

A new and unusual wasp species has been discovered during an expedition to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

It was independently also found in the insect collections of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, where it was awaiting discovery since the 1930s, when it had been collected on Sulawesi. The new species is pitch-black, has an enormous body size, and its males have long, sickle-shaped jaws. The findings have now been described in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Video: The King of Wasps, The Megalara Garuda

The species belongs into the digger wasp family, which is a diverse group of wasps with several thousands of species known from all over the world. Female digger wasps search for other insects as prey for their young and paralyze the prey by stinging it. Prey selection is often species specific, but the prey of the new species is unknown. With its unusual body size and the male's jaws, the new species differs from all known related digger wasps, so much so that it was placed in a new genus of its own, Megalara. The new genus name is a combination of the Greek Mega, meaning large, and the ending of Dalara, a related wasp genus.

Most wasps have the following characteristics

  • Two pairs of wings;
  • The Female possess a stinger or ovipositor (female sex organ);
  • Unlike bees, do not have hair;
  • Almost all wasps are land based;
  • Predators or parasitoids, mostly on other terrestrial insects.

Lynn Kimsey (UC Davis) and Michael Ohl (Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin), who discovered the giant wasp simultaneously and have worked on it in collaboration, named the species after Garuda, the national symbol of Indonesia, a part-human, part-eagle mythical creature known as the King of Birds in Hindu mythology.

Since this species has never been observed alive, nothing is known about its biology or behavior. The males of Megalara garuda are distinctly larger than the females, and bear very long jaws. As can be deduced from other insects with large jaws, it is likely that the males hold the females with it during copulation. It is also possible that they use the jaws for defense.


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