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Thursday, June 13, 2024

“Monster wasp” found on Indonesian island

A new species of wasp has been discovered by Lynn Kimsey, a professor of entomology at UC Davis, on a recent expedition to Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia.

The jet-black wasp that has been dubbed “monster wasp” is much larger in size than other members of its subfamily Larrinae. The male members of the species can span up to two-and-a-half inches long with their jaws measuring longer than their front legs. Although the females are slightly smaller, they are much larger than other members of the Larrinae subfamily. The wasp, which belongs to the genus Dalara and the family Crabronidae, has been tentatively named Dalara garuda.

“The wasp is ferocious and the largest member of its tribe. It seemed appropriate to name it in honor of the Indonesian national symbol – the Garuda,” said Kimsey.

Kimsey’s expedition to Sulawesi was part of a multimillion dollar project funded by the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group and was administered by the United States National Institutes of Health.

The island is rich in biodiversity, according to Kimsey, who has visited the island on several other such trips before.

“We’ve been going to Sulawesi since 2009 to survey the biodiversity of Mekongga Mountain in the southeastern part of the island,” Kimsey said, adding that this region remains unexplored as of yet.

Kimsey, who also manages the Bohart Museum of Entomology’s collection of seven million insect specimens, has discovered several other new species on the island on previous trips.

“To date we’ve collected nearly one million insect specimens, many of which are new to science – several new species of frogs, lizards, a new bat, two new fish and a new land crab,” she said.

However, she later added that the Garuda wasp find was “rather an exception.”

She said that while it can often be difficult to identify species of insects, especially wasps, due to their small size and abundance, identification of the Garuda wasp was much more simple.

“I’m pretty familiar with the group and it was clearly so different from everything else I knew it was new,” Kimsey said.

The region, which has never been surveyed prior to these expeditions, is currently being considered for Biosphere Reserve status by the Indonesian government in order to prevent any harm to the biodiversity of the region.

“Unfortunately, an international mining company has the concession for turning the mountain into an open pit nickel mine,” Kimsey said.

The mine, however, is not the only threat to the native flora and fauna of the region.

Daniel Potter, a plant systematist at the Agricultural Experiment Station and the director of UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity, said that chocolate and oil palm plantations also threaten the native biodiversity of the region.

Both the nickel mine and the chocolate plantations are economic resources for the local population.

“Twenty to 30 years ago there were several species of wild plants in New Guinea,” Potter said. “On a recent trip I looked for these plants and found out that the area that was native forest once is now just oil palm plantation.”

“It’s necessary to develop ways of accommodating multiple uses in these forests, so that retaining forest can be done at the same time that small farmers grow chocolate or coffee,” Kimsey said.

Both Potter and Kimsey stressed the importance of educating people about environmental issues.

“It is important to improve public education about the importance of the forests for providing ecosystem services and … public understanding about the damage done by mining. Translation – educate, educate, educate,” Kimsey said.

“The public gets distracted by other issues,” Potter said, “So it’s important to build a value system and educate at all levels.”

SASHA SHARMA can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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