No, it’s Not an Ant!

Photo by Kelsey Bailey.

Photo by Kelsey Bailey.

 

By Emily Hartop

At first glance, the gangly creature above looks remarkably like an ant, but it is actually a flightless wasp from the family Dryinidae. Unlike ants, these wasps are solitary. They are parasitoids of insects in the order Hemiptera, the order we call “true bugs”. This order includes cicadas, leafhoppers, and all manner of other plant eaters. As parasitoids, the females use a sharp ovipositor (egg laying projection) to pierce into the host hemipteran. The larva begins to grow inside the host insect, but soon begins to protrude like a giant tumor from the host body. A tough, leathery covering develops to protect the growing larva. Eventually, the larva pupates and a new adult emerges to begin the cycle anew.

As you might imagine, things do not go well for the host hemipteran — it does not survive the process. That’s why this insect is called a parasitoid (as opposed to a parasite): parasitoids kill their host, while parasites are non-fatal.

Photo by Kelsey Bailey.

Photo by Kelsey Bailey.

This particular specimen, from a BioSCAN trap of course, is a female. In this family of wasps, the females are sometimes wingless, the males always winged. I just love the “hammerhead” appearance of this beautiful lady. My absolute favorite feature of this wasp is the front legs. You may have to look rather closely (click on the image to see it full size), but the front legs are modified into what I can best describe as “tongs with teeth”. These modified appendages are used to hold the host insect still while Momma Wasp lays her eggs. Ouch!

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4 thoughts on “No, it’s Not an Ant!

  1. How did a flightless wasp get into a BioSCAN trap? Was it in the process of parasitoiding (is that even a word?) some doubly-unlucky winged insect?
    Upon reflection, if I had to choose between being drowned in alcohol or having some giant grub slowly devour me from the inside…I think I would prefer the alcohol.
    P.S. awesome ZZ Top reference, Eric!

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  2. Eric, yes! And she does know how to use them! But now I have that song stuck in my head!

    Walter, we get a fair selection of flightless insects of all types in the traps — apparently, they start climbing and can’t stop because they want to see where the mesh wall goes………

    Also, someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but we use “parasitize” for both parasites and parasitoids. It’s essentially the same process…just a different final outcome (and there is definitely a grey area where there are species that are parasites but with some frequency end up killing the host).

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  3. Pingback: Enemies in the Garden | Chasing Checkerspots

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