A new species of wasp has been called Xenomorfa, due to its frightening cycle of life, parasitic, reminiscent of the behavior predatory monster of the saga of the film Alien.
The new species, Dolichogenidea xenomorfa, inject their eggs into caterpillars alive, and the larvae eat slowly the caterpillar from the inside out, bursting once they have eaten their fill. The larvae of the wasps are transformed into wasps adult and continue to search for more caterpillars in which to deposit their eggs.
The wasp is one of the three wasps recently documented that are parasitoids, parasites that must kill their host to complete their life cycle.
“The xenomorfo ‘Dolichogenidea acts as a parasite on caterpillars in a similar way to the creature a fictional Alien in its human host,” says the principal investigator Erinn Fagan-Jeffries, a doctoral student in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide (Australia).
“The wasp is also black and shiny like the monster from Alien, and has a couple of strange features to the genre, so that xenomorfo, which means ‘strange shape’, fit very well,” he says.
It is said that the parasitoid wasps have inspired the creation of the xenomorfo alien in the movie franchise. In their natural environment, these wasps play an important role in the regulation of populations of their host insects, and have been used on agricultural crops to control pest caterpillars.
“With less than 5 mm in length, the xenomorfo Dolichogenidea might seem to lack the power of his fearsome namesake. But size is relative: for a caterpillar host, is a predator incredible,” says Fagan-Jeffries.
The xenomorfo of Dolichogenidea has been collected in Queanbeyan, New South Wales and in the south of Western Australia, but is likely to have a wider distribution throughout Australia. Has an ovipositor extremely long, a structure in the form of a needle, which the female wasps use to inject their eggs into their host. The host of this species is a caterpillar moth that feeds on eucalyptus leaves.
These three new species are among the thousands of wasps in Australia are still awaiting a description and names. “We collect more than 500 wasps of the subfamily, in particular, across Australia, and determined that there were more than 200 different species in that relatively small number of specimens,” says Austin.
“Currently there are only 100 described species in this subfamily for Australia, so that we have doubled at least the number of known species. It is important to document our biodiversity so that we can make decisions of conservation informed about our environment. Some of these wasps may be can potentially be biological control agents useful for the pests, but still we do not know yet,” he explains.