Indonesia: Monstrous ‘King of Wasps’ Discovered in Sulawesi

Jakarta Globe 26 Mar 12;

A team of intrepid scientists has discovered a new species in the remote Mekongga mountain range of southeastern Sulawesi — an insect so large and fearsome that it has been dubbed “the king of wasps.”

Alternately nicknamed the “Komodo dragon of wasps,” a grown male can reach a length of more than three centimeters and boasts massive jaws that are longer than its forelegs and shaped like a sickle.

The wasp, Megalara garuda, is named after the national symbol of Indonesia, the garuda, a mythical bird-like creature.

Lynn Kimsey, a professor of entomology at the University of California at Davis, and Michael Ohl, from the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, published their joint findings in ZooKeys, a journal dedicated to biodiversity, on Friday.

“Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed,” Kimsey told a UC Davis publication last year after the expedition that unearthed the monster wasp.

“When the jaws are open, they are actually longer than the male’s front legs.”

Kimsey said the first time she saw the species, she could tell immediately that it was something she had never seen before.

“I had never seen anything like this species of [the genus] Dalara,” she said. “We don’t know anything about the biology of these wasps. They are only known from southwestern Sulawesi.”

The researcher speculated that the large jaws could play a role in defense and reproduction.

“In another species in the genus, the males hang out in the nest entrance,” she said. “This serves to protect the nest from parasites and nest robbing, and for this he exacts payment from the female by mating with her every time she returns to the nest. So it’s a way of guaranteeing paternity.”

Additionally, she said, the jaws are big enough to wrap around the female’s thorax and hold her still during mating.

In three trips to the biodiversity hot spot that is Sulawesi, Kimsey said, she has brought back “hundreds, maybe thousands of new species.”

“It will take years, maybe generations, to go through them all.”

Bizarre "King of Wasps" Found in Indonesia
Males of new species have long, sickle-shaped jaws.
Dave Mosher National Geographic News 27 Mar 12;

A new species of giant, venomous wasp has been found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (map), scientists say.

The two-inch-long (five-centimeter-long) black insects are shrouded in mystery—all of the wasp specimens caught so far have been dead.

"I'm not certain any researcher has ever seen one alive, but they are very bizarre-looking," said study co-author Lynn Kimsey, an entomologist at the University of California, Davis, who co-discovered the insect.

"It's the extreme version of the [larrine wasp] subfamily they belong to."

Larrine wasps typically dig nests for their eggs and larvae in open, sandy areas. The adults grow no longer than an inch (2.5 centimeters)—making the newly discovered Megalara garuda the "king of wasps," according to the study authors.

Wasp Males' Spiky Jaws

Female M. garuda wasps look like most other wasp species, but the males grow long, sickle-shaped jaws.

The males' flattened faces and large, spiked jaws may be clever adaptations to protect a nest that contains vulnerable larvae, she suggested.

"Other wasps of the same species often rob burrows for food, and parasites try to get in there, too," she said. "There's a serious advantage to having the nest guarded. This may be how the male helps guarantee his paternity."

In general, "we don't know what this wasp does," Kimsey said. "But it probably feeds its larvae grasshoppers or katydids, like other wasps in its subfamily."

"Mythical" Wasp Under Threat

Kimsey and co-author Michael Ohl, of Berlin's Humboldt University, caught their first glimpse of the new wasp in Indonesia's Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, where the bugs had been kept in storage since 1930. Ohl also found unidentified specimens at the Humboldt Museum in Berlin.

On a 2009 expedition, the team found more wasps at a cacao plantation in the southeastern mountains of Sulawesi. In naming M. garuda, the team looked to the national symbol of Indonesia: a mythical half-human, half-bird creature in the Hindu religion called Garuda.

Although as many as a hundred thousand species of insects may live on Sulawesi, Kimsey suspects "only half have names."

But the fates of these species—including the newfound wasp—are in jeopardy. Since the 1960s forests in the region have been increasingly leveled to plant several types of crops.

"The place where we collected wasps is slated to be an open-pit nickel mine," Kimsey said.

"Just thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach."

The new giant-wasp study recently appeared in the journal ZooKeys.