Nav: Home

Wasps, ants, and Ani DiFranco

January 23, 2017

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (http://www.ucr.edu) -- A University of California, Riverside graduate student has discovered several news species of wasps, including one that she named after musician Ani DiFranco.

Judith Herreid, who studies a unique family of ant-parasitoid wasps, named two wasps after physical features of the wasps, one after where it was collected, one after her fiancée-now husband, Levi Zahn, also a graduate student at UC Riverside, and another after DiFranco. The DiFranco idea came from her advisor, John Heraty, who suggested naming one after a favorite musician.

"I have admired Ani DiFranco for about 10 years," Herreid said. "I like her music and I think she is a great role model."

The description of the DiFranco-inspired species, Orasema difrancoae, and the other species, are outlined in Herreid's recently published paper in the journal Systematic Entomology. This particular group of wasps is of interest because they could potentially control invasive ant populations, including important ant pests such as the Red Imported Fire ant, the Little Red Fire ant and the Big-headed ant.

Wasps belonging to the family Eucharitidae are all specialized parasitoids that take nourishment from ants and eventually kill their host. The wasps do not directly attack their ant host, but instead deposit their eggs on or into plant vegetation that is separated from their ant host.

The larvae, less than 0.1 mm in size, are responsible for finding their way into the ant nest where they attack and kill the larvae and pupae of the ants. The wasp larvae use various means to gain access to the nest, but these always involve using a foraging adult ant worker for transport.

Once inside the ant nest, the ants treat the killers very well, and have even been observed protecting the wasps when the ant nest is disturbed or threatened. Pheromones help disguise the wasps while in the nest.

In addition to describing the new species in the paper, the co-authors Herreid and Heraty, a professor of entomology, found an interesting association between the wasps and extrafloral nectaries, which are nectar-secreting glands found on plants independent of their flowers.

The adult wasps deposit their eggs close to the extrafloral nectaries so that their larvae, which hatch and migrate to the nectaries, can get collected by the feeding ants into a specialized pouch in the ant head. The young parasitoid larvae then hitchhike in the ants' mouthparts until they are eventually transferred, possibly as potential food, to the ant larvae in the nest. Once attached to the ant larva, the wasps wait for the ant to pupate, kill their host and then complete their development within the ant nest.

Ants are one of the most successful insect groups on the planet. Their often large, complex societies are built around feeding and nurturing the egg-laying queen and protecting their brood from enemies. Few insects have been able to broach their formidable defenses. Eucharitidae is the only family of insects where every species specializes on parasitizing ants. This may have been accomplished by evolving close associations with the ant food resources, and unwittingly being brought back to the nest by the foraging worker ants.

Heraty has studied parasitic wasps in the genus Orasema and other related members of the family Eucharitidae for 40 years. He calls the ongoing project "a phenomenal detective story", with regular discoveries of new wasp species, ant hosts, plant hosts and behaviors associated with both getting into the ant nest and then getting out again after they finish development.

The paper is called: "Hitchhikers at the dinner table: a revisionary study of a group of ant parasitoids (Hymenoptera: Eucharitidae) specializing in the use of extrafloral nectaries for host access."
-end-
The research has been supported by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

University of California - Riverside

Related Ants Articles:

Ants use collective 'brainpower' to navigate obstacles
Ants use their numbers to overcome navigational challenges that are too large and disorienting to be tackled by any single individual, reports a new study in the open-access journal eLife.
Ants restore Mediterranean dry grasslands
A team of ecologists and agronomists led by Thierry Dutoit, a CNRS researcher, studied the impact of the Messor barbarus harvester ant on Mediterranean dry grasslands.
Risk aversion as a survival strategy in ants
Ants are excellent navigators and always find their way back to the nest.
Epigenetic switch found that turns warrior ants into forager ants
In 2016, researchers observed that they could reprogram the behavior of the Florida carpenter ant Camponotus floridanus.
Larger than life: Augmented ants
The first app of its kind allows users to interact with biodiversity research through augmented reality.
Ants: Jam-free traffic champions
Whether they occur on holiday routes or the daily commute, traffic jams affect cars as well as pedestrians.
Ants fight plant diseases
New research from Aarhus University shows that ants inhibit at least 14 different plant diseases.
Australian ants prepared for 'Insect Armageddon'
La Trobe University researchers have uncovered an exception to the global phenomenon known as 'Insect Armageddon' in the largest study of Australian insect populations conducted to date.
Robot-ants that can jump, communicate with each other and work together
A team of EPFL researchers has developed tiny 10-gram robots that are inspired by ants: they can communicate with each other, assign roles among themselves and complete complex tasks together.
From vibrations alone, acacia ants can tell nibbles from the wind
Researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on Feb. 14 find that the ants of the acacia tree are tipped off to the presence of herbivores by vibrations that run throughout the trees when an animal gets too close or begins to chew.
More Ants News and Ants Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.