Some Ecuadorian tribes were famous for making mummified shrunken heads from the remains of their conquered foes. Field work in the cloud forests of Ecuador by Professor Scott Shaw, University of Wyoming, Laramie, and colleagues, has resulted in the discovery of 24 new species of Aleiodes wasps that mummify caterpillars. The research by Eduardo Shimbori, Universidade Federal de So Carlos, Brazil, and Scott Shaw, was recently published in the open access journal ZooKeys.
Among the 24 new insect species described by Shimbori and Shaw, several were named after famous people including the comedians and television hosts Jimmy Fallon, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Ellen DeGeneres, as well as the Ecuadorian artist Eduardo Kingman, American poet Robert Frost, and Colombian singer and musician, Shakira.
The Shakira wasp causes its host caterpillar to bend and twist in an unusual way, which reminded the authors of belly-dancing, for which the South American performer is also famous. In a previous work, Shaw had named a species after David Letterman.
"These wasps are very small organisms, being only 4 to 9 millimeters long, but they have an enormous impact on forest ecology," Shaw said. Aleiodes wasps are parasites of forest caterpillars. The female wasps search for a particular kind of caterpillar, and inject an egg into it. Parasitism by the wasp does not immediately kill the caterpillar, but it continues to feed and grow for a time. Eventually, feeding by the wasp larva causes the host caterpillar to shrink and mummify, then the immature wasp makes its cocoon inside the mummified remains of its conquered prey.
When it completes its development, the young wasp cuts an exit hole from the caterpillar mummy and flies away to mate, and continue this cycle of parasitic behavior. "Killing and mummifying caterpillars may sound bad, but these are a
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