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New Cuckoo Wasp in Northern Europe: New DNA Readings

Dec 28, 2015 05:52 PM EST

Though captivating with their bright, vivid metallic bodies, cuckoo wasps are fairly difficult to classify due to similarities among species, and they are known for curious habits that are the basis for their bird-like name. However, using DNA evidence, researchers confirm the discovery of a new, individual northern species.

In a recent study, researchers from the Finnish Museum of Natural History, Helsinki, provide detailed descriptions and illustrations of all 74 species found in the Nordic and Baltic countries, including the "Northern" cuckoo wasp (Chrysis borealis ), which is new to science, according to a news release.

Cuckoo wasps are invasive pests known to penetrate the nests of unrelated solitary wasp and bees so that they can lay their eggs -- similar to how cuckoo birds rob the nests of songbirds. To protect themselves from their hosts' stings and sharp jaws, these parasitic wasps have armored bodies and are able to curl up into tight balls. Therefore cuckoo wasps are able to take full advantage of their hosts by either parasitizing them or stealing their food, and eventually killing their offspring.  

Surprisingly, many Nordic cuckoo wasps are red-listed as endangered species -- sparking researchers' interest in studying these pests further. The new study provides an updated, comprehensive identification key that highlights all relevant information regarding the wasp's distribution, abundance, habitats, flight season and host species.

In terms of the newly identified "Northern" cuckoo wasp, researchers report male and female individuals are very similar, aside from a significant variation in the body coloration -- especially between those collected from the north and those collected from the south. For example, while the middle section of a southern wasp's body is either bright-blue or violet with a greenish shimmer, northern individuals are almost completely black and outlined in a greenish to golden-green color.  

Although this very distinct color difference would otherwise suggest the species be placed in separate taxonomic groups, varying shades within a certain species is common among cuckoo wasps and simply indicates habitat distribution, for example. This is why classifying the species is so difficult, researchers say.

Their study was recently published in the journal ZooKeys

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