When talking with someone from overseas about Australia the conversation inevitably turns to the native wildlife and reoccurring jokes about how everything here can kill you. Well things have gotten even more dangerous with the announcement of a new species of wasp that lays chest-bursting eggs.
The good news is they don’t prey on humans, but it’s bad news for caterpillars, creatures that provide the ultimate vessel for the wasp’s eggs. This new species of wasp reproduce by injecting their eggs into the caterpillars, and once they hatch, the young eat their way out of the bug’s body.
Reminiscent of the creature from the Alien franchise, this new species of Microgastrine, a subfamily of parasitoid wasps has been given the name Dolichogenidea xenomorph.
“This species is named for the fictional creature from the movie franchise Alien, which reportedly was inspired by the lifecycle of parasitic wasps,” researchers from The University Of Adelaide, Australia, wrote in their new paper.
“Dolichogenidea xenomorph acts as a parasite in caterpillars in a similar way that the fictional Alien creature does in its human host,” lead researcher Dr. Erinn Fagan-Jeffries of the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences said in a statement. “The wasp is also black and shiny like the alien, and has a couple of weird traits for the genus – so xenomorph, meaning ‘strange form,’ fits really well,” Dr. Fagan-Jeffries added.
The insects are just five millimetres in length but possess a pair of antennae that are more than double its body length. The females have an “extremely long” ovipositor, allowing them to inject their eggs into their unsuspecting victims.
The parasitoid life cycle begins when the female stabs her ovipositor into the caterpillar’s body and lays dozens of eggs. The wasp larvae then hatch and slowly eat their way out, and once free, spin a communal cocoon to protect them during the final phases of their development.
If the poor caterpillar hasn’t died by this stage it becomes a brainwashed host, defending the growing larvae from predators before eventually dying as the mature wasp emerges from the cocoon.
Along with the Dolichogenidea xenomorph, a further two more species of parasitic wasps have been discovered (Dolichogenidea finchi and Dolichogenidea mediocaudata), with all three being found on the southeast and southwest coasts of Australia.
Although not a widespread it’s believed these could just be three of potentially thousands of parasitoid wasps living in Australia. The arrival of these new species of wasps is fantastic news for farmers as they help keep the caterpillar population down, thus protect crops from devastation and infestation.
Lets just hope they stick to laying eggs in caterpillars and don’t start attacking humans anytime soon.