Researchers have discovered several new species of ensign wasps from Sub-Saharan Africa and have published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.
“We didn’t know these new species existed until now, and at least two of them — Trissevania heatherae and T. mrimaensis — are found only in a small patch of forest in Kenya that is threatened by mining activity,” said Andy Deans, associate professor of entomology at Penn State University.
The researchers examined wasps belonging to the family Evaniidae and they named five new species. One of them, Trissevania slideri, is named after their colleague David “Slider” Love, coordinator of farm and greenhouse operations at Penn State University. The scientists also created an identification key for the a new tribe called Trissevaniini.
The new species are even more fascinating because they are the first known insects to exhibit transverse folding of the fore wing. The scientists made this discovery, in part, by using a technique they developed that provides broadly accessible anatomy descriptions.
“Ensign wasps are predators of cockroach eggs, and the transverse folding exhibited by these species may enable them to protect their wings while developing inside the cramped environment of cockroach egg cases,” Deans said. “It also may be useful while they are active in their cockroach prey’s leaf-litter environment.”
According to Deans, only a few other insects — mainly some earwigs, cockroaches, and beetles — are capable of folding their hind wings transversely, along a line between the front and back wing margin, as opposed to longitudinal folding, which occurs along a line from the wing base to the wing tip.
“These other insects fold their wings transversely so that the wings can be shortened and tucked under a modified, shell-like fore wing,” he said. “This, however, is the first time anyone has observed an insect that folds its fore wings transversely.”
In addition to photographing the wasps’ wings, the team used principles of origami paper folding to physically visualize the transverse folding of the wings.
“We used origami, one of the most ancient and simple art forms to understand the wing folding, which, based on our observations through microscopes was otherwise impossible to understand,” said István Mikó, a research associate at Penn State. “In our paper, we included a print, cut and fold template for the readers that helps them and us to comprehend the simple, yet enigmatic, wing fold system of the new tribe.”
According to Mikó, insect wings are common subjects of researchers who investigate bio-inspired technologies.
“The relatively simple wing-folding mechanism of the new tribe can be utilized in advance technologies, such as applying morphing systems in aerospace vehicle research or expandable structural systems in space missions,” he said.
The researchers said that by characterizing the phenotypes of these species of wasps, they are one step closer to understanding the evolutionary history of the family Evaniidae.
“Understanding the evolutionary history of this family of wasps is important because this knowledge will inform our attempts to reclassify the wasps in a way that is robust and predictive,” Deans said.
In the future, the team plans to use the same methods it developed to investigate other groups of wasps in the family Evaniidae, as well as those in the lineage Ceraphronoidea, small wasps that parasitize many other groups of insects and for which very little is known about their diversity and morphology.
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