Dr. Andrew Polaszek, an entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London, England has discovered a new species of wasp in a local school playground.
“You tend to think of new species being found in remote, exotic locations, not in a playground in Sevenoaks,” Dr. Polaszek said to the Sevenoaks Chronicle, a local newspaper.
The tiny wasp is only about one millimeter long, and it parasitizes whiteflies that feed on maple trees by laying eggs inside them. After the eggs hatch, the larvae eat their way out of the whiteflies.
A description of the wasp was recently published in the Entomologists’ Monthly Magazine.
“I was aware of the whiteflies living on these trees and went to examine them,” Dr. Polaszek said. “I noticed some of the whiteflies looked slightly different to the others, so I took them to the laboratory to have a closer look. It turned out to be a brand new species that hadn’t been seen before.”
The new species, Encarsia harrisoni, is named after the director of a local museum.
According to Dr. Polaszek, “A few hundred yards from where the majority of specimens of E. harrisoni, including the holotype, were collected, is the Harrison Institute, a museum promoting taxonomic research to support biodiversity studies and conservation. It is an honor to name this new species after Dr. David Harrison, chairman of the trustees of the institute.”
The genus Encarsia is found worldwide, with more than 450 species, but only six are presently known to be found in Britain. Most species are primary parasitoids of Aleyrodidae, a family of whiteflies, or of Diaspididae, a family of scale insects.
During five years of regular collecting of E. harrisoni, no males have ever been found, which strongly suggests it is a uniparental species, according to Dr. Polaszek.
“I work with some of the smallest insects on Earth, sometimes as small as a fraction of a millimeter long, so I’m used to looking for miniscule things most people wouldn’t even notice,” he said. “It’s an exciting discovery, and it proves that there are still any number of species out there yet to be discovered, even in the grounds of a school in suburban Sevenoaks.”
This is not the first time an animal has been named after the 88-year-old Dr. Harrison.
“I now have a flea, a bug, a sand cat and a wasp named after me, which is obviously quite an honor,” he told the Chronicle. “Dr. Polaszek’s wasp is a particularly interesting one — it was found right here in Sevenoaks, just a few hundred yards from my home. People have been studying the fauna of Britain for more than two centuries, and these things don’t tend to happen very often. It shows how remarkable the environment can be — you can find something so remarkable in the most ordinary place.”
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