Saturday, March 23, 2013

Deadly reproductive habits

Most of the parasitoid wasps of the family Braconidae have some deadly reproductive habits. Their eggs develop in other insects and their larvae, eventually killing the respective host, or in some cases immobilizing it or causing its sterility. The family is also very diverse with estimates as high as 150,000 species. Now three new species of the genus Cystomastacoides are described and the authors demonstrated some creativity when they named the species. 

The genus has been known only from a single species, Cystomastacoides coxalis, which was found only in mainland China (Yunnan). Two of the new species were discovered in Papua New Guinea, while the third one comes from Thailand. The Thai species, Cystomastacoides kiddo, was named after the character Beatrix Kiddo in Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill' films. The deadly biology of the wasp inspired this reference to the protagonist played by Uma Thurman, where she embodies a deadly assassin and a master of the Tiger/Crane style of kung fu. She is a master of the "Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique", a method of killing a person by quickly striking five pressure points around the heart with the fingertips. After the victim takes five steps, the heart explodes and the person falls dead. Now we're talking.

The macabre in the name of one of the new species from Papua New Guinea references back to another strand of contemporary pop culture: Cystomastacoides nicolepeelerae is named after Nicole Peeler, the favourite novelist of Donald Quicke, the lead author of this article. Nicole D. Peeler is an American author who writes the Jane True - Tempest urban fantasy series.. Apparently she is very happy about the honor:
Cystomastacoides nicolepeelerae

And it’s a big deal to me, because it’s AWESOME. Not least because my wasp is a “parasitoid wasp,” known for its “deadly reproductive habits.”

The name of the third species, Cystomastacoides asotaphaga, also from Papua New Guinea, lacks the popular culture element but still brings up the deadly survival techniques of the wasps described. In translation, it means feeding on Asota, a genus of moths whose caterpillar is eaten from the inside by the wasp's larva and thus eventually killed. Asota plana is the first host record for the genus to which the new species belong. It is a widespread moth species known to feed on multiple fig tree (Ficus) species.

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