Smiling parasitic wasps give farmers sting in the fight against pests

By / 20th of June, 2014

UNIVERSITY of Adelaide PhD student Rebecca Kittel has discovered 18 new species of tiny parasitic chelonine wasps which have potential to be used as biological control agents as they specifically target individual varieties of moths.

The adult wasps inject their eggs into the eggs of host moths. The wasp larvae feed and develop inside of the moth caterpillars, emerging from the caterpillar as it dies. The larvae then form a cocoon until environmental conditions are right for the adult to emerge and the cycle begins again.

"The biology and the fact that each wasp species targets only one specific moth means that they are potentially ideal candidates for development as biological control agents of agricultural pests," says Kittel.

The wasps, which measure up to 4mm long, are among 150 new species discovered by Kittel. Specimens from around the country were sent to Kittel to identify, 250 of which were part of the 18 species published in her entry to the journal Insect Systematics & Evolution.

"Wasps from this family have been successfully introduced to Australia as controls, for example against the potato tuber moth. It's important, however, that these wasps are properly identified and described so that agricultural researchers can work with known species."

The new group - from the genus Phanerotomella Szépligeti - was previously considered a small genus, known only from three described species. Kittel's intensive study has revealed a much richer species group than previously thought.

One feature is that they look as if they are always smiling.

"They are very friendly looking and indeed, they can be very good friends to us," says Kittel.

Key contacts

Rebecca Kittel PhD Candidate University of Adelaide School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
61 414 268 192
Professor Andrew Austin Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity University of Adelaide
61 438 378 151
David Ellis Media and Communications Officer University of Adelaide
61 8 8313 5414