New Giant Wasp Shocks Scientists

An American scientist working with a team of Indonesians scientists has discovered a new giant black warrior wasp species. The wasp will be added to the list of items named after the country’s national symbol, the mythical bird Garuda.

The insect-eating predator was discovered by Lynn S. Kimsey, a professor of entomology and the director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, while working with 12 scientists from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) during an expedition to the Mekongga Mountains of Sulawesi.

Scientists are shocked by the discovery of the insect, with the male wasp measuring approximately two-and-a-half inches long. Its large jaw may play a defensive and reproductive role similar to other wasps.

“Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed. When the jaws are open they are actually longer than the male’s front legs. I don’t know how it can walk,” Kimsey said in a news release. “The females are smaller but still larger than other members of their subfamily, Larrinae.”

The three-week expedition was funded by a five-year $4 million grant from the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program to specifically study the fungi, bacteria, plants, insects and vertebrates of Sulawesi. The team of scientists working from the funding have discovered a bat, two frogs, two lizards, two fish, a land crab and many insects since 2008.

American researchers have been collaborating with three Indonesian partners: the LIPI, the Ministry of Forestry and the Bandung Institute of Techonology. LIPI is the lead organization in Indonesia and UC Davis is the head organization in the United States.

The grant also aims to study and find plants and microbes that may carry medicinal value and energy potential as well as develop and encourage conservation strategies.

Over the course of her career, Kimsey has discovered close to 300 new species. She decided to name her latest discovery after the Indonesian national symbol.

“The first time I saw the wasp I knew it was something really unusual,” Kimsey said. “I’m very familiar with members of the wasp family Crabronidae that it belongs to but had never seen anything like this species of Dalara. We don’t know anything about the biology of these wasps. They are only known from southwestern Sulawesi.”

Much of Sulawesi’s biosphere is considered threatened by logging and mining operations. Kimsey said there are now plans for an open pit nickel mine on the mountain.

“There’s talk of forming a biosphere reserve to preserve this,” she said. “There are so many rare and endangered species on Sulawesi that the world may never see.”

The group of scientists dealt with challenging conditions and survived on provisions of ramen and rice during the expedition.

“Eventually we had to leave because we ran out of food,” Kimsey said. “This part of Sulawesi gets about 400 inches of rain a year. We were told that Sulawesi has a dry and rainy season. But the only difference we could see between the dry and rainy season is that during the dry season, it rains only in the afternoon.”

Despite the challenging conditions, the scientist’s research has paid off.

“I consider Sulawesi one of the world’s top three islands for biodiversity — that along with Australia and Madagascar,” Kimsey said.