24 new species of wasps that mummify their prey have been recently discovered.
This parasitic type of wasp is pretty unusual, made even more unusual by the process which the prey are used in the life cycle.
Wasps of the Aleiodes genus must utilize another species in order to complete their life cycle. This means that a female wasp of this genus will identify another organism within which she can lay her eggs, in this case a caterpillar plays the host.
The female will inject an egg into the host’s body, where it will become a parasite. The wasp spends its entire developmental life within the caterpillar, from egg to larva to pupa, using the caterpillar’s body as a cocoon, finally emerging once it has fully developed.
As a larva, the wasp begins drawing its nutrients from the caterpillar, eating it from the inside out. This causes the caterpillar to shrink, harden and become discolored, creating a mummy-like appearance. As the larva grows into a pupa, the caterpillar husk becomes even harder and in order to emerge from the hollowed out, mummified corpse of the caterpillar, the adult wasp must puncture the back of the husk and work its way out into the world.
These new species were discovered in Ecuador where they play a major role in controlling the forest’s biggest herbivore community. Each species has been comically named after famous celebrities like Shakira, Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon.
Learn more about mummification of the human kind in the new travelling exhibition Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science opening tomorrow, May 31.