April 28, 2008

Nature's Little Surprises

A couple of weeks ago, I collected a heavily galleried specimen of Piptoporus betulinus at Wachusett. Upon dissecting the specimen, I noticed that there was a brown pupa, almost certainly a Coleopteran, buried deep in the context — about as far away from any external surface of the fruiting body as was possible. I removed that section of the context and placed it in a Nalgene centrifuge tube with a little water to maintain humidity. I waited for the insect inside the pupa to emerge.

When I went in to my office today, the insect had indeed emerged and it is a beautiful specimen, indeed. Unfortunately, it isn't a beetle but a parasitoid Ichneumon wasp. I can identify it to family but no further and there are no good resources. I did find a photo of an identical wasp on BugGuide, but that site doesn't have a wasp expert among its many entomologists and naturalists.

Now, I'm fairly certain that the pupa was that of a beetle and if I could identify this rather lovely little Hymenopteran that hatched from it, I'd stand a good chance of figuring out what kind of beetle it was. I could sequence the wasp, but the chances of finding a matching sequence are rather tiny since it's unlikely that this species will have been sequenced before. I do have a second pupa, identical to the one that produced the wasp, that has not yet popped open. If I'm really lucky, a beetle will emerge from it. If not, it's already dead and will never emerge. If my luck is really, really poor, I'll have sampled two pupae that were both parasitized by the same as-yet-unidentified wasp species.

Whatever species of ichneumonoid this little fellow is, I think I shall name him Murphy.

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