University of Wyoming Extension News

Flying Oreos and hourglasses: UW researchers name insects in Ecuador cloud forest

Meteorus oreo, named for its white middle.

There are Oreos, beans, pearls and hourglasses flying through the moist, cool and amazingly green high-elevation cloud forests in the Ecuadorian Andes.

And, some of those species on the lush slopes are named in honor of University of Wyoming (UW) students, faculty members and alumni.

About half a world away – 12,000 miles – a newly discovered wasp in Thailand was named by the researchers in honor of Scott Shaw, professor of insect biology and classification at UW and curator of the UW Insect Museum. That wasp is in the same journal article that describes the Lady Gaga wasp. The Shaw species name, not nearly so flamboyant, is Aleiodes scottshawi.

Despite what you may be thinking, entomologists take naming new insect species they’ve discovered pretty seriously. UW Ph.D. student Guinevere Jones names 10 new species of Meteorus wasps in an article published in the November issue of the journal Zootaxa. Shaw, her adviser, is coauthor of the paper.

           “Naming new species is a much more complicated process than it initially would seem,” said Jones, a former master’s student of Shaw in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Most importantly, you must follow all of the guidelines set forth by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN): the namemust be Latinized correctly, the specific epitaph (the species name) cannotalready exist. Also, you don’t want to name anything after yourself as that is considered bad form and the ultimate display of ego. Some taxonomists name new species after people important to them, celebrities, or unique features/characteristics/behaviors of that new species.”

These parasitoid wasps are beneficial and economically important insects that affect the tropical forest plant community by naturally regulating the populations of plant-feeding caterpillars, Shaw said.

Jones discovered the species of wasps during her work at the Yanayacu Biological Research Station on theeastern slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes. Nestled in the lush cloud forest, the station is open year-round, can sleep 50, differs in elevation from Laramie by only a few footsteps (7,218 versus UW’s 7,200), and climate can change from cool and rainy in the morning to hot and sunny in the afternoon. Yanayacu informational material warns prospective researchers to prepare to get wet.

Jones has been there several times, and Shaw also takes researchers and students to the station and research area. Jones earned her master’s degree in entomology from UW in 2010 and then started her Ph.D. program. She is now teaching and conducting research at UW.

Here are a few names of the new Meteorus wasps and Jones’ rationale for their names.

M. bustamanteorum: Named after the Bustamante family, integral to the continued success of the Yanayacu Center, noted Jones. Forty years ago, the Bustamante family purchased more than 1,300 hectares (about 3,212 acres) of land on the northeastern slopes of the Andes. Resisting thepressure to clear-cut his land in the name of land improvement, Simon Bustamante managed to leave the majority of his property untouched, and that legacy is shared with the Yanayacu Center along with his family’s lodge that is focused on birding and the preservation of that region.

M. horologium: Named for the “hourglass-esque” shape on the second tergite (dorsal plate), from Latin for “hourglass.”

M. margarita: The Latin word margarita means “pearl” and is such named for the pearl-like spot directly below the antennal sockets on the face.

M. oreo: With the majority of the body dark in color, with a white middle, this species resembles an Oreo cookie.

M. quasifabatus: In the summer of 2008, the first research trip to Yanayacu was made in conjunction with an Earthwatch volunteer group. Peggy Campbell-Rush, one of the Earthwatch volunteers and a first-grade teacher from New Jersey, was very interested in the taxonomic aspect of theCaterpillars and Parasitoids of the Eastern Andes project and inquired if one or two of her students could help Jones name a new species. “I sent photographs of some of the wasps, along with the ICZN guidelines to her. She worked with two (at the time) 6 year olds, and one of them declared it looked like a string bean (as his parents communicated via email through Campbell-Rush). This wasp is named in honor of Jack O’Rourke and Michael Mullough by using the Latin terminology quasi (meaning “like”) and fabatus for bean,” said Jones.

M. zitaniae: This species was named in honor of Nina Zitani, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, Western University, London, Ontario, the expert on Costa Rican Meteorus. Zitani is also a former graduate student of Shaw.

Shaw’s new Ph.D. student has named an insect species after Jones.

“Helmuth Aguirre Fernandez named one of his new Colombian Meteorus species after me,” said Jones, “so there is a Meteorus guineverae flying around Colombia.”