Give a wasp a name

18 September 2009

Ever fancied naming a new species? Well, now is your chance.

The Natural History Museum and The Times newspaper have launched a competition to name a new species of wasp to mark the opening of the Museum's new Darwin Centre this week.

Close-up image of the parasitic wasp that needs a name

Close-up of the parasitic wasp that needs a name

The landmark building, including the spectacular cocoon structure, is home to thousands of species, 20 million specimens in fact.

However, there is one insect that has no name. It is a 6cm-long parasitic wasp (not including the antennae) from Ecuador with a striking iridescent body, elegant wings and long antennae.

Parasitic

The wasp is parasitic as it lays its eggs on live insects (probably beetle larvae) living underneath tree bark. The wasp larva gradually consumes its insect host and then it changes into a wasp.

Discovery

It was discovered in 1981 by British amateur insect collector Martin Cooper and remained nameless until now, or until 18 October when the winner is announced.

A striking animal

'Although there are many thousands of undescribed parasitic wasps in the family Ichneumonidae,' says Dr Broad, 'hardly any can be as striking as this species and we doubt there are many species of Umanella out there, waiting to be found.'

'We don't know what it does but the few known specimens were found flying around dead wood and probably parasitize beetle grubs.'

How to name a new species

Although it has no name, scientists do know that it belongs to the genus Umanella and this would be the first part of its name. The second part of the name is up to you, so for example Umanella darwincentri.

After the wasp’s name (the name that is italicised) is the author who first scientifically described the species, in this case it will be Broad after the Museum’s parasitic wasp expert Dr Gavin Broad. This is an additional part of the name that helps scientists know precisely which species they are dealing with – which is essential as sometimes 2 authors may have given 2 different species the same name.

So, let us know your suggestions and enter the competition.

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