Magnifed image of the parasitoid wasp Trigonoderus filatus

The wings of chalcid wasps appear transparent, but when seen against a dark background they reveal intricate iridescent patterns - as seen here for Trigonoderus filatus

Dangerous beauties: the world's tiniest insects

Scroll through our magnified specimen images and discover the miniature, ethereal world of chalcid wasps.

While beautiful to look at through a microscope, these tiny wasps are also killers of the most resourceful kind.

When we think of wasps we tend to imagine a yellow and black striped insect with a painful sting, but wasps are actually one of the most diverse groups of animals on earth.

Minute wasps called chalcids (pronounced 'kal-sids') are usually less than three millimetres long, smaller than a grain of rice. They come in a variety of glossy and metallic colours.

Less beautiful, however, is how they provide for their offspring. These parasitoid wasps lay their eggs inside other insects. When the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae devour the host insect alive, until they're ready to turn into adult wasps and leave. The host is doomed to die.

Their gruesome nature actually makes many chalcid wasps useful to us. As natural enemies of pest insects, hundreds of chalcid species have been used as biological control agents to protect crops and fight the spread of invasive species.

Help scientists learn about these extraordinary insects

The Museum has imaged 100,000 slides of tiny insects from the collection, including 6,286 containing chalcid wasps.

For the crowdsourcing project Miniature Lives Magnified, we are seeking digital volunteers to help transcribe important specimen information on the accompanying labels, to help unlock vital data for future scientific research.

Litus cynipseus specimens mounted on a microscope slide

We need your help to record information from chalcid slide labels, such as where the specimen was collected, and from what host. We provide a simple tutorial on what to look for.
 

Miniature Lives Magnified

Find out more about the crowdsourcing project focused on tiny insects and how to join in.

Digital Collections Programme

Learn about the Museum's mission to unlock the treasure trove of information in our collections and provide open access to researchers worldwide.

Hear more from a Museum wasp expert

A recent #NHM_Live on Facebook featured wasp expert Gavin Broad. You can still watch the recording.