Meet the just discovered 'Komodo dragon' of wasps

Jeremy Hance
August 28, 2011

A new wasp found in the Mekongga Mountains in southeastern has jaws bigger than its legs. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.
A new wasp found in the Mekongga Mountains in southeastern has jaws bigger than its legs. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.

A new species of warrior wasp has been discovered on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi that is so large and, frankly, terrifying-looking that it has been dubbed the 'Komodo dragon' of the wasp family. Bizarrely, the male of the species has jaws that outstretch its limbs.

"I don't know how it can walk," said the wasp's discoverer, entomologist Lynn Kimsey of the University of California, Davis and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, in a press release. "Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed."

A male of the new species spans two-and-a-half inches, and Kimsey says it jumped out at her right away during a three week expedition funded by the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program.

Kimsey with her discovery, one of hundreds. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.
Kimsey with her discovery, one of hundreds. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey.
"The first time I saw the wasp I knew it was something really unusual. I’m very familiar with members of the wasp family Crabronidae that it belongs to but had never seen anything like this species of Dalara [the genus]. We don’t know anything about the biology of these wasps. They are only known from southwestern Sulawesi."

Kimsey is no stranger to new species; she has already discovered nearly 300 new insect species. However, she puts Sulawesi in the top three biodiverse islands on Earth, along with Madagascar and Australia. All three islands are known for endemic species, those that survive no-where else. She says she has discovered "hundreds maybe thousands" of new insects in Sulawesi alone.

"It will take years, maybe generations, to go through them all."

And the Komodo dragon wasp was not the only one that stood out on the recent expedition.

"We saw a colonial spider web that stretched across two acres. The adult spiders were about two inches long."

Despite its Komodo nickname, Kimsey plans to name the new monster wasp after a local mythical warrior: Garuda, half-human, half-eagle, and a national symbol of Indonesia.

Sulawesi, a remote island in Indonesia, is known for its weird and wonderful wildlife, including mini-wild cattle, the anoa; and boars with tusks busting through their snouts, the babirusa; and a ground bird that depends on geothermal heat to incubate its eggs, the maleo.

Unfortunately, like much of Indonesia, Sulawesi is rapidly losing the forest that shelters these species. Approximately 80 percent of Sulawesi's forests are already gone or degraded to some degree. Over 50 percent are considered in poor condition, while 30 percent—mostly in the highlands (above 1500 meters)—are classified as in good condition. The new wasp was discovered in just such highlands.

Close-up of male's head. Photo by: Andrew Richards, Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Close-up of male's head. Photo by: Andrew Richards, Bohart Museum of Entomology.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (August 28, 2011).

Meet the just discovered 'Komodo dragon' of wasps.