May 05, 2014
These fictional creatures now share their name with a new species of cockroach wasp, insects that turn cockroaches into zombies. By popular vote, a previously unnamed cockroach wasp species from Thailand was christened Ampulex dementor at the Natural History Museum in Berlin in 2012.
Visitors at the museum had four names to choose from —Ampulex bicolor indicative of the wasp’s distinctive black and red color, Ampulex mon referring to the Mon people of Thailand (for its geographic origin), Ampulex plagiator for its attempts to mimic the appearance and movement of ants, and Ampulex dementor for its peculiar way of hunting cockroaches that make them lose their "free-will." At the end of the ballot, dementors emerged victorious.
"I would likely have voted for it myself," said Michael Sharkey, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky, whose team collected the museum specimens of these wasps from the Khao Kho National Park in Thailand. "What I find interesting about the name is that what is considered a fantasy among humans, the dementors of Harry Potter, is a reality in the world of insects."
Female Ampulex dementor. Photo by: Ohl et al.
The newly named species was recently described in a paper published in PLoS ONE by Michael Ohl and colleagues from the Natural History Museum in Berlin.
"Our public voting of a taxonomic name was received very positively. Visitors were highly interested and during the event spent a significant amount of time asking for details and listening to explanations," the authors wrote in the paper.
It is not difficult to see why the wasp was a hit. This brightly metallic colored group of insect is famous for its rather unorthodox ways of reproduction. The wasp stings a cockroach’s head, transferring neurotoxins. The cockroach then slowly turns into a submissive being, lacking all free-will, and follows the wasp to its burrow. Inside the burrow, the wasp lays an egg on it. In a few days the wasp larva hatches, feeds on the cockroach, pupates, and soon emerges as an adult.
Given this latter behavior, Sharkey thinks another name would have worked too.
"For example, the wasp could also have been named after the creature in the movie Alien because of the way it consumes the living body of its host (cockroach) from the inside, much as the Alien did to humans in the space ship," he said.
For Ohl and coauthors, the public voting was an exercise to help people connect emotionally with both biodiversity and the wonder of discovering new species. There have been similar attempts in the past. In 2010, The Guardian ran a contest asking people to suggest common names for unnamed species, and the Natural History Museum of London asked the public to help out with the naming of a sea-dwelling worm.
For a scientific name to resound with the public, nothing perhaps catches their fancy more than names from Sci-Fi movies, TV shows and the names of celebrities. Like, the bee Euglossa bazinga, and a jellyfish Bazinga rieki, inspired by Sheldon Cooper’s famous catchphrase "Bazinga" in the Big Bang Theory.
The beautiful Ampulex dementor, too, will be hard to forget, just like the Dementor’s kiss from Harry Potter.
- Ohl M, Lohrmann V, Breitkreuz L, Kirschey L, Krause S (2014) The Soul-Sucking Wasp by Popular Acclaim – Museum Visitor Participation in Biodiversity Discovery and Taxonomy. PLoS ONE 9(4): e95068. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095068
Will they hold on? Three new gecko species found in threatened habitat
(05/02/2014) Malaysia is set to lose ancient limestone formations to quarrying despite the discovery of new species of geckos in the area. The species are described in three studies recently published in the journal Zootaxa. One of the discoveries, Cyrtodactylus metropolis, is the first endemic vertebrate species discovered in the Batu Caves area.
Fish-terrorizing, prehistoric-looking turtle actually three species
(04/30/2014) So, you're a fish swimming in a river in Louisiana. Hungry, you see a little worm wiggling out from the river bed. You swoop in for the ambush only to have that little worm turn into the gaping maw of some prehistoric-looking monster out of fishy nightmares. You've been duped: it's too late to escape as the beast's jagged jaws close over you. Meet the alligator snapping turtle...or one of several species.
Game of thorns: colorful, spiky tree frog discovered in Vietnam
(04/25/2014) Evening fog settled quickly on Mount Ngoc Linh, as the steady drone of cicadas and crickets took up their usual nighttime chorus. The night calm was broken by sudden crashing through the thick bamboo stands and excited voices. High in this isolated cloud forest in central Vietnam, researchers had come upon the first thorny tree frog known to science.
New relative of the 'penis snake' discovered in Myanmar
(04/17/2014) Scientists have discovered a new species of limbless amphibians, known as caecilians, in Myanmar. Dubbing the species, the colorful ichthyophis (Ichthyophis multicolor), the researchers describe the new amphibian in a recent paper published in Zootaxa. The world's most famous caecilian is the so-called penis snake (Atretochoana eiselti) which was rediscovered in Brazil in 2011.
Weird and mysterious: scientists find new shark species
(04/16/2014) A long snout with teeth jutting from the sides? Check. Catfish-like barbels dangling from its chin? Got them. Gills on the side of its body? It has those, too. These are characteristics of a bizarre group of sharks known as sawsharks. And until recently, only seven species were recognized. However, a new discovery raises that number by one more.
Scientist discovers a plethora of new praying mantises (pictures)
(03/19/2014) Despite their pacific name, praying mantises are ferocious top predators with powerful, grasping forelimbs; spiked legs; and mechanistic jaws. In fact, imagine a tiger that can rotate its head 180 degrees or a great white that blends into the waves and you'll have a sense of why praying mantises have developed a reputation. Yet, many praying mantis species remain little known to scientists, according to a new paper in ZooKeys that identifies an astounding 19 new species from the tropical forests of Central and South America.
Several Amazonian tree frog species discovered, where only two existed before
(03/18/2014) We have always been intrigued by the Amazon rainforest with its abundant species richness and untraversed expanses. Despite our extended study of its wildlife, new species such as the olinguito (Bassaricyon neblina), a bear-like carnivore hiding out in the Ecuadorian rainforest, are being identified as recently as last year. In fact, the advent of efficient DNA sequencing and genomic analysis has revolutionized how we think about species diversity. Today, scientists can examine known diversity in a different way, revealing multiple 'cryptic' species that have evaded discovery by being mistakenly classified as a single species based on external appearance alone.
Photos: Weird aquatic lizard discovered in mountain streams of Peru
(03/13/2014) A 'new' species of lizard has been described from the cloud forests of Peru's Manu National Park, reports SERNANP, the Peruvian National Park Service.
Scientists uncover new species of Andean marsupial frog
(03/05/2014) The term marsupial frog sound like a hoax, but, believe it or not, it's real. Recently, herpetologists welcomed a new species, known as Gastrotheca dysprosita and described in the journal Phyllomedusa. Unlike mammal marsupials, which typically carry their young in pouches on their torsos and are found primarily in Australia, the Gastrotheca genus of frogs, which contains 62 species, is found in the Andes region on South America and sport their pouches on their backs (also called a "dorsal brood pouch").
|Get Mongabay articles emailed to your inbox|
|Enter your email address:|