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Oregon researcher IDs 4 new wasp species that lived 25 million years ago

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(Photo: George Poinar Jr/Oregon State University)

CORVALLIS, Ore. (KVAL) – A researcher has identified four new species of "parasitic, cockroach-killing ensign wasps" that lived 25 million years ago and were preserved in amber, Oregon State University announced this week.

“Some species of ensign wasps have even been used to control cockroaches in buildings,” OSU researcher George Poinar Jr. said. “The wasps sometimes are called the harbingers of cockroaches -- if you see ensign wasps you know there are at least a few cockroaches around. Our study shows these wasps were around some 20 or 30 million years ago, with probably the same behavioral patterns regarding cockroaches.”

Poinar Jr. is an international expert on using life forms trapped in amber to learn about the ecology of Earth millions of years ago. He's also professor emeritus at the OSU College of Science.

“As the wasps move about, their ‘ensign’ is constantly moving up and down as if they are flag waving,” he said.

Poinar Jr.'s findings were published in the journal Historical Biology.

According to OSU,

"About 400 species of ensign wasps exist today, distributed across 20 genera. The wasps live everywhere except polar regions. They typically measure 5 to 7 millimeters in length and don’t sting or bite but are lethal for unhatched cockroaches.
A female ensign wasp will look for cockroach egg cases, known as ootheca, and lay an egg on or in one of the cockroach eggs inside the case. When the wasp egg hatches, the larva eats the cockroach egg where it was laid.
Analyzing Tertiary period specimens from Dominican amber, Poinar was able to describe three new species of ensign wasps: Evaniella setifera, Evaniella dominicana and Semaeomyia hispaniola. He described a fourth, Hyptia mexicana, from Mexican amber. The Tertiary period began 65 million years ago and lasted for more than 63 million years."