male wasp

Click to enbiggen. WOW.

News of an amazing new species found in Indonesia!

“The jaw-dropping, shiny black wasp appears to be the “Komodo dragon” of the wasp family.

It’s huge. The male measures about two-and-a-half-inches long, Kimsey said. “Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed. When the jaws are open they are actually longer than the male’s front legs. I don’t know how it can walk. The females are smaller but still larger than other members of their subfamily, Larrinae.”

I’m not so sure about the Komodo Dragon part, but I’d go for “Waspadon”, or maybe “Hymenoptosaurus”.

These wasps are in a group commonly known as digger wasps or sand wasps, and typically are predators.  The biology of this species is still not known well.  Taxonomic entomologists tend to pin first, ask questions later.

To be fair, untangling the life history of an insect is an incredibly complex task.  Lots of an insect’s life happens in places very inaccessible to humans. Treetops of a rainforest. Underground. Inside the body of another insect.  It can take decades to begin to understand where and how insects make a living.

I can’t wait to find out what this thing eats, and what those freaky jaws on the male are for!  Usually when you have sexual dimorphism in a species (males and females have very different appearances), that means it’s somehow involved in mating displays, or conflict over mating. Perhaps these jaws are the equivalent of deer antlers, or beetle horns.

Unfortunately, finding out more about this species will not be easy:

“Sulawesi, a large Indonesian island located between Borneo and New Guinea, is known not only for its endemic biodiversity, but its rainforest and its proximity to the equator.  Development threatens plant and animal life. The terrain was steep, slippery and overall, physically challenging, Lynn Kimsey said. “This part of Sulawesi gets about 400 inches of rain a year,” she said. “We were told that Sulawesi has a dry and rainy season. But the only difference we could see between the dry and rainy season is that during the dry season, it rains only in the afternoon.

Kimsey is a collaborator of a five-year $4 million grant awarded to UC Davis scientists in 2008 to study the biodiversity of fungi, bacteria, plants, insects and vertebrates on Sulawesi, all considered threatened by logging operations and mining developments. Much of the mountain was logged two decades ago and now there are plans for an open pit nickel mine, Kimsey said.”

Pit mining has a dismal record for being environmentally friendly–one major pit mine in Indonesia dumps its tailings directly into the ocean.  It’s entirely possible that we will never know more about this species than the few specimens collected.

The grant funding this research is looking, in part, for species of medicinal and commercial value in the Sulawesi rainforest before it’s plowed up. I think we should care about this wasp not because it has utilitarian value to us, but because it is another example of the amazing evolutionary history and diversity of life on earth.  I don’t know how to save that area, and make it possible for the people living there to thrive as well as wasps. But I can hope.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Charles Darwin


BTW, Thanks to Twitter and FB folk for the suggestions of alternate wasp names!  Wade, Clyde, and Ben.

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. Wow! I would say “jaw dropping”, but the wasp would probably laugh at my meagre efforts.

  2. “Hymenoptosaurus” — wonderful! I wish I’d thought of that!

  3. “Taxonomic entomologists tend to pin first, ask questions later.”

    We ask questions, they just aren’t typically questions of ecology. Our goal is to discover A) the nature of species (e.g. what are they, how many are there, just /what/ now is this species thing anyway) and B) how they are related (including proper placement in the hierarchy/phylogeny). Ecology questions are the stuff of ecologists. ;) Or, they would be if ecologists weren’t spending so much time indoors, staring at computer screens.

  4. Maybe the mandibles are sexual, designed for something like amplexus where the male is able to hold onto the female during copulation and stay on after for a long time to block other males while the two of them in locked embrace buzz through the air.

  5. Kai–You left off “Oh SNAP!”


  6. I’ve been to Sulawesi, and it’s every bit as rough and bizarre as they say. I saw a black and green butterfly the size of a catcher’s mitt. Put your two hands together, fingers splayed, and it was bigger than that. Apparently, officially, it doesn’t exist.

    Anyway, it’s not a Cthulhu wasp if it doesn’t have tentacles. Or worshippers. You can substitute worshippers for tentacles, I guess.

  7. ZL 'Kai' Burington August 24, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Though, Bug, I do agree with you that collectors of things which are obviously undescribed species should take great pains to observe behavior and /keep notes/. I have gotten in the habit of, whenever I go collecting, to keep a field journal and make sure the journal entry is linked by a 6 digit number to the specimen label. Seems like the only people who keep a proper catalog/journal/species accounts are ornithologists, these days.

    raincoaster- If you can imagine it, Earth has spun it out at some point or another.

  8. It’s always so exciting to hear of new species being discovered. It is however, disheartening to know that so many people don’t appreciate the ecological value of insects, don’t see the importance of protecting their native environments, and instead see them as nuisances that need to be eradicated. It is important to understand the role insects play as pollinators, food sources for other species, and for keeping both flora and fauna in an ecologic balance. As we have learnt from past experience some species depend exclusively on a particular insect for their survival.

    Unfortunately for those who want to learn more about the “amazing evolutionary history and diversity of life on earth” often the best way of accessing research funding is by exploring the medicinal and commercial value – someone has to pay for the research, and they generally want to make a profit. Also, often the best way to stop native areas from being stripped of minerals and timber is to convince the people that the alternative is a more economic proposal – it all comes down to money in the end.

    Congratulations on your blog promoting bugs in a positive manner. The more people understand the less they fear, and the greater the intrinsic value they will place on all these wonderful creatures.

  9. Check out the metallic wasp of Edouard Martinet at it looks just like your giant wasp photo.

  10. Just found your blog via Bad Astronomer, and love it! Re the seasons in Sulawesi, Malay/Indonesian calls the two seasons “musim hujan” and “musim panas” which translate as “rainy season” and “hot season.” I have long observed that both are both! Tis simply a matter of proportion!

    (Lousy pics but here, btw, are a couple of fairly monstrous beasts I caught getting their freak on a few months back:

  11. God, that last part makes me sad. I’d rather have interesting and unique insect species than cures for diseases, anyway….without diseases we would just end up in a Soylent Green style future.

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