Enemy mine

Bob Kula and colleagues (Oscar Dix-Luna and Scott Shaw) recently published a revision of the braconid genus Ilatha. These are relatively large, often brightly colored braconid wasps found exclusively in the New World tropics. They are certainly attractive wasps, but the most fascinating thing about them (to me) is that they are hyper-parasitoids of tachinid flies. That is, they are parasitoids of tachinid flies, which are themselves parasitoids of caterpillars. Apparently, adult female wasps locate caterpillars that already contain a developing tachinid and lay an egg with their piercing ovipositors through the caterpillar into the tachinid larva. The juvenile braconid then bides its time while the tachinid proceeds to devour the caterpillar (from the inside). Eventually, the tachinid kills the host and emerges to pupate, at which time the braconid proceeds to devour the tachinid (from the inside). It’s like those Russian dolls. Totally cool (except that they are eating my beloved tachinid flies!)

Some of the specimens that Kula et al. used in their species descriptions were reared as part of our collaborative NSF Biological Surveys and Inventories project focused on Caterpillars and Parasitoids of the Eastern Andes(on which Scott Shaw is a Principal Investigator). For attempting to identify some of the tachinid hosts of Ilatha from puparia, the authors honored me by naming one species (right) Ilatha stiremani. I am truly honored to have such an interesting and beautiful (at least in my eyes) wasp bear my name – even if it is a mortal enemy of my tachinid brethren. Thanks Guys!

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