Tiny Costa Rican wasp wins fame as example of new species

The tiny wasp found at the LaSelva Biological Station in northern Heredia province is among the smallest of flying insects, but it is getting some fame because the International Institute for Species Exploration named it one of the top 10 new species in 2014.

Actually the tiny wasp, called Tinkerbella nana, entered the scientific literature last year. The delicate wasp is so small that its discoverer, John S. Noyes, gently swept it up from the floor of a secondary forest and did not actually see the wasp until he began sorting in an ethanol bath what he had collected.

The genus name Tinkerbella refers to the fairy in the Peter Pan stories. Nana, the species name, is the dog in the same set of stories and movies.

The wasp is a parasite and appears to lay its eggs in the eggs of other insects.

The tiny size and delicately fringed wings of the parasitoid wasp family Mymaridae led to their common name: fairyflies, said the   International Institute for Species Exploration in explaining its selections.

The LaSelva Biological Station, operated by the Organization for Tropical Research, is a factory for species discovery. The site contains 1,600 hectares (3,900 acres) of tropical wet forests and disturbed lands, the organization says. The Braulio Carrillo National Park is along one border.

Tinkerbella nana measures just 250 micrometers.  That’s 0.0098 of an inch or about two and a half times the width of a human hair. The smallest known flying insect is about two thirds the size of Tinkerbella, but scientist still are looking.

Noyes is with the Natural History Museum, London. His colleague with whom he shared the discovery is John T. Huber of the Canadian National Collection of Insects, which boasts an assortment of 1.5 million wasps.

“I think most people would be surprised to learn that, on average, we describe about 17,000 and 18,000 new species each year,” said Quentin Wheeler of the International Institute for Species Exploration.

The full description is in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research HERE!

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