New wasp species salutes one of SA's greats

Wednesday, 23 October 2002

The memory of a great South Australian lives on - in the name of a newly described wasp.

Dr John Jennings and Professor Andrew Austin from the University of Adelaide's Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity have published a paper "Systematics and distribution of world hyptiogastrine wasps" which appears in the October issue of Invertebrate Systematics (CSIRO Publishing).

In the first revision of this subfamily of wasps for 40 years, they have described 40 new species, among them Pseudofoenus mitchellae, which they named in honour of the late Dame Roma Mitchell.

Dame Roma was Australia's foremost female legal pioneer. She was appointed the first female Queen's Counsel (1962), the first female Supreme Court Judge (1965), the first Chancellor of a university (1983), and the first female State Governor (1991).

Several specimens of the new species were collected in 1982 by Dr Jo Cardale of the Australian National Insect Collection at Fowler's Gap Research Station in western New South Wales, but it took almost another 20 years for the species to be described and named.

"Perhaps less than a quarter of Australia's wasps have been described to date, and it is certainly not unusual when an expert looks in museum collections, to find quite a few undescribed species. In some cases these have been sitting in the collections for perhaps 75 to 100 years," Dr Jennings says.

Of the nearly 80 described species of hyptiogastrine wasps, most of them are found only in Australia, but a few species are found in Fiji, New Britain, New Caledonia, New Guinea, New Zealand and Vanuatu. Two species are also found in South America.

"These wasps are unusual in that they prey on the larvae of native bees and wasps and then feed on the pollen food stores provided for the developing bee or wasp larvae," Dr Jennings says. "While they are relatively large (5-25 mm long), they are not commonly collected, and for most species, we know little more about them than the name we have given them.

"When I name new species of wasps, I select names using a variety of criteria - some are based on a particular characteristic of the wasp such as colour, size or hairiness, while others are named after the collector or the locality where they were collected. In March of 2000, I happened to be describing this wasp when it was announced that Dame Roma had died, and I decided there and then to name this species in her honour."


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