New Zealand’s wasps are a lot like Harry Potter character Lucius Malfoy – they aren’t saints, but they also don’t deserve their bad guy reputations.
That’s according to University of Auckland student Tom Saunders, who hopes to boost the local parasitoid wasps’ image.
He says it’s important they become better appreciated because only about one-third of the country’s estimated 3000 native species are known to science.
They also happen to be a lot nicer than their cousins, the German and Asian paper wasps, because they do not sting or live in colonies.
In the future, they might even be deployed by authorities to feed on and control introduced pests, such as the brown marmorated stink bug, which is causing economic destruction in Europe and North America.
Mr Saunders said it was for this reason he named a recently discovered native wasp species Lusius malfoyi, after a key Harry Potter villain.
“(Lucius) Malfoy is a character in the books with a bad reputation who is ultimately redeemed, and I’m trying to redeem the reputation of our native wasps,” he says.
However, even a wasp enthusiast like Mr Saunders acknowledges there are a few character flaws in NZ’s native species, such as their gruesome way of raising young.
The wasps seek out unfortunate caterpillars to inject their eggs into with the caterpillars then slowly dying once the larvae hatch and begin feeding on the inside of their bodies.
Mr Saunders hopes to get the public involved in identifying new native wasps, saying many unknown species could be flying all around them.
“Much of my work in capturing them for my research was at the edge of the Waitakere Ranges so they can be found even in people’s backyards but most people don’t know anything about them,” he said.
“The big problem is lack of data, we do not know what species we have, how many there might be or what their host species are, so they can’t be included in conservation planning.”