Subject: Have simply no idea, never seen anything like this.
Location: Hinckley Scout Ranch in the High Uintahs
July 19, 2013 7:37 pm
My 13 year old just got home from Scout Camp held at Hinckley Scout Ranch in the high Uintahs near the border of WY and UT but in Utah. He only took a few photos and one video the entire week, but they were nearly all of this one strange, alien-looking insect, the likes of which I’ve never seen. It looks like something Hollywood would come up with for a sci-fi movie. I’m happy to share the video if you want, but for now I’ll just send photos. As long as we’re talking sci-fi movies, I guess I should end with ”Help me Bugman, You’re my only hope!”
Additional details: From tentacles on the head to tentacle-things out the tail, it was probably no more than 5 inches. There were some thin tentacle things coming out from the tail that could extend more than twice the length as the body, that would flutter when in the air…stingers? Is this some kind of crazy wasp? These tentacles could point straight up, or curl all the way to the ground. It didn’t fly while the scouts were watching it, but seemed to have two small wings.
We are happy to come to your rescue, and we are thrilled to post your photos. We are going to begin in a very general manner and hopefully end with what we believe might be a species identification. This is a Giant Ichneumon in the subfamily Rhyssinae, and we have many photographs members in this subfamily in our archives, but almost all are from the genus Megarhyssa. We do not believe your individual belongs to that genus. Your suspicions that this is “some kind of crazy wasp” are correct. Ichneumons are parasitic Hymenopterans, the order that includes bees and wasps, but they are not classified as wasps. The five inch long “tentacle” is actually the ovipositor of the female and she uses it to penetrate the wood to lay an egg on the wood boring larvae of Wood Wasps. According to BugGuide, Rhyssinids are: “idiobiont ectoparasitoids of the immature wood-boring endopterygote insects, in our area usually larval woodwasps (Siricidae and Xiphydriidae), but may also develop as facultative hyperparasitoids using other woodwasp parasitoids as hosts or on virtually any endopterygote (some have even been cultured in the laboratory on entirely unnatural surrogate hosts).” Alas, we don’t think many of those words are in our unabridged dictionary. Your individual most closely resembles Rhyssela nitida which is pictured on BugGuide, however, BugGuide only reports them along the eastern seaboard. That does not mean they do not range further west, only that BugGuide has not gotten any images from farther west. Your individual seems to have black wings while the Rhyssela nitida images on BugGuide look like the wings are transparent, so we believe it is a different species. We will try to get a confirmation on the species, however, we are positively thrilled to have this unrepresented Giant Ichneumon for our archives.
Wow. I used to think I could read at a high level…just knocked that notion off the the ole’ pedestal!
We are so happy to get your reply. In case it might help, I have uploaded the video my son took (sorry some parts are shaky…no tripod and a bunch of scouts jostling for position, but there are some good moments) to YouTube so you can take a look. While I was converting it for YouTube, I paused the video on some of the less-blurry frames and took screen shots. They’re poor quality, but in case some of the images may be of help to you and your colleagues, I’m attaching them to this message. I do apologize for the blurriness…remember they’re just still frame shots from a pretty low-quality camera.
We’re happy to have been able to give you something new to add to the body of knowledge, and look forward to any additional information you come up with. He mentioned to me that this was in their troop’s actual campsite…a tidbit I didn’t know when I first wrote to you.
Blue (and Brandon, the kid we owe this to.)
Hi again Blue and Brandon,
As you indicate, the screenshots of the video are blurry, however, they do show the position of the ovipositor as it enters the log, which is quite different from the posture of the members of the genus Megarhyssa when they oviposit.
Well, it’s been several months. We were talking about this the other night and wondering if anything else was ever discovered/decided about the Giant Ichneumon. Were you to have any information we’d love to know more.
We didn’t learn anything new, but often we get comments on posts that are several years old. We would recommend that you either check the posting with some degree of regularity, or post a comment so you will be notified of any new activity on the posting.
Update November 27, 2013: Eric Eaton provides a possible identification
I just posted the link to the “Hymenopterist’s Forum” on Facebook. I’ll let you know if anyone has anything to add.
Only reply so far is from Devon Henderson, a … very knowledgeable authority in Canada. She thinks it is an ichneumon in the genus Dolichomitus, subfamily Pimplinae. Judging from posts on Bugguide, that would seem to be a good bet. Might not be possible to ID it from images alone, though.