Exploring Chalcid Wasps: Quick Insights and Facts

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Chalcid wasps are tiny, yet fascinating creatures that play a significant role in ecosystems. These small, dark-colored parasitic wasps can often be observed with metallic blue or green hues and complex sculpturing on their bodies. Ranging in size from 1/50 to 1/16 inch, hundreds of species inhabit regions like the Pacific Northwest, where they mostly target the eggs and larval stages of moths, flies, grasshoppers, and beetles [1].

These beneficial insects contribute to natural pest control, making them a valuable asset in gardens and agricultural environments. Studies on the biology of parasitoid wasps reveal that the larvae feed on pests, while adult wasps consume nectar, pollen, and honeydew [2]. Depending on the species, Chalcid wasps can have various effects on trees, such as the chalcid wasp family Eurytomidae, which has only been found on Pinus eldarica (Afghan pine) and infests trees of all ages [3].

Chalcid Wasp: Basic Information

Size and Appearance

Chalcid wasps are tiny insects, usually measuring from 1/50 to 1/16 inch in size. They exhibit metallic blue or green coloration and display intricate sculpturing patterns on their body. These wasps have wings, which enable them to fly.

Order Hymenoptera and Superfamily Chalcidoidea

Chalcid wasps belong to the order Hymenoptera, and they are part of the superfamily Chalcidoidea. Hymenoptera includes other well-known insects like ants and bees. Within Chalcidoidea, there are many different species that share distinct features:

  • Antenna: Chalcidoid wasps have a characteristic antenna with an extended, thread-like part.
  • Wings: They possess two pairs of wings, one larger than the other.
  • Size: Chalcidoid wasps are generally small in size, often barely visible to the naked eye.

Worldwide Distribution

Chalcid wasps can be found all over the world, with hundreds of species present in various regions. For example, the Pacific Northwest is home to numerous species that primarily attack the eggs and larvae of other insects, like moths, flies, grasshoppers, and beetles source.

Classification and Families

Family Chalcididae

Chalcid wasps belong to the order Hymenoptera, within the subphylum Hexapoda, phylum Arthropoda, and kingdom Animalia. Specifically, they belong to the family Chalcididae in the no taxon “Parasitica”—a group of parasitoid wasps1. There are several families within Chalcididae, including Agaonidae and Mymaridae.

  • Features:
    • Small size, usually less than 1/2 inch long
    • Parasitic or parasitoid lifestyle

Agaonidae and Fig Wasps

Agaonidae, also known as fig wasps, is a family within Chalcididae. They have a unique relationship with figs, as they play a vital role in the pollination of these plants2.

  • Characteristics:
    • Size: Approximately 1.5 millimeters in length
    • Symbiotic relationship with fig plants
    • Key role in ecosystem as pollinators

Mymaridae and Fairyflies

The Mymaridae family is another group within Chalcididae, commonly known as fairyflies. These tiny wasps are among the smallest insects in the world3.

  • Features:
    • Size: As small as 0.2 millimeters in length
    • Often have delicate, fringed wings
  • Examples:
    • Dicopomorpha echmepterygis
    • Kikiki huna

Comparison Table

Family Size Role in Ecosystem Example
Agaonidae ~1.5mm Pollinators, symbiotic Tetrapus spp.
Mymaridae As small as 0.2mm Parasitoids Kikiki huna
Chalcididae Up to 1/2 inch long Parasitic, parasitoids Leucospis spp.

Chalcid Wasp Life Cycle and Behavior

Parasitic Behavior

Chalcid wasps are known as parasitoid wasps due to their unique behavior of laying eggs inside or on the body of their host insects. Some common hosts include:

  • Moths
  • Nematodes
  • Galls

Eggs, Larvae, and Pupae

Once the chalcid wasp lays an egg(s) on or within its host, the larvae start feeding on the host tissue. The larvae stage varies in length depending on the specific wasp species and the host type. After completing their development, the larvae become pupae, eventually emerging as adult wasps.

Adult Wasps

Adult chalcid wasps feed on nectar, pollen, and honeydew. They are typically small, ranging from the size of a pepper fleck to under 1/2″ long. Adult life spans differ among species but are generally short, lasting only a few weeks.

Features of adult chalcid wasps:

  • Small size
  • Nectar, pollen, and honeydew diet
  • Short life span

Sounds they make

Chalcid wasps are small, and their sounds are often inaudible to the human ear. They may produce tiny buzzing sounds when flying, but these are typically drowned out by other environmental noises.

Impact on Agriculture and Gardens

Garden Pests

Chalcid wasps play a significant role in controlling garden pests. They are parasitoids to a variety of insects, such as aphids, leafhoppers, whiteflies, scale insects, and some beetles, flies, butterflies, and spiders. Examples of targeted pests include:

  • Aphids
  • Whiteflies
  • Scale insects
  • Leafhoppers

Helpful Predators

They are considered beneficial insects in agriculture as they help control garden pests. Gardeners and farmers often rely on these tiny wasps to naturally keep pest populations in check. Some specific examples of Chalcid wasp species that act as helpful predators include:

  • Aphid Parasitoids: target aphids to protect plants
  • Scale Insect Parasitoids: focus on controlling scale insects

Specific Plant Interactions

Chalcid wasps have different interactions with various plant species. Some wasps are drawn to specific plants, which can then be used to attract and maintain their populations in gardens and agricultural spaces. A few examples of plants that attract Chalcid wasps are:

  • Alfalfa
  • Yarrow
Plant Wasp Interaction
Alfalfa Attracts wasps
Yarrow Attracts wasps
Hemiptera host Target for wasps

Chalcid wasps can benefit plants by controlling pests from the Hemiptera order, such as leafhoppers, which can damage stems and flowers. However, they may not be as effective against certain beetles, flies, butterflies, or spiders since they are selective in their targets.

Research and Literature on Chalcid Wasps

Major Studies and Discoveries

Taxonomic Changes and Synonyms

Resources for Further Reading

  • Ecosystem services provided by aculeate wasps: A comprehensive review of how aculeate wasps, including chalcid wasps, contribute to regulatory, provisioning, supporting, and cultural ecosystem services.
  • Wasp venom biochemical components: Learn more about the potential medicinal applications of various wasp venom components, including those found in chalcid wasps.

Comparison Table: Solitary vs. Social Wasps

Feature Solitary Wasps Social Wasps
Nesting Individual nests Group nests (colonies)
Venom use Predation Defense

Pros and Cons of Using Chalcid Wasps for Biocontrol

Pros:

  • Natural pest control
  • Low environmental impact
  • Sustainable alternative to chemical pesticides

Cons:

  • Risk of non-target effects
  • Unpredictable results
  • Might require additional pest control methods

Footnotes

  1. PDF 64, 708-720 chalcid wasps – JSTOR
  2. Wasps, Surprisingly Cool Pollinators – Maryland Agronomy News – UMD
  3. Parasitoid Wasps | University of Maryland Extension

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Chalcid Wasp

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Roberta Tolomelli
    August 11, 2016 3:56 pm

    Hello… could you tell me about some Hymenoptera parasitoid of ticks???
    I found some in my Rhipicephalus sanguineus collection and I have no idea what specie is or which family they belong.
    (Sorry for my english.. I’m brazilian)

    Reply
    • Your question is very intriguing. We need some clarification though, beginning with why do you have a collection of Rhipicephalus sanguineus, commonly called Dog Ticks? No parasitoid, a parasite that kills its host, is mentioned on the very comprehensive US National Library of Medicine page. Parasitipedia though, provides this fascinating information: “Parasitoids of ticks
      Ixodiphagus hookeri. Picture from http://openi.nlm.nih.gov
      All parasitoid species of ticks are small hymenopteran wasps of the genus Ixodiphagus, particularly Ixodiphagus hookeri.
      Some studies on the potential of these wasps for controlling ticks have been run in the US against Ixodes scapularis and other ticks that are vectors of human borreliosis. Ixodiphagus wasps are very efficient parasites of ticks that achieve 25 to 50% natural parasitization rates. Preferred hosts were found to be engorged larvae. Each wasp deposits 6 or more eggs inside an engorged tick. It was also calculated that 300’000 wasps have to be released per km2 to achieve a parasitization rate of 95%. This would massively reduce the tick populations after one year. Production cost of the wasps was estimated to be 1 USD/1000 wasps, i.e. 300 USD per km2 treated. Unfortunately field trials in the USA failed to really control the tick populations.
      Field studies in Kenya showed a parasitization rate of about 50% against Amblyomma variegatum, but no parasitization at all against Rhipicephalus appendiculatus.
      There are also studies in Brazil on Amblyomma cajennense and Rhipicephalus sanguineus.
      To our knowledge Ixodiphagus wasps are not yet commercially available in most countries where ticks are a problem for livestock.”
      Now that you have a name, you may be able to search additional sites in Portuguese, and we did find a page devoted to the parasitoid wasp Ixodiphagus hookeri on the US National Library of Medicine site.

      Reply
  • Roberta Tolomelli
    August 11, 2016 3:56 pm

    Hello… could you tell me about some Hymenoptera parasitoid of ticks???
    I found some in my Rhipicephalus sanguineus collection and I have no idea what specie is or which family they belong.
    (Sorry for my english.. I’m brazilian)

    Reply
  • Roberta Tolomelli
    August 14, 2016 9:22 pm

    Thank you for the information… It helped to clarify some of my doubts.
    So… I collected Rhipicephalus sanguineus ticks for my research. When I put the engorged nymphs to moult the “micro” wasps appeared some days later. They killed my ticks, however, this is still an interesting datum for my research. 🙂

    Reply
  • Just today I encountered this species. However it was disguised as a blow fly. Upon killing it and spraying it down, I found the species in the above photographs. Terrible prank if not an act of terrorism if you ask me.

    Reply
  • Very nice observation of egg-parasitoids.

    Reply

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