Living With Insect Names

Ampulex dementor

Ampulex dementor
Photo: B. Schurian, MfN.

All organisms are given a Latin binomial name consisting of the Genus name (given to all the most closely related species) and a species name which is often either descriptive or made in honor (or dishonor) of an individual. A group of scientists* from the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin decided to engage the public in the naming of an insect. As described in an article in PLoS One, an unnamed wasp was chosen for the project. The public was given the following description of the insect, its location and behavior:

Our newly discovered digger wasp comes from Thailand and belongs in the genus Ampulex, which comprises about 130 mainly tropical species. Many species have metallic colors, but our new discovery is a beautifully red-black wasp. As is known from other species of Ampulex, it probably moves in a typical running and jumping behavior. Species of Ampulex are cockroach-hunters, which make her prey will-less by stinging it right into one of its neural nodes. This allows the wasp to drag her prey in running mode into its nest, just like a zombie.

The public was then ask to vote on a species name. The four choices were: bicolor after the coloration; mon after its Thailand location; plagiator after its mimicry of ants and dementor after its zombie effect on cockroaches and a reference to fictional characters in the Harry Potter books.

The ballots are in and the wasp has been given the name, Ampulex dementor. Almost 300 citizens participated in the project. In the process, the public learned about the large number of new insect species discovered every year and the taxonomy behind naming species. Engaging the public in the scientific process is one way to increase citizen support for science.

*Ohl M, Lohrmann V, Breitkreuz L, Kirschey L, Krause S (2014) The Soul-Sucking Wasp by Popular Acclaim – Museum Visitor Participation in Biodiversity Discovery and Taxonomy. PLoS ONE 9(4): e95068.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095068

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in by jjneal, News, Taxonomy. Bookmark the permalink.

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