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.