You know Alien, the movie. Now meet Alien, the wasp

Newly discovered species bears similarities to famous sci-fi monster. Andrew Masterson reports.

The Xenomorph from the 'Alien' franchise, originally designed by HR Geiger.
The Xenomorph from the 'Alien' franchise, originally designed by HR Geiger.
Brendan Hunter / Getty Images

It has been suggested that the fearsome double-jawed, acid-dripping creature that stars in the wildly successful Alien movie franchise was ultimately inspired an ichneumon wasp – a solitary type of beast that injects its eggs into a host insect, which then undergoes a terrible fate.

If that is so, then the extraterrestrial has just returned the favour, lending its name to a newly discovered Australian species of wasp that shares its gruesome reproductive strategies.

The new species as been dubbed Dolichogenidea xenomorph – the latter name a direct tribute to the film monster, which is often referred to as The Xenomorph. The term denotes a strange creature, out of place.

It is a name arguably well chosen. The wasp, which is less than five millimetres long, has a black and shiny head that bears a passing resemblance to that of the Alien creature. More pertinent, however, is its lifecycle.

D. xenomorph preys on the caterpillars of a moth that feeds on eucalyptus leaves. Using its very long ovipositor – a needle-like delivery organ – the wasp injects eggs into the caterpillar. Eventually, the eggs hatch and the resulting larvae then slowly eat their way out of their host.

Dolichogenidea xenomorph acts as a parasite in caterpillars in a similar way that the fictional Alien creature does in its human host,” says Erinn Fagan-Jeffries from the University of Adelaide, who led the research team that made the discovery.

The 'Alien' wasp, Dolichogenidea xenomorph.
The 'Alien' wasp, Dolichogenidea xenomorph.
Fagan-Jeffries, et al.

The wasp has been found on both the east and west coasts of Australia, suggesting it may enjoy a continent-wide distribution.

It is one of three new species of parasitoid wasp that Fagan-Jeffries and her colleagues formally introduce in a paper published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

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