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 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.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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