This Parasitic, Stink Bug-Killing Wasp Has Been Named After Idris Elba

Researchers have discovered a new species of parasitic wasp in Mexico, which they have named after the famous British actor Idris Elba.

According to a study published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, the wasp belongs to the genus (or group of species) "Idris," which was first described in 1856 and contains more than 300 documented insects.

This group of species is known to lay its eggs inside those of spiders. However, the researchers who identified the new wasp in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico—giving it the punning species name "elba"— observed adult specimens emerging from the eggs of an invasive stink bug called Bagrada hilaris, commonly known as the bagrada bug.

The scientists subsequently analyzed DNA from the adult wasp and compared it with genetic material left behind in the stink bug egg to confirm that this was a parasitic species.

The discovery could have important implications when it comes to controlling populations of the invasive stink bug, which is native to Africa but now has a significant presence in India, southern Europe, southern Asia, the Middle East and North America.

The bug is a major pest to more than 74 plant species—including cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli—and can cause widespread agriculture damage when it congregates in large numbers.

The bug was first spotted in the Western Hemisphere in 2008 when it turned up in Los Angeles. Since then the pest appeared in Coahuila State, Mexico, in 2014, and Guanajuato three years later.

Idris Elba wasp
Female wasp of the newly described species Idris elba. Elijah J. Talamas

Guanajuato—located in the center of Mexico—is responsible for more than 70 percent of the country's broccoli production. Much of this produce is imported into the U.S. and Canada, alongside large quantities of cauliflower.

"Bagrada bug is a very serious pest and its distribution is growing," lead author of the study, Elijah Talamas, from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services told Newsweek. "In 2013 it caused an estimated $679 million in damage to crops in California. In Florida, we are on the constant lookout and the studies on parasitoids of its eggs in other environments will help us use natural in enemies in the event that it becomes established here."

To date, few measures have been successful in stopping the spread of the invasive stink bug. However, the researchers say that the discovery of Idris elba boosts hopes for the development of an effective natural control.

"Pesticides often do not work against stink bugs and can have many negative consequences," Talamas said. "Bagrada bug populations in California have decreased in recent years, and parasitoid wasps are a likely cause. Other studies have documented that at least four other species in the same family as Idris elba are actively parasitizing Bagrada bug eggs in North America. The discovery of this species gives us information that we can use to fight invasive species using our native 'good guy' wasps."

According to the study, the wasp is native to Mexico and is not an introduced species itself. In this context, the team say the wasp's behavior is unusual because it is rare for a native parasitic species to form this kind of relationship with an invasive species.

They speculate that the wasps could be laying their eggs inside those of the stink bug, mistaking them for spider eggs.

This article was updated to include comments from Elijah Talamas.