Metallic Wasps

Few things make me happier than beautiful new species featured in open-access publications. Today we greet a new species of cuckoo wasp from central and southern Europe (Rosa et al. 2015), and because the paper’s content is under a Creative Commons license, I can show them to you now.

Two forms of the same new species (Cleptes striatipleuris). Photos from Rosa et al. (2015), licensed under CC BY 3.0.

These gorgeous little beasts belong to the genus Cleptes. Most cuckoo wasps (family Chrysididae) are parasites that lay their eggs in the nests of social insects, especially bees and other wasps. When the cuckoo larva hatches, it eats the larvae of its host – a bit more macabre than its namesake bird. Because the mother wasp must shove her way past stinging guards, cuckoo wasps have evolved tough, pitted exoskeletons, refined by natural selection to sustain multiple stings without injury.

Cleptes species are the exception to the rule – instead of laying their eggs in the nests of other insects, they lay them on the bodies of sawfly larvae, which resemble caterpillars (Wei et al. 2013). When their eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the sawfly’s flesh to eat it from the inside out – just your every-day, run-of-the-mill parasitoids.


The European larch sawfly. Photo by Inzilbeth, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

This makes them a bit less impressive than the other cuckoo wasps, but it also makes them more useful to humans. Of the wasps’ preferred sawfly prey, many are pests that affect agriculture and forestry. The European larch sawfly (Pristiphora erichsonii) is an important pest of larch pine trees, and preyed upon by a particular Cleptes wasp (Li et al. 2013). Similarly the European pine sawfly (Neodiprion sertifer; Wang et al. 2000) and the Japanese larch sawfly (Pachynematus itoi; Sheng et al. 1998) each have their own Cleptes parasitoids.

The most important thing about Cleptes cuckoo wasps, however, is not their utility, but their beauty. Like many cuckoo wasps that are shiny, often to the point of appearing metallic, and strikingly adorned in shades of blue and green. Cleptes wasps are far more beautiful than anything I can write, so I ask you to finish this week of species discovery by simply looking at a few of the prettiest species, and remembering how lucky we are to share the world with them.

Have a lovely and, if desired, wasp-filled weekend.

A mash-up of China’s prettiest Cleptes species. Photos from Wei et al. (2013), licensed under CC BY 4.0.


Li T., M.L. Sheng, S.P. Sun, and Y.Q. Luo. 2013. Parasitoids of larch sawfly, Prisiphora erichsonii (Hartig) (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) in Changbai Mountains. Journal of Natural History 48(3-4): 123-131.

Rosa P., M. Forshage, J. Paukkunen, and V. Soon. 2015. Cleptes pallipes Lepeletier synonym of Cleptes semiauratus (Linnaeus) and description of Cleptes striatipleuris sp. nov. (Hymenoptera: Chrysididae, Cleptinae). Zootaxa 4039 (4): 543–552

Sheng M.L., L.X. Gao, and Q. Wang. 1998. Studies on the parasitoids of Pachynematus itoi: I. Cleptes semiauratus and Endasys liaoningensis. Forest Pest and Disease 2: 7-8.

Wang H.Z., X.G. Li, and J.X. Tong. 2000. The parasite and predator enemy of European pine sawfly Neodiprion sertifer (Geoffroy). Shaanxi Forest Science and Technology 3: 30-34.

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