Tiny bug with a giant ovipositor

I am in Delhi for Diwali, and walking around just trying to observe this city I used to call home many years ago. If you have not been here lately; this is what outside my house looked like on an average day.

And in this hustle and bustle (and honking); we forget to notice the little things. Little things so surprising that your mind goes; what did I just see!! I was walking looking for tiny ants; and I caught one tiny ant. But next to it; I saw what looked like an ant; but – out of its butt a very long hair like protrusion came out. I happen to have known about ovipositors in some wasp families; but this ant like insect was smaller that a dot on your screen. I did not believe my eyes; and carefully caught it (holding on to the ovipositor). Here is what I saw under a 5X magnification lens; wasp vs ant.

If you look carefully, the ovipositor is almost 5 to 10 times longer than the insect itself. How does such a tiny insect fly with a giant ovipositor. I intend to find out; but before that – let’s put this little wasp under a foldscope. This is 140x magnification; collected on the latest version of Foldscope.

Foldscope users often ask how I image live insects under a foldscope without crushing them. I use spacer slides provided in the kit. Here I stacked two of the spacer paper slides; put on top of a glass slide (also provided in the new kit); and close with a cover slip. Just put simple tape to seal the chamber and you can observe anything for long periods of time without crushing the organism. This is specially very useful for bigger organisms.

This is a remarkable insect. Firstly, it’s around 500 microns or so; indeed very small but a giant ovipositor (an organ used to deposit eggs by females). You can see the strange shape of the mouth as well.

Reading more based on my hunch that this is a small wasp; I was lead to the conclusion that this is a “bogus fig wasp” belonging to the family Torymidae and Eurytomidae – see link Fig co-evolution

Sometimes observations lead you to road less traveled. And I wanted to make this post to remind everyone stuck in busy and hustling/bustling urban environments, that right under our nose; an incredible life at small scale is getting along without anyone ever noticing or admiring the beauty of this small scale. Let’s stop (honking) and instead pay attention.

Happy Diwali.

Cheers

Manu

Ps: if you can help identify this incredible insect, please add a comment below.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Manu Prakash says:

    Here is a longer video of wasp for identification:

    Cheers
    Manu

    1. Another comment on the FB post: “The ant is probably Trichomyrmex destructor. Common in India.”

  2. Hi Manu! I posted your videos on the Hymenopterists Forum page on FB, and this is what David Yanega, entomologist from University of California, Riverside, said: “Philotrypesis, and there are several other genera this could be besides that one, given how little detail is visible.” So, indeed a fig wasp 👍.

  3. Manu Prakash says:

    Thanks Javier. This is wonderful. I will make a mosaic image of the wasp and add it to the post. The whole wasp was so small you almost can’t see it with bare eyes.

    Cheers
    Manu

  4. laksiyer says:

    Dear @Manu. Yes Fig wasp, could be Apocrypta.. I heard from Aravind that certain members of this genus have Zinc reinforced ovipositors. Now look at this artcile and the video therein, especially the end— pretty dramatic.

    https://entomologytoday.org/2014/05/29/zinc-hardened-drill-bits-allow-parasitic-fig-wasps-to-bore-holes-to-lay-eggs/

  5. Manu Prakash says:

    Dear @Laks,

    What a wonderful video. I had seen fig wasps; but not so small. I was also intrigued by the fact that it was not metallic. I am used to seeing tiny wasps to be metallic colors; but not this one.

    Also; I love the video you just posted. What an incredible video. The funny fact is that video (and the Zinc drill paper) is by my room mate from IIT Kanpur (Lakshmi or I used to call him Kundu). He went to grad school at IISC and is now a postdoc somewhere in Italy. In some sense, what a small world. In the other sense, everything in science is connected to everything else at some level.

    I can’t wait to get the latest Foldscope kits to you – I know you will really appreciate some of the new features. Can’t wait for you to try them. If it takes too long – I might ship you my unit.

    cheers
    manu

  6. laksiyer says:

    Dear @Manu
    What a small world (in all senses)! I cant wait to try the new kits and I am sure you and the team are working day and night to get the kits out. I already have a few fairly well greased old ones and they are great too. Hoping to finish an unfinished post of observations from my India trip in August.

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