The Brown Wasps Essay

While honey bees can sting only once and die after attacking, a single wasp is capable of stinging multiple times. The bugs have sunk their needle-sharp stylets into the peaches, creating wounds that ooze a clear, sugary goo; form corky brown blemishes; and leave the trees more vulnerable to infection.

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Then in 2014, Hoelmer got an unexpected phone call.

Elijah Talamas, a taxonomist at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Gainesville, had been helping another ARS team identify native wasps parasitizing stinkbug eggs in Maryland.

Talamas, an expert on species, had recognized that some were samurai wasps. He had spent years studying the wasp in the lab to make sure that, if released, it would do its job without harming native species. Genetic tests confirmed that the wasps in Maryland hadn’t escaped from any of his quarantined strains. Over the decades, a variety of uninvited biocontrol candidates have popped up on new continents, including a fungus that kills forest-stripping gypsy moths and a beetle that devours allergy-inducing ragweed. “We’ve had this mindset that natural enemies would be less likely to establish” than invasive pests, he says.

“The examples definitely are piling up,” says Donald Weber, an ARS entomologist in College Park, Maryland, whose team found the first U. But sometimes, “It might be fairly easy.” Those unexpected arrivals can unsettle scientists and regulators.

By far the most pervasive parasite they found was the samurai wasp (), which, despite its fearsome name, is stingerless and smaller than a sesame seed.

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The ARS team imported several strains of the wasp to a quarantined facility in Newark and began painstaking tests to decide whether it was a good biocontrol candidate.

Rules aimed at carefully controlling insect releases can seem nonsensical when the species in question is already happily spreading on its own. But unplanned introductions also free researchers from some of the usual constraints, allowing them to explore key questions about a biocontrol agent’s impact in field experiments rather than just the lab.

And the arrival of the samurai wasp—a promising biocontrol agent against a high-profile pest, with a formal proposal for release already in the works—has prompted a fresh look at some U. The team at the peach orchard, for example, is one of about a dozen U. groups now releasing the samurai wasp into fields and orchards to see whether it will be an ally in fighting the exotic stinkbugs—or yet another problematic invader.

Then in 2009, the wasp appeared on its own, in Quebec in Canada. Moreover, such invaders don’t always prove fortuitous.

A team led by ARS entomologist Keith Hopper investigated the parasitoid wasp ), but lab tests revealed it had a broad range of aphid hosts, including some native ones. Now that it’s established, Heimpel’s group is studying whether native aphid populations are in danger.


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