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The jaws of a giant wasp.

A closeup of a male Megalara garuda's enormous jaws.

Image courtesy Lynn Kimsey and Michael Ohl

A giant wasp.

The newfound wasps are about two inches long. Image courtesy Lynn Kimsey and Michael Ohl.

Dave Mosher

for National Geographic News

Published March 27, 2012

A new species of giant, venomous wasp has been found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (map), scientists say.

The two-inch-long (five-centimeter-long) black insects are shrouded in mystery—all of the wasp specimens caught so far have been dead.

"I'm not certain any researcher has ever seen one alive, but they are very bizarre-looking," said study co-author Lynn Kimsey, an entomologist at the University of California, Davis, who co-discovered the insect.

"It's the extreme version of the [larrine wasp] subfamily they belong to."

Larrine wasps typically dig nests for their eggs and larvae in open, sandy areas. The adults grow no longer than an inch (2.5 centimeters)—making the newly discovered Megalara garuda the "king of wasps," according to the study authors.

Wasp Males' Spiky Jaws

Female M. garuda wasps look like most other wasp species, but the males grow long, sickle-shaped jaws.

The males' flattened faces and large, spiked jaws may be clever adaptations to protect a nest that contains vulnerable larvae, she suggested.

"Other wasps of the same species often rob burrows for food, and parasites try to get in there, too," she said. "There's a serious advantage to having the nest guarded. This may be how the male helps guarantee his paternity."

(See "Pictures: Wasps Turn Ladybugs Into Flailing "Zombies.")

In general, "we don't know what this wasp does," Kimsey said. "But it probably feeds its larvae grasshoppers or katydids, like other wasps in its subfamily."

"Mythical" Wasp Under Threat

Kimsey and co-author Michael Ohl, of Berlin's Humboldt University, caught their first glimpse of the new wasp in Indonesia's Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, where the bugs had been kept in storage since 1930. Ohl also found unidentified specimens at the Humboldt Museum in Berlin.

On a 2009 expedition, the team found more wasps at a cacao plantation in the southeastern mountains of Sulawesi. In naming M. garuda, the team looked to the national symbol of Indonesia: a mythical half-human, half-bird creature in the Hindu religion called Garuda.

Although as many as a hundred thousand species of insects may live on Sulawesi, Kimsey suspects "only half have names."

But the fates of these species—including the newfound wasp—are in jeopardy. Since the 1960s forests in the region have been increasingly leveled to plant several types of crops. (Read about rain forest threats.)

"The place where we collected wasps is slated to be an open-pit nickel mine," Kimsey said.

"Just thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach."

The new giant-wasp study recently appeared in the journal ZooKeys.

5 comments
Jennifer C.
Jennifer C.

These are not just in Indonesia anymore...

My son was mowing a couple of days ago and found one on his shirt! I wish I could post a picture, but my husband killed it and flushed it down the toilet before they told me what happened.

We live in OKLAHOMA. These things have made their way to the United States now...

Ewald Lai
Ewald Lai

my country's insect!i better watch out

Pamela Santana
Pamela Santana

I saw 4 big black bees with stingers simeler to this about 2" long , that flew into my back yard this morning.  I took my dog and went right into the apt.  I don't know how log they were there before they left.

Jeevyl Villa
Jeevyl Villa

My name is Jeevyl and I work in the hotel Mawimbi that is located in Isla Holbox, Mexico. Tonight a strange insect came inside the hotel and the owner of the hotel, Carmelo, caught it. We look for this insect at the internet and we found that is a ’Megalara garuda’ , we have never seen something similar. We thought that is interesting to know that one of this insects was found in Mexico. We killed it because it was flying inside the hotel and we were scared, however this morning it is moving. Our email is info@mawimbi.net or posadamawimbi@hotmail.com

If you want pictures let us know.

S. Wulf
S. Wulf

Fascinating, but makes me very glad I live on the other side of the globe :-)

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