Questions for ‘Surprise! Sixteen tiny wasp species found masquerading as one’  

a photo of a small wasp with red eyes, yellow appendages, and a metallic green body against a light purple background

Scientists recently discovered that one supposed species of parasitic wasp, Ormyrus labotus, is 16 or more genetically distinct species. At least from the outside, however, they all look the same.

Sofia Sheikh

To accompany Surprise! Sixteen tiny wasp species found masquerading as one


Before Reading:

  1. In your own words, define a “species.” Then find a partner and compare definitions. Pick out one aspect of your partner’s definition that you find especially practical. Between the two of you, come up with a new and improved definition. Then challenge your new definition by coming up with one species that either (a) could get confused for another species or (b) could get confused as being several different species.
  2. Do an internet search for images of “galls” pertaining to plants. Think of something you have seen in your life that may be be an example of a gall. Describe what you can remember. For example, was it a specific shape? Was it hard and woody? Or soft and fibrous? If you’ve never seen anything resembling these images before, then research some galls that may be in your region or your state. What plants in your area might have such galls?

During Reading:

  1. Ormyrus labotus is what type of species? What first hinted to scientists that it might not be just one species?
  2. How is a parasitoid different from a common parasite?
  3. How many oak species and parts of those plants can host galls that were parasitized by O. labotus
  4. What did researchers in this study hope to learn by collecting galls from oak trees across the country? What modern tools did Sofia Sheikh and her team use to study the insects that emerged from their collected galls?
  5. How many different species does O. labotus actually include, according to the new study? 
  6. When referring to research, what is meant by an “integrative approach?”
  7. What does the term “cryptic species” mean? 
  8. How can uncovering new parasitoid species help scientists learn new things about parasites? 

After Reading:

  1. A bacteriophage is a virus that infects a bacterium. How is this relationship similar to the relationship between a parasite and a parasitoid? How is the relationship different?
  2. Imagine you are a space alien visiting Earth and trying to identify different species. What are some species that you might at first think are several different species? Think of species that look different at different times of the year. Or maybe from day to night. Or maybe between the male and females of the species. List at least two examples.