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13 new wasp species to bolster war on pests

Researchers at the international centre of insect physiology and ecology, ICIPE, have discovered 13 previously unknown wasp species in Kenya and Burundi which will bolster the war on pests.

The researchers, working together their peers from Italy’s University of Tuscia and the Tropical Entomology Research Institute said the discovery will go along way in guiding the war on voracious pests since most of the wasps are parasitic and naturally capable of controlling agricultural pests. By laying their eggs in or on the eggs of other insect species, the eggs mature to larvae which destroy the host insect.  For every insect species that exists, the scientists say, at least one wasp species exists that parasitizes it.

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“Alongside bees and ants, wasps belong to the third largest order of insects, Hymenoptera, known more commonly as “membrane-winged” insects. Although well over 100,000 species of Hymenoptera are recognized globally, many more are yet to be described, with wasps, and those of Africa particularly, being insufficiently studied,” explains Dr Robert Copeland a scientist from ICIPE.

The 13 discovered species belong to a moderately sized cosmopolitan family of insects known as Dryinidae, and which are best known for feeding on ‘true bugs’ that attack crops ranging from cereals, to horticultural produce causing considerable damage.  Some of the notable true bugs in Kenya include aphids, leafhoppers, whiteflies.

“Our studies suggest that many more species of Dryinidae remain to be recorded in Kenya, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country where there has been little exploration,” notes Dr. Copeland.

The findings which were published in the Acta Entomologica Musei Nationalis Pragae also indicate that the total number of wasps in the Dryinidae species and which scientists have relied on for biological pest control in Kenya adds up to 76. Most of the newly discovered ones were collected from culturally important but threatened forests at the coast including Kaya and Mijikenda forests with others being discovered at Ungoye a small forest near Lake Victoria. The researchers named them after the areas they were discovered in, including Dryinus digo sp for the ones discovered in Kaya Kinondo forest and named in honour of the Digo people who live near the forest.

The discovery comes at a time when research institutions are coming up with potent and modern ways to fight plant pests and diseases which are the biggest threat to crop production in Kenya. While most farmers have traditionally relied on conventional pesticides to counter these pests, the pests have usually developed resistance against the pests. In the wake of the pest control frustration, biological control methods have been the saving grace even as they spare the environment.

ICIPE has successfully used wasps in controlling some of the most voracious maize, cabbages and mango pests in the country.  A wasp it released to control the notorious Fruit fly, which affects more than four fifths of all Kenya mango harvests, has been more than twice effective in taming the fly. Half an acre only needs 750 wasps. 

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