In a paper entitled, “The Soul-Sucking Wasp by Popular Acclaim” scientists describe a new species of wasp named after the ghostly “dementors” of the Harry Potter universe. Officially named Ampulex dementor, the choice for the wasp wasn’t some nerdy distraction — it was great public outreach.
Among other fanciful and often scary creatures, the Harry Potter series includes dementors, dark, lifeless creatures that suck the happiness out of humans, even eating their souls. According to the paper, the authors consider dementors a fine choice for the new wasp species, which selectively parasitizes cockroaches.
(A) Lateral view. (B) Left fore and hindwings. (C) Head in frontal view. (D) Propodeum in dorsal view. (E) Metasomal terga I-III in dorsal view. Scale bars: (A) 5.0 mm, (B) 2.0 mm, (C-E) 1.0 mm.
The scientists arrived at the name by handing out ballots at a special event in the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. After reading descriptions of the wasp and the name suggestions, 300 attendees voted and Ampulex dementor was chosen by a slim margin over Ampulex plagiator, from the German word for plagiarist. But considering what the ant-mimicking wasp actually does to cockroaches, “dementor” fits better. From the paper:
“The dementor’s fictional behavior and effects reminded us of the effect of the stinging behavior of Ampulex on the behavior of its cockroach prey. After being stung by the wasp, specific behaviors of the cockroach are inhibited (e.g. escape behavior) while others are unaffected (e.g. locomotion). The wasp grabs the partly paralyzed cockroach by one of the antennae and guides it to a suitable oviposition location, the prey following the wasp in a docile manner.”
Public outreach is so important for science, especially when funds are being slashed and prominent public figures have no idea what the research is for. Scientists have to let the public understand what their money goes to. And it seems to have worked in this case. As the authors note in the paper, attendees were very inquisitive and interested in the whole process, and left the event with changed perspectives. The authors conclude:
“Public engagement…through citizen science, amateur naturalists, public activities and participation, can contribute to bringing the perception, outlook, application, and appreciation of taxonomy back to its roots – the people’s science.”
STUDY: PLOS ONE
IMAGES: B. Schurian, MfN.