x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

New species of wasp discovered in Al Wathba Wetlands

The metallic-coloured insect has been named Hedychridium anithaae in honour of the scientist who discovered it, Dr Anitha Saji, an assistant scientist at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.

The cuckoo wasp found in Al Wathba Wetlands in Abu Dhabi has been added to the global list of invertebrates. Courtesy Environment Agency Abu Dhabi
The cuckoo wasp found in Al Wathba Wetlands in Abu Dhabi has been added to the global list of invertebrates. Courtesy Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI // It is now official – a cuckoo wasp discovered in Al Wathba Wetlands five years ago has been declared a new species.

The metallic-coloured insect has been named Hedychridium anithaae in honour of Dr Anitha Saji, an assistant scientist at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi who discovered it.

A specimen was collected on a routine wildlife trapping exercise by Ead in 2009, and was finally declared a new species this week after being sent to an expert in Italy for examination.

The parasite, which is only 4 millimetres long, lays its eggs in an animal, most commonly a beetle, so its larvae can develop inside.

“This is the reason they are called cuckoo wasps,” Dr Saji explained.

“Cuckoos do not build their own nests so they are similar in that regard.”

There are more than 3,000 known species of cuckoo wasp and they are most commonly found in desert environments.

“This discovery indicates how much remains both unknown and unexplored from Abu Dhabi’s biodiversity,” said Dr Saji. “To have this species named after me is a big honour and we are already preparing for further study of its biology.”

Prof Franco Strumia, from the University of Pisa in Italy, published confirmation that the wasp was a new species in an academic journal after studying the specimen.

“The distinctive feature of this new species is the body colour being entirely emerald green with a large black spot,” Prof Strumia wrote.

It is believed there could be more than 80 different species of cuckoo wasp in the UAE.

Dr Saji has been working with Ead since 2002, but this is the first time she has found a species that is unique to the UAE.

“When we went out to trap insects we collected a huge number of different types, so it took a lot of study to examine all of them,” she said.

“There could be more new species in Al Wathba but we will need further study.”

The wasp has been added to a global list of invertebrates, which catalogues all known species.

“This discovery further enhances Al Wathba Wetland Reserve’s status as a biodiversity hotspot that must remain protected,” said Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, executive director of Ead’s terrestrial and marine biodiversity division.

“The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi is proud of this discovery and will continue to ensure the effective management and monitoring of species, water quality and vegetation on the reserve.”

The founding President Sheikh Zayed declared Al Wathba Wetland Reserve a protected area in 1998.

It is 45 minutes’ drive from Abu Dhabi, covers 5 square kilometres and provides a habitat for migratory birds and a breeding area for the Greater flamingo.

The reserve is home to 238 species of invertebrates, 11 mammals, 10 reptiles and more than 250 kinds of birds.

ksinclair@thenational.ae