Expeditions

Microceraphron! Who are you? (part 1)

I am back from Hungary without posting anything during my trip (although I did promise this to Andy!). Internet connections, however, were not the best in the places we spent most of our time, but perhaps the main reason for this «blogless» period is that I haven’t and never will be the winner of a Blogitzer Prize.

Anyway, now I am back and Andy tells me at least 25 times a day, that I promised to write something about the Hungarian collecting expedition. First of all let me tell you something about Microceraphron and to explain why is it important to go back to Hungary (besides visiting my family… oops… I am from Hungary, by the way).

Microceraphron subterraneus was described by Szelényi in 1936 based on 14 specimens collected in Budapest, and this species is the only representative of the genus. Szelényi placed his new genus between Aphanogmus and Synarsis based on the laterally compressed body and lack of any sulci on the mesonotum. The salient character of the genus is the anterodorsally located compound eyes.

No other Ceraphronoidea have such a frog-like head. There are other ceraphronoid reasons, however, why to collect in Hungary.

Elysoceraphron, whose unique character is the square-shaped mesoscutellum, was also described from Hungary (also by Szelényi in 1936). Besides some recently found oriental specimens of an undescribed Elysoceraphron sp. from the Tiger Project, the genus is known only by E. hungaricus represented by two specimens at the HNHM.

OK. Now you can put the question: Why does anybody want to collect more Microceraphron or Elysoceraphron specimens? These taxa are seemingly very rare, so what kind of information could we gain by finding more specimens? To answer this question, you should look a bit on the quite chaotic higher-level classification of Ceraphronoidea, the superfamily to which the above mentioned Hungarian guys belong to. Frankly, are there any genera of Ceraphronoidea with well-defined limits? Moreover, are the limits between Ceraphronidae and Megaspilidae well defined? It is striking, that we have such a limited knowledge about the systematics of this extraordinarily common Hymenoptera taxon. The reason is probably that except for the late Paul Dessart, almost nobody has worked on these wasps in >80 years. But why has this ignorance persisted?
First of all they are small, difficult-to-see, boring (superficially, anyway), uniform wasps. Why could they be interesting? Why did Dessart spend almost all of his lifetime working on small, boring wasps? You have sink deeply into the morphology of Ceraphronoidea to discover the really crazy and shocking surprises that are hidden behind the uniformly brown sclerites of ceraphronoid specimens. Please, show me a non-ceraphronoid wasp with such a crazy and amazing male genitalia as what’s present in the genus Conostigmus! So again, why do we need Microceraphron and Elysoceraphron? Since these two genera are on the border between the two giant ceraphronid taxa, Aphanogmus and Ceraphron, studying their DNA and functional morphology could shed light on the mysterious higher-level classification of the family. Why is it important to clarify the taxonomy of this group? Why are Ceraphronoidea important?

Many hosts of ceraphronoids are primary parasitoids or predators of considerable importance in agriculture and forestry. Within the hyperparasitoid-parasitoid-host-plant systems the roles of hyperparasitoids are quite complex. It has been proposed that the efficiency of the primary parasitoids is affected negatively by high levels of hyperparasitism. It was also suggested, that hyperparasitoid may improve the stability of primary parasitoid systems and therefore increase the chance of the successful establishment of exotic natural enemies during classical biological control.

Beside their economic importance ceraphronoid species are important in serving as model systems in ecological and behavioral research. These studies have largely utilized Dendrocerus carpenteri (Curtis, 1829), the most polyphagous aphid hyperparasitoid species. Dendrocerus

spp. have been the subject of studies on sex ratio allocation, competition, host habitat specificity

foraging behavior and aspects of DNA-based IPM.

Enough for excuses for visiting my family, and spending most of my life looking and dissecting wasps small like the head of a pin. Let me write something about the trip. Watch for part 2 tomorrow.

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