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Nature

The Idris Elba Wasp Is Coming To Save Your Broccoli

author

Stephen Luntz

Freelance Writer

clockNov 18 2019, 15:30 UTC

This wasp, a member of the existing Idris genus, has been given the species name elba. Elijah J. Talamas

In 1856 a genus of parasitic wasps was named Idris. So when entomologists added a new member 163 years later, the choice of species name was obvious. Idris elba isn't just any old wasp, however, with plans to recruit it to protect threatened vegetables.

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Naming species after famous people is so common David Attenborough has at least a dozen examples. Beyonce and Arnold Schwarzenegger are among those of less scientific bent honored for a passing resemblance to the species in question. Even Donald Trump will live on in the name of an amphibian who buries its head in sand, although in that case honored is probably the wrong word.

In most cases, it's the species name alone that gives a nod to the individual in question, occasionally the genus. Getting both is rare indeed, as is earning the name of a creature that could prove important to humanity as is the case here.

All known members of the Idris genus lay their eggs on those of spiders. It may make arachnophobes happy to know of all those spiders that never hatched because the wasp larvae got in first and ate them, but the commercial significance is small. Idris elba, however, has also taken to parasitizing the stink bug species Bagrada hilaris, which is becoming a major threat to the growth of broccoli and cauliflower.

The bagrada bug originates in Africa, but has infested much of Asia and southern Europe. Free from whatever controls its numbers in its home region, it has become a major pest for growers of a wide range of plants. Since 2008 it's been found in the USA and Mexico, and it appears to be spreading through Guanajuato, which produces 70 percent of Mexico's broccoli, much of which is exported to the US and Canada.

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Dr Elijah Talamas of the Florida State Collection of Arthropods is seeking a way to stop the bug before it slashes North American production of these famously healthy vegetables and sends prices soaring. He was studying bagrada eggs when he saw wasps crawl out, using DNA analysis to identify the parasite as a new member of the Idris species.

An ordinary Bagrada egg (left) and one that has been parasitized by the Idris elba wasp. Elijah J. Talamas

Talamas named and described Idris elba in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research. It's not yet known if I. Elba has always preyed on the eggs of a wide range of species, or if the bug's eggs just look too much like a spider's for the mother wasp to notice. Either way, breeding and distributing elba eggs could be the answer to brassica farmers' prayers.

The Golden Globe winner has yet to respond to the honor, which comes just as his reign as People's Sexiest Man Alive is coming to an end, but Talamas considers the wasps' potential role appropriate considering Elba's fame playing a Norse protector god.

Idris Elba by Boy Ham CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0

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