Behold the Ichiro wasp, a newly identified Florida wasp documented by a Cuban-Canadian entomologist, who also happens to be a major baseball fan.
The wasp is one of 10 tiny parasitic wasps, and four new Florida species, that Jose Fernandez-Triana discovered at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, where he has spent more than a decade as a research scientist combing through drawers of unidentified specimens. Last year, he gave us the Keylimepie wasp, named to draw attention to the fragile island habitat where it was collected.
The Ichiro wasp and the others represent a serious find because they are the first tropical group to be documented in North America, so don’t be misled by the name.
Initially, Fernandez-Triana intended to honor his favorite player, Ichiro Suzuki, by naming one of the new Florida species after him.
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“At the time the research for this paper was being conducted, Ichiro was still playing for a Florida team and thus naming a species endemic from Florida after him made complete sense,” he wrote in a study published Thursday in the journal Zookeys.
But after news broke in November that new Marlins’ owners had parted ways with Suzuki, Fernandez-Triana appended his etymology for Diolcogaster ichiroi to make a more pointed statement about the “unpopular decision not liked by many Marlins’ fans.
“Hopefully soon,” he wrote, “another Major League team gives the Universal Hit King the chance to continue his extraordinary career in baseball.”
Among the bug crowd, naming rights have become a popular sideshow to what is otherwise serious research. A horsefly with a golden derriere was named for Beyoncé and another wasp named for Chewbacca. Another parasitic wasp expert in October named a discovery after a Harry Potter villain.
Fun names, however, should not take away from the serious business of wasp identification, Fernandez-Triana said.
Parasitic wasps play an important role in ecosystems and agriculture, helping pollinate plants. They also control pests like caterpillars, providing a valuable alternative to chemicals. Yet about 90 percent remain unidentified.
The fact that the four Florida wasps Fernandez-Triana discovered were collected from protected land also says something about the need to conserve their shrinking habitat, he said. One, the Diolcogaster miamensis, was found near Chekika, an old mineral spring in Everglades National Park. The three others were collected in the Archbold Biological Station, a 10,000-acre ecological field station near Lake Placid.
“No doubts the species should still inhabit the surrounding environments (e.g., Everglades),” he wrote in an email. “But having the type specimen from the greater Miami area is still pretty cool.”
Only about 330 of this particular type of parasitic wasp have been identified over the last 250 years, he said. The latest finds represent only a small step forward percentage-wise, but being the first with a tropical lineage could help expand knowledge, including how wasps select hosts.
“These new species will certainly help us to better understand what is already known (and to prepare the descriptions of more new species from North America),” he wrote, adding that another 50 should be identified in the next year or so.
“What I am more interested in transmitting to the general public,” he added, “is that South Florida is indeed a special place (and it goes beyond beaches, Latino cuisine and music… all of which are also great, do not get me wrong ;-)/”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Ichiro Suzuki’s position on the Marlins. He was an outfielder.
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich