The Methocha

As pointed out in my recent post, , there is much to learn still regarding tiger beetle larval parasitoids. In addition to bee flies (order Diptera, family Bombyliidae) of the genus Anthrax, tiphiid wasps (order Hymenoptera, family Tiphiidae) in the genus Methocha also parasitize tiger beetles in their larval burrows. Unlike bee flies, however, which sneakily lay their eggs in and around tiger beetle burrows when their victim isn’t watching, Methocha females aggressively engage the larva and even allow themselves to be grasped within the beetle larva’s sickle-shaped mandibles in order to gain entry to the beetle’s burrow.

Methocha appears to be a rather diverse genus, but it’s taxonomy is still incompletely known. George Waldren from Dallas, Texas is working on a revision of the genus and has found several new species in Texas alone. George is interested in seeing Methocha material from other areas as well and recently sent me the following reminder that adult females are active now:

…if you know of any areas with many tiger beetle larvae, now is the time to find Methocha. They superficially look like Pseudomyrmex ants, but once you see one you’ll catch on to them quickly. I collected more than 70 females today in a large aggregation of Tetracha carolina burrows.

In a subsequent message he adds:

Collect as many as you can, since they seem to be highly seasonal and rare most of the year. I almost always find them around beetle populations in sandy creek beds and receding bodies of water. A pooter works best if they are abundant and there isn’t much for them to hide under. Using your fingers also works—the sting is mild and usually doesn’t pierce the skin (depends on the person and size of the wasp). Vial collecting one by one works just as well.

Methocha females are generally overlooked due to their specialized life history and few specimens are in collections. Males are better represented since they’re easily collected with malaise traps.

If you have any Methocha specimens or manage to collect some, please contact George (contact info can be found at his BugGuide page). BugGuide does have a few photographs of these wasps to give you an idea of what they look like, but this excellent video titled “The Methocha” from Life in the Undergrowth with David Attenborough provides an unparalleled look at their appearance and behavior:

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

5 thoughts on “The Methocha

  1. Pretty amazing wasp – slipping through the jaws of death like that – but I enjoyed seeing the adult beetle eat one.

    Apparently, we have a number of Methocha specimens, and in theory our assistant curator will be contacting George to let him know.

    • Yea, a hit – I’m sure George will be very happy!

      I still can’t for the life of me figure out how that wasps slips out of the jaws of death so quickly and completely unscathed. Unless there actually is a certain background level of mortality – risky business that has selected for the most agile.

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