PEI and some of the Original Metal-Heads

This has been my second time in Prince Edward Island National Park, and although the national park is small (only 20km2) it has some of the most beautiful salt-water beaches I have ever seen. Being an avid traveler I have been to many beaches, ranging from working on isolated beaches in Costa Rica to living in Surfers Paradise where there are upwards of two million visitors a year.  PEI boasts a perfect combination of having enough space to set up your towel at peak hours and space to play games without getting in people’s way, while still having the reassurance of hired lifeguards. Just like the advertisements for PEI National Park depict, there are epic views of gorgeous sand dunes topped with billowing emerald green dune grasses on one side, and the sloping fine sand on the other. Although the beaches are a definite draw to most tourists, the park also hosts some nice trails that are enriched with information on ecosystems and historical events. These trails are also home to many interesting insects- and this week we found an ichneumonid wasp!

Ichneumonid wasp collected in Prince Edward Island National Park
Ichneumonid wasp collected in Prince Edward Island National Park

Despite being a relatively shy insect, ichneumonid females have a very aggressive appearance. The one that we found had a well-defined waist and a long stinger-like appendage at the end of her abdomen. The stinger is actually an ovipositor that the female uses to insert her eggs into the ground or trees depending on the species of wasp. Ichneumonids are parasitoid wasps; this means they require a host to develop from egg to larvae, and possibly many moults before they become an adult. To do this the female has to detect where the host insects are living, get her ovipositor into the insect or its larva and then deposit her eggs inside of the host. This often requires her to detect the location of host larvae inside of tunnels inside trees through the bark! In some cases the tip of the ovipositor is tipped with ionized zinc or manganese help it drill through wood. For all of these insects, getting into the tree and developing into adulthood is only half of the journey. After moulting into an adult, the ichneumonid must then find a way to exit the tunnels of her host. To do this, they often have to chew their way out of the tree using mandibles that are also tipped with ionized metal.

Next week we are visiting our final park of the season — Kouchibouguac here we come!


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