Wallaceaphytis from the forests of Borneo is just about a millimeter long.
A newly discovered genus of wasp — a tiny, golden creature only a little larger than a pinhead — has been named after the lesser known of the two people who first observed evolution.
New genus Wallaceaphytis was officially introduced to the world on Thursday, the 100th anniversary of biologist Alfred Wallace's death.
"I thought a new genus of wasp from the region where Wallace collected would be an appropriate tribute to his memory," said Andrew Polaszek, head of the Terrestrial Invertebrates Division at the Natural History Museum in London, who was part of the team that found the insect.
Wallace and Charles Darwin both observed natural selection at work — Darwin in the Galapagos and Wallace in the islands of south and east Asia. Wallace shared his data with Darwin in letters, but it was Darwin who shot to fame after he wrote and published his iconic work, "On the Origin of Species," in 1859.
Polaszek and a team from the Natural History Museum collected the Wallace wasp during a field trip in 2012. Polaszek is almost positive he collected it himself in the Danum Valley region, a protected biodiversity hotspot in northern Borneo, on Sept. 14.
The wasp has an unusually broad and flattened head, which sets it apart from the other specimens analyzed back at the museum. DNA sequencing confirmed that it wasn’t related to known species, Polaszek and his colleagues explain in a new paper in the Journal of Natural History.
Because they are tiny and hard to spot, most of the world's undiscovered species are insects. Just among wasps, bees and ants, entomologists have identified about 130,000 species. "I'm going to stick out my neck and say the true number is closer to a million species in total," Polaszek told NBC News.
Though Wallace collected thousands of specimens, he wasn't big on bugs. "I'm the wasp man in this story," Polaszek said, "dedicating it to Wallace."
Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
First published November 6 2013, 4:02 PM