“Parasitoid wasps are a biological force” says USDA Entomologist Dr. Matt Buffington. The biology of these teeny, tiny wasps is frightening enough to have inspired science fiction films like Alien and makes you happy to be a human when you hear about it. Most of these wasps are like parasites in that they need a host for survival, so they’ll lay their eggs in another insect or plant. But unlike a parasite, these creatures kill their host, so those eggs eventually eat their host from the inside out or at least inhibit growth in the case of plants, and an adult wasp eventually emerges. Again, this is basically the plot line of the movie Alien, just limited to the realm of insects.
Dr. Buffington was educated in entomology at UC Riverside and over the past few decades has worked as a systematic research hymenopterist for the USDA working in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Inside this museum are back offices filled with passionate scientists and one branch of this brilliant tree is dedicated to entomology, the study of insects. SEL, or the systematic entomology laboratory is dedicated to identifying and describing insects from around the world. This daunting task brings great insight into the power humans have over nature and is an effort to document many species before they vanish as a result of our impact. Buffington eloquently explains how if we don’t document these species and their biology now, we might be left with a broken ecosystem later and no idea of how to fix it.
Aside from the noble aspects of his work, Buffington
also greatly enjoys studying parasitoid wasps for the nature of the work. He has had an interesting experience getting into this scientific field and worked hard to expose others to it. Some fun that he’s had while describing these insects includes naming species like Nanocthulhu lovecrafti after H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional monster, Cthulhu and Preseucoela imallshookupis after Elvis Presley and one of his most famous songs, “All Shook Up.”
For more on the interesting character that is Matt Buffington, listen to the full podcast! For more on wasps, tune in for my next show where I interview Dr. Mike Gates, another research hymenopterist.
The full show can be heard here.
All music played on this episode was picked by Matt Buffington:
The James Bond Theme, “The Gambling Priest” by Danger Mouse, “Bossa Per Due” by Nicola Conte, and “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley
For music played on all episodes of Naked Ape Talk, follow the Spotify playlist: “Naked Ape Talk”