A Young Zoologist in Sri Lanka Finds a "Horned" Parasitoid Wasp in her Backyard - Observation of the Week, 5/17/20

Our Observation of the Week is this tiny Dirhinus wasp, seen in Sri Lanka by @chathuri_jayatissa!

Many of us began our interest in nature as young children, turning over logs and picking up bugs, then later wanting to photograph them. Chathuri Jayatissa came at it from the opposite direction. As a child, her love was photography and age thirteen her mom gave her a camera. On a field trip with her school’s photography club - her first visit to a rainforest - Chathuri had a transformative experience. “I was amazed by the beauty in the forest and the wildlife,” she tells me.

I took several photos of butterflies, birds, and wildflowers, and it became my new hobby from then onwards. I started a new relationship with nature and it became my passion. I used to spend my leisure time in the wild looking for interesting things around me. This habit helped me a lot for studies and eventually I found few friends in social media with the same interest. My parents also bought me a new camera which helped me in shooting birds and macros, [and] I spent my holidays traveling around the country looking for birds, and on safaris in with my family.

Currently a zoology student at Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Chathuri’s friend @aniruddha_singhamahapatra told her about iNaturalist last year and she’s been using it quite a bit, especially over the last few months due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, as she’s been exploring her home garden in depth. “It was not only the birds,” she says, “I found some very interesting little insects from my home garden and I was fascinated with them. So I used to search for every little creature in my garden where my parents helped me in photographing them by providing additional lights and sometimes the backgrounds. I couldn’t identify most of them, where iNaturalist was the only support to know them.”

It was on one of these garden jaunts with her mother (and borrowing a macro lens from her brother) that Chathuri spotted the wasp you see photographed above. 

At the first glance I thought it was a tiny fly and I managed to click one photo before it disappeared. I was curious about this tiny creature. But I couldn’t find it again. So with the only photo I had, I uploaded it in iNaturalist. Then it was an excitement with lots of comments from people around the world. [On iNaturalist] I got to know that it’s a wasp from the genus Dirhinus. I was amazed by the number of views for my observation. I was very happy to see my observation as the Observation of the Day where I never expected. It was a millstone for me in iNaturalist.

A member of the family Chalcididae, Dirhinus wasps are pretty cool. Like many other wasps, they are parasitoids and specialize in parasitizing flies - especially fly species that pupate underground. The adult female Dirhinid uses the distinctive “horns” on its head for digging as it searches for a suitable host. Once a host is found, she will oviposit within the pupa, and when the adult eventually emerges, it can use its “horns” to get back above ground.

Chaythuri (above), continues to photograph the tiny organisms around her and post them to iNat. “iNaturalist is the best platform for nature lovers and those who learn about biodiversity,” she says. “It helps to find people with knowledge on specific species. I myself consider iNaturalist as a knowledge bank with so many  things to learn about the surrounding area in which we live.”


I have been seeing a steady uptick in really cool observations from Sri Lanka lately, and asked @loarie to update the observations by month chart from his August, 2019 World Tour post for the country:

The large spike in early 2019 came from a short-term QuestaGame promotion (as explained in the world tour blog), but growth since has been organic and is definitely on the rise, which is great to see. I reached out to Priyantha Wijesinghe (@elaphrornis), who tirelessly promotes iNat use in Sri Lanka on Twitter (thank you, Priyantha!), and asked him if he had any insights into this recent growth. He tells me that the growth is likely due to increased use both by ecotourists and by residents of the country who are keen naturalists. What makes him happiest is seeing the growth of interest in invertebrates, which he says “never really took off (except for butterflies) simply because there is easily accessible literature for identification…

For me a very thrilling development (and which I attribute largely to iNaturalist) is the interest in insects and other invertebrates which I am seeing from photographs on iNaturalist...And I think the ability to get an identification (even if only to family or genus) is a huge boost to someone trying to get to know the local spiders or moths or whatever.

Priyantha made sure to mention some top iNatters in the country, such as @nuwan (who just co-authored the first volume of a handbook to moths of Sri Lanka), @amila_sumanapala, @thilinahettiarachchi, @shanelle97, and @aravinth6, among others. “It's interesting to see how the quality of the observations has really improved in some observers,” says Priyantha.

I am aware of one person who started by uploading to iNaturalist pictures of flowers of cultivated garden plants but who now contributes some of the most interesting observations of truly wild insects, spiders, lichens, etc. Not only has the number of iNaturalist contributors based in Sri Lanka grown, their contributions have increased and also become better. iNaturalist has truly made a difference to natural history observation in Sri Lanka and ultimately will no doubt have a positive influence on interest in biodiversity conservation as well as interest in studying biodiversity for its own sake.

By Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.


- Follow Chathuri on Instagram here

Posted by tiwane tiwane, May 17, 2020 21:22

Comments

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Always beautiful pictures! Congrats Chathuri on another amazing observation.

Posted by raycama about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Cool!

Posted by allycouch about 2 months ago (Flag)
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What an interesting creature! Thank you for sharing!

Posted by sunnetchan about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Thanks, really interesting this week -- amazing observation!

Posted by muir about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Great!!

Posted by sajibbiswas about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Amzing observation by @chathuri_jayatissa indeed.

Posted by aravinth6 about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Delightful!

Posted by botanicaltreasures about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@raycama ,@allycouch ,@sunnetchan ,@muir ,@sajibbiswas Thank you so much everyone !!

Posted by chathuri_jayatissa about 2 months ago (Flag)
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So cool to find creatures like these these in a home garden, thanks for sharing chathuri_jayatissa!

Posted by loarie about 2 months ago (Flag)
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wow! it is such a fantastic photograph!

Posted by bushvipergirl about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@aravinth6 , @botanicaltreasures ,@loarie @bushvipergirl Thank you so much Everyone !!

Posted by chathuri_jayatissa about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Nice to read @elaphrornis's comment about a Sri Lankan contributor who expanded from garden plants into a great range of wild observations. I do think it can be a real benefit of iNat to encourage people to see the wildlife that exists beyond (and amid) our cultivated landscapes. But it can be a struggle during CNC and other high-traffic times to respond positively to all the people uploading flowers from their park or garden.

I'd love to see computer vision come to the rescue here. "That looks a lot like a Daylily (Genus Hemerocallis), which is a popular cultivated plant in your area and worldwide. iNaturalist's mission is to help people explore the wildlife around them. Some wild plants and animals commonly seen near you include: ... Have you seen any of these?"

Posted by rupertclayton about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Congratulations on an excellent photo, and on finding such a beautiful variety of species in your yard!

Posted by desertnaturalist about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Congratulations dear for such a great observation. iNaturalist is the best platform for nature lovers like you. It's really good to see you are achieving good things like these. All the best for your future life.

Posted by aniruddha_singham... about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@rupertclayton Hello Sir;
yeah it is true that i first started uploading my garden plants in Inaturalist. : ) But then I understood what's the mission in Inaturalist. That to inspire people to look and observe more around the wildlife around us. After I understood the purpose in iNat I started to give my attention to the wildlife around me. Wild animals, Wild plants ,Birds etc. I live in a village not in a urbanized area. My house is surrounded by small forest patches and in my back yard we have a cinnamon garden also. so many birds are visiting there. Sri Lankan jungle fowl, Sri Lankan hanging parrot , Crimson fronted barbet like these endemic birds are also visiting my back yard. At first I only focused myself on Birds. But after I started focusing on Insects I was truly amazed to see so many insects in my home garedn like this wasp here. All the observation I added from my area yeah I have really observed them.
Thank you.

Posted by chathuri_jayatissa about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@desertnaturalist Thank you so much!!

Posted by chathuri_jayatissa about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@aniruddha_singhamahapatra Thank you so much for the inspiration you gave me.!!

Posted by chathuri_jayatissa about 2 months ago (Flag)
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What a superb image of a fascinating little wasp! Well done, and thanks from all of us!

Posted by susanhewitt about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Hi @chathuri_jayatissa! Thanks for sharing the story of how your interests expanded over time. And good luck with your zoology studies!

Posted by rupertclayton about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@susanhewitt Thank you so much Ma'am .!!

Posted by chathuri_jayatissa about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@rupertclayton Thank you so much Sir!!

Posted by chathuri_jayatissa about 2 months ago (Flag)

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