Rare wasp spotted in Worcester

Rare wasp spotted in Worcester

Agrothereutes abbreviates by Cathryn Dhonau

A rare ichneumon wasp Agrothereutes abbreviatus has been seen in Worcestershire and recorded as part of a citizen science project to record wildlife in the county.

Cathryn Dhonau submitted a photo of an ichneumon wasp via the Trust's wildlife sightings scheme at the end of June. Ichneumon wasps are often very difficult to identify but Cathryn had struck lucky and had stumbled upon one that was identifiable from the single photograph that she took on her camera phone. National Ichneumonidae expert, Jaswinder Boparai, confirmed the wasp as Agrothereutes abbreviatus.

The wasp is one of more than 5000 species of parasitoid wasps in the UK. Depending on the species, parasitoid wasps lay their eggs on or into their hosts – the host provides all the food that the hatched larvae needs to develop into an adult. It may sound gruesome but it’s a fascinating lifestyle that contributes to nature’s balance.

Many of these wasps don’t have a common name as they’re not often seen and very little is known about them. The national database shows that there are just 10 other records in the UK for Agrothereutes abbreviatus. Eight of these are from before 1920 and of the three more modern records, this is the first time it’s been recorded in Worcestershire.

Cathryn, who was taking her dog for a walk in St Peters, Worcester, when she spotted the wasp, said "I noticed a little red bug on the pavement. Thinking little of it initially, I just carried on walking but a niggling curiosity got the better of me and I carefully retraced my steps for a closer look.

Agrothereutes abbreviates wasp - mainly red body with black head, black marking close to end of abdomen, abdomen tipped with white by Cathryn Dhonau

Agrothereutes abbreviates by Cathryn Dhonau

“Being a photographer with close-up work a particular interest, I do love and notice the unusual - this was a creature I had certainly never come across before. Unfortunately that day, I only had my phone to hand, so before it disappeared into the grass I managed to get a quick photograph using the macro function on the phone.

“Once home, I did some online research but couldn't find any insect that looked the same, so I put up a query post on Facebook and also sent the picture to my insect-buff friend Julia Saunders who, a short while later, came back with the now-confirmed Agrothereutes abbreviatus.

“More Googling ensued and it became apparent that it was rarely seen in the UK. I reported my finding to Worcestershire Wildlife Trust who've since confirmed this is only the 3rd reported sighting in the UK in 100 years and a first for Worcestershire, which is quite exciting!"

The wildlife sightings scheme was set up in spring of 2020 in order to harness the power of citizen scientists across Worcestershire. A partnership between Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, Worcestershire Biological Records Centre and the Worcestershire Recorders, the short webform allows people to provide details of what wildlife they see and where along with a photo to allow the sighting to be verified. People are asked to report sightings of one of twelve targeted species to help experts understand more about their distribution across the county and how they’re faring. People are also invited to do as Cathryn did and submit sightings of other wildlife that they see – experts will try to identify anything submitted.

Wendy Carter, one of the organisers of the scheme, added “Sightings of the twelve target species are really important to help us understand how Worcestershire’s wildlife is doing in general but it’s great to have sightings like this one reported too. Has this wasp just arrived in Worcestershire or has it been here all along and no-one’s spotted it?

"The natural world is full of surprises – like Cathryn, we just have to take time to notice what’s going on right under our noses.”