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Maamingidae: A family of insects unique to NZ

Entomologists knew about this unique New Zealand insect for many years but it didn’t go through the formal process of getting described and named until 2001. A collaborative research project by curator John Early and colleagues from Canada and Australia set out to determine its family.

Maaminga marrisi

Photo: Peter Quin.Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira AMNZ17769

Nature's whakapapa

The insect had us puzzled as to where it belonged in the grand classification scheme of the Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, and parasitic wasps) - the major group of insects to which it belongs. It was clear to us that it was one of the parasitic wasps. These are small wasps that lay their eggs on or inside the body of another insect’s egg, larva or pupa, which then gets eaten and killed as the parasite develops - but this insect didn’t really fit into any of the known parasitic wasp families.

We decided that it deserved its own brand new family. We named the genus Maaminga, which is a Māori word meaning ‘a trickster’ or ‘mystifying’. From this, the new family took the name Maamingidae – as according to the accepted rules of how you name new species (the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature).

Small but not insignificant

The family contains only two species - Maaminga marrisi and Maaminga rangi. Both are very small, only 1.0 - 1.8 mm long. The first one has shortened wings and probably can’t fly.  It is named in recognition of a colleague, John Marris of Lincoln University, who collected a number of specimens while he was hunting for rare beetles on a small remote island in Cook Strait. The second species has large wings and can fly. It lives in native forest and is particularly abundant in Northland’s kauri forest. It is named for Ranginui, the sky father of the Māori creation story.

Although the family contains only two tiny species of tiny insects they are as unique and special to New Zealand as moa and tuatara. Ahakoa he iti, hei pounamu. 

Further reading

  • Early, J.W., Masner, L., Naumann, I. D., & Austin, A. D. 2001. Maamingidae, a new family of proctotrupoid wasp (Insecta : Hymenoptera) from New Zealand. Invertebrate Taxonomy, 15 (3), p341 – 352.

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