I should know by now that nothing comes easy in entomology. Here I figured I could just whip out a short piece on an ichneumon wasp I imaged in southern California back on March 26, but no-o-o-o, it looks like even the name I have for it, courtesy of Bob Carlson via Bugguide.net, might be outdated. Meet Pimpla sanguinipes, or whatever alias it goes by these days.
Actually, it looks like the appropriate name for this member of the family Ichneumonidae is Coccygomimus sanguinipes. Bugguide lists Coccygomimus as a “synonym” for Pimpla, so maybe it still *is* Pimpla.
The wasp I found at the salt marsh preserve in Carpenteria is further defined by the subspecies name erythropus. I do wonder what all these references to “blood” mean, though the wasp does have reddish-orange legs.
Dr. Carlson pointed out the complexity of all this in a personal communication with Vasile Bagazzoli, a volunteer editor at Bugguide:
"erythropus and sanguinipes might really be two separate species, judging from the fact that they occupy different habitats: sanguinipes in arid areas and erythropus in forested areas. Townes even had differences in punctation for the two. His concept of subspecies was very dubious, and he did not strictly apply the concept in a geographical sense and named many sympatric subspecies, many of which I relegated to synonymy in the 1979 catalog. But this case was different, and I might have just elevated the two taxa to species level but did not. I don't remember if I had a reason for not doing it, but maybe it was because there was a dearth of specimens in the National Collection from which I could form an opinion."
Dr. Carlson is retired from the Systematic Entomology Laboratory at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. He also studied under the “grandfather” of ichneumon taxonomy, Henry T. Townes.
Ok, back to the actual wasp, and what *it* does for a living. The species ranges west of the Rocky Mountains from Idaho to New Mexico and west to the Pacific coast including British Columbia and southern California.
Females seek out moth caterpillars in which to lay their eggs. Their hosts include tent caterpillars (Malacosoma spp.), buck moths (Hemileuca sp.), the Virginia Tiger Moth (Diacrisia virginica), the Douglas Fir Tussock Moth (Orgyia pseudotsugata), Western Tussock Moth (O. vetusta), Coddling Moth (Cydia pomonella), Genista Broom Moth (Uresiphita reversalis), Gooseberry Fruitworm (Zophodia convolutella), Barberry Geometer (Coryphista meadii), the Oak Looper (Lambdina punctata), and two other geometer moths (Eucaterva variaria and Prochoerodes forficaria). Several of these moths are abominable pests, so this generalist parasite is a welcome friend to agriculture and forestry.
The physical dimensions of this wasp don’t fit its superhero reputation. Females range between 10.5-12.5 millimeters in length, males around 8.5 mm. The black body, orange legs, and short, stout ovipositor help to identify the species fairly easily. We just can’t decide what name to call it.