Answer to the Monday Mystery

You didn’t think I’d just hand you guys a full-body shot of a common insect family, did you? Of course not. I am far too clever. The mystery insect, believe it or not, is not a mutillid. Instead, it’s this thing:

Chyphotes sp. (Nevada, USA)

Points are awarded as follows: 2 each to Piotr Naskrecki & Guillaume D for a virtual tie for order, and 8 to “µ” for the correct genus and family. One complicating factor is that this animal is variously placed in Bradynobaenidae or Chyphotidae (see discussion here). Thus, I’m also awarding 4 points to George Waldren for being the first to mention Chyphotidae.

Why isn’t this animal a velvet ant (Mutillidae)? The obvious character is that the prothorax is separate and freely articulated from the remainder of the tagma. In mutillids, the thorax  is fused into a single unmoving shield. In less technical terms, our Chyphotes isn’t a velvet ant because she’s got a strong crease in the middle body segment.

Recent genetic data (Debevec et al 2012) suggest that similarities between the two wingless wasps may just be convergence:

Figure 2 from Debevec et al (2012) shows a maximum likelihood phylogram generated from 4 molecular loci. This arrangement suggests a distant relationship of Chyphotes (yellow) to Mutillidae (pink). Also note the paraphyly of Bradynobaenidae and Mutillidae.

Paraphyly or no, we have arrived at the end of the month. Our monthly winner is Guillaume D., who accumulated 10 points over the course of the month to narrowly edge out Julio Chaúl’s 9 points. Congratulations, Guillaume, email me for your loot!


Debevec, A. H., Cardinal, S., Danforth, B. N. (2012). Identifying the sister group to the bees: a molecular phylogeny of aculeata with an emphasis on the superfamily Apoidea. Zoologica Scripta 41: 527-535.

4 thoughts on “Answer to the Monday Mystery”

  1. I was surprised to learn that we aren’t even completely sure what their hosts are; apparently they might feed on Solifugae(!)

  2. It’s certainly been a long long time since I studied university level entomology and genetics and I have no memory or understanding of the term ‘paraphyly’ but I would like to know why the very distinctive group commonly known as ants/formicidae seem to be just another wasp family in figure 2 above?

    1. Good question, KMS. The placement of ants among the wasps is actually one of the least surprising results of the study. Taxonomists have known for some time, based on morphology, that ants are just highly modified vespoid wasps.

      While the placement of ants within vespoid wasps may seem odd when looking at workers, it may start making more sense when you consider the (usually) less modified males:

  3. Marc "Teleutotje" Van der Stappen

    For me, it isn’t a surprise that ants are a “group” of wasps but more the sister-group of the ants surprised me, totally different then I imagined…

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