The Aha ha wasp is no joke

By Bec Crew | April 29, 2019

Okay we lied; it’s totally a joke.

Contributor

Bec Crew

Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.

If you’ve read enough scientific papers from the ‘60s and ‘70s, you’ll know that scientists had a lot of fun back then. There’s a kind of charm to those reports that rarely slips through these days, because getting your study published is tougher than it’s ever been.

Case in point: the fact that the Aha ha wasp even exists. The story goes that when American entomologist and wasp lover, Howard Ensign Evans, was travelling around Australia in the late 1970s, he collected a number of wasps to bring home, study, and mail to your friends (you could do that sort of thing back then).

Two of these wasps he sent to fellow entomologist Arnold S. Menke from the US Department of Agriculture. When Menke looked at the wasps, he exclaimed “Aha! A new species!” to which his colleague, Eric Grissell, responded doubtfully, “ha!”

Turns out, Menke was right – they were new species belonging to the Sphecidae family of wasps (more on that later). The official report announcing their discovery to the scientific community was called, “Aha, a new genus 01 Australian Sphectdae.”

The first species he named Aha evansi, after the man who found them, and the second he named Aha ha. He even changed the number plate on his car to “AHA HA” following the discovery.

According to a US Park Service bulletin some years later, Menke said that if “the gods” (and Evans) were kind enough to send him more new species of Australian wasps , he would name the new genus Ohno, and will report the discovery in a paper entitled “Ohno, another new genus of Australian Sphecidae.”

Unfortunately, that day never came, but we can still celebrate the Aha ha wasp and Menke, who has been lauded by fellow scientists for his “onomastic frivolity”. Or as we laypeople might call it, “funny names”.

So, what of the Aha ha wasp?

Unfortunately, very little is known about it, which is why we could only show you black and white photos (above), and not even of the Aha ha wasp, but of Aha evansi instead.

The Aha ha wasp is endemic to Western Australia, way up in the Kununurra area, in the easternmost region of the Kimberleys. Aha evansi is found in Victoria.

As recently as 2017, the Aha wasps were moved from the Sphecidae family to the Crabronidae family. These wasps are known for being solitary hunters, and they inject their eggs into unsuspecting insect hosts before paralysing them, sealing their fate as living incubators.

For more on this horrific behaviour, check out the beautiful cuckoo wasp – the parasitic jewel.