Work to-date has served to establish the huge potential for studies of the fossil insects of the Kishenehn Formation. There is much more work to be done and many new taxa to be described. And so it is with great pleasure that I have learned that the National Museum of Natural History will host Alan Munro, a graduate student at George Mason University in Northern Virginia, whose research will focus on the parasitic Hymenoptera of the Kishenehn Formation.1
Alan who, like many of us, has had a life-long interest in fossils, began to volunteer at the Museum’s Fossil Lab in 2018, soon after he retired from a long and successful career as a tax consultant. In July of 2019, Alan joined me for eight days of fieldwork in Montana where we collected 839 specimens of fossiliferous shale. In January of 2020, he was accepted into the Earth Systems Science graduate program in the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences Department where his advisor is Mark Uhen. His co-advisors at the National Museum of Natural History will be Conrad Labandeira, Curator of Fossil Arthropods in the Paleobiology Department and Matt Buffington, Research Entomologist at the USDA’s Systematic Entomology Laboratory.
Most species of the order Hymenoptera are parasitoids. They lay their eggs in the eggs or larvae of other arthropods, mostly insects. Upon hatching, the wasps’ growing larvae reside in, and feed on, their hosts until they develop into adults and their hosts die. The vast majority of these insects are small, many less than 2 mm in length – you have to be very tiny to lay an egg inside the egg of another insect. The Kishenehn Formation’s very strong bias for preservation of very tiny insects, some less than a millimeter long, has resulted in thousands of these tiny wasps being preserved in the oil shale of the Formation.
John LaPolla of Towson University in Maryland and John Huber of Natural Resources Canada in Ottawa, have described numerous ants (Formicidae)1 and fairy wasps (Mymaridae)2 respectively, from the Kishenehn Formation, Three tiny specimens in the Platygastridae subfamilies Sceliotrachelinae (Fidobia), Telenominae and Scelioninae (< 1.5, < 1 and < 2 mm in length respectively) were figured but not described by Talamas and Buffington.3 In addition, a very rare and evolutionarily important member of the nearly extinct family Pelecinidae was described by Greenwalt and Engel.4
Alan has a lot of material to work with; I predict that his thesis will be full of new publications. No pressure though.
Alan’s 2020 Entomological Society of America poster can be found here:
Publications to-date on Kishenehn Formation Hymenoptera
1. LaPolla, J.S. and Greenwalt, D.E. 2015. Fossil Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the Middle Eocene Kishenehn Formation. Sociobiology, 62(2):163-174.
2. Huber, J.T. and D. Greenwalt. 2011. Compression fossil Mymaridae (Hymenoptera) from Kishenehn oil shales, with description of two new genera and review of Tertiary amber genera. ZooKeys, 130:473‒494.
3. Talamas EJ, Buffington ML (2015) Fossil Platygastroidea in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 47: 1–52. doi: 10.3897/JHR.47.5730
4. Greenwalt, D. and Michael S. Engel, M. S. 2014. A diminutive pelecinid wasp from the Eocene Kishenehn Formation of northwestern Montana (Hymenoptera: Pelecinidae). Novitates Paleoentomologicae, 8:1-9.