[corrected post] A newly discovered species of ‘fairyfly’ — aptly named Tinkerbella nana — is so small that it can only be seen clearly under a powerful microscope.
The tiny, parasitic insect is just 250 micrometers* in length (250 millionths of a meter; a micrometer is one thousandth of a millimeter) and is actually a type of chalcid wasp which survives by feeding off the eggs and larvae of other insects. This parasitic feeding behavior is beneficial to local farmers — keeping harmful pests in check by reducing their off-spring.
Naturally, such a tiny insect is exceedingly difficult to locate. But a team of entomologists, led by John Huber of Natural Resources Canada, were able to find the insect’s eggs by sifting through the leaf litter, soil, and plants of the agriculturally important Costa Rican province of Alajeula.
These “micro” wasps have exquisitely detailed (if rather skinny) wing structures terminating in a hair-like fringe. This detailed wing morphology is believed to aid the insect’s flight by reducing turbulence and “drag” — a capability that normally requires beating one’s wings hundreds of times per second.
The insect is a member of the order Hymenoptera which is the same order that includes bees and ants. All such fairyfly wasps are exceptionally tiny. A related species is the Kikiki huna, a species found only on the Hawaiian islands, and measures just 0.005 inches (0.13 millimeters).
Tinkerbella and her ilk might be among the smallest insects ever found but scientists don’t really know how what the lower limit on insect size is.
“If we have not already found them, we must surely be close to discovering the smallest insects,” said Huber in a press statement.
The researchers published their discovery April 24 in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research.
* this size has been corrected to micrometers; the original Live Science article contained an error in the photo caption, copied here – apologies!
Some source material for this post came from the Live Science article ‘New ‘Fairy’ Insect Is Mind-Blowingly Small’ by Stephanie Pappas.