Strepsiptera are bizarre parasites that display unique adaptations in response to long and diverse coevolution with their hosts and parasitize 7 orders and 34 families of Insecta. The sexes exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism with free-living males and totally endoparasitic females (except in one family). After extensive taxonomic and morphological studies of this unusual entomophagous parasitoid, I am now engaged in using them as model organisms in the study of evolutionary relationships between parasites and their hosts.
In collaboration with laboratories and museums throughout the world, we are beginning to understand the complex interactions that characterize this complex host-parasite relationship. The dimorphic hosts parasitized by the family Myrmecolacidae has been of particular interest: the males parasitize ants and the females parasitize orthopterans and mantids. By molecular characterization we have, unequivocally matched female myrmecolacids to their conspecific males. As a part of this study identical males from different sites have been found to be genetically different, suggesting cryptic speciation.
Given that Strepsiptera found over a wide geographical range can be morphologically similar, cryptic species might be wide spread in this group of parasitoids. We are presently studying other families of Strepsiptera to unravel cryptic species, their host associations and sexual selection.
Systematics, sex determination, evolutionary development, biodiversity and immunogenetics, co-phylogenetics and coevolution of host and parasite are recent areas of focus.
Additional Information: Adjunct Associate Professional Scientist, Division of Biodiversity and Ecological Entomology, Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois, USA