Science

Fairy: The Tiny New Insect

By Matthew Klickstein , Apr 24, 2013 12:04 PM EDT
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We all know that "fairies" are no more real than the (anti-) hero of Peter Pan. But now there's a new species of miniscule fly named after the mythical winged creatures that have "delicate wings trimmed in fringe" of their own.

The new species of insect, named after Peter Pan's hot-blooded duena Tinker Bell, was discovered in Costa Rica and has been christened "Tinkerbella nana."

Tinkerbella nana is in fact only one of a specialized species of insect known as "fairyflies," according to Live Science. Dashing all hopes that the flies are adorably gentle wish-granters, nearly all fairyflies are parasites and all are a breed of chalcid wasp. Many of them gorge on the larvae and eggs of other insects.

One advantage of fairyflies is that they can be employed by farmers to cut down on nasty insect invaders on their property. Farmers will, in fact, often import scads of fairyflies for just this purpose.

The Tinkerbella nana joins the ranks of other tiny fairyflies such as the Kikiki huna, which hails from Hawaii and is — at the largest 0.005 inches (0.13 millimeters) long. This makes the Kikiki huna about the same size as the diameter of a fine drawing pen, according to Live Science.

Tinkerbella nana, or T. nana for short, are themselves only about 250 micrometers in length, with a micrometer being a thousandth of a millimeter.

"Under the microscope, these teeny-tiny insects reveal fine detail, particularly their long, skinny wings, which terminate in hairlike fringe," Live Science says. "This wing shape may help ultra-small insects reduce turbulence and drag when they fly, a feat that requires beating their wings hundreds of times per second."

According to John Huber of Natural Resources Canada, we still don't know how small the T. nana can actually get.

"If we have not already found them, we must surely be close to discovering the smallest insects," Huber said.

Huber and his team of researchers published their findings in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research on Wednesday, April 24.

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