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Commonly known as cuckoo wasps, the hymenopteran family Chrysididae is a very large cosmopolitan group (over 3000 described species) of parasitoid or kleptoparasitic wasps, often highly sculptured, with brilliantly colored metallic-like bodies. They are most diverse in desert regions of the world, as they are typically associated with solitary bee and wasp species, which are also most diverse in such areas.
The term "cuckoo wasp" refers to the cuckoo-like way in which wasps in the family lay eggs in the nests of unrelated host species. Chrysididae, the scientific name of the family, refers to their shiny bodies and is derived from Greek chrysis, chrysid-, "gold vessel, gold-embroidered dress", plus the familial suffix -idae. The common names of many species pay similar tribute to their appearance: jewel wasp, gold wasp, emerald wasp, ruby wasp and so on (cf. French guêpe de feu, fire-wasp, and German Goldwespe, gold-wasp).
Ecology and behavior
Members of the largest subfamily, Chrysidinae, are the most familiar; they are generally kleptoparasites, laying their eggs in host nests, where their larvae consume the host egg or larva while it is still young, then the food provided by the host for its own juvenile. Chrysidines are distinguished from the members of other subfamilies in that most have flattened or concave lower abdomens and can curl into a defensive ball when attacked by a potential host, in a process known as conglobation. Protected by hard chitin in this position, they are expelled from the nest without injury and can search for a less hostile host. The wasps share this ability with pill bugs, pill millipedes (which are often mistaken for pill bugs), and armadilloes. Members of the other subfamilies are parasitoids, of either sawflies or walking sticks, and cannot fold up into a ball.