Back to Stories & News

DENVER/March 5, 2024 – Researchers with the University of Minnesota, funded by Morris Animal Foundation, hope to release highly-specialized parasitic wasps to serve as a biological control method to save Darwin’s finches from a dire threat: the invasive avian vampire fly, Philornis downsi.

This species has been devastating finch populations on the Galapagos Islands by laying eggs in their nests, with the emerging larvae harming the nestlings.  

To protect these iconic birds and other endemic species impacted by the fly, the research team investigated the potential of using a parasitic wasp, C. annulifera, to target the vampire fly without affecting other native endemic species. The results of this three-year study are promising and suggest a careful release of the wasp that could protect the finches without harming the delicate ecosystem of the Galapagos.

Surprisingly, the study also found only two native fly species on the islands, highlighting an urgent need to protect these native species.   

"The data suggest that the introduced flies are displacing the native and endemic flies," said George Heimpel, the study's principal investigator and Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota

This discovery adds a layer of complexity to the mission, emphasizing the importance of ensuring the wasp's release does not negatively impact native fly populations that might still exist, albeit in rare instances.  

"The findings underscore the urgency and the delicate balance of introducing a new species to control an invasive one, ensuring we protect native species," Heimpel said.    

About Morris Animal Foundation  
Morris Animal Foundation’s mission is to bridge science and resources to advance the health of animals. Founded in 1948 and headquartered in Denver, it is one of the largest nonprofit animal health research organizations in the world, funding nearly $160 million in more than 3,000 critical animal health studies to date across a broad range of species. Learn more at

Media Contact: Annie Mehl