An outlandish, evasive bug with a wild hairdo has re-boosted the news of the discovery in southeastern Suriname of sixty never-before-seen animal species. National Geographic carried a picture of the tiny unidentified “troll-haired” creature on Tuesday [see “Troll-haired mystery bug found in Suriname” linked below].
Researchers believe the bug is an immature insect called a nymph, possibly fitting into one of four nymph families: Dictyopharidae, Nogodinidae, Lophopidae and Tropiduchidae. It was photographed by teams from Harvard University and museums around the world that trekked for three weeks to explore the untouched rainforest of southeast Suriname. They recorded 60 never-before-seen species during the expedition that was part of Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Programme (RAP).
Princeton’s Dr. Trond Larsen, a tropical ecologist and conservation biologist, spent days studying the creature. Larsen: “I have spent hours searching drawers of nymphs to compare it to other species, but have only been able to narrow it down from 16 to four. I couldn’t match it with anything we have discovered before. I can’t get it into a family with certainty. It could be any of these four we know about – but it is very difficult to tell.” He was lucky enough to notice and photograph the tiny insect. It was a quick trick done “with much difficulty, as they jump away very fast,” he said, which is also why he wasn’t able to collect a specimen of the tufted bug, which is needed to compare it to other insects and figure out if it’s a known species.
The iridescent “tail” that grows from the bottom of some nymphs is in fact made of wax. It is produced by specialised glands in the abdomen. The wax serves a variety of purposes: in some species it grows into a fan shape and can slow descent while falling. It can also act as a distraction for predators.
Predators of this 5 millimetre insect would themselves be very tiny, and grabbing those waxy tufts might be challenging – or the hairs might even break off, like a lizard’s tail, letting the insect live another day.
In addition to the odd plant hopper, the scientists also found an incredible array of biodiversity in the Suriname rainforest, collecting data on 1,378 species. “It’s one of my favourite places on Earth,” said Leeanne Alonso of the nonprofit Global Wildlife Conservation, who was also part of the expedition, though she notes that gold-mining is threatening the pristine nature of the area.
[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]
Also see “Troll-haired mystery bug found in Suriname” at http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/11/19/bug-hair-suriname-species-animals [Jordens remind us to view reader comments after the article: “The bug seems to be real and seems to exist elsewhere too,” he says.]