New Insect Order Found in Southern Africa

Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
March 28, 2002

For the first time in 87 years, researchers have discovered an insect that constitutes a new order of insects. Dubbed "the gladiator" (for the recent movie), it lives in the Brandberg Mountains of Namibia, on the west coast of Southern Africa.

Entomologist Oliver Zompro of the Max Planck Institute of Limnology in Plön, Germany, who identified the creature as unique, said it resembles "a cross between a stick insect, a mantid, and a grasshopper."

It differs from a stick insect, Zompro noted, because its first body segment is the largest. Unlike a mantid, it uses both its fore and mid legs to catch prey, and unlike a grasshopper, it can't jump.

Growing up to four centimeters (1.6 inches) long, "the gladiator" is carnivorous and nocturnal. It lives at the base of clumps of grass that grow in rock crevices.

Zompro first suspected that he was seeing a new insect order while examining fossils of stick-like insects sent to him by amber collectors in Germany. After finding similar specimens in more recent collections at museums in London and Berlin, he set out to determine whether the insect—which had been presumed extinct—might still be found in the wild.

The existence of the insect was confirmed last month on a field trip to Namibia.

The discovery of the new insect order, which has been named Mantophasmatodea, increases the number of insect orders to 31.

"This discovery is comparable to finding a mastodon or saber-toothed tiger," said Piotr Naskrecki, director of Conservation International's new Invertebrate Diversity Initiative.

Diana Wall, an ecologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, called the discovery "tremendously exciting" and said it could give scientists "a new perspective on how life fits together."

"This new order could be a missing link to determining relationships between insects and other groups," she said, adding: "Every textbook discussing the orders of insects will now need to be rewritten."

Lucky Break

No new order of insects has been identified since 1915.

Continued on Next Page >>




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