Are people swapping their cats and goldfish for praying mantises?

The first overview of the pet mantis market’s dynamics reports a lack of regulations, but also the potential of a stronger collaboration between hobbyists and scientists for biodiversity conservation.

New research sheds light on the pet insect market and its implications on biodiversity conservation

Rearing insects at home as pets may sound strange and a bit nerdy, but thousands of people all over the world have already swapped their hamsters for praying mantises or stick insects.

These insects, sold at fairs and pet markets, or collected in the wild and then reared by amateurs or professionals, are gaining increased popularity and fueling a largely unknown market. Not all of them are small, crawling monsters. Some are elegant, with flower-like coloration (the Orchid Mantis, Hymenopus coronatus), and some are funny-looking like Pokémons (e.g. the Jeweled Flower Mantis, Creobroter wahlbergii). Many can be safely manipulated and cuddled as they look at you with big, cute kitty-eyes (the Giant Shield Mantis Rhombodera basalis).

 The beautiful orchid mantis Hymenopus coronatus, one of the most priced and requested mantis species on the market. Photo by William Di Pietro

When choosing a pet insect, “customers” consider things such as shape, size, colors, and behaviors. They might also take into account how rare a certain species is, or how easy it is to look after. Looking at these preferences, Roberto Battiston of Museo di Archeologia e Scienze Naturali G. Zannato (Italy), William di Pietro of the World Biodiversity Association (Italy) and entomologist Kris Anderson (USA) published the first overview of the mantis pet market. Understanding how this market, still mostly unregulated, is changing, may be crucial to the conservation of rare species and promoting awareness of their habitat and place in the ecosystem.

A survey among almost 200 hobbyists, enthusiasts and professional sellers in the mantis community from 28 different countries showed that the targets of this market are indeed predictable. The typical mantis breeder or enthusiast, the study found, is 19 to 30 years old and buys mantises mostly out of personal curiosity or scientific interest. Willing to spend over $30 for a single individual, most people will prefer beautiful looking species over rare ones.

A cute nymph of the Jeweled Flower Mantis Creobroter wahlbergii resting on the tip of a finger. Photo by William Di Pietro

The research, published in the open-access Journal of Orthoptera Research, identified buyers as “mostly curious enthusiasts with poor knowledge of the market dynamics and the laws behind it, even if they seem to generally care about their pet.”

But the data also suggests the trade might not always be on the legal side, as “about one time out of four the lack of permits or transparency from the seller is perceived from the buyer.”

A good collaboration between science and this large community may play a crucial role in the conservation of mantises in nature, the researchers point out.

The Giant Shield Mantis Rhombodera basalis looking for a friend. Photo by William Di Pietro

Mantises and, in general, insects, are poorly known in terms of biology, distribution, and threats, with many species still unknown and waiting to be discovered. This is a big limit to their protection and conservation, since you cannot protect what you don’t know.

“Hobbyists and pet insect enthusiasts are producing and sharing a huge quantity of observations on the biology and ecology of hundreds of species, even rare or still undescribed ones, a priceless heritage for the scientific community,” the researchers conclude. 

“Strengthening the dialogue between them, promoting a white market over a black one, may be a crucial help for the conservation of these insects, fundamental parts of the biodiversity of our planet, that are replacing our traditional pets at home.”

Research article:

Battiston R, Di Pietro W, Anderson K (2022) The pet mantis market: a first overview on the praying mantis international trade (Insecta, Mantodea). Journal of Orthoptera Research 31(1): 63-68. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.31.71458

A year of biodiversity: Top 10 new species of 2021 from Pensoft journals, Part 2

While 2021 may have been a stressful and, frankly, strange year, in the world of biodiversity there has been plenty to celebrate! Out of the many new species we published in our journals this year, we’ve curated a selection of the 10 most spectacular discoveries. The world hides amazing creatures just waiting to be found – and we’re making this happen, one new species at a time.

Read Part 1 of the Top 10 new species of 2021 here.

5. The Instagram model

Many students and young researchers are encouraged to explore biodiversity by starting from their own backyard. Yes, but how often do they find undescribed snake species in there?

This is exactly what happened to Virendar K. Bhardwaj, a master student in Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. Confined to his home in Chamba, India because of the COVID-19 lockdown, he started photographing any wildlife he came across and uploading it on his Instagram account. One of his images showed a beautiful kukri snake.

The picture immediately caught the attention of Zeeshan A. Mirza (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore) and Harshil Patel (Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat), who worked together with Virendar to describe it as a new species under the name Oligodon churahensis.

“It is quite interesting to see how an image on Instagram led to the discovery of such a pretty snake that, until very recently, remained hidden to the world,” Zeeshan A. Mirza told us earlier this month.

“What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species. Lately, people have been eager to travel to remote biodiversity hotspots to find new or rare species, but if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.”

Published in: Evolutionary Systematics

4. The tiny snail with an athletic name

Do freshwater snails make good tennis players? Well, one of them certainly has the name for it.

Enter Travunijana djokovici, a new species of aquatic snail named after famous Serbian ten­nis player Novak Djokovic.

Found in a karstic spring near Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, T. Djokovici is part of the family of mud snails, which inhabit fresh or brackish water, including caves and subterranean habitats.

The tiny snail was discovered by Slovak biospeleologist Jozef Grego and Montenegrin zoologist Vladimir Pešić of the University of Montenegro, who claim they named it after the renowned tennis player “to acknowledge his inspiring enthusiasm and energy.”.

To discover some of the world’s rarest animals that inhabit the unique underground habitats of the Dinaric karst, to reach inaccessible cave and spring habitats and for the restless work during processing of the collected material, you need Novak’s energy and enthusiasm,” they add.

Amazingly, Novak Djokovic found out that he’s now a namesake to a tiny snail, and he even had a comment.

“I am honoured that a new species of snail was named after me because I am a big fan of nature and ecosystems and I appreciate all kinds of animals and plants,” he says in an Eurosport article. “I don’t know how symbolic this is, because throughout my career I always tried to be fast and then a snail was named after me,” he joked. “Maybe it’s a message for me, telling me to slow down a bit!”

Published in: Subterranean Biology

3. The Coronavirus caddisfly

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected all of us, and the scientific world is no exception. Fieldwork got postponed, museums remained closed, arranging meet-ups and travel became almost impossible.

Scientists used this as a drive and inspiration as they continued their hard work on new discoveries. Only this year, we published the descriptions of the beetle Trigonopterus corona, the wasp Allorhogas quarentenus, and, yes, the caddisfly Potamophylax coronavirus.

P. coronavirus was collected near a stream in the Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park in Kosovo by a team of scientists led by Professor Halil Ibrahimi of the University of Prishtina. After molecular and morphological analyses, it was described as a caddisfly species new to science. Its name will be an eternal memory of an extremely difficult period.

In a broader sense, the researchers also wish to bring attention to “another silent pandemic occurring on freshwater organisms in Kosovo’s rivers,” caused by the pollution and degradation of freshwater habitats, as well as the activity increasing in recent years of mismanaged hydropower plants. Particularly, the river basin of the Lumbardhi i Deçanit River, where the new species was discovered, has turned into a ‘battlefield’ for scientists and civil society on one side and the management of the hydropower plant operating on this river on the other.

P. coronavirus is part of the small insect order of Trichoptera, which is very sensitive to water pollution and habitat deterioration. The authors of the species argue that it is a small-scale endemic taxon, very sensitive to the ongoing activities in Lumbardhi i Deçanit river, and failure to understand this may drive it, along with many other species, towards extinction.

Published in: Biodiversity Data Journal

2. The cutest peacock spider ever

If you think spiders can’t be cute, you’ve probably never seen a peacock spider. They have big forward-facing eyes, and their males perform fun courtship dances.

Citizen scientist Sheryl Holliday was the first to spot this vibrant spider while walking in Mount Gambier, Australia, and she posted her find on Facebook. It was later described as a new species by arachnologist Joseph Schubert of Museums Victoria.

Coloured bright orange, it was called Maratus Nemo, after the popular Disney character.

‘It has a really vibrant orange face with white stripes on it, which kind of looks like a clown fish, so I thought Nemo would be a really suitable name for it,’ Joseph Schubert says.

Maratus Nemo is probably the first influencer arachnid – his curious story, bright colours and fun name practically made him an internet star overnight.

Published in: Evolutionary Systematics

1. The tiny ant that challenges gender stereotypes

Found in Ecuador’s evergreen tropical forests, this miniature trap jaw ant bears the curious Latin name Strumigenys ayersthey. Unlike most species named in honour of people, whose names end with -ae (after females) and –i (after males), S. ayersthey might be the only species in the world to have a scientific name with the suffix –they.

“In contrast to the traditional naming practices that identify individuals as one of two distinct genders, we have chosen a non-Latinized portmanteau honoring the artist Jeremy Ayers and representing people that do not identify with conventional binary gender assignments, Strumigenys ayersthey,” authors Philipp Hoenle of the Technical University of
Darmstadt
and Douglas Booher of Yale University state in their paper.

Strumigenys ayersthey sp. nov. is thus inclusively named in honor of Jeremy Ayers for the multitude of humans among the spectrum of gender who have been unrepresented under traditional naming practices.”

Curiously, it was no other than lead singer and lyricist of the American alternative rock band R.E.M. Michael Stipe that joined Booher in writing the etymology section for the research article, where they explain the origin of the species name and honor their mutual friend, activist and artist Jeremy Ayers.

This ant can be distinguished by its predominantly smooth and shining cuticle surface and long trap-jaw mandibles, which make it unique among nearly a thousand species of its genus.

“Such a beautiful and rare animal was just the species to celebrate both biological and human diversity,” Douglas Booher said.

Published in: ZooKeys

Decade-old photographs shared on social media give away a new species of pygmy grasshopper

While scrolling through iNaturalist – a social network where professional and citizen scientists share their photographs, in order to map biodiversity observations from across the globe – a group of students from Croatia discovered a couple of curious pictures, taken in 2008 in the Peruvian rainforest and posted in 2018. What they were looking at was a pygmy grasshopper sporting a unique pattern of lively colors. The motley insect was nothing they have so far encountered in the scientific literature.

While scrolling through iNaturalist – a social network where professional and citizen scientists share their photographs, in order to map biodiversity observations from across the globe – a group of students from Croatia discovered a couple of curious pictures, taken in 2008 in the Peruvian rainforest and posted in 2018. What they were looking at was a pygmy grasshopper sporting a unique pattern of lively colors. The motley insect was nothing they have so far encountered in the scientific literature.

The scientist and photographer Roberto Sindaco, Museo Civico di Storia naturale (Torino, Italy) graciously shared his camera roll with Niko Kasalo, Maks Deranja, and Karmela Adžić, graduate students under the mentorship of Josip Skejo, all currently affiliated with University of Zagreb, Faculty of Science, Croatia. Together, they published a paper describing the yet to be named insect in the open-access scientific journal Journal of Orthoptera Research.

Typically, new species are described from specimens collected from their natural habitats and then deposited in a museum to be preserved for future reference. The authors, possessing several high-quality photographs, decided to challenge the norm and name the new species based on photographs only. The paper was initially rejected, but a compromise was reached—it could be published with the species name removed.

The International Code of Zoological nomenclature is a document that contains regulations for proper scientific naming of animal species. It allows naming species from photographs, but the practice is generally looked down upon. Thus, the authors decided to use the nameless species to draw attention to this problem and bring more clarity. Names in zoology consist of two words: the genus name and the species name. As the species name was denied, the grasshopper is now mysteriously referred to as „the nameless Scaria“.

Another important message of this paper is how citizen science portals, such as iNaturalist, allow everybody interested in nature to contribute to ‘real’ scientific work by posting their findings online.

The authors believe that including laypeople in the scientific process can help bridge the communication gap between scientists and the general population, dissipating the growing suspicion towards science. The researchers urge everybody to engage with nature around them and capture its beauty with their camera lens. 

“Only by interacting with nature can we truly feel how much we might lose if we do not take care of it, and care is urgently needed,”

said the authors of the study.
Male of the nameless Scaria species
Photo by Roberto Sindaco

Original source:

Kasalo N, Deranja M, Adžić K, Sindaco R, Skejo J (2021) Discovering insect species based on photographs only: The case of a nameless species of the genus Scaria (Orthoptera: Tetrigidae). Journal of Orthoptera Research 30(2): 173-184. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.30.65885

A star in subtropical Japan: a new species of parasitoid wasp constructs unique cocoon masses hanging on 1-meter-long strings

A new species of parasitoid wasp that constructs remarkable star-shaped cocoon masses is reported from the biodiversity hot spot Ryukyu Islands. Japanese researchers observed how the wasps construct “stars” after making their way out of the moth larvae they inhabit during their own larval stage. In their study, published in the open-access journal Journal of Hymenoptera Research, the team discuss the ecological significance of the cocoon mass and the evolution of this peculiar structure.

A unique “star” was discovered from the Ryukyu Islands, a biodiversity hot spot in subtropical Japan: a star-shaped structure that turned out to be the cocoon mass of a new species of parasitoid wasp. Researchers Shunpei Fujie (Osaka Museum of Natural History), So Shimizu, Kaoru Maeto (Kobe University), Koichi Tone (Okinawa Municipal Museum), and Kazunori Matsuo (Kyushu University) described this parasitoid wasp as a new species in the open-access Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

The new parasitoid wasps, Meteorus stellatus. Photo by Fujie S

Parasitoid wasps parasitize a variety of organisms, mostly insects. They lay eggs in the host, a larva of hawk moth in this case, where the wasp larvae later hatch. After eating the host from the inside out, the larvae spin threads to form cocoons, in which they pupate, and from which the adult wasps eventually emerge. 

The larvae of Meteorus stellatus emerging from a host moth. Photo by Tone K

Larvae of the newly discovered parasitoid wasp form star-shaped masses of cocoons lined up in a spherical pattern, suspended by a thread that can reach up to 1 meter in length. The structure, 7 to 14 mm wide and 9 to 23 mm long, can accommodate over 100 cocoons.

The star-shaped cocoon mass and the cable of the new parasitoid wasps. Photo by Shimizu S

Despite its peculiarity, the wasp species constructing these masses had not been previously described: morphological observation and molecular analysis revealed that it was new to science. The authors aptly called it Meteorus stellatus, adding the Latin word for “starry” to its scientific name.

Thanks to the recent publication, we now have the first detailed report about the construction of such a remarkable cocoon mass in parasitoid wasps. We can also see what the process looks like, as the researchers were able to film the wasps escaping from the moth larvae and forming the star-shaped structure.

Why does M. stellatus form cocoons in such a unique structure?

The authors of the study believe this unique structure helps the wasps survive through the most critical time, i.e. the period of constructing cocoons and pupating, when they are exposed to various natural enemies and environmental stresses. The star shape most likely reduces the exposed area of individual cocoons, thus increasing their defense against hyper-parasitoids (wasps attacking cocoons of other parasitoid wasps), while the long thread that suspends the cocoon mass protects the cocoons from potential enemies like ants.

“How parasitoid wasps have evolved to form such unique masses instead of the common individual cocoons should be the next thing on our ‘to-research’ list,” say the authors.

Research article:

Fujie S, Shimizu S, Tone K, Matsuo K, Maeto K (2021) Stars in subtropical Japan: a new gregarious Meteorus species (Hymenoptera, Braconidae, Euphorinae) constructs enigmatic star-shaped pendulous communal cocoons. Journal of Hymenoptera Research 86: 19-45. https://doi.org/10.3897/jhr.86.71225

Desert locusts remain a serious threat to Pakistan

The recent Desert Locust upsurge had a major impact on Pakistan’s agriculture, with swarms causing immense damage to all types of crops. A joint French-Pakistani team provides an overview of the dynamics of this upsurge, assesses its impact and control measures, and clarifies the role of different stakeholders in the management of this pest, suggesting various improvements for the future. The study was published in the open access Journal of Orthoptera Research.

In 2019 and 2020, desert locusts once again plagued parts of East Africa and huge areas as far as India and Pakistan through the Arabian Peninsula, in an infestation that was described as the worst in decades. A serious agricultural pest, the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria can feed on most types of crops, including grains, vegetables and fruit, causing significant damage to agricultural production and threatening food security in many countries.

Since the 1960s, a preventive control strategy against this pest has been implemented, based on monitoring of outbreak areas and ecological conditions, followed, if necessary, by early intervention and limited use of pesticides, so that any outbreak can be stopped as soon as possible. With 60 years of hindsight, desert locust invasions are now less frequent, smaller in scale and, if they cannot be stopped early, they are adequately managed.

Desert Locust: mature adult. Photo by A. Monard, CIRAD

However, financial and political uncertainties in many parts of the desert locust’s range continue to sustain the threat, and not all invasions can be stopped early. This was the case in 2018, when such an upsurge was largely aided by rains in the southern Arabian Peninsula. Locusts could not be detected for several months and therefore went unchecked, mainly due to the insecure conditions, especially in Yemen. The swarms then progressively contaminated a large part of East Africa and spread to Iran, Pakistan and India. Pakistan, in particular, subject to periodic swarm invasions in the past, faced a particularly severe situation in 2019-2020, where the swarms could only be contained after several months of intensive control.

Scientists Riffat Sultana, Ahmed Ali Samejo and Samiallah Soomro (University of Sindh, Pakistan), Santosh Kumar (University of Cholistan, Pakistan) and Michel Lecoq (former director of a locust research unit at CIRAD, France) synthesised these two years of upsurge in a new research article published in the open-access Journal of Orthoptera Research. They focused on Pakistan, the damage caused in this country, and the surveillance and control operations undertaken, clarifying, at the same time, at both national and international level, the role of the different actors in the management of this pest, and suggesting some improvements for the future.

Desert Locust: hopper. Photo by A. Foucart, CIRAD

During this upsurge, a great deal of damage was caused to all types of crops. The Government of Pakistan’s preliminary estimate of monetary losses due to desert locusts for the agricultural seasons 2020 and 2021 ranges from $3.4 billion to $10.21 billion. More than 3 million people were facing severe acute food insecurity.

The authors also note that Pakistan needs to continue to be prepared and improve the prevention system already in place. They suggest developing compensatory measures for local populations in the event of an uncontrolled invasion at an early stage, increasing the use of alternatives to chemical pesticides such as mycopesticides, and maintaining funding mechanisms that provide sustainable support even in times of recession. Perhaps the most important challenge is certainly to maintain long-term efforts to build resilience, despite the apparent absence of imminent threats.

Research article:

Sultana R, Kumar S, Samejo AA, Soomro S, Lecoq M (2021) The 2019–2020 upsurge of the desert locust and its impact in Pakistan. Journal of Orthoptera Research 30(2): 145-154. https://doi.org/10.3897/jor.30.65971

Journal Alpine Entomology calls for contributions in a new topical collection

“Trends in Arthropods of Alpine Aquatic Ecosystems” is the first topical collection for the journal of the Swiss Entomological Society

“Trends in Arthropods of Alpine Aquatic Ecosystems” is the first topical collection for the journal of the Swiss Entomological Society

The open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly journal Alpine Entomology, published by Pensoft on behalf of the Swiss Entomological Society, announced its very first topical collection of articles, which will be focusing on arthropods associated with aquatic ecosystems in mountainous regions.

The journal is currently inviting scientists, working on aquatic fauna from alpine habitats, to openly publish their research articles and short notices that provide evidence how arthropods’ biogeography, species communities, distribution, behaviour and morphology have changed in recent times. 

“Aquatic invertebrates are key indicators of global or local changes. Furthermore, many aquatic ecosystems are closely linked to mountains because they originate in them. Many valuable unpublished datasets on aquatic arthropod fauna may therefore be available from mountainous regions,”

explain the rationale behind the newly opened topical article collection guest editors Dr. Jean-Luc Gattolliat (Museum of Zoology, Lausanne and University of Lausanne, Switzerland) and Dr. David Muranyi (Eszterházy Károly Catholic University, Hungary).

The aim of the “Trends in Arthropods of Alpine Aquatic Ecosystems” collection is to bring together data and findings about what many agree is the most impacted type of environment on Earth: aquatic ecosystems, especially running waters.

The collection will remain open for submissions for the next two years. In the meantime, the accepted manuscripts will be published on a rolling basis, as soon as they are ready for publication.

***

Visit the journal’s website at: https://alpineentomology.pensoft.net/ 
Follow Alpine Entomology on Twitter and Facebook.

The mini grasshoppers that outlived dinosaurs: the fascinating world of Tetrigidae

Have you ever seen a one-centimetre-long jumping critter in a leaflitter or close to a pond or a stream and thought that it is some juvenile insect? What you saw was probably an adult pygmy grasshopper, member of the family Tetrigidae. There are more than 2000 described species of those minute jumping insects, and this peculiar family has been around for more than 230 million years, meaninng that pygmies said both ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to dinosaurs. And yet, we know more about dinosaurs than we do about pygmy grasshoppers.

Guest blog post by Josip Skejo

“(…) pronotum often takes on various extreme modifications,
giving to the insects a most grotesque or bizarre appearance (…)”


quote from Hancock, Joseph Lane (1907)
Orthoptera fam. Acridiidae, subfam Tetriginae.
Genera Insectorum.

Have you ever seen a one-centimetre-long jumping critter in a leaflitter or close to a pond or a stream and thought that it is some juvenile insect? Well, I must disappoint you. What you saw was probably an adult pygmy grasshopper, member of the family Tetrigidae. There are more than 2000 described species of those minute jumping insects, and this peculiar family has been around for more than 230 million years, meaninng that pygmies said both ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to dinosaurs. And yet, we know more about dinosaurs than we do about pygmy grasshoppers.

Most of the research you can find out there is probably based on genera Tetrix and Paratettix in Europe or Northern America (Adžić et al. 2021). Species of Northern America (Nearctic region, 35 species) and Europe (W Palearctic region, 11 species) are indeed best known from the standpoint of natural history, even though they represent only about 2% of the diversity. Here is the list of 19 species that are most often observed by amateur naturalists on the iNaturalist platform (Table 1) and as you can see 12 out of 19 species are indeed from Europe and Northern America. Because of that, let us focus on awesome neglected diversity in the tropics.

SpeciesGeographic distributionN of observations
Tetrix subulataHolarctic618
Tettigidea lateralisNearctic505
Tetrix undulataW Palearctic267
Tetrix tenuicornisPalearctic225
Criotettix bispinosusIndochina and islands of SE Asia225
Paratettix meridionalisW Palearctic: Mediterranean145
Paratettix mexicanusNearctic111
Tetrix depressaW Palearctic90
Tetrix arenosaNearctic82
Tetrix bipunctataW Palearctic77
Tetrix japonicaE Palearctic73
Paratettix aztecusS Nearctic to N Neotropics54
Paraselina brunneriE Australia54
Nomotettix cristatusNearctic53
Tetrix ceperoiW Palearctic51
Hyperyboella orphaniaNew Caledonia49
Scelimena productaJava, Sumatra, Bali31
Eurymorphopus bolivariensisNew Caledonia30
Discotettix belzebuthBorneo26
Table 1. Well-known Tetrigidae species. Pygmy grasshoppers with more than 25 Research-Grade observations in iNaturalist, together with their distribution briefly explained.

Why do I mention the iNaturalist platform? Because I think it is the future of zoology, especially of faunistics. Never before have we been able to simultaneously gather so much data from so many different places. I started using Flickr some time ago to search for photos of unidentified rare pygmy grasshoppers. I did find many rare species, and what is even crazier, species that were not known to science. I’ll try to present you with a glimpse of the diversity I found online, so maybe some new students or amateurs will contribute, as they did with Paraselina brunneri, after the study was published in ZooKeys.

The Angled Australian barkhopper, Paraselina brunneri (= P. multifora). A, B, D a female from Upper Orara, photos by Nick Lambert. C a female from Lansdowne forest, photo by Reiner Richter. E a male from Mt. Glorious, photo by Griffin Chong. F individual from Mt. Mellum, photo by Ian McMaster.

It seems that “rare” species from Australia are not so rare after all

Many new records of Paraselina brunneri and Selivinga tribulata can now be found online, thanks to a study published with ZooKeys.

The Tribulation helmed groundhopper, Selivinga tribulata, living specimens in natural habitat. A Female from Kuranda, photo by David Rentz. B male from Kuranda, photo by David Rentz. C male from Tully Range, photo by Matthew Connors. D nymph from Redlynch, photo by Matthew Connors. E, G a male from Kingfisher park, photo by Nick Monaghan. F female from Speewah, photo by Matthew Connors.

Enjoy some selected awesome places and selected amazing taxa that inhabit those places. Emphasis is given on the extremely rare and weird-looking, or as Hancock called them, bizarre and grotesque species. Those with leaf-like morphology, spines, warts, undulations, or horns. Enjoy a short voyage from the rainforests of Madagascar through the humid forests of Australia, New Guinea, Borneo, and finally the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.

Madagascar is home to some of the largest and most colourful species of Tetrigidae in whole world

Very peculiar are the species of the genera Holocerus and Notocerus, both of which were discussed in studies published in ZooKeys. Finally, one can find photographs of these beauties identified to species level.

Variability of Holocerus lucifer. A living specimen in Marojejy NP, photo by R. Becky. B–E variability of pronotal projection morphology (B holotype of Holocerus lucifer C Maroantsentra, Antongil Bay D holotype of H. taurus E Tamatave.

Interesting fact about those large pygmy grasshoppers: When I visited the rainforests of Madagascar, I observed one Holocerus devriesei and took photos of it. The insect then took flight far away in the rainforest. Who could think that an animal with such a large back spines could be such a skilful flier! The same is maybe true for Notocerus.

Holocerus devriesei in natural habitat. A Nymph from Andasibe, photo by P. Bertner. B nymph from Vohimana, photo by F. Vassen. C adult ♀ from Andasibe in c in dorsal view and D in dorsal view, photos by P. Bertner.
Holocerus devriesei and its habitat. A ♂ from Ranomafana in natural habitat, photos by M. Hoffmann. B–E adult ♂ from Analamazaotra, photos by J. Skejo. F–G natural habitat in Analamazaotra G Ravenala madagascariensis, the Traveler’s Palm, photos by J. Skejo.
Live female of the Formidable Pygmy Grasshopper, Notocerus formidabilis, in lateral view. Photo by Éric Mathieu.
Live female of the Formidable Pygmy Grasshopper, Notocerus formidabilis, in dorsal view. Photo by Éric Mathieu.

Not all pygmy grasshoppers are large and colourful

Some species, like the Pymgy unicorns of Southern America are small but still interesting. Metopomystrum muriciense was described with ZooKeys from the Atlantic rainforests of Murici, Brazil, in 2017.

Metopomystrum muriciense: A Male holotype, head and portion of sternum, frontal view B head and portion of pronotum, dorsal view C head and portion of pronotum, lateral view (* sternomentum). Scale bars: 2.0 mm.

Some pygmy grasshoppers are weird

Giraffehoppers from New Guinea are among the most unique pygmy grasshoppers. Many species can be differentiated by the antennal shape, and maybe by face coloration. Those are very visual animals, and antennae and colours might be used for courtship (Tumbrinck & Skejo 2017).

A field photographic record of a living Ophiotettix pulcherrima mating pair from Yapen Island, Cenderawasih Bay, W New Guinea, lateral view. Photo by D. Price
Field photographic records of living Ophiotettix.

For young entomologists: How did I decide to study pygmy grasshoppers?

No true biology student knows what she or he wants to study and which direction to take. With me, it was pretty much the same thing. Systematics caught my attention during primary and high school, and I always had a tendency to systematically compare data. My first idea was to study snakes, as I was amazed by shield-tailed snakes (Uropeltidae) and blind snakes (Scolecophidia), about whom I have read a lot. Unfortunately, I never saw representatives of those snake groups, but fortunately, there were a lot of animals that I had seen, and with whom I was more familiar in the field. Among them, there were grasshoppers and crickets (order Orthoptera). Together with Fran Rebrina, my friend and fellow student, I started the first systematic research of Orthoptera of Croatia and the Balkans. Our study on two Croatian endemic species, Rhacocleis buchichii and Barbitistes kaltenbachi, was published with ZooKeys last year.

In the first years of our Orthoptera studies (2011-2012),  I never saw a single pygmy grasshopper in Croatia. I remember it as if it was yesterday when Fran and I asked our senior colleague, Ivan Budinski (BIOM, Sinj), where we could find Tetrigidae, and he confidently said that they are to be found around water. Peruća lake near the city of Vrlika was he place where I saw pygmy grasshoppers, namely Tetrix depressa and Tetrix ceperoi, for the first time ever. I could not believe that there were grasshoppers whose lifecycle is water dependent in any way, so I kept researching them, contacting leading European orthopterists familiar with them (Hendrik Devriese, Axel Hochkirch, Josef Tumbrinck), and checking all the museum collections where I could enter. The encounter on the shores of Peruća was the moment that determined my career as an entomologist. After I discovered specimens of the extremely rare Tetrix transsylvanica in Croatian Natural History Museum (HPM – Hrvatski Prirodoslovni Muzej, Zagreb) in 2013 (Skejo et al. 2014), and after a serendipitous discovery of a new Arulenus species (Skejo & Caballero 2016), I just decided that maybe this interesting group was understudied and required systematic research, and here I am in 2021, regularly publishing on this very group.

References

Adžić K, Deranja M, Pavlović M, Tumbrinck J, Skejo J (2021). Endangered Pygmy Grasshoppers (Tetrigidae). Imperiled – Enyclopaedia of Conservation,. Elsevier, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-821139-7.00046-5

Mathieu É, Pavlović M, Skejo J (2021) The true colours of the Formidable Pygmy Grasshopper (Notocerus formidabilis Günther, 1974) from the Sava region (Madagascar). ZooKeys 1042: 41-50. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1042.66381

Silva DSM, Josip Skejo, Pereira MR, De Domenico FC, Sperber CF (2017) Comments on the recent changes in taxonomy of pygmy unicorns, with description of a new species of Metopomystrum from Brazil (Insecta, Tetrigidae, Cleostratini, Miriatrini). ZooKeys 702: 1-18. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.702.13981

Skejo J, Connors M, Hendriksen M, Lambert N, Chong G, McMaster I, Monaghan N, Rentz D, Richter R, Rose K, Franjević D (2020) Online social media tells a story of Anaselina, Paraselina, and Selivinga (Orthoptera, Tetrigidae), rare Australian pygmy grasshoppers. ZooKeys 948: 107-119. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.948.52910

Skejo J, Medak K, Pavlović M, Kitonić D, Miko RJC, Franjević D (2020) The story of the Malagasy devils (Orthoptera, Tetrigidae): Holocerus lucifer in the north and H. devriesei sp. nov. in the south? ZooKeys 957: 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.957.52565

Tumbrinck, J & Skejo, J. (2027) Taxonomic and biogeographic revision of the New Guinean genus Ophiotettix Walker, 1871 (Tetrigidae: Metrodorinae: Ophiotettigini trib. nov.), with the descriptions of 33 new species. In Telnov D, Barclay MVL, Pauwels OS (Eds) Biodiversity, biogeography and nature conservation in Wallacea and New Guinea (Volume III). The Entomological Society of Latvia, Riga, Latvia, 525-580.

The first Red List of Taxonomists in Europe is calling for the support of insect specialists

The Red List of Taxonomists portal, where taxonomy experts in the field of entomology can register to help map and assess expertise across Europe, in order to provide action points necessary to overcome the risks, preserve and support this important scientific community, will remain open until 31st October 2021.

About 1,000 insect taxonomists – both professional and citizen scientists – from across the European region have already signed up on the Red List of Taxonomists, a recently launched European Commission-funded initiative by the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the scholarly publisher best-known for its biodiversity-themed journals and high-tech innovations in biodiversity data publishing Pensoft.

Insect taxonomists, both professional and citizen scientists, are welcome to register on the Red List of Taxonomists portal at: red-list-taxonomists.eu and further disseminate the registration portal to fellow taxonomists until 31st October 2021.

Within the one-year project, the partners are to build a database of European taxonomy experts in the field of entomology and analyse the collected data to shed light on the trends in available expertise, including best or least studied insect taxa and geographic distribution of the scientists who are working on those groups. Then, they will present them to policy makers at the European Commission.

By recruiting as many as possible insect taxonomists from across Europe, the Red List of Taxonomists initiative will not only be able to identify taxa and countries, where the “extinction” of insect taxonomists has reached a critical point, but also create a robust knowledge base on taxonomic expertise across the European region to prompt further support and funding for taxonomy in the Old Continent.

On behalf of the project partners, we would like to express our immense gratitude to everyone who has self-declared as an insect taxonomist on the Red List of Taxonomists registration portal. Please feel welcome to share our call for participation with colleagues and social networks to achieve maximum engagement from everyone concerned about the future of taxonomy!

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Read more about the rationale of the Red List of Taxonomists project.

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Follow and join the conversation on Twitter using the #RedListTaxonomists hashtag. 

New methods needed to boost success of Classical Biological Control to fight insect pests

The success of Classical Biological Control in the Western Paleartic ecozone is rarely dependent on the released biological control agent, but more often on other factors, such as the target pest, its host plant, or the circumstances of the releases

A CABI-led study has revealed that the success of Classical Biological Control (CBC) in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East is only rarely dependent on the released biological control agent, but more often on other factors, such as the target pest, its host plant, or the circumstances of the releases.

The research – published in the journal NeoBiota – suggests that the overall success of biological control introductions of insect predators and parasitoids against herbivorous insects in the Western Paleartic ecozone is comparable to the success of CBC worldwide. However, over 100 years of CBC in this region, has resulted in no overall rise in success in the fight against insect pests – including those of crops such as citrus, olive, potato, mulberry and various other fruits.

An illustration of a case of biological control of the Comstock mealybug Pseudococcus comstocki with the parasitoid wasp Allotropa burrelli. Image by Lukas Seehausen

Lead author Dr Lukas Seehausen, together with colleagues from CABI Switzerland, the University of Lisbon and the University of Bordeaux, argue that a focus on life-history traits of the biological control agent to increase the chances of successful CBC is not fully justified and should be complemented with the consideration of traits regarding the pest and its host plant, as well as other aspects of CBC, such as climate and management – including ways in which CBC agents are released.

For example, if a CBC agent is released repeatedly against the same pest in different years and countries, the chances of successful establishment and control of the target increase. This is an indication for the importance of release strategies for the success of CBC programmes.

Dr Seehausen said, “What makes our study different from others is that we studied factors that may impact the outcome of CBC not independently of each other but using a holistic analysis, which reveals their relative importance within the complexity of CBC programmes.

“The results from this study should be understood as a first step to give the incentive for a holistic, rather than an independent consideration of factors affecting the success of CBC.”

By filtering data from the BIOCAT catalogue, the scientists found that 780 introductions of insects for biological control were undertaken in the Greater Western Palearctic ecozone between 1890 and 2010. This constituted 416 agent-target combinations.

The results showed that eight countries were responsible for more than two thirds (70.5%) of all introductions: Israel (16.3%), Italy (14.0%), Former USSR (10.1%), France (7.3%), Greece (7.1%), Spain (6.0%), Egypt (5.3%), and Cyprus (4.4%). Within these countries, the percentage of complete target control was very variable.

Overall, the study showed that while the success of agent establishment was 32%, the successful impact of single agents on their target was 18% and the success of complete control was 11%.

However, the success rates of agent establishment and target control were higher in CBC projects targeting pests of woody plants than pests of other types of plants.

A reason for this, the scientists say, might be that being perennial, trees provide a more stable and predictable environment when compared to herbaceous plants such as annual plants or crops.

In carrying out the research, Dr Seehausen and the team added 15 new explanatory variables including consideration of the biological control agent feeding strategy, host range and life-stage killed by the biological control agent.

Dr Seehausen explains, “We found that only a few CBC agent-related factors significantly influenced the success of CBC – suggesting that the reoccurring focus on agent-related traits is not justified.

“Our attention should be redirected to include lower trophic levels and other aspects of CBC – such as abiotic factors including climate and management.”

The scientists conclude by stressing that analysis of the entire BIOCAT catalogue, or an updated version including more factors, should lead to further insights and help to develop decision support tools to increase the success of CBC at all levels.

Original source:

Seehausen ML, Afonso C, Jactel H, Kenis M (2021) Classical biological control against insect pests in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East: What influences its success? NeoBiota 65: 169-191. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.65.66276

Recruiting participants to the first European Red list of insect taxonomists

Contributors will enable the EU to take action to plug in the essential scientific knowledge to address insect declines

The ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ initiative, funded by the European Union, launches its registration portal, where professionals and citizen scientists are called to register on. The purpose is to build a database of European taxonomy experts in the field of entomology, the biological discipline dedicated to insects. The analysis of these data will elucidate the trends in available expertise, thereby forming the basis of key recommendations for policy makers to further allocate necessary efforts and funds to support taxonomists’ work and contribute to protecting European biodiversity and beyond.

Globally, insect populations have been catastrophically plummeting over the last decades. According to the first major Europe-wide survey of honeybee colonies, conducted in 2013, some European countries lost as many as one-third of their colonies every winter. On the other hand, estimates state, the European agriculture industry alone ‘owes’ at least €22 billion per year to honey bees and wild bees, in addition to many species from other insect orders, as together they ensure pollination for over 80% of crops and wild plants in Europe.

Insect pollination of plants is an irreplaceable service to people
Photo: Lenka Z (pexels)

The health of European pollinators on species and population level and other insects essential in our ecosystems strongly relies on our ability to rapidly turn the growing awareness about these worrying trends into swift, decisive actions. These decisions are crucial to mitigate the negative impacts of these alarming trends in human activities, mainly industrial agriculture. Taxonomists – the people who can identify, discover and monitor insect species – have a decisive role to play.

Often specialised in specific insect groups, they can investigate the diversity and abundance of insects. To a great concern, the numbers of trained insect taxonomists seem also to be fast declining. There is the real danger of losing numerous species before we get the chance to even learn about their existence! 

On a more positive note, while species extinction is an irreversible event, certain taxonomic expertise can be nourished and ‘brought back to life’ if only we have the data and analyses to bring to the attention of the relevant education institutions, governments and policy-makers, so that the necessary resources are allocated to education, training, career support and recognition.

This is how the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ project, an initiative by the organisation uniting the most important and largest European natural science collections (CETAF), the world’s authority on assessing the risk of extinction of organisms: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the scientific publisher with a long history in the biodiversity and ecology fields: Pensoft, and funded by the European Commission, comes into play. Launched earlier this year, the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ aims to compile the very first inventory of taxonomic expertise for any group of organisms, understandably choosing the class of insects. 

Bringing together scientists, research institutions and learned societies from across Europe, the project will compare the trends and extract recommendations to overcome the risks, while preserving and further evolving the expert capacity of this scientific community.

The precious skills of insect taxonomists must be preserved and developed
Photo: Grafvision, Adobe Stock

As partners of the project, CETAF and IUCN are mobilising experts from their respective networks to populate the ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ database. In parallel, Pensoft is extracting further data of authors, reviewers and editors from taxonomic publications across its portfolio of academic journals and books, in addition to major relevant databases working with scholarly literature. 

To reach experts, including professionals not necessarily affiliated with partnering institutions, as well as citizen scientists, the team is now calling for European taxonomists to register via the newly launched ‘Red List of Taxonomists’ portal and provide their data by filling a short survey. Their data will not be publicly available, but it will be used for in-depth analyses and reports in the concluding stage of the project, scheduled for early 2022. The collection of the data is in full compliance with GDPR requirements.

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Insect taxonomists, both professional and citizen scientists, are welcome to register on the Red List of Taxonomists portal at: red-list-taxonomists.eu and further disseminate the registration portal to fellow taxonomists.

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Follow and join the conversation on Twitter using the #RedListTaxonomists hashtag.