A New Insect Order
One aspect of studying science that can always be counted on is change. Planetary researchers learn more about the planets that inhabit our solar system. Life scientists work to create drugs that will help prevent or cure diseases. Seismologists understand more about faults in Earth’s crust every time there is an earthquake. And entomologists continue to discover new insect members of the animal kingdom.
Is there a new insect order?
Entomologist Oliver Zompro works for the Max-Planck Institute for Limnology in Germany. Limnology is the investigation of fresh water bodies in order to study their biological, physical, and geological properties. Mr. Zompro is credited with identifying a unique organism that appears to be a combination of a mantid, a stick insect, and a grasshopper.
Mr. Zompro had been studying specimens, some encased in 45-million-year-old pieces of amber. His investigations led him to initially believe that he had discovered a new, but extinct, order of insects. While dissecting one of the stick-like specimens, he found the remains of other insects in its gut. This meant that the specimen was a carnivore, which contradicted the current scientific thought that all stick-like insects were herbivores. As a result of his extensive laboratory work, Mr. Zompro became increasingly certain that he had come upon a previously undiscovered order of insects.
In Search of Representatives of a New Order
The Max-Planck Institute and the government of Namibia, in southern Africa, entered into an agreement in early 2002 that allowed scientists to study the possibility of finding a previously undocumented living insect order. Part of their agreement included arrangements for displaying this new order of insects in Namibia and around the world. The agreement also included a process for training Namibian scientists to be part of this important scientific study. The first expedition took the Institute’s scientists and others to the Brandberg Mountain in the western Namibian province of Erongo. This rocky area is categorized geologically as an inselberg. An inselberg is a topographic feature that tends to resist erosion and is an isolated mountain in what is otherwise a mostly level area. Brandberg is important to scientists and conservationists because there are many animal species that live only in this area and no where else on Earth. The existence of the new order of insects was confirmed when the scientists conducted field research on Brandberg and discovered live specimens.
The new order was given the common name of Gladiator because its appearance is similar to armor-wearing characters in the movie Gladiator. These insects were given the scientific name Mantophasmatodea. Mr. Zompro’s initial studies compared the new order to a mantid, a stick insect, and a grasshopper. One way gladiators are different from mantids is that gladiators use both their front and back legs to catch food. Gladiators are not like stick insects because their first body segments are the largest of their bodies. And, unlike grasshoppers, gladiators cannot jump. Gladiator insects are as large as 4 centimeters and are nocturnal carnivores. By adding Mantophasmatodea, scientists have now identified 31 distinct insect orders.
Why This Discovery Is Important
Because the initial investigation of the potential discovery and identification of a new order of insects began in the laboratory with the study of preserved specimens, scientists were then able to go into the field to find live specimens to prove their hypotheses. The identification of Mantophasmatodea is important because it gives proof to the idea that there are protected places on Earth where organisms can continue to live much like they did millions of years ago. Entomologists have been identifying and categorizing new species of insects every year, but no new orders of insects have been discovered since 1915. As scientists continue to study this new order of insects, they are hoping to find new relationships between different orders of insects and between insects and other groups of animals.
Find out more about insect order Mantophasmatodea. How is it linked to other orders of insects? Has it been found anywhere else in the world? Think about other questions you’d like to find the answers to. Write a two to three paragraph summary describing what you learned.