A grasshopper that was recently discovered on the side of a mountain road near Oaxaca, Mexico by University of Central Florida scientists (UCF) now bears the name Liladownsia fraile after Grammy-award-winning singer and activist Ana Lila Downs Sánchez.
The scientists named the new species after the Mexican-American singer as a nod to her efforts to preserve indigenous culture and her penchant for wearing colorful, local costumes as part of her performances.
The fact that she sang the classic Mexican folksong “La Cucaracha” (in English, “The Cockroach”) on her 2004 album One Blood probably didn’t hurt either.
“It was primarily Paolo’s idea to name the grasshopper after the singer,” said Derek Woller, one of the authors of the paper, referring to colleague Paolo Fontana. “He’s a big fan of Lila Downs (her stage name). The grasshopper is so beautiful, so vibrant, and colorful. When he told us all about her, her work, her colorful clothes, and that she was born in the region where we found the specimens, we thought, ‘Yeah, that’s great, let’s do it.’”
The grasshopper measures about an inch long on average and resembles a fiery rainbow, with blue, red, yellow, orange, and black markings. Photos and a description appear in the journal Zootaxa.
The researchers discovered the new species in 2011 while doing fieldwork for another grasshopper study in a pine-oak forest of the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountain Range in Oaxaca, Mexico.
“We were surprised that a grasshopper of that size and found next to the road wasn’t discovered before,” said Ricardo Mariño-Pérez, one of the co-authors.
The team did some research, returned again in 2013 to see if they could find more grasshoppers, and then submitted their work to the journal after confirming three known small populations of the creatures.
There are about 9,700 known species of grasshoppers in the world. Locals called the creature the friar grasshopper because its head looks a bit like a monk with his hood pulled back. In Spanish “fraile” means friar. That’s why the full scientific name of the grasshopper is Liladownsia fraile.
For the UCF team, it was important to recognize Mexico in naming the species. Downs is known for her contributions to the music industry through her traditional fashion, which is primarily based on Mexico’s indigenous communities, cultures, and heritages. Her music has earned her a Grammy Award and two Latin Grammy Awards. She’s active with various humanitarian causes, especially those related to Latin America’s indigenous communities. But most young music fans may recognize her because she was a featured artist on Carlos Santana’s Corazon album with Gloria Estefan, Ziggy Marley, Wayne Shorter, and others released earlier this year.
“This taxon is dedicated to Lila Downs for a number of reasons, such as the fact that she was born in the vicinity of the type locality and because she incorporates several indigenous tongues from Mexico into her musical style, including Mixteco and Zapoteco (the latter of which is spoken in the type locality). Additionally, Lila Downs has not only promoted the vast cultural diversity of Mexico worldwide via her music, but also through the use of bright colors, a staple of Mexican culture, and considering that this new genus is brightly colored, we would like to recognize her efforts through the dedication of this new genus.”
Mariño-Pérez said the discovery of the grasshopper is an important reminder to all of us to be mindful of the way we use our planet.
“We are in an era of biodiversity crisis,” he said. “Every day species are disappearing, in some cases even before being discovered. This discovery is a reminder that new species are not only in the middle of the Amazon or in the deep forests of Africa, but also next to the road in a more or less populated area.”
To assist in supporting the conservation cause, this unique grasshopper species has been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s new Red List of threatened species.
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