Grad Student Discovers New Insect in Alaska
A tiny scorpionfly was recently discovered by Jill Stockbridge, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, while she was doing research for her thesis on Prince of Wales Island. The tiny insect, which looks like a flea, has been declared a new species.
According to Derek Sikes, an insect curator at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, it belongs to an enigmatic group that might help scientists understand the evolutionary origin of fleas.
When Stockbridge first found the insect, she had trouble identifying it, so she asked Sikes, her thesis advisor, for help. However, he was also unsure of what to make of it, so he posted a digital photo of the insect on Facebook. Luckily, Dr. Michael Ivie, an entomologist at Montana State University and former President of the Entomological Society of AMerica, recognized that the specimen belonged to the genus Caurinus, of which only one species was previously known.
“In addition to being the second known species of an unusual group of insects, we were excited to learn from fossil evidence that these two species belong to a group that probably dates back over 145 million years to the Jurassic,” Sikes said in a news release.
They have named the new insect Caurinus tlagu to honor the native tribes of the island (“Tlagu” means “ancient” in the lanaguge of the Tlingit tribes that have inhabited the northern half of Prince of Wales Island for thousands of years), and it has been described as being about the same size, shape, and color as a flea, although it is not a parasite — the Caurinus tlagu eats plants.
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