New species

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A New Species — Myrmedonota heliantha

insect

Myrmedonota heliantha

Taro Eldredge, a graduate student studying entomology at the Biodiversity Institute, was on a routine collecting trip within view of the University of Kansas campus when he came across an insect he’d never seen before. The insect turned out to be a new species.  The article was published in ZooKeys.

Named in honor of the Sunflower State (helio ~ sun, anothos ~ flower), Myrmedonota heliantha is a 2 millimeter long carnivore that inhabits the Baker Wetlands, a small preserve at the southern edge of Lawrence.  The wetlands are the subject of an ongoing debate about the future of expansion of the nearby Kansas Highway 10.

The wetlands are also the only place where the insect is currently known to exist.  The discovery of Myrmedonota heliantha shows just how much there is to know about the plant and animal diversity of places close to home.  We still find new species in our own back yards.

Myrmedonota heliantha's insect relatives can detect ant or termite colonies using smell.  They then set up shop in their host's burrows and eat their hosts.  Eldredge is curious if this species lives the same way.

In battles over land use, conservationists often cite the existence of rare animals and plants, or the potential to find new species. The finding of a new species of insect, however, is unlikely to steer the conversation about wetlands preservation. Eldredge said, "If we discovered an elusive population of giant panda in Baker Wetlands, no one would think twice to conserve the land and the beasts."