New Insect Order Discovered for First Time Since 1915

4/17/2002

Comparable to Finding a Live Saber-Tooth Tiger, Scientists Say

Washington, DC – An international team of scientists announced today the first discovery of a new insect order since 1915. The discovery will be posted on tomorrow's Science Express website, and will be published in an upcoming issue of Science.

Mantophasmatodea, a predatory animal which best resembles a mix between a stick insect and a preying mantis, was originally found by Oliver Zompro, a doctoral student at the Max-Planck Institute for Limnology in Ploen, Germany in a 45-million year old piece of Baltic amber. Subsequently, the existence of a living population of these insects was discovered on the Brandberg Mountain in western Namibia by a team of scientists from the National Museum of Namibia in Windhoek. Living individuals were confirmed on a recently completed rediscovery expedition, funded by Conservation International.

The new discovery brings the total number of insect orders to 31.

"This discovery is comparable to finding a living mastodon or saber-tooth tiger," said Piotr Naskrecki, Director of Conservation International's new Invertebrate Diversity Initiative, who attended the rediscovery mission and photographed the new order. "It tells us that there are places on Earth that act as protective pockets, preserving tiny glimpses of what life was like millions of years ago."

The new insect order may have lived in Brandberg's unique habitat for millions of years with no interaction with other species. Brandberg is a 120 million year old massif, isolated from other mountains by hundreds of miles of barren sand.

"This discovery, the first of its kind in 87 years, is naturally thrilling for scientists, but is also significant for conservationists." says Naskrecki. "These creatures are some of the last witnesses of the time when Africa and America were part of the same landmass."

Invertebrates are often overlooked as conservation priorities, since they are not widely regarded as charismatic as species such as tigers, pandas or dolphins. But their contribution to the natural earth cannot be overstated. Insects, with more than 1.2 million known species, represent more than 80 percent of all living creatures on Earth.

"If human beings were to disappear tomorrow, the world would go on, but if invertebrates were to disappear, I doubt that the human species could last more than a few months," said Edward O. Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and CI board member.

The new Invertebrate Diversity Initiative, part of The Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International, recognizes invertebrates as an important conservation priority. Bolstered by the latest discovery in Namibia, scientists intend to nominate the Brandberg region as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The rediscovery mission to the Brandberg area was financed by Conservation International, and co-sponsored by scientists from CI, the National Museum of Namibia, the Max Planck Institute for Limnology, as well as other international scientists.

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The Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, (CABS) based at Conservation International, strengthens the ability of CI and other institutions to accurately identify and quickly respond to emerging threats to Earth’s biological diversity. CABS brings together leading experts in science and technology to collect and interpret data about biodiversity, to develop strategic plans for conservation and to forge key partnerships in all sectors toward conservation goals. Read more about CABS at www.biodiversityscience.org.

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