Anglia Ruskin scientist makes ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ insect find

A scientist who has discovered a new species of insect immediately “knew it was something very special”.

Dr Alvin Helden of Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, found the leafhopper on a student field trip to Kibale National Park, in west Uganda.

He named the metallic-sheened insect Phlogis kibalensis.

Dr Helden said it is from an “incredibly rare” group of leafhoppers, whose “biology remains almost completely unknown”.

Dr Alvin Helden photographing insectsIMAGE SOURCE,ANGLIA RUSKIN UNIVERSITY
Image caption,

Dr Alvin Helden photographing insects in Kibale National Park

The last recorded sighting of a leafhopper from the Phlogis genus was in the Central African Republic in 1969.

Dr Helden, from the university’s Applied Ecology Research Group, said: “Leafhoppers of this genus, and the wider tribe, are very unusual in appearance, and are rarely found.

“We know almost nothing about Phlogis kibalensis, the new species I found, including what plants it feeds on or its role in the local ecosystem.”

The 6.5mm (0.24in) insect has a pitted body and like most leafhoppers, has uniquely-shaped male reproductive organs – in this case partially leaf-shaped.

Dr Alvin Helden carrying out fieldwork in Kibale National ParkIMAGE SOURCE,ANGLIA RUSKIN UNIVERSITY
Image caption,

Dr Helden has led student groups to Kibale’s rainforests since 2015

Dr Helden has been leading student field trips to Kibale since 2015 and as part of his work has been documenting insects in the park, producing picture guides of its butterflies, hawkmoths and tortoise beetles.

“We wanted to give something back to people of Uganda, who have been so hospitable to Anglia Ruskin University during our field trips,” he said.

While national parks and reserves are “wonderful places”, elsewhere “the amount of rainforest that has been cleared in the tropics is devastating”.

The scientist says he fears the loss of species before they are even discovered.

Image caption,

Kibale covers 493 miles (795km) and has a range of habitats include rainforest and savanna

But he added: “To find this new species is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, particularly as its closest relative was last found in a different country over 50 years ago.

“I knew it was something very special as soon as I spotted it.”

The discovery has been published in Zootaxa and the specimen donated to Cambridge University’s Museum of Zoology.

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