Mysterious New Stick Insect Discovered that Sprays Like a Skunk

09/06/2012

Conlephasma_male

A new species of stick insect has been discovered that is so mysterious and unusual that scientists have given it its own genus, Conlephasma, and the species name of "enigma."

Found on Mount Halcon, a remote locality on the Philippine island of Mindoro, by entomologist Oskar Conle, the bizarre bug is wingless with a stout body and stubby legs. Males have a brilliantly colored green-blue head and orange body. Perhaps its most unique trait, though, is the smelly odor that it sprays from glands behind its head when threatened, similar to a skunk.

"We were baffled. It looked so different from any other known stick insect in the world that we immediately realized it was something very special," said Marco Gottardo, a PhD candidate at the University of Siena, Italy, to the BBC.

Even more enigmatic, this stick insect is not found in trees, but instead roams the leaf litter on the ground. Most species of stick insect live in the forest canopy, where their elongated bodies help to disguise them as twigs and branches. Scientists suspect that the new species evolved its brighter coloration and skunk-like spray as defensive adaptations for life on the forest floor.

Since many of the new species' distinctive traits are so dissimilar to those of any other known stick insect, its origin remains a mystery. One important clue, however, lies in the microstructures of Conlephasma enigma's mouthparts, which actually do resemble those of another group of stick insects. The only problem is that this other group happens to live in tropical North America, thousands of miles and an entire ocean away.

Though scientists can't rule out convergent evolution, if this insect is distantly related to North American insects, it only adds to the mystery. How did this insect first arrive in the Philippines? It certainly raises some fascinating questions about stick insect distribution around the world.

"We also hope that the discovery of this particular new insect species may draw attention into the problem of rainforest conservation in the Philippines, which are home to unique and still poorly known wildlife," added Gottardo.

By Bryan Nelson

Source: BBC Nature


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