An international research team including the University of Göttingen (Germany) has described seven new species of leaf insects, also known as “leaf walkers”.
The new species belong to the order of stick insects and leaf insects, which are known for their unusual appearance: they closely resemble some parts of plants, such as twigs, bark or leaves.
This sophisticated camouflage provides excellent protection against predators and is a challenge for researchers. Genetic analysis has allowed scientists to discover “cryptic species”, which cannot be distinguished by their external appearance alone. The discovery of these new species of leaf insects is not only important for the systematic study of these insects, but also for the protection of their diversity.
The results were published in zookeys magazine.
Discovering new species of leaf insects is not simple
Taxonomy (naming, describing and classifying species) is difficult in the case of leaf insects: individuals of different species can be difficult to tell apart, but there can be huge variation within a single species. “Individuals of different species are often considered to belong to the same species based on their appearance. We were able to identify some of the new species only by their genetic characteristics,” explains project leader Dr. Sarah Bank-Aubin from the University of Göttingen, Department of Animal Evolution and Biodiversity.
Some insects in India were previously thought to belong to a species that is widespread in Southeast Asia. But now, researchers have discovered that they are an entirely new species. “The discovery is important for species conservation: if all individuals die in India, it is not just one group of a species that is being reduced, as previously thought. In fact, an entire distinct species is being wiped out. That means it’s especially important to protect the Indian species,” says Bank-Aubin. Other newly discovered species come from Vietnam, Borneo, Java and the Philippines.
Very few species have been described to date
Researchers from the University of Göttingen worked with leaf insect expert Royce Cumming from the City University of New York (USA). This research collaboration led to the identification of over twenty new species, notes Phys.org.
“There are approximately 3,500 known species of such insects and currently there are just over 100 described species. Although they constitute only a small part of this diverse family of insects, their spectacular and unexpected appearance makes them unique”, explains Dr. Sven Bradler, who has been researching the evolution of stick insects and leaf insects at the University for more than 20 years from Göttingen.
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