The blog of Xeno, a slightly mad scientist
It may look like something straight from a toy store but this bizarre creature is a new species of insect found living in the South American rainforest.
The 7mm-long creature is golden and its elongated body is covered in orange dots and stripes.
It has hair-like feelers sticking out of its rear which resemble the fuzzy hair of the colourful Troll Dolls, a popular toy in the 1990s.
Researchers believe the bug is an immature insect called a nymph, possibly fitting into one of four nymph families: Dictyopharidae, Nogodinidae, Lophopidae, and Tropiduchidae.
Teams from the University of Harvard and museums around the world trekked for three weeks to explore the untouched rainforest of southeast Suriname.
The new nymph was one of 60 new species recorded during the trek.
Princeton’s Dr Trond Larsen, who is a tropical ecologist and conservation biologist, spent days studying the creature.
Dr Larsen said: ‘I have spent hours searching drawers of nymphs to compare it to other species, but have only been able to narrow it down from 16 to four.’
In insects that undergo a gradual metamorphosis, the stage of the life cycle that hatches from the egg is called the nymph. These insects do not pupate like a butterfly.
The iridescent ‘tail’ that grows from the bottom of some nymphs is in fact made of wax. It is produced by specialised glands in the abdomen.
The wax serves a variety of purposes – in some species it grows into a fan shape and can slow descent while falling. It can also act as a distraction for predators.
‘I couldn’t match it with anything we have discovered before. I can’t get it into a family with certainty,’ continued Dr Larsen.
‘It could be any of these four we know about – but it is very difficult to tell.’
The international team of field biologists studied the mountainous region of southeastern Suriname – a wilderness area that has been relatively unexplored.
It is among the most remote and unexplored tracts of rainforest left on Earth.
Suriname is located in the Guiana Shield, a vast area of South America that contains more than 25 per cent of the world’s rainforest.
The country has a relatively low population and still maintains 95 per cent of its forest cover, but faces pressure from mining, road and dam projects.
The scientists collected data on water quality and a total of 1,378 species, including plants, ants, beetles, katydids, fishes, amphibians, birds and mammals.
Dr. Leeanne Alonso, the expedition’s leader, said: ‘I have conducted expeditions all over the world, but never have I seen such beautiful, pristine forests so untouched by humans.
‘Southern Suriname is one of the last places on earth where there is a large expanse of pristine tropical forest.
‘The high number of new species discovered is evidence of the amazing biodiversity of these forests that we have only just begun to uncover.’