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Rare insect with leaf-shaped genitals discovered in Uganda

A British scientist from Anglia Ruskin University has recently discovered a new species which belongs to a group of insects so rare that its closest relative was last spotted in 1969. During field work with his students in the rainforest of the Kibale National Park in western Uganda, Dr. Alvin Helden, an expert in Animal and Environmental Biology, found a new type of leafhopper. Dr. Helden named the species Phlogis kibalensis and described it in the journal Zootaxa.

Leafhoppers are closely related to cicadas, but they are much smaller. These insects feed mainly on plant sap, which they suck directly from the phloem, and are preyed on by invertebrates such as spiders, parasitic wasps, and beetles, as well as some species of birds.

The newly discovered leafhopper is only 6.5 mm long, has a distinctive metallic sheen, pitted body, and – as most other leafhoppers – bizarre, leaf-shaped male sexual organs.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever discovered a newly described species. Personally, it’s one of those things you aspire to do as an entomologist and I’ve managed to do it now,” said Dr. Helden. “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.”

Phlogis kibalensis is a member of the leafhoppers. Most people are familiar with cicadas, and leafhoppers are related to cicadas. I usually describe them as much, much smaller. They all have the same overall structure; their head end is held slightly higher than their back end and they are quite colorful.”

“Leafhoppers of this genus, and the wider tribe, are very unusual in appearance, and are rarely found. In fact, they are so incredibly rare that their biology remains almost completely unknown. 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.”

According to Dr. Helden, there are many other animal species waiting to be discovered. However, due to deforestation and habitat loss, a large number of these species may sadly become extinct before we will even know they exist. Urgent measures to protect the rainforests and other endangered ecosystems are necessary in order to avoid the extinction of numerous species.

Image Credit: Dr. Alvin Helden, Anglia Ruskin University

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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