Science Scoops: Order! Order!
by Stephen James O'Meara
If you thought finding several new species of insects was exciting, get this: Danish and German scientists have recently discovered a new order of insects! In biology, an order is a primary classification of related animals, which is then subdivided into genera and species. Several new insect species are found each year. But the discovery of a new insect order is not so common. In fact, it's the first time such a discovery has been made since 1915!
The first member of this new insect order was discovered by an international team of entomologists (scientists who study insects) that went to the Brandberg Mountains in Namibia, Africa. The new insect, which looks something like a cross between a stick insect and a praying mantis, was immediately recognized by one team member, Oliver Zompro (Max-Planck-Institute in Plön, Germany). You see, the previous year, Zompro had discovered this same life form in a 45-million-year-old piece of amber that was in a collection at the British Natural History Museum in London. So the newly discovered insect order has been around for at least 45 million years!
The new insect has jaws with three small teeth and long antennae. The scientists say that based on the insect's stomach contents, it appears to be a carnivore (flesh-eater). Indeed, rows of spines on its front and middle legs indicate that the animal held on to its prey with its legs, as some insect-eating locusts do. It has been given the provisional name “Gladiator.” This new order, christened “Mantophasmatodea,” brings the number of insect orders known throughout the world to 31.
- order: A group of animals or plants that are similar in many ways. Rodents such as rats, mice, hamsters, and beavers belong to the same order.
- In Lesson 1, you learned about the characteristics of organisms in different kingdoms.
What kinds of things did the scientists study when determining the insect is part of a new order? What do you think the scientists looked at these characteristics? What might be the dichotomous key the scientists were using?
[anno: Answers should include that the scientists studied the insect's jaws, stomach contents, and its physical appearance. Answers about why the scientists looked at these characteristics may vary but should include a dichotomous key that asks whether or not an insect is a carnivore.]