Researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks discovered a strange new insect on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. It belongs to an enigmatic group that might help understand the evolutionary origin of the fleas. The new species belongs to the insect order Mecoptera which includes the scorpionflies, hangingflies, and snow scorpionflies.
"We process thousands of Alaskan insects specimens into our collections at the University of Alaska Museum every year so it's rare that we see something that throws us for a loop. I called Derek, the Curator of Insects for the museum, into the lab and asked him what kind of insect this was and he didn't even know the order!," said co-author Jill Stockbridge.
They posted an image of the animal on Facebook so their entomologist colleagues could offer their opinions. It's such a strange insect that, not surprisingly, most suggestions were wrong. One entomologist, Michael Ivie, of Montana State University, recognized it as the genus Caurinus of which only one species, from Washington and Oregon, was previously known.
"In addition to being the second known species of such an usual group of insects, we were excited to learn from fossil evidence that these two species belong to a group that probably dates back over 145 million years, to the Jurassic!" said the lead author Derek Sikes.
These tiny (2 mm) flea-like animals feed on a leafy liverwort that grows in coastal forests. A video in which Loren Russell, the author of the first species and who joined the authors during a May 2013 expedition in Alaska, shows how to collect this new species:
They also have a video showing the new species hopping: