New ‘incredibly rare’ insect species, leafhopper, found in African rainforest

CAMBRIDGE, England — An incredibly rare new species of insect known as the ‘leafhopper’ has been discovered in Africa in what experts call a ‘once in a lifetime achievement’.

The insect was discovered in the rainforest of Kibale National Park in Uganda by researchers who had carried out fieldwork in the area with their students. This shiny new species of leafhopper is so rare that its closest relatives were last spotted crawling around the Central African Republic in 1969.

Appointed Phlogis kibalensisit has a distinctive metallic luster and, like other leafhopper species, uniquely shaped male reproductive organs that partly resemble a leaf.

General view of Kibale National Park in western Uganda.

“Finding this new species is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, especially since its closest relative was last found in another country over 50 years ago,” says Dr Alvin Helden, member from the applied ecology research group at Anglia Ruskin University, in a declaration. “I knew it was something very special as soon as I spotted it.”

Very little is known about leafhoppers, which are closely related to cicadas, but much smaller. The new species is only 6.5 mm long. They feed mainly on sap sucked directly from the leaves and are a tasty snack for invertebrates like spidersbeetles, wasps, as well as birds.

“Leafhoppers of this genus, and the tribe at large, are very unusual in appearance and are rarely found,” says Helden. “In fact, they are so incredibly rare that their biology remains almost completely unknown, and we know next to nothing about Phlogis kibalensis, the new species I found, including the plants it feeds on or its role in the local ecosystem.”

Since 2015, researchers have been organizing field trips for students in Kibale National Park, near the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have documented many of the park’s insects and produced illustrated guides. for butterflieshawkmoths and turtle beetles.

Dr. Alvin Helden photographing insects
Dr Alvin Helden photographs insects in Kibale National Park, Uganda.

“There is still so much to discover, not just about this species but about so many others, including the many species that are yet to be discovered. It is incredibly sad to think that some species will go extinct before we are even aware of their existence,” says Helden.

But many new species may never be discovered due to environmental threats such as deforestation and climate change.

“There are wonderful places, like Kibale National Park in Uganda, where wildlife will survive, but outside of national parks and reserves, the amount of cleared rainforest in the tropics is devastating,” adds Helden. “Rare species could live anywhere, but deforestation means it’s inevitable that we’ll lose species before we find them.”

The results are published in the journal Zootaxa.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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