That’s not a quote from a Batman Episode; it’s a new species found in only one area in South Africa. They were discovered by accident when two entomologists were sweep-netting a meadow.
BOHN, H., M. PICKER, K.-D. KLASS & J. COLVILLE 2010.A jumping cockroach from South Africa, Saltoblattella montistabularis, gen. nov., spec. nov. (Blattodea: Blattellidae). - Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny, 68 (1): 53-69.
As you can see from these photos, the cockroaches have unusual hind legs that are modified for jumping, just like a grasshopper. (The authors christened this animal the “leaproach”, although I would have lobbied for “cockhopper” myself.)
Now, I know that a lot of people don’t count roaches in their list of favorite insects. So, a roach that can bound around like a kangaroo, which -I- think is really cool, is probably a nightmare for some. Humans are most familiar with pest roaches, but those species only make up an estimated 1% of total roach diversity. The rest of the 4000 species of roaches are benign, and often essential to ecosystem health.
Roaches have an amazing amount of modifications to the basic roachy body plan that let them survive in all sorts of environments. There are diving roaches, sand-burrowing cockroaches, wood-eating roaches, and bioluminescent roaches. Frustratingly, there is little information in the paper about why these leaproaches might have left scuttling behind for leaping. The biggest hint is that they are found hopping around in grasslands during the day, pretty much side-by-side with grasshoppers. Being able to jump long distances to avoid predators and find new food sources is handy for both grasshoppers and roaches.
Regular roaches can jump pretty well; the common German cockroach Blattella germanica can jump distances of 4 cm without any special leg modifications. It’s not hard to imagine that day-active roaches that could jump a bit farther might be selected for over many generations.
Leaproaches are a really neat example of convergent evolution. Convergent evolution describes what happens when species that are distantly related–a grasshopper and a roach, for example–become more similar in appearance or structure because of natural selection.
Convergent evolution is the reason why a salmon, a shark, and a dolphin have similar body shapes, while they are not closely related taxonomically. The physical environment they live in shaped their evolution in similar ways to solve similar problems–moving through an aquatic environment, in this example.
The leaproach in this photo clearly has several body changes that are analogous with what you see on a grasshopper–primarily enlarged hind legs and big eyes.
Why not enlarged front legs? Well, if you want to go forward, the direction your eyes and other sensory organs are pointed, large jumpy front legs are not that helpful. Hind legs help to propel you in the right direction, plus you have 4 legs you can reach out in front as you jump to grab onto passing stems of grass and hold on.
Similar environment, similar environmental constraints, and TA DA! Leaproaches. Neato!
I love this! It’s being billed as a “participatory art project.” Basically, you can sign up to have a cockroach tour of the London Science Museum in 2011.
Superflex is an art group from Denmark; they contracted with the costumers Firmaet to create these wonderful roach suits. I have no idea what that carapace is made out of, but I really, really want one! I think it was probably fabricated by 10Tons, which means acquiring one is probably out of my price range. Firmaet’s Blog has many adorable photos of the roaches–I have swiped one here since I can’t link to individual posts.
Some of the other groups linked to as participants in the project are drama-related, and there is a credit for a script writer, so I suspect that there is much more to this than just walking around in fun costumes.
If ever there was a time for a press junket, THIS IS IT! Oh Science Museum, I await your call!
This seemed appropriate, given my last post. You should probably not watch this if you haven’t had lunch yet.
I wanted to make sure you saw this one from The Onion:
“GRAND IMPERIAL THRONE ROOM, CASTLE ROACH—His Royal Highness, King Leopold Blattodea IV, undisputed lord and ruler of the cockroaches, expressed dismay and concern Monday that the recent rise in bedbug populations could threaten his sovereignty over the realm of human squalor.
Gathered in His Majesty’s begrimed throne room behind the bathroom sink, a solemn coterie of royal advisers and nobleroaches received the king’s proclamation in tense silence, awaiting his word on precisely how the cockroach kingdom would respond to the bedbug scourge.”
Fake Science explains Bees. Sort of.
Alex rants about overblown honeybee doom and gloom statements.
The filmmaker of Born into Brothels has a new project she wants to fund about mantids! The verbiage is a bit twee and new-agey, but the photography is spectacular.
Doug went on a trip (again) and came back with spectacular photos (again)–I especially like the teal grasshopper.
A truly amazing collection of insect sculptures–I think I’ve linked to this before, but well worth re-linking!
Ed finds a very nice bit of Rachel Carson history.
And last, but not least, David discusses a recent journal editorial that clearly does not get what ‘teh blogging’ is all about.
The interwebs are abuzz from the NPR interview earlier this week with entomologist Douglas Emlen, who is a specialist on scarab beetles. (And how funny is it that a discussion of Dung Beetles happened on a program called “Fresh Air”?!)
At about 34:00, he started telling some fun entomology stories–one of which ended with a statement that most mass-produced, pre-ground coffee, as well as chocolate, has roach parts in it.
For some people, though, including interviewer Terri Gross, this clearly this was another case of OMGWTFBUGZINMAIFOODZ! For those that aren’t afraid to know, here is the allowable amount of insects in chocolate and coffee beans:
|CHOCOLATE AND CHOCOLATE LIQUOR||Insect filth
|Average is 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams when 6 100-gram subsamples are examined
Any 1 subsample contains 90 or more insect fragments
|COFFEE BEANS, GREEN||
|Average 10% or more by count are insect-infested or insect-damagedDEFECT SOURCE: Insect fragments – post harvest and/or processing insect infestation|
The action level means that if there are MORE than 60 insect fragments in 0.2 lbs of chocolate (100 grams, more or less), or MORE than 10% of the beans are damaged or infested, the food is rejected.
Both of these have the same FDA marking: SIGNIFICANCE: Aesthetic
In other words, it will not harm you to eat these insect parts. It simply Freaks. People. Out.
So FDA controls contamination below a noticeable level.
Americans like processed foods. However, there is a price for having someone else process stuff in bulk–some things will fall in that you might not want to know about. (You SOOO do not ever want to go to a pickle factory. Trust me.)
We also like our food PERFECT–which means that producers have to use chemicals to make fruit perfectly shaped and unblemished, as well as using lots of preservatives to keep things lasting in their packages.
Sadly, as we have become more and more disconnected from nature, we become more convinced that the world should (and can be) made sterile and safe. That is utter bullshite.
Nature is dirty. Life is dirty. Poop, rats, and insects happen, despite everyone’s best efforts.
When we demand perfection, we create an unobtainable standard that results in tons of food wastage every year.
Are convenience, perfection, and sterility really the most important things to think about when choosing foods? What about how it was grown, or how many resources are used to package and ship it? What about the welfare of the people who produced and manufactured it? In the case of coffee and chocolate, these are not insignificant issues.
In the US, most of us actually have lots of choices about our food consumption–which of these might you choose?
- Stop eating food that is pre-prepared and pre-packaged. That way you’ll know exactly what goes into your food.
- Be willing to accept some damage to food (a blemish on your apple, bread without preservatives that goes moldy in a week) so that fewer chemicals are used in search of perfection.
- If you can, join a community garden and learn how hard it is to grow food. Discover that fruit with a little insect nibble on it still tastes pretty good.
- Accept that insects will occasionally get into food, and that the convenience of having packaged food outweighs the knowledge that something with lots of legs might be in it.