New Insect Discovered on Prince of Wales Island
Caurinus tlagu, Photo Credit: Jill Stockbridge
“New” may not be the best word to describe this insect. The tiny (2mm) creature now named, Caurinus tlagu, is actually ancient. The species shares a group with only one other, Caurinus dectes, and fossil evidence suggests that both belong to a group dating back to the Jurassic period.
The insect was discovered by Derek Sikes and his graduate student Jill Stockbridge of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. They unintentionally collected C. tlagu during sampling for a rapid biotic assessment of Southeast Alaska alpine zones. With some help from his colleagues at the University of Oregon, Sikes was able to identify the species and place it in the Genus Caurinus. He and Stockbridge performed genetic analysis to confirm that the C. tlagu is indeed a new species and published their findings in ZooKeys, an open access journal focused on zoology, phylogeny, and biogeography.
C. tlagu is a herbivore that prefers to live and feed on Scapania bolanderi, a leafy liverwort. While it has only negligible effects on its host and a minor role in the ecosystem, the discovery of C. tlagu is far from insignificant. The existence of a species such as C. tlagu on Prince of Wales Island provides us with historical insight. Because C. tlagu is a very “old” species with limited mobility, they have probably survived on Prince of Wales since before the end of the last ice age. This means that there were most likely glacial refugia on Prince of Wales and that elements of Southeast Alaska’s ecosystem are very old - a meaningful story from a seemingly insignificant source. Read the full species description >>
Derek Sikes, Jill Stockbridge. Description of Caurinus tlagu, new species, from Prince of Wales Island, Alaska (Mecoptera, Boreidae, Caurininae). ZooKeys, 2013; 316: 35 DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.316.5400