John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The F. whitcombi leafhopper depends upon a type of grass that’s endangered.
The New Jersey Pine Barrens lies next to one of the busiest places in the country—the Interstate 95 corridor—but that doesn’t mean its mysteries are exhausted. Just this week, researchers announced the discovery of a new species of insect living in its grasses. It’s called the F. whitcombi leafhopper, and it looks kind of like a cockroach that grew a pointy rhinoceros head.
Andrew Hicks from the University of Colorado and others found 35 of the hopping, sap-sapping bugs chilling on some pinebarren smokegrass, which itself was a surprise. Flexamia is more commonly known to associate with prairie and desert grasses in America’s more-remote regions, not in scrubland in the “most densely populated state” in the U.S., Hicks writes in ZooKeys.
The leafhopper is about four millimeters long, colored like straw, and has a “heavily sclerotized caudoventral margin” on its male genitals, for all the entomologists reading. Because the smokegrass upon which it depends is endangered, Hicks says in his paper the creature’s long-term prospects are uncertain:
The Pine Barrens are already suffering the effects of a warming climate, as evidenced by the recent irruption there of the Southern Pine Beetle… . Should the effects of climate change or other anthropomorphic pressures cause the local extinction of the host (as has apparently already occurred elsewhere in its range), there will be little opportunity for the survival of this Flexamia.
And then he gets darker, noting “that might be said of most species described today”:
The description of any new species may serve as a catalyst for additional research, and this will be best accomplished while the species still can be found in nature—something that can no longer taken for granted. To delay the publication of a species description until the time of a genus revision is to deny the pace of change in the natural world in the 21st century and may consign said new species to a future status of “known from a single collection,” or, “presumed extinct, life history unknown.”