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New Zealand has a new insect and it’s named after a hobbit


New Zealand has a new insect, and just like the hobbit it’s named after, it’s smaller than its closely related species, and has great views of the Southern Alps.
But unlike the hobbit, it may be living on your kōwhai tree.

Dr Francesco Martoni and Dr Karen Armstrong identified Psylla frodobagginsi as part of Francesco’s PhD research with the Bio-Protection Research Centre. In the same research they also identified two exotic insects that weren’t even known about in their own countries.

They also solved an 87-year-old riddle about why there seemed to be so much variation in what is commonly called the kōwhai psyllid: there are two different species.

Psyllids are very small insects of no more than 3 mm long, and are also called jumping plant lice. In 1932 scientists saw that there were quite a few variations in the kōwhai psyllid (Psylla apicalis), and raised the possibility it might be more than one species.

Recently, molecular analysis also suggested it could be more than one species. For his PhD thesis Dr Martoni was able to describe consistent differences between two types collected from kōwhai trees in 21 South Island locations – including urban locations such as Invercargill, Lincoln, Amberley and Westport – and separate them into two distinct species.

Psylla frodobagginsi can be identified most easily by its small dimension, light colours, and uniformly spotted wings,” the authors wrote. “Psylla frodobagginsi is smaller than P. apicalis, with males as small as 1.24 mm, compared to the 1.65mm of P. apicalis, and females as small as 1.56 mm, against the 2.03 mm of P. apicalis.”

And they also explained how they chose the name. “The name was chosen due to the smaller size of this psyllid species, together with the fact it is native to New Zealand. The cinematographic sets for P. Jackson’s movie trilogy ‘The Lord of the Rings’ were for the majority placed in the South Island.”

Drs Martoni and Armstrong proposed that the two species now be given the common names “greater kōwhai psyllid” (P. apicalis) and “hobbit kōwhai psyllid” (P. frodobagginsi).

Although Dr Martoni collected insects in the South Island only, he said it was possible P. frodobagginsi was also present in the North Island.

And he also said it showed how important it was to continue analysing New Zealand’s native species. “Without ongoing, targeted taxonomic studies, species such as P. frodobagginsi effectively ‘hide in plain sight’ contrary to a common notion that new species are only to be found in unchartered or non-urban environments.”

You can read the full paper at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0221316

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