Here's some amazing news, hot off the presses. Entomologists working in a remote and poorly known region of southeastern West Virginia have announced the discovery of an astonishing new species of insect previously undescribed to science. The researchers made the discovery last summer, but felt it necessary to conduct exhaustive DNA studies before making their report. Actually, this animal represents far more than just a new species - it is the sole representative of an entirely new Order! Discovery of a new species is always a thrill, and lets us know that mssing links still lurk out there. It seems like most new finds come from remote areas such as Colombian jungles or New Guinea forests, so to have such a remarkable new discovery come from a fairly well-studied place like West Virginia is truly a shocker. Read on: photos and story follow.
The world's newest Order of Class Insecta, and insofar as is known at this time, the only species in this Order. All of the details of this creature and its classification will be published next Tuesday in the esteemed scientific journal Nature, but information is already leaking out. The new Order is to be called Lepidonata, as the strange new beast clearly has lineages that can be traced to moths (Lepidoptera) and dragonflies (Odonata).
Discoverer Elroy Joe Hatfield, a field researcher with the University of West Virginia, has already branded the creature with a common name: the Luna-Hawk. In this closeup of the anterior end of the animal, we can clearly see strong grabbing-type legs armed with raptorial spines. These adaptations, along with powerful biting and chewing mouthparts, mark the Luna-Hawk as a predatorial insect. The exceptionally large eyes have evolved to allow the Luna-Hawk to see clearly in the darkest of conditions.Says Hatfield of its initial discovery: "We was surveyin' moths and whatnot outside a latrine in Burnwood State Park. Them boys what run the place, they keep the lights on on the outside of the johns, and more weird bugs'n you can shake a stick at come in dere dat place". Adds colleague and co-finder Dr. Rufus "Skeeter" Harley: "Yes, yes, around 2 am on the night of July 31, 2010, Elroy Joe and myself were visibly startled by the sudden appearance of a very large, fast-moving insect quite unlike anything that I had ever seen in my 37 years of studying the insect fauna of West Virginia. This insect flew into the blizzard of moths surrounding the latrine's lights, and proceeded to lay siege to the hapless insects". In this tight shot, we can see the posterior end of the new insect quite well. The long tubular segmented abdomen clearly points to an ancestry with the dragonflies, yet the delicate scaled wings are obviously evolved from moths. Speculation is that the two closest living relatives of the newly discovered Luna-Hawk is the dragonfly Erythemis simplicicollis, the Eastern Pondhawk, and Actias luna, the Luna Moth.