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Help Scientists Possibly Discover A New Insect Species

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Sonora, CA – Tuolumne County may be home to a new species of insect, and that is why the public is being asked to help prove it.

Location of discovery in the Crystal Falls area
Courtesy: Jim Tassano

With only three sightings since 2019 and over the same number of years, citizens are being asked to keep their eyes open and help catch this unique creature alive so it can be studied. Those sightings have been in Columbia, Pine Mountain Lake, and just this week in Crystal Falls. According to Jim Tassano, owner of Foothill-Sierra Pest Control in Sonora, one of his service technicians spotted it on Wednesday outside, in a dog run under a deck, crawling up a cinder block on the sunny side of the house and capturing it. He shared, “We thought if we could contribute to science in a fundamental way, that would be very exciting.”

The head and thorax of the unknown species of green lacewing
Photo by Dr. Catherine Ann Tauber.

The pictured larva belongs to the green lacewing species of insects. It is also known as a “trash carrier” insect, according to Dr. Catherine Ann Tauber, an expert on that species. She was so excited at the finding of a live larva that she jumped into her car and headed from U.C. Davis to Sonora to get a first-hand look at the bug. As the video in the image box shows, the larva carries dead ants and other debris on its back, trying to camouflage itself from predators, including ants. Its back has long tubercles with hairs coming out of them to keep the debris in place. It is a loner and a predator that eats only other insects. Dr. Tauber detailed, “There are only seven groups of this species reported in the USA, and it might be related to a South American species. At this point, the larva seems different from those of all of the known species.”

The next step, according to Dr. Tauber, “is to rear this larva to the adult stage and see if we can figure out what species it is. I suspect it’s a new species, but we’re not sure. So, that is why we’re trying to get the larva and rear it to adulthood where I can do the homework on it.”

That is where the public comes into play, as the more live specimens to study, the better. “Dr. Tauber instructs, Take a look at the video and then, if they see any specimens that look like this, put them in a jar very gently using a Kleenex or something to pick them up. Don’t squish it. Then get a hold of Jim [Foothill-Sierra Pest Control] so that he can get the specimen to me.” The number to call is 209-532-7378.

The larva will be fed frozen moth eggs. Dr. Tauber hopes that it will then spin a cocoon and, when mature, break free with large wings and long antennae. If it is a new species, it will then need a name.

“I’ll write up a description of it and name it. Then I’ll publish it, and once it’s published, then that name sticks with that bug forever,”  advised Dr. Tauber.

When asked if the “Tassano” bug had a nice ring to it, Jim, laughing, stated, “No, it should be a regional name, something down-home to this area.”

  • Dr. Catherine Ann Tauber and Foothill-Sierra Pest Control Owner Jim Tassano checking out the larva specimen
  • Location of discovery in the Crystal Falls area
  • Dead ants on larva
  • Dr. Catherine Ann Tauber and Foothill-Sierra Pest Control Owner Jim Tassano
  • The head and thorax of the unknown species of green lacewing
  • Dr. Catherine Ann Tauber insoecting the insect in the glass jar