Scientists at the University of Otago have discovered a new species of insect from the slopes of the Maungatua Range, on the doorstep of Dunedin.
Dubbed as Maungatua stonefly, the insect is a unique stonefly, has a size of just 2cm in length. It has been found living in only a few hundred meters of subalpine stream habitat, just below the summit of Maungatua, overlooking Dunedin Airport.
Scientists used morphological, geographical, and genetic evidence to show that the insect has likely been isolated in the region for around 2 million years.
Stoneflies have life cycles similar to those of mayflies, where nymphs spend their early lives under stones in the rapids of fast-flowing streams. As their name implies, most stoneflies can fly, developing large wings once they emerge from streams as adults.
However, this newly discovered stonefly is quite distinct. It has apparently adapted to the windy conditions on Maungatua by losing its ability to fly. Its wings being reduced to tiny remnants. Being unable to fly also helps to explain why this new species has such a small geographic range.
Study supervisor Professor Jon Waters, who found and collected the new stonefly species – almost by accident said, “It’s exciting that there are still these new discoveries to be made about New Zealand’s native animals. We knew the discovery was something unusual straight away, but it took a bit of detective work, using DNA, to work out that it was something completely new. While the new discovery is exciting for science, the narrow distribution of the new species might be the cause of conservation concern.”
Zoology Ph.D. student Brodie Foster, an entomologist who led the description of the new species said, “As far as we know, this unique insect is restricted to a tiny amount of subalpine habitat on the slopes of Maungatua. It’s really important that we learn more about it, and make sure that it’s few populations remain secure.”
The new discovery is published in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology.