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Two Creepy Water Bugs Discovered in Belize, Peru

Apr 29, 2015 12:20 PM EDT
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Scientists have discovered two new, very creepy water bug species in Belize and Peru, according to a new study.

The pair has been added to the list of over 900,000 insects that have thus far been discovered around the world. One, called Ambrysus cayo, was found in streams in western Belize, while Procryphocricos pilcopata was uncovered in streams in southeastern Peru.

Both are true bugs in the suborder Heteroptera in the family Naucoridae and the subfamily Cryphocricinae. Because of their round, flat shape they are more commonly known as saucer bugs, or creeping water bugs.

The discoverers are Dr. Robert W. Sites of the University of Missouri's Enns Entomology Museum, Dr. William Shepard of the University of California-Berkeley's Essig Museum of Entomology, and Dr. Shepard's wife, Cheryl Barr.

A. cayo was discovered in 2014 and is "about the size of a fingernail, with dark wings, and orange marks on the wings," Sites said in a statement. An adult A. cayo is 9.76 millimeters (mm) long, and can reach up to 6.2 mm wide. It can be found anywhere from northern North America to Argentina, with its greatest diversity in Mexico in running streams.

These insects possess powerful claws that allow them to cling to rocks and gravel, and also have beaks that are used to pierce prey like other insects and small fish, and then to draw up the inner fluids through their straw-like mouthparts.

On the other hand, P. pilcopata is the first ever to be discovered in Peru. The species has also been seen in Colombia and Venezuela.

"It's small, flat, dark-brown, nondescript, and might easily be overlooked," Dr. Shepard said. It runs about 5.68 mm long, and up to 3.44 mm wide.

So how exactly did the researchers spot these incredibly tiny insects? They captured the underwater creatures by turning over rocks and leaves and having a net ready in the water. The insects get caught by the current and flow right into the net.

"We know how to collect in areas where fauna was never checked before for aquatic insects," said Dr. Shepard. "Dr. Sites and I have long experience netting and turning over rocks and leaves."

A. cayo can breathe underwater by means of a bubble tucked under its wings, whereas P. pilcopata uses a plastron - a network of flat-topped setae or hairs on the body, which holds a thin film of air.

This research goes to show that there are still many more species out there just waiting to be discovered, and that scientists need to step up their efforts to find more unknown insects before it's too late.

"We must collect now because of the destruction of the Amazon forests," Shepard said. "Habitat is being destroyed by mining and clear-cutting. We have to try and get as many insects as possible so we can at least save records that these things existed. Insects get studied last, since they're less charismatic."

The findings were published in the journal Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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