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Praying Mantis Named After Al Gore Among 19 New Species Identified

Mar 18, 2014 01:35 PM EDT

A new praying mantis species named after Al Gore is one of 19 new species identified in an extensive study of museum specimens and tropical forests of Central and South America.

The series of new species discoveries was made by Gavin Svenson, curator of invertebrate zoology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Svenson described the new mantis species and published a revision to the mantis genus Liturgusa in the journal ZooKeys. The 19 newly identified species triples the diversity of the Liturgusa group.

"This group, the Neotropical bark mantises, are incredibly fast runners that live on the trunks and branches of trees," Svenson said. "This violates the common perception of praying mantises being slow and methodical hunters."

The mantises Svenson describes are masters of camouflage, expertly adopting the visual appearance of bark and moss and lichen. The insects also take evasive action when needed, darting to the opposite end of a tree when they detect an approaching predator.

"This is an amazing behavior for an insect because it shows that they are not only relying on camouflage like most insects but are constantly monitoring their environment and taking action to run and hide," Svenson said. "In addition, some species leap off the tree trunk to avoid capture and play dead after fluttering down to the forest floor since none of the species are strong fliers."

These bark mantises are active hunters, opting to pursue prey rather than lying in wait for an ambush, Svenson observed.

Additionally, this newly described group of bark mantises do not exhibit the cannibalistic traits of their brethren. The findings shed light on the previously unknown diversity of bark mantises and suggests there are many more species to discover, Svenson said.

"Based on this study, we can predict that mantis groups with similar habitat specialization in Africa, Asia and Australia will also be far more diverse than what is currently known," said Svenson. "Many of these groups have never been studied other than by the scientists that originally described some of the species, which in some cases is more than 100 years ago. This is exciting because enormous potential exists for advancing our understanding of praying mantis diversity just by looking within our existing museum collections and conducting a few field expeditions."

One of the new species, Liturgusa algorei, is named after former US Vice President Al Gore to honor his environmental activism and climate change awareness campaigns.

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