A new species of the bizarrely fantastical treehopper insect is named in honor of the fashion-forward pop icon and singer Lady Gaga.
Kaikaia gaga is the newest species – and genus – of the Membracidae family, a relatively small group of insects characterized by their vertical face and “grotesquely enlarged thorax”. Also known as treehoppers, these vibrant insects are related to grasshoppers but pop from tree to tree rather than between blades of grass.
“I love outrageous forms and colors,” said Brendan Morris, an entomology graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a statement. “It blows my mind that a group that is roughly 40 million years old has so much diversity of form – diversity, I would argue, that we don’t see in any other family of insects.”
- K. gaga is one of 1,000 specimens that Morris and study co-author Christopher Dietrich borrowed from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh for research into the evolution and understanding of Membracidae. The 30-year-old specimen was found in a tropical forest near the Nicaraguan Pacific Coast and characterized by her unique morphological features like the head and body shape, hairs, and genitalia. A region behind the head known as the thorax was horned like in many other species, but her leg hairs were different. Furthermore, the facial construction and genitalia of K. gaga were more similar to treehoppers found elsewhere in the world.
“If there is going to be a Lady Gaga bug, it’s going to be a treehopper, because they’ve got these crazy horns, they have this wacky fashion sense about them,” Morris said. “They’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.”
Naming new species after notable public figures is nothing new to science. Climate activist Greta Thunberg has recently been the inspiration for a new species of snail (Craspedotropis gretathunbergae) and beetle with braid-like antennae (Nelloptodes gretae).
Morris unsuccessfully attempted to extract DNA from the specimen and is hoping to travel to Nicaragua in search of a live specimen. The findings are published in Zootaxa.