There are over 2,400 different mantis species spanning 430 genera in the order Mantodea, which are widely distributed and can be found on six continents. A small subset of these insects, commonly known as bark mantises, are part of the family Liturgusidae which includes 11 species. The size of this family has tripled since Gavin Svenson of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has published an updated definition, including the discovery of nineteen new species of bark mantis spanning three genera: Liturgusa, Fuga, and Velox. The new species were described in the open access journal ZooKeys.
The species originated in eight different countries throughout Central and South America. Svenson studied mantises that had been taken from the wild as well as some that have been in around 25 other museums, some specimens have been in collection for well over over 70 years. Some of these species haven’t been studied since they were partially described over 100 years ago.
As their name would imply, these bark mantises live among trees and their bodies are camouflaged to blend in with leaves, twigs, and (of course) bark. While most people think of mantises as being slow and steady predators, these mantises are incredibly quick and chase down their prey. They are shorter and flatter when compared to many other mantis species and they are not thought to participate in sexual cannibalism, where the female eats the male after copulation to gain nutrients for the offspring.
These discoveries are redefining the ranges that scientists believed the mantises had. While it was believed that these areas had been inhabited by few species with large ranges, the inverse now appears to be true.
Of course, the best part about making a new discovery in science is the ability to name it. Svenson paid tribute to members of his family, people he admires, and locations of the species’ discovery. Some of the highlights include:
— L. tessae - Named after his daughter Tessa
— L. zoae - Named after his daughter Zoey
— L. algorei - Named after former U.S. Vice President Al Gore
— L. fossetti - Named after explorer James Stephen Fossett
— L. kirtlandi - Named in honor of naturalist Jared Potter Kirtland
— L. krattorum - Named in honor of Chris and Martin Kratt, hosts of children’s biology television shows