Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hidden Among Us or Tyrannocricket Rex

Mahogany Jerusalem Cricket, Stenopelmatus new species "mahogany". One of the newer species of Jerusalem Cricket. It appears these little buggers live underground and live on roots. This particular species is found in Southern California, largely around Orange County, but apparently finds its way South. Dr. Tod Reeder is doing a genetic study on these flightless insects to see if habit isolation (yes, dear reader, caused by people carving up the landscape for homes and roads) is leading to genetic isolation and perhaps even speciation at some point. I quote the good Dr. Tod (Reeder), "We are gathering sequences from the Mitochondrial Cytochrome Oxidase I gene, a commonly used molecular marker for both population genetic and species-level phylogenetic studies. Preliminary results suggest that there is a high level of genetic population differentiation among the populations sampled." If you're familiar with these things, you'll remember that mitochondrial DNA is what was used to attempt to trace all human lineage back to a single female hominid ancestor in Africa.

I, for one, am amazed that something that big (about the size of a large roach) and with so many appendages can exist underground. It seems sensitive to light (as you would expect), covering its eyes with it's forlegs to block the sun, even on this cold, misty day. I suspect that the myriad little spines on the end of each leg are for digging. I have no idea why this one chose to pop up out of the ground for our viewing pleasure.

I am also amazed that something like this can live hidden in an urban area for so long. I've lived here for ten years and this is the first one I've ever seen and maybe will be the only one I'll ever see. Fascinating. Makes you wonder what else is lurking under those flowers and veggies.

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