Ellura Sanctuary, Swan Reach, SA, 5354
Ellura's Pygmy Grasshopper (Cyphotettix ellurae)

Australia's fauna of pygmy grasshoppers (family Tetrigidae, also known as "tetrigids") currently numbers around 40 species, which is much too low considering the size of the country and the range of different habitats. Historically, very few people worked on this group, especially in Australia where most species were described 70 or more years ago. When I saw the photo that Ellura Sanctuary posted on their iNaturalist profile, I immediately suspected that it represented an undescribed species and this was confirmed very soon thanks to Brett and Marie's follow-up data. We also contacted the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC), staffed by wonderful people who provided us with data on the other species of the genus Cyphotettix (where the new one belongs). They are also working on sequencing their material and will provide molecular data for this study. This is a shining example of how citizen science provides a platform that can kick off a great discovery in a blink of an eye.

The first step in the description of a new species is to examine all the described ones and to try to determine its place in the taxonomic system. Practically, it entails reading the taxonomic literature published in the wider region and contacting the museums where the "type material" is stored, which consists of one or more representatives of a species and which is the absolute authority that dictates the identity of a given species. The availability of type specimens is an important issue, which is why the new grasshopper is already deposited at ANIC and is available for examination by future researchers. Morphologically, it is already clear that the Ellura specimens represent a new species, but we are going to do molecular analyses as well to not only define the species better but to shed light on the higher taxonomy of the entire tetrigid family. Molecular data on this group is still scarce and the higher taxonomy is unresolved, to say the least, so the new species is going to help even with problems beyond Australia.

We immediately agreed to call the new species "Cyphotettix ellurae", Ellura's Cyphotettix, to celebrate its home. I hope that it will become something of a mascot for Ellura Sanctuary because this place really deserves to be recognized as a biodiversity haven. I admire Brett and Marie's initiative to take conservation into their own hands so I am beyond glad to formally entrust a new species into their care. Since we have a lot of data to analyze and include, and since papers go through the process of peer review, we are going to have to be patient, but I expect the paper to be out in the first half of the next year. The description itself will consist of photos of the type series, a half-page textual description, and some taxonomic notes.

Pygmy grasshoppers are about as old as dinosaurs, and they are in fact older than grass, making their common name a bit of a misnomer. They outlived many adversities but recently I've been hearing from researchers around the world that their numbers are dwindling. Tetrigids feed on detritus, algae, mosses, fungi, and lichens, making them an important link near the base of the food web. Broadly speaking, they serve as food for the more well-known animals, including many vertebrates, but they may also facilitate the dispersal of the species they eat. Their ecology is still a young topic of research, one which will undoubtedly prove fruitful in the future, if there is a future at all, considering the ecological apocalypse we are witnessing.

There is a more fundamental importance of species descriptions, which is what the discipline of taxonomy is all about. Describing a species entails giving it an official and unique name. Without a name, there is nothing to which we can assign ecological, behavioral, molecular, or any other data, making the species virtually non-existent despite being plainly visible. If Linnaeus had not established the system of binominal nomenclature, we would be blind to the global diversity of life. The ability to refer to any of the myriad of organisms by name is a brilliance that is often taken for granted. Without descriptions, all else is futile. When species have names, there are scientific and legal frameworks that allow them to eventually be protected and, if all else fails and they are lost, we at least have names to spill tears over. I personally feel a duty to describe all the new species that graze my sight and I can promise that many more are "coming" to Australia.

Niko Kasalo
Master of Science
Department of Biology
University of Zagreb

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