Because it is a fairly inaccessible region with political unrest, much of the Congo’s insect biodiversity remains largely undiscovered. In a new monographic book published this week in Zootaxa, researchers at the University of Florida and the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium provide insect biodiversity information for this area in Central Africa that increasingly undergoes habitat destruction.
Lead author Jurate DePrins has been working on leaf miners in the Congo for nearly 10 years and was joined by Kawahara about five years ago. As the name suggests, the small moths burrow within leaves as larvae, making them particularly difficult to find. Adult moths measure only about 2 to 5 millimeters in length, but they can be extraordinarily beautiful with colorful markings and metallic scales, Kawahara said.
“The caterpillars are completely flat so they can live inside the thin leaf,” Kawahara said. “If you think of a regular caterpillar and then you squished it and shrunk it, that’s what they look like.”
After collecting caterpillars in the wild, researchers raise the larvae to adulthood on-site, a process that takes less than a week for some species.“It’s so hard to tell what’s actually happening because they’re so small and they get overlooked, but if you look at what is happening inside a leaf under a microscope, it’s just an incredible world,” Kawahara said. “You’ll see a tiny wasp larva living within a caterpillar, and another, even smaller wasp larva living inside that larger wasp larva that is inside the moth larva. It really opens your eyes to this incredible, unknown world and makes you think, ‘What is going on here?’ It’s truly amazing.”
“It’s an unknown fauna and so they’ve made a major step to start telling us something about this biota,” Davis said. “Because the moths are herbivores, they have both beneficial and detrimental benefits. It’s one of the things we get a lot of questions about.”Credits
Akito Kawahara | EurekAlert!
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