Democracy Dies in Darkness

Speaking of Science

New praying mantis honors Ruth Bader Ginsburg, equality and frilly neckwear

By Rachel Feltman

June 1, 2016 at 2:23 PM

Lomantis ginsburgae. (Rick Wherley, Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

For the first time, scientists have used the genitals of female praying mantises to formally distinguish one species from another. And using this novel technique, they've identified a previously unknown creature: Ilomantis ginsburgae. The lovely new mantis is named in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, for her efforts toward achieving gender equality and her love of the jabot – otherwise known as that ruffly neck thingy.

Related: [This praying mantis is terrifyingly good at pretending to be a flower]

The researchers behind the new species say that its neck plate resembles Ginsburg's favorite neckwear, but bear in mind that scientists have compared the golden butt hairs of a fly to Beyoncé's rear end and the mouth of a fossilized ancient swamp pig to Mick Jagger's luscious lips. Point being: If you want to honor your favorite celebrity by naming a new species after them (which, by the way, is totally allowed, scientifically speaking) you can probably come up with some physical "similarity" between the two to strengthen your case and keep your co-authors from arguing with you. Ergo, jabot.

Related: [A parasite named Obama]

Ilomantis ginsburgae isn't particularly noteworthy, in the realm of praying mantises. The species was identified using a specimen collected in 1967 in Madagascar. Like other leaf-dwelling praying mantises, the species is green, with a flattened body, conical eyes and broad wings that look like veiny leaves.

But its identification was a little more special – because the researchers relied on its genitals.

"As a feminist biologist, I often questioned why female specimens weren't used to diagnose most species," Sydney Brannoch, a Case Western Reserve University PhD candidate, said in a statement. Along with Gavin Svenson, who oversees her research at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Brannoch recently published research on this technique in Insect Systematics & EvolutionThey studied 30 female specimens from different museum collections, noting distinguishing genital characteristics and using them to distinguish species, then compared the results of their technique to more traditional methods.

Related: [When a female mantis is hungry, she fakes fertility to snack on duped mates]

"This research establishes the validity of using female specimens in the classification of praying mantises. It is my hope that our work not only sets a precedent in taxonomy but also underscores the need for scientists to investigate and equally consider both sexes in other scientific investigations," Brannoch added.

This adds to the working toolkit that researchers can use to identify the insects, which will allow them to more accurately distinguish one species from another. And it makes it easier for species to be identified and categorized into families based on female insects alone.

Read More:

Video reveals the incredible acrobatic feats (and occasional face plants) of a pouncing praying mantis

This 430 million year old bug tugged its kids around on leashes

The newest species of catfish is named after Greedo from 'Star Wars'

The 'ninja lanternshark' shows just how far a great name can take a new species

What will scientists name the newest elements? Here's what we know.


Rachel Feltman is now an editor at Popular Science Magazine.

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