Various reconstructions of Lucihormetica luckae. Images courtesy of Vršanský et al.
While new species are discovered every day, Peter Vršanský and company’s discovery of a light-producing cockroach, Lucihormetica luckae, in Ecuador is remarkable for many reasons, not the least that it may already be extinct.
The new species represents the only known case of mimicry by bioluminescence in a land animal. Like a venomless king snake beating its tail to copy the unmistakable warning of a rattlesnake, Lucihormetica luckae’s bioluminescent patterns are nearly identical to the poisonous click beetle, with which it shares (or shared) its habitat.
Most common in the deep sea where it first evolved, bioluminescence is the chemical reactions that give certain organisms the ability to produce light. Other luminescing species use light to communicate, attract mates or evade predators, as well as illuminate their environment.
The possibly extinct Lucihormetica luckae, which oddly resembles a Jawa from Star Wars. Photo courtesy of Vršanský et al.
According to the research published in the journal Naturwissenschaften, Lucihormetica luckae is the first known case of asymmetrical bioluminescence. It sports two eye-like spots on its upper back and a tiny third one on the right side only. These lanterns are covered over by a reflective surface similar to an automobile headlight, Vršanský told mongabay.com. This allows the insect to conceal itself behind its own brightness.
Nearly as soon as this species became known to science, it may have been extinguished by the eruption of the Tungurahua Volcano, where it lived. Though the paper documenting their discovery was only published this July, no specimens have been found since the eruption in 2010.
Vršanský, who was first inspired by the beauty of Poloniny National Park, straddling the borders of Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia, and went on to do research on the effects of streetlights on pond ecology, believes his research shows that even creatures considered as terrible as cockroaches “are beautiful if you are sensitive enough.”
Tungurahua Volcano as seen by Google Earth.
CITATION: Vršanský, P., & Chorvát, D. (2012). light-mimicking cockroaches indicate tertiary origin of recent terrestrial luminescence. Naturwissenschaften, 99(9), 739-749.
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