Insect samplings in UP Laguna Land Grant yield new katydid and crickets

Entomologists from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), along with international orthopterists, recently wrote on the discovery of three insects new to science — a katydid and two crickets — from the protected areas of the UP’s Land Grant in Paete, Laguna. The new species have been collected during a series of opportunistic samplings in the land grant’s lowland mixed dipterocarp and secondary growth forests in April 2018, May 2019, and September 2019.

Katydids and crickets belong to the insect order Orthoptera which also includes grasshoppers, locusts, and their relatives. Some orthopterans are quite unique because they can communicate using vibrating sounds produced through friction by rubbing their legs.

According to Dr. Sheryl A. Yap, curator at the UPLB Museum of Natural History entomological collection, the katydid their research group discovered was very interesting as it belongs to a group that has very long and movable spurs on the forelegs. The holotype of the specimen is now deposited in the UPLB Museum of Natural History.

“They belong to a tribe of insects (Phisidini) which possess large spines on their legs so that they can leap on and even capture flying smaller insect prey,” Yap said.

The new species was named by their research group as Neophisis (Indophisis) montealegrei in honor of renowned orthopterist, Dr. Fernando Montealegre-Zapata, who has made immense contribution to the bioacoustics of katydids.

According to their research published in Zootaxa 4732 (4): 527–544, members of the Phisidini group sing at ultrasonic frequencies, both throughout the day and during night time, and males aggregate to sing and attract females from nearby plants.

”We obtained the song of this new species by putting some of the captured male individuals inside insect cages with nylon netting and waited for them to relax and communicate normally, which was recorded in our acoustic recorder,” said Ms. Jessica B. Baroga-Barbecho, a university researcher based at UPLB’s Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research and Extension.

According to Paris-based Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle lead researcher, Ming Kai Tan, Neophisis (Indophisis) montealegrei is so far only known from the UP Laguna Land Grant and its song represents the first known song for Southeast Asian Phisidini.

“Finding this katydid is a welcome development especially for the Philippines,” Tan said through email.

He added, “Katydid bioacoustics is understudied in Southeast Asia as most katydids are nocturnal, elusive and often low in abundance. Most of them also sing at ultrasonic frequencies–some of which at extremely high frequencies of 50 kHz, thus eluding our ears. Discovering it inside the UP Land Grant is a good news, because we can be more certain that they can be protected by the university, especially since it is not known to occur elsewhere.”

Aside from collecting noteworthy crickets from the subfamilies Landrevinae, Phaloriinae and Podoscirtinae, the research group’s surveys were able to discover Mnesibulus laguna, a new species of cricket belonging to the subfamily Podoscirtinae subgenus Mnesibulus Stål, 1877.

Their discovery is reported in a paper published in Zootaxa 4809 (1): 029–055. The male holotype of this new species have been collected by the researchers and is now deposited at the UPLB Museum of Natural History.

“Only 20 species are known from this subgenus, a fifth of which occurs in the country,” said Dr. Yap. Mnesibulus laguna, named after the province of Laguna is now the 6th species and currently only known from the UP Land Grant, a university property consisting of 3,356 hectares of land located in the towns of Paete and Kalayaan, Laguna.

Another new cricket species, Rhicnogryllus? paetensis under the family Trigonidiinae was discovered by the group in UP Land Grant. Rhicnogryllus is a small and relatively unknown group of sword-tailed crickets.

“We found this new species, which seems to be very active in the morning, among shrubs and vegetation growing under the trees,” Baroga-Barbecho recalled.

According to the researchers, the species is nearly indistinguishable from Rhicnogryllus. “The only thing that makes it very unique is its sex parts which closely resembles that of crickets from another genus,” Tan added.

Hence, to avoid adding confusion to the generic taxonomy of Trigonidiinae, the researchers tentatively placed this species under question in Rhicnogryllus and published the discovery in Zootaxa 4763 (2): 217-230.

The discovery of these three new species inside the UP Land Grant, small as it may seem, is a testament to the efforts of the university to protect its endowments. The group believes that with continuous surveys, more and more orthopteran species may be discovered not only in the area, but in the whole country.

As many as 15 new species of orthoptera have been reported from the Philippines, ranging from pygmy grasshoppers, scaly crickets, raspy crickets, true crickets and katydids in recent years. More discoveries await as the group will be sifting through many more of their collections from all over the country.

“Despite the predicted slowdown in research activities due to the pandemic, we are raring to get busy,” Dr. Yap hopes.

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