Researchers working in Brazil have discovered a new species of forcepfly with enormous genital pincers (right), bringing the total number of known species in this family to three. And in Costa Rica a new fairyfly has been found: at 250 microns long, it is invisible to the naked eye and one of the smallest insects in the world.
Entomologist Renato Machado of Texas A&M University and his colleagues described the new forcepfly, a pale, golden-colored insect, in February in the journal ZooKeys. The team named it Austromerope brasiliensis, after its home near the Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil. Almost nothing is known about the biology of the nocturnal and secretive forcepfly. Scientists are not really sure how it lives, what it eats, how it mates or what its larvae look like. Most researchers assume that the males use their extraordinarily large terminal forceps to grip the females during copulation or to fight male rivals.
John Huber of Natural Resources Canada and John S. Noyes of the Natural History Museum in London named the new species of fairyfly Tinkerbella nana, after the fairy and the dog from Peter Pan. Happily, nana happens to be derived from nanos, the Greek word for “dwarf.” Huber and Noyes described the species' light coloring, which includes yellows, browns and white, and spectacular wings, covered in delicate, long bristles called macrochaeta, in April in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research. The team suggests that this type of wing could help the fairyfly reduce drag and turbulence while in the air—fairyflies flap their tiny wings hundreds of times per second to keep aloft.
Though distinct in enough ways to earn itself a place in a new genus, T. nana is closely related to the world's smallest known winged insect, Kikiki huna, which is 158 microns long—about as small as a winged insect can be. Huber remarks, “If we have not already found them, we must surely be close to discovering the smallest insects and other arthropods.”