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The Blitz Never Quits

No one is more passionate about the BioBlitz than John Francis, vice president of research, conservation, and exploration at National Geographic and head of the large team that helps the Park Service organize the annual event. This morning Francis turned what for most people would have been merely a restorative pit stop into yet another opportunity for exploring biodiversity.

A true bug in an unusual trap. Photo by John Francis.
A true bug in an unusual trap. Photo by John Francis.

While visiting the men’s room in the education center at Barataria Preserve, Francis noticed a remarkable bug in the urinal. “I did not flush,” he says. Instead, he walked down the hall to the room where a team of entomologists from the Louisiana State University Arthropod Museum in Baton Rouge were hard at work, identifying specimens that had been collected in the park—outside, for the most part.

An undergraduate researcher named Brian Reily rushed to the men’s room with a pair of tweezers. (Not that entomologists are squeamish: One of the traps the LSU team was sifting through during the BioBlitz was baited with rotting chicken gizzards.) Back in the lab, Reily, post-doc Mike Ferro, and research associate Stephanie Gil quickly ascertained the identity of Francis’s bug.

Acanthacephala declivis, observed for the first time in Barataria Preserve on May 18, 2013. Photo by Robert Kunzig.
Acanthacephala declivis at Barataria Preserve, May 18, 2013.

It turned out to be a “true bug,” the common name for any member of the order Hemiptera, which includes things like stink bugs, aphids, cicadas, and bedbugs, but not beetles. More precisely, it was the first member of the family Coreidae collected at Barataria this year, and thus an important addition to the inventory.

Even more specifically, the bug is Acanthocephala declivis. First cousin to an assassin bug, it’s a kind of insect that lands on a leaf and pierces it with hollow, straw-like mouthparts called stylets. “They inject enzymes that turn the leaf into mush and suck it up,” says Gil. “I like them. They don’t have time to sit and eat. They just suck up their smoothie on the run.”