A striking new creature has been discovered in Oaxaca, Mexico. The mountain dwelling insect was found by scientists from the University of Central Florida (UCF). They decided to name the colorful new grasshopper Liladownsia fraile, in honor of Ana Lila Downs Sanchez, a popular Mexican-American activist and singer. The name is in recognition of the artist’s work to preserve the indigenous culture of Mexico. She is also known for donning many colors herself for her stage performances. Ironically, in 2004, she recorded a version of the Mexican classic La Cucaracha.
One of the scientists who discovered the grasshopper in 2011 is a big fan of Lila Downs, which is the singer’s stage name. When he described her to his colleagues, he was so passionate about naming the new species after her, that they thought it was a great idea. Even more appropriately, Downs was born in the region where the grasshopper was found.
While studying another grasshopper species in the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains, the group was surprised to discover the inch long jumping rainbow. With its bright colors and distinctive markings, they could not believe that no one had recorded this species up to that point. They made a return trip in 2013 in order to locate more, and were able to record three small colonies of the unusual creatures.
Worldwide, there are approximately 9,700 recorded species of grasshoppers. Though science has just recently discovered Liladownsia fraile, locals have known about them for a very long time. Due to the their heads resembling monks, regionally they are called the friar grasshopper. The Spanish word for friar is “fraile.” The UCF team felt a respectful obligation to include that moniker in the new scientific name.
As for the Grammy winning singer, judging from her Facebook page, she is excited to have such an honor bestowed upon her. Lila Downs has posted twice about the news that a colorful grasshopper has been named after her. Under a picture of her grasshopper, she wrote “Viva Los Chapus.”
The scientists who found the grasshopper and wrote the subsequent paper about it are Derek Woller, a Ph.D. candidate, Paolo Fontana, a researcher from the Edmund Mach Foundation in Italy and the Lila Downs fan, Ricardo Marino-Perez, a Biology student and Biology Professor Hojun Song. The splendidly colored grasshopper has been added to a Red List for threatened species, put together by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
One of the team members made the point that this discovery should remind people new species can be found anywhere, not just the Amazonian rain-forests or the jungles of Africa. Since this is a time when biodiversity faces a crisis, mindfulness is essential to the manner in which we live on this planet. He goes on to say that under such dire circumstances, some species die out before they have a chance to be discovered.
That is why a new discovery such as this is so exciting. It is one thing to be seeking out new types of creatures. It is quite another to just happen upon one on the side of the road in a pine-oak forest on a mountain. Naming the new grasshopper after Lila Downs, herself a colorful and unique creature, was a true stroke of genus–pun intended.
Opinion By Stacy Lamy