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Norwegian insect expert discovers new thrips species in Seychelles

Seychelles and Norway | May 14, 2014, Wednesday @ 09:34 in Environment » SPECIES | By: Hajira Amla | Views: 2092
Norwegian insect expert discovers new thrips species in Seychelles

The newly discovered thrips. (Manfred Ulitzka and Laurence Mound)

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(Seychelles News Agency) - They might be a farmer’s nightmare, but for one insect researcher from Norway, they are the subject of a life-long study. No, we’re not talking about slugs or caterpillars, but rather small insects you might struggle to see with the naked eye – thrips.

Although found in enormous quantities, they are usually barely noticeable, as they are only about one to two millimetres long and hide inside plants. Thrips are not commonly known but they are a group of insects that numbers around six thousand different species in total, and can be found all over the world.

According to an article in the Norwegian science and research website Science Nordic, the new species, called Urothrips kobroi, is an indication that the fungus-eating genus Urothrips, which is found across South Africa, India, Thailand and Australia was probably present in the supercontinent Gondwanaland millions of years ago and was separated by continental drift, leaving Urothrips kobroi to develop in isolation on the equatorial island archipelago.

For Sverre Kobro, who works at Bioforsk Plant Health at the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, the discovery of a new species of thrips in the Seychelles was the product of his efforts to travel the world with his wife, not in search of the perfect beach or relaxation spot, but rather to collect and study different species of thrips.

While visiting the Seychelles in 2012, it was on a trip to the second most populated island of Praslin that Kobro found the thrips which, upon further examination in the laboratory back home, proved to be of a species completely new to science.

While hunting for his collection, Kobro gathers plant material such as flowers, leaves and grass, then rinses them with soapy water and filters out the tiny bugs.

Norwegian insect expert Sverre Kobro (Erling Fløistad) Photo License: All Rights reserved

When he arrives back in Norway with his precious cargo, the thrips are prepared for examination by removing the soft contents of the body and replacing it with clove oil. The external skeleton is then cast in Canada balsam, which hardens into amber after a few days. This preparation enables Kobro to examine the structure of the insect in minute detail. 

“The preparations are transparent. This allows us to look through the insects and study characteristics on both sides,” explains Kobro.

“The animals are so small that it is difficult to turn them around. Also, the most important determining characters are found in the skeleton,” he says.

An expert in identifying insects, Kobro first developed an affinity for thrips when he was called in by food safety experts to identify a dreaded species of thrips, known to cause considerable damage to food crops throughout Latin America, Africa, Australia and more recently in Europe, Thrips palmi.

Unable to wait days for a traditional method of identifying thrips species because of quarantine issues, Kobro had to find a faster method for preparing and examining the thrips, which he can now do within 30 minutes.

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Tags: insect, thrips, new species, Sverre Kobro, Praslin

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