New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has received what may be her greatest accolade yet: a large insect named in her honour.
A new species of wētā – a giant flightless cricket that is endemic to New Zealand – has been named Hemiandrus jacinda for being Labour-party red in colour, and “long-limbed”.
Steven Trewick, a professor in evolutionary ecology at Massey University in New Zealand and the scientist who named and formally described the insect, said it had struck him for “reflecting traits of the prime minister”.
It was a “striking species”, he said, and he considered it beautiful.
More than 100 different species of wētā are found in trees, caves, bush and sometimes suburban gardens. As with all members of the Hemiandrus group, jacinda makes burrows in the ground, from which it emerges to hunt at night.
The newly discovered species is bigger and more brightly coloured than the 17 ground wētā already recorded, and found in native forests in Northland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Coromandel in the upper North Island. It was described in the Zootaxa journal for the first time on Friday as “comparatively large, long-limbed, glossy and predominantly orange-red”.
Trewick said it was remarkable that jacinda had evaded recognition until now, given that it had been found close to densely populated areas and that it was “not a small, cryptic beast but a hefty insect with flamboyant colouring”.
It was proof that “in a time of accelerating environmental change, loss of natural habitat and global precipitous decline of the planet’s biological diversity, the work of species discovery continues,” he said.
“The wētā of New Zealand are a rich and diverse radiation of species living in all sorts of habitats – yet many remain to be recognised.”
But just as jacinda had been discovered, Trewick warned it was likely to be already declining in abundance on the slide towards extinction. Wētā are threatened by introduced predators such as rats and cats, and habitat loss and modification such as farmland.
A key feature of the Department of Conservation’s work to conserve wētā is to classify them, with significant variation between the species despite their genetic similarity and large gaps in the knowledge of their distribution, abundance and ecology.
It highlighted yet another commonality between the big cricket and the prime minister, said Trewick: “Both matter to New Zealand a great deal.”
The prime minister’s office did not return requests for comment.