Sunday 22 September 2019

New Zealand insect named after hobbit Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings

The newly classified species Psylla Frodobaggins is found on the South Island, where the Tolkein movies were filmed

Angela Cuming in Dunedin

Fri 20 Sep 2019 02.51 BSTLast modified on Fri 20 Sep 2019 03.38 BST

New Zealand researchers have named an insect after JRR Tolkein’s famous hobbit character Frodo Baggins. Like the famous literary character, the insect is smaller than its relations and is found in New Zealand’s South Island, the location where the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were filmed.

The Psylla frodobagginsi was identified by Francesco Martoni and Karen Armstrong, who examined the psyllid insects during research for Martoni’s PhD, with the New Zealand’s Bio-Protection Research Centre.

It is not the first time Kiwi insects have been named after hobbits. In 2013 scientists discovered a new species of wasp that were small, short and stout and named them after Bilbo, Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam.

During their research, the pair also solved an 87-year-old mystery about why there was so much variation in what is called the kōwhai psyllid. There are in fact two different varieties of psyllid: the Psylla apicalis and the slightly smaller Psylla frodobagginsi.

For his PhD research, Martoni examined psyllids collected from kōwhai trees in 21 South Island locations and described consistent differences between two types, which allowed them to be classified as two distinct species.

Psylla frodobagginsi can be identified most easily by its small dimension, light colours, and uniformly spotted wings,” the authors wrote in their paper outlining the research.

Psylla frodobagginsi is smaller than P. apicalis, with males as small as 1.24 mm, compared to the 1.65mm of P. apicalis, and females as small as 1.56 mm, against the 2.03 mm of P. Apicalis.”

The name is likely to be seen as an improvement on the psyllids’ more common name of jumping plant lice.

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