SAN DIEGO — Scientists said Thursday they have discovered at least a half-dozen new species of insect in Southern California, some of them in the midst of the nation’s seventh-largest city.
The newly identified insects, still unnamed scientifically, are for the most part varieties of Jerusalem cricket, a six-legged, wingless bug marked by its heft. The others include new species of silk-spinning cricket and millipede.
Some specimens of the newly found Jerusalem cricket species reach lengths of 3 inches or more and resemble bloated ants.
“This is the largest insect by mass in Southern California and it was undescribed” scientifically, said Robert Fisher, a zoologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in San Diego.
Previously, scientists believed all the Jerusalem crickets in California represented a single species. But specimens collected in the field, including by David Weissman of the California Academy of Sciences, revealed that there are different species, each of varying size and aspect.
Planned genetic work could show there may be 20 or more species of the insect living in California, scientists said. Such work would also allow scientists to chart the extent of their respective habitats.
“You suddenly have a lot of things that everyone thought was the same thing,” said Fisher, who showed off three of the insects during a briefing on biodiversity at the University of California, San Diego.
The finding is an unusual one given how densely urbanized Southern California is and how that threatens many species already known to science.
“There are more listed species, more threatened species here than any place else,” UCSD biologist David Woodruff said of the San Diego region.
Several specimens of the new crickets were found within the San Diego city limits, where they were trapped as part of a survey of the region’s reptiles and amphibians. The bugs had eluded detection because some appear to be active only during certain seasons of the year.
The insects are thought to play an important role in the ecosystem, both as a food source for animals such as coyotes and as a host for a parasite that calls the crickets home for a portion of its life.