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May 2, 2013 Volume 34, No. 29

New insect species identified on campus

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MIZZOU'S SPECIAL BUG The insect is considered a new aphid because of its five-segmented antenna, shape of abdomen and black head, thorax and abdomen. Photo by Randy Mertens.


Scientist has identified seven new plant species during his career

The University of Missouri has Jesse Hall and Truman the Tiger. It now has its own insect.

Aphis mizzou, a member of the aphid family, has been officially described last fall in Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed scientific journal that describes newly identified organisms.

Aphis mizzou has been found only on the Mizzou campus so far, specifically around the recreation center. It lives on St. John’s wort plants, said the bug’s discoverer, Ben Puttler, assistant professor emeritus of plant sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. This is the seventh bug Puttler has discovered.

Puttler first noticed the insect in 2005 when he was investigating how parasitic wasps feed on another aphid, the Aphis hyperici. When he noticed the dark-colored insects again, he cataloged their differences. He worked with a colleague, Doris Lagos in the Department of  Entomology at the University of Illinois, to confirm that the insect was unknown.

As the discoverer of the bug, Puttler got naming rights. He said that since the insects are known only to live on the MU campus, it was natural to name them after Mizzou. 

Aphids are insects that feed on the sap of plants. Nearly all plants including shrubs and trees are potential hosts for aphids, which can be found from a plant’s tips to its roots. Aphid feeding can distort plant tissues, crumpling leaves and stunting and bending stems. Aphids excrete honeydew, a sugar source when digested by other insects, including ants.

While there are approximately 5,000 described species of aphids in the world, only 150 of them live in North America. Approximately 10 percent of aphids can damage cultivated crops or spread plant viruses.

Puttler’s research details the biological control of pests — how naturally occurring insects and other biotic agents can fight crop pests and weeds.

Aphis mizzou is considered a new aphid because of its five-segmented antenna, shape of the abdomen and color.  Its head, thorax and abdomen are black, and seem to be dusted with a white wax.  An individual Aphis mizzou is smaller than a grain of pepper.

Aphis mizzou doesn’t seem to be hurting other plants by its presence, Puttler said. Its existence is simple: feeding on leaves of the St. John’s wort.

— Randy Mertens