UAF students make great discoveries at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

Graduate Student Jill Stockbridge has spent the past few summers working in the Tongass National Forest on Prince of Wales Island. The fieldwork netted lots of specimens for the museum’s entomology collection. One of them turned out to be a new species of snow scorpionfly.

1) Where were these specimens collected? The specimens were collected on Prince of Wales Island, which is a coastal rainforest with huge Sitka spruce, red and yellow cedars, and hemlocks. There is also a logging industry. Along with old growth forests, you see clear cut areas, as well as secondary growth where the trees are returning. Forest management has been thinning out the second-growth trees to try to speed up the recovery process, which can take more than 120 years.  

Caurinus tlagu are very small, less than 2mm. When I first saw one, I didn’t know if it was unique but I knew it was something I had never seen before and had no clue what it was.

2) You’ve described them as “flea-like.” Do they bite? Well, anything that has biting mouth parts has the potential to bite. However, most of the time it is unlikely. With C. tlagu, it would be a very small possibility that they would bite. They feed on liverworts and don’t suck blood, but they look and act very much like fleas. They jump just like a flea when touched.

3) Once you and your adviser, Curator of Insects Derek Sikes, realized this wasn’t a routine species identification, how did you go about figuring out its classification? Since we didn’t know the order, Derek put a pic on Facebook to see if his entomologist colleagues had any ideas. His former adviser, Mike Ivie, identified that it was of the genus Caurinus. 

4) How did you decide what to name the species? There are Tlingit tribes on the Northern part of the island where the specimens were collected, so in their honor we chose a Tlingit name. The word tlagu means “ancient” or “relic,” which was fitting because this creature has been around since the Jurassic.