They call themselves “bionauts,” exploring not space, but life on this planet. In one fell swoop a team of three has now added 60 new species to the list of dragonflies in Africa—so many at once that they required a special 230-page issue of Odonatologica, a journal devoted to these large, delicate, long-winged insects, to describe them all. Common around ponds and bogs, some biologists consider these insects to be sentinels of freshwater quality. Biologists had named 700 species in Africa, but this team estimated a few years ago that there were at least 100 more out there. Because development is proceeding at a rapid place in Africa, water quality is increasingly threatened and the three wanted to get these species on record so their conservation could be considered. They spent the past 15 years doing just that. Today, many new species are “discovered” when genetic analyses split an existing species into two. But most of these 60 new ones were distinguishable as unique by their size, shape, and color. Naming so many became a challenge. Some names are descriptive, such as Notogomphus gorilla, which is “large and dark as the famous ape that shares its Ugandan habitat,” the dragonfly hunters wrote in an email. Another, the Robust Sparklewing Umma gumma (above) is named after a Pink Floyd album, and the Blue-spotted Pricklyleg, Porpax mezierei, honors the team’s high school teacher, who in his spare time working in Gabon netted 15 new species not yet found any place else.
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