New species of leafhopper named after University entomologist

By Fatima Farha

To honor his research of leafhoppers for the past 25 years, a new species of leafhopper insects were named after University Systematic Entomologist Chris Dietrich.

The new species of leafhoppers, called Futasujinus dietrichi, were discovered after various research done on the insects by Dietrich and his colleagues. 

“I have been working on leafhoppers for probably 25 years now and I have made a lot of discoveries in the species themselves and I have done a lot of work on basic evolution and classification on leafhoppers,” Dietrich said. “You know it’s an honor, it’s nice to be recognized, having a species named after you, but it’s not that big of a deal.”

He added that it is not very uncommon for colleagues to name species after other colleagues because insects like these are being discovered all the time.

May Berenbaum, head of the Entomology department, said that a species is named after a researcher if that researcher has made many contributions in discovering and understanding that particular species.

“The fact that an expert on leafhoppers has a leafhopper named for him is an ultimate compliment, and it’s a lasting compliment because the scientific name doesn’t change as long as the description of the species is done correctly. That name is forever,” Berenbaum said. “It’s really a monument to a person’s body of work.”

Dietrich has traveled to various countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, China, Chile and Taiwan, as well as to tropical South America, in his pursuit of discovering and researching leafhoppers. He said the tropics are the best places to search for species and there is always a new one to be discovered.

“We estimate that only about 10 percent of the insect species worldwide have been discovered and named, so we still have lots of work to do, exploring new areas and documenting the species that are out there,” Dietrich said.

Berenbaum said that Dietrich’s “efforts in cataloguing global biodiversity of this group are kind of legendary.” 

She added that his pursuits have been very challenging in terms of logistics and areas that he has visited, many of which were hostile, but his research has been helpful in learning about leafhoppers because otherwise they would be considered irrelevant insects.

Dietrich’s research has also impacted his students, such as Chip Austin, graduate student in Entomology. Austin said that he has been working with Dietrich on research involving leafhoppers, as well as other insects, as a part of a new Tree of Life project. 

“He has been researching leafhoppers for years, so I am not surprised that he has had one named after him,” Austin said. “I am glad to be working with him.”

In terms of future plans, Dietrich said that he hopes to continue working on leafhoppers and finding other species, just like he has been doing. He also hopes to develop tools that will help people identify these insects and their different species. 

“I do a lot of field work, so I go out in the world and try to find the species that are there, especially in the tropics,” Dietrich said. “Often when we go to the tropics, we find lots and lots of undescribed species. So, it’s not all that difficult to find new things, you just have to get out there and look for them.”

Fatima can be reached at [email protected]