After a long nature walk with a group of kids, a young boy asked me “How do you know so much?” and I replied “I don’t know that much, but I’m telling you what I know”. We could learn a million things a day and the world would still be full of amazing mysteries at the moment we draw our last breath.
When I personally discover something I have never seen before I presumptively claim it as a new discovery to science. I have never succeeded in any attempt to name a critter after myself.
We were exploring the Florida Caverns State Park recently and before descending into limestone darkness my wife spotted an insect that looked other worldly. Its chitinous exoskeleton was camouflaged to resemble lichens you’d find on a tree trunk and the body shape looked similar to a cockroach. As I photographed it, the 6-legged creature bowed its back and tilted its triangular shaped head towards me. It made eye contact, giving me the creeps. I feared for a moment that this bug might rear back, launch itself towards me and rip my face off, which it didn't.
I’ve never seen anything like this but it seemed oddly familiar…vaguely recognizable. I motioned to a park ranger who was prattling on about caves, sinkholes, caverns and other giant holes in the ground and asked if he knew what it was. He looked at it with disinterest and continued his subterranean sermon.
I sent the photo to fellow Audubon Guides writer Kent McFarland, who with curiosity, in turn passed the photo around until the strange beastly insect had a name. The Grizzled Mantis, aka Florida Bark Mantis (Gonatista grisea) is native to the southeastern United States. Like a Transformer it can tuck itself neatly into the form you see here or rear back with wings fanned out and front legs up in a defensive posture like other mantids.
So no – not a new discovery – but an absolutely fantastic find nonetheless. I’ll have to keep looking for Junglis Corradinii.