Researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks have discovered a new kind of insect in Southeast Alaska, an offshoot of the snow scorpionfly.

While UAF graduate student Jill Stockbridge was on Prince of Wales Island, researching the effects of different logging practices on beetles and spiders, she came across an insect she couldn't identify. She asked Derek Sikes, curator of insects for the University of Alaska Museum and professor of entomology at UAF, for help.

When Sikes didn’t recognize the insect, they turned to social media -- posting a picture of the insect on Facebook.

One of Sikes' colleagues identified it as belonging to the genus Caurinus, which had only one known species.

“It was not soon after that we realized we had a new species of this genus and it was the second known species in the world,” Sikes said. “That was pretty exciting.”

Using genetic tests and microscopic images, they confirmed the differences between the two species. An even more exciting element of the discovery was the insect group’s age.

“The oldest fossil that can be used to date the split between this group of snow scorpionflies and the others is 145 million years old,” Sikes said. “That means that there’s only these two species that we know about that date back -- or their group -- dates back to the Jurassic.”

The snow scorpionfly is approximately 2 millimeters long, about the same size as a small flea. Like a flea, the snow scorpionfly jumps instead of flying.

Sikes says there are approximately 8,000 types of insects in Alaska, but three to five new species are identified each year.

“It's not terribly rare to find new species, but this one was quite a catch both being so old, so unique, so different, just really interesting, so we moved on it rather quickly to get it published,” Sikes said.

Sikes and Stockbridge named the fly Caurinus tlagu.

Tlagu means ancient in Tlingit. Stockbridge says they chose the name to honor the many Tlingit tribes in the region where they made the discovery.

Contact Tracy Sinclare