Tiny Makiling roach named after museum
LOS BAÑOS, Laguna – Cristian Lucañas is not one to scream in disgust at the sight of a cockroach. In fact, he loves and collects them.
Lucañas, 23, a researcher at the University of the Philippines Los Baños-Museum of Natural History (MNH), called his rare interest in the creepy winged creatures an “acquired taste.”
Like most people, he used to despise roaches but his disgust had evolved into “love” since he started working for the museum in 2013.
“I think I’m the only one in the Philippines currently studying cockroaches,” he said.
Globally, there are only 3,500 to 4,000 known species of cockroaches, a number recognized as too small in the field of entomology.
One of the most recently discovered was Tagaloblatta kasaysayan, a minute cockroach from Mt. Makiling in Laguna province.
Lucañas, together with a group of college students, found the species sometime in 2016. They collected specimens from under the rotten bark of a tree on the bank of the Molawin Creek in UPLB.
After a year of study, the researcher described the insect in the Philippine Journal of Systematic Biology in February, making the first record of the species in the scientific database. The MNH announced the discovery in April, in time for the Earth Day celebration.
Lucañas said the insect was named after the Tagalog people, as it was found in Luzon, and “kasaysayan” (history) after the MNH. “I owe so much to the museum,” he said.
As a biology student at UPLB, Lucañas worked as part-time assistant to museum scientists, a job that helped him through college. He was hired by the MNH as a university research associate after graduation and is now finishing his master’s degree in forestry in UPLB.
Lucañas said an adult Tagaloblatta kasaysayan is only about 5 millimeters long, or less than a fourth of the size of the common household cockroach (Periplaneta americana). It is dark brown with a yellow lateral line across its body.
Like all insects, it has three pairs of legs and a pair of antennae 6-7 mm long.
It has wings, but these are too short. Each wing stub is about a millimeter.
“It can’t fly,” Lucañas said.
“I thought they were nymphs so I took them to the lab to grow them,” he said. “I gave them chicken feed.”
After a few weeks, however, the cockroaches did not grow any bigger but bore offspring.
Kasaysayan was the third cockroach species that Lucañas had described or discovered. The first two were the Anaplecta and the Nocticola gonzalez from Polillo Island in Quezon province, which he wrote about last year.
Lucañas plans to continue studying roaches as the museum still has specimens, some collected as far back as 1984, that have not yet been named.
According to him, cockroaches have an important role in the ecosystem, primarily as detritivores (species that consume decomposing plant and animals and other wastes), even as most people consider them disgusting creatures.
And to all “ipis” haters, Lucañas has this to say: “Ipis be with you.”
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