The Living Fossil | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.04.2002
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The Living Fossil

An international team of scientists has discovered an unknown type of insect. They say it's a "living fossil". The scientists call it "Gladiator" because it looks like the fighters in the movie of the same name.


Please don't step on the scientific sensation...

It's like "finding a mammoth or a saber-toothed tiger today," exclaimed entomologist Piotr Naskrecki.

The scientist, who is with the species protection organization "Conservation International", was thrilled about the discovery of kind of insect that was previously unknown. The new discovery brings the total number of insect types to 31.

The animal is considered a "living fossil".

Its correct Latin name is Mantophasmatodea. Quite a tongue-twister. So the scientists simply settled on "Gladiator." They think the insect looks something like the armored combatants in the movie "Gladiator" with Russel Crowe.

A tiny "Gladiator"

The researchers describe the "Gladiator" as a small predatory insect. It can grow up to four centimeters (1.6 inches) long and resembles a mixture between a praying mantis and a stick insect. It lives in rock crevices and is a nocturnal creature.

A team of researchers from Germany, England, the USA, South Africa and Namibia discovered the "Gladiator" on Brandberg mountain in Namibia's Erongo province. The researchers believe the "Gladiator" may have lived on the isolated mountain for millions of years without coming in contact with other species.

Brandberg mountain itself is thought to be some 120 million years old. It's separated from other mountain habitats by hundreds of kilometers of sand. The region is well known for harboring a number of unique species.

To ensure the protection of this unique environment, the area has been closed off to human development. Even the international team of researchers was only able to enter the region by special permission.

Bolstered by the discovery of the "Gladiator", scientists now want to nominate the Brandberg region as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

45 million years old

Neue Insektenordnung Mantophasmatodea in Bernstein

Raptophasma kerneggeri Zompro embedded in amber

The only known "relatives" of the "Gladiators" became extinct millions of years ago. German doctorate Oliver Zompro discovered them last year - embedded in a piece of Baltic amber that was 45 million years old (photo).

But neither Oliver Zompro nor any other entomologist knew then that insects closely resembling these fossils were still alive in Africa.

"These creatures are some of the last living witnesses of the time when Africa and America were still part of the same land mass," explains entomologist Piotr Naskrecki.

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