New cockroach species found in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve named Pheromosa after a Pokémon

It is only up to 5mm long.

Zi Shan Kow | March 09, 2023, 12:01 PM

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There is a new addition to Singapore's biodiversity records -- a cockroach species named after a Pokémon.

If you are scared of cockroaches, you might be relieved to know that this forest-dwelling species is only up to 5mm long -- okay, still considered too big for some.

Named after a Pokémon

Local entomologist Foo Maosheng at the Lee Kong Chian National History Museum collaborated with another researcher, Cristian C. Lucanas, from UPLB Museum of Natural History in the Philippines to describe the new species, Nocticola pheromosa.

There are 25 known Nocticola species described from tropical Africa, India, Mainland and Southeast Asia, Australia -- but this is its first record in Singapore.

The paper about the finding was published by the pair, who are both Pokémon fans.

Named after the Pokémon Pheromosa, the museum said the new species and its related Nocticola species shares features, such as their elongated appendages, reduced coloration and fast speed.

Pheromosa is a seventh generation bug-type Pokémon inspired by a freshly-moulted American cockroach, which gave it its pale colouration.

First discovered in 2016

Nocticola pheromosa was first caught by researchers during a biodiversity survey at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in 2016.

The species is only found in forests, particularly old secondary forests where its specimens were collected.

Most cockroaches play a role in nutrient cycling, consuming and breaking down woody and leafy materials, and some are also pollinators.

However, the role of Nocticola cockroaches in the ecosystem is quite a mystery, Foo told Mothership.

This is because Nocticola cockroaches lack a bacteria that is found in all the other cockroaches which plays an important role in the nitrogen cycle.

What is currently known about the genus though, is that they actually belong to a family of cockroaches known to be oldest cave survivors since the dinosaur age.

There are currently at least 50 known species of cockroaches in Singapore, some of which have yet to be named, said Foo.

"Severely understudied group"

Why did it take seven years for the species to finally be scientifically recognised?

Foo explained that cockroaches are a "severely understudied group", so there are limited resources to identify and learn about them.

After sorting out the insects from the survey, it also took time to identify the unknown species through morphology and molecular work.

Finally, travel restrictions during Covid-19 made it challenging for Lucanas travel to Singapore to work with Foo.

Unlike the domestic cockroaches that Singaporeans are more familiar with, Nocticola pheromosa is described to be "delicate".

Which means it is very small and frail looking, with much thinner exoskeleton than other known cockroaches.

"While its exterior resembled that of a known species, it was through dissection that it was actually found to be a species new to science," said the museum.

Specimens of the new species are now housed in the museum.

"Surreal and somewhat emotional"

Foo previously shared with Mothership that while insects play an important ecosystem roles, the global rate of extinction for insects is about eight times faster compared to animals like birds and mammals.

Therefore, it is important to catalogue Singapore's biodiversity in a comprehensive manner before we lose these species.

The Biodiversity of Singapore, a website with the complete database of local wildlife, is like a real-life Pokédex, says Foo.

Sharing his publication on social media, Foo said he feels "surreal and somewhat emotional".

"Both the adult and kid in me are cheering away. The Scientific Pokémon Journey has not ended for this Bug Catcher," he wrote.

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Top images via Lee Kong Chian National History Museum/FB and Pokémon Wiki.