EDIT: Thank you all for participation, it was great to see so many people interested in insects and biodiversity. Cheers!

Hi my name is Piotr Naskrecki and I'm an entomologist, photographer and author, currently at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA.) I received my Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of Connecticut and my research focuses on the evolution of katydids and related insects, and the theory and practice of nature conservation. As a photographer, I promote appreciation and conservation of invertebrate animals—insects, arachnids, and their kin—by capturing both their beauty and roles as vital, often critically important members of the Earth’s ecosystems. I'm also one of the founding members of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP.)

I am currently doing research at the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Lab in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, which is home to some of the biologically richest and geologically most diverse ecosystems on the African continent. We've been collecting data on katydids since the inception of the lab in 2014 and are finally ready to publish our results on a new species: the incredible, big and spiny katydid that belongs to the genus Enyaliopsis.

What makes this species unusual are a few things:

  1. It's huge! An adult female weights more than 10 grams, which is more than some species of mammals, such as shrews, mice, and bats.
  2. It has few natural enemies, but if threatened by a larger predator—a bird or a monkey—it employs two lines of defense. First, it arches its back, pointing its hard and sharp spines at the attacker, but if that fails, the insect squirts its own blood into the attacker's eyes.
  3. The blood (hemolymph) of the katydid is yellow and has a strong, sharp smell, which indicates that it is likely full of toxins.

EDIT: You can get more details about our research here: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/gorongosa/view/6003035

And one more thing, we're asking people to help us choose a name for the new species! You can cast your vote here: https://twitter.com/NatGeo/status/1098611952568463365

Ask Me Anything!

Proof: https://i.redd.it/zmfxjqfsrrh21.jpg

Comments: 147 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

potamogeton54 karma

How common is it to find new species in your field of study ? Have you tested the toxins in the yellow liquid in some assay (i.e. is it hemolitic, just bad tasting...)? Are there plenty of individuals or is it a small population?

nationalgeographic66 karma

It is not uncommon but it depends on the geographic region. It is difficult to find new species of katydids in Europe (although they are still there, waiting to be discovered) wheres in Papua New Guinea over 80% of katydid species I found were new to science.

We are planning to test the chemical composition of the new katydid's hemolymph later this year.

potamogeton15 karma

Awesome! In Scandinavia we don't get many new species popping up... How hard was it to get the funds for the fieldwork? I couldn't find the paper describing the species, is it out/are you planning on publishing?

nationalgeographic25 karma

The paper should be out within the next couple of months. And yes, it is often tough to find funding for biodiversity work. Thankfully, there are organizations and institutions (such as National Geographic) who support biodiversity research and conservation.

johnsgrandma31 karma

Studiował Pan kiedyś w Polsce i co uważa Pan o ośrodkach naukowych w Polsce?

nationalgeographic36 karma

Zrobilem magisterke na UAM w Poznaniu i studiowalem owady w Tatrzanskim Parku Narodowym. Poslie osrodki robia sie coraz lepsze.

MURKA4227 karma

That's cool. Do they have a super annoying pulsating sound like Paracyrtophyllus robustus?

nationalgeographic47 karma

Annoying?! I love that sound! But yes, they do produce a very loud call.

handstands_anywhere22 karma

How upset are you about the devastation of insect biomass currently going on? Do you think it is caused by climate change, pesticides, or something else?

nationalgeographic39 karma

I am absolutely heartbroken. The decline that we are seeing is likely to be the result of a cumulative effect of pollution, loss of natural habits, pesticide use, and climate change. Each of these factors weakens both individual insects and their populations, resulting in the loss of abundance and species richness that we are seeing.

Mantisbog18 karma

Weird question, and not katydid related, but I saw honey bees hanging around a water fountain/sprinkler thing at a playground, actually flying towards it to get splashed at the edge by the smaller droplets; do honeybees enjoy playing in sprinklers?

nationalgeographic30 karma

Not sure if they actually enjoy being splashed but bees are known to be attracted to fountains and other sources of flowing water.

Sidewayspear15 karma

Since you promote the appreciation of arachnids, I'm wondering if you can help me like spiders? I hate spiders

nationalgeographic74 karma

But they don't hate you. In fact, they don't know that you exist. They have no interest or reason to do you any harm. Quite the opposite – spiders are some of the most beneficial organisms on the globe. The don't transmit any diseases, none is a pest, but they consume untold numbers of species that actually do us harm, such as mosquitos, flies, cockroaches, kissing bugs (that transmit chagas disease). I bet that the reason you don't have any pests in your house is because there is an invisible army of spiders protecting you. They are also super cool and beautiful.

mamyd12 karma

What effects does the hemolymph have on the predators? How good is the katydid's aim? Are they generally successful at squirting the hemolymph in their eyes?

nationalgeographic19 karma

The fact that these katydids have few natural enemies indicates that predators don't like the taste of it. Some people claim to develop a rash and feel a burning sensation after being sprayed with the hemolymph of this species but I have not experienced that.

They probably do not aim for the eyes of the predators but since most animals grab their prey with their mouth, the jet is likely to hit the eyes.

ivythemajestic10 karma

You mentioned that you were a photographer. What equipment do you use the most, and why? How beneficial and practical is your photography work to your katydid research?

(I'm a first-year Biology undergrad at Imperial College London with a love for photography, and your work is very inspirational!)

nationalgeographic12 karma

I got into photography through my work on insect systematics. I needed a tool to document the morphological features of my subjects and got a camera, and soon discovered that I love using it. After finishing my degree I became very involved in invertebrate conservation and realized that photography is a fantastic medium to spread messages of the importance and beauty of these animals.

I use all kinds of lenses and cameras, but more recently I started using mirrorless cameras and a variety of close-focus wide angle lenses.

easternblues9 karma

Are you Polish?

nationalgeographic15 karma

I sure am.

VotedPresent9 karma

What exactly did Katy do?

nationalgeographic19 karma

I believe that the legend says that she killed somebody and the insects betrayed her.

Leenzlions6 karma

How did you get into this profession and what drew you to entomology? Thanks for the AMA!

nationalgeographic11 karma

I feel that I was born an entomologist. My earliest memories are of chasing insects and frogs, and my parents were incredibly supportive. When I was older I volunteered at a local insectarium and hung out with like-minded nerds. Not surprisingly, I ended up studying insects and getting a Ph.D. in this field.

OneDayOneMay4 karma

Dobry wieczór Panie Piotrze, Do you have a collection of photos of the mentioned katydid? Or is there one online? Sorry, I couldn't find any results online.

nationalgeographic11 karma

You can see photos of the new species on National Geographic Open Explorer site:


lolezgg2 karma

I know you said that they can weigh more than 10 grams, but how long or thick do they get? I looked at the pictures, and there’s not much I can tell in terms of scale.

nationalgeographic4 karma

An adult female is 6 cm long (2.36 inches).

UnionOrDeath4 karma

How do you physically approach a newly discovered species? Is there any fear that it could be venomous/poisonous?

nationalgeographic14 karma

If you can recognize a species as new then you are likely to known whether such species poses any danger. In my case I know that all katydids are completely harmless. But a friend of mine who studies venomous snakes was once bitten by a yet undescribed, new to science snake.

stoolsample24 karma

Have you ever watched Bug Wars on YouTube? Taking into account size are centipedes really that dominant when they fight with other insects or arachnids? The show really peaked my interest in insects. Thanks for the ama.

nationalgeographic12 karma

Alas, I have never watched that show. But centipedes are indeed quite fearsome. They are very agile and strong, and some species are known to catch bats in flight. I have also seen a millipede catch and eat a venomous snake.

alienmarky4 karma

Hi Piotr! Out of all the invertebrates you've worked with, which one has the best memory for you?

Also, as a budding photographer, do you have any tips for taking pictures of the smaller majority?

nationalgeographic13 karma

There is no one invertebrate that I can call my favorite, there are hundreds of them. But I would certainly put in my Top 10 the coconut crab, the horseshoe crab, velvet worms, Bradyporus (another chunky katydid), and the ghost mantis.

And my advice to any budding photographer – keep shooting and shoot some more. Sooner or later you will develop both great technical expertise and a personal style. It is also a good exercise to try to replicate your favorite photos by other photographers. Analyze their style and technique, and become proficient in it. Then move on to the next one.

RZINZ3 karma

Hi Piotr, fellow entomologist here!

What I am curious about is if you can explain a bit more about how the hemolymph is squirted?

Is it similar to reflex bleeding and is just forcefully squeezed through joint membranes, or is it sprayed out of special glands or pores?

Cheers, and congrats on the new species!

nationalgeographic8 karma

The hemolymph is actively ejected as a powerful stream that shoots at a distance of 20-30 cm from a small opening on the dorsal surface of the connective tissue between the coxa and trochanter of the mesothoracic leg. I have not looked into it in detail, yet, but I suspect that there is a dedicated musculature there to produce the jet.

lirisimah3 karma

Hi Piotr, amazing work from what I've looked at before. Congratulations on the new discovery!

I've practiced amateur entomology as a hobby in my spare time, mostly as identification and release. I have a firm fondness for insects and arachnids. As such, I'm not fond of the mindset people have to kill one of our smaller majority on sight. What advice would you give to people with such a mindset?

nationalgeographic10 karma

Unfortunately some people do carry an irrational fear of smaller creatures and it is often difficult to change their mind. But it is possible – simply explaining to a person who fears spiders (or ants, or frogs) that the animal poses no threat and is in fact quite beneficial often changes people's mind. Perhaps not at the first attempt but eventually. I have been able to "convert" many people but showing them animals up close and explaining the functions of their often otherworldly bodies (e.g., that the big "stinger" at the end of a katydid's abdomen is for egg laying and not stinging.)

black_flag_4ever2 karma

Do you kill spiders or escort them out of your house?

nationalgeographic13 karma

I never, ever kill spiders (or any other guests in my house). I gently scoop them into a glass and let the out into the garden.

WhatredditorsLack2 karma


Did you find a new species, or did you discover an unknown species? If this species is new, how old is it, approximately?

nationalgeographic9 karma

I discovered an already existing, yet unnamed species. The general consensus is that all currently living species are of similar age, from 0.1 to 1 million years old. After that time species invariably change due to adaptive pressure or genetic drift, or go extinct.

JALKHRL2 karma

Can you share more about their reproductive cycle? how many eggs, stages, nests, mating, etc? thanks!

nationalgeographic5 karma

Females of this species lay eggs in the soil by first drilling a deep hole with her ovipositor. Then she lays 10-20 large, black, elongate eggs and covers the hole. She repeats this process several times. The eggs stay in the ground for at least 2 years, undergoing what is known as the diapause. The nymphs emerge after the second rainy season and look just like miniature versions of the adults. They take about 6 months to mature and the adults live 2-3 years. During mating the male produces a large spermatophylax, which is a nuptial gift full of protein and carbohydrates that the females then consumes. This helps her produce more eggs.

Croghs1 karma

Hi Piotr, very interesting to read! My question may sound a bit simple, but do you have a favourite animal? And if so, why?

nationalgeographic7 karma

I have about 100 favorite animals. One of them is the coconut crab, the world's largest terrestrial invertebrate. They have a leg span of about 3 feet and weigh 9 lb! And they feed on coconuts and hunt seagulls.

MidLifePanicAttack1 karma

How do you feel about the reported "disappearance" of insects around the world? (Extinction?)

What do you feel is contributing to it, and should we be concerned?

Also, how do you feel about 20th Century Fox, and thereby , partially, Rupert Murdoch, owning National Geographic?

nationalgeographic2 karma

I feel awful about the loss of insects and other biodiversity. It is likely that it is a cumulative result of habitat loss, pollution and pesticide use, and climate change. And yes, we should be very, very concerned.