Bizarre Insect With Troll Doll-Like "Hair" Discovered In Remote South American Rainforest

By Josh Lieberman on November 20, 2013 4:14 PM EST

troll doll
An insect photographed in the Suriname rainforest has a tuft of "hair" that resembles the iconic troll doll (above). (Photo: Flickr: eraphernalia_vintage)

Scientists working in a South American rainforest have found an odd insect that looks like the once-ubiquitous troll doll. The planthopper insect was photographed in Suriname by Trond Larsen, a director at Conservation International, and may be a new species. (See a photo of the creature here.) Scientists believe that the insect is a nymph--the larval stage of a creature that undergoes metamorphosis--but they've been unable to figure out exactly what they're looking at.

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"I couldn't match it with anything we have discovered before. I can't get it into a family with certainty," said Larsen. "I have spent hours searching drawers of nymphs to compare it to other species, but have only been able to narrow it down from 16 to four." The four possible species are Dictyopharidae, Nogodinidae, Lophopidae and Tropiduchidae. 

The planthopper's colorful dotted and striped body is interesting enough, but it's the strange tuft of "hair" that makes the creature so unique. The feather-like substance is a waxy secretion which is thought to be a defense mechanism. If a predator tries to grab the waxy substance, the thinking goes, the "hair" would break off from the planthopper--planthopper one, predator zero.  

The planthopper was discovered during a survey of Suriname's rainforest by Conservation International's Rapid Response Program, which sends field biologists on quick trips in order to make conservation recommendations to governments and organizations. 

"Overall, our team found that the region's forests and freshwater habitats are incredibly pristine, and support a vast wealth of biodiversity, including many species directly beneficial to people," Trond wrote in on a Conservation International blog. "Among the more than 1,300 species of plants and animals we encountered on the expedition, we found 60 species that are probably new to science, including 11 fishes, six frogs, one snake and many insects."

The Suriname rainforest is one of the least explored rainforests on the planet, and it remains relatively pristine. If creatures as strange as the troll-like planthopper are still being discovered, it's a good bet that there are a number of other weird undiscovered animals lurking in there. Maybe scientists will even find this guy in there.

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