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Last year, when the simmering Kilauea volcano had its most violent eruption in decades, massive molten rivers of lava slithered across a corner of the Big Island of Hawaii, swallowing up roads and parked cars, houses and meadows, even a boat marina. As the lava gradually cooled over the next few months, it left behind jet-black tendrils of lifeless, lumpy terra nova. For one tiny, unassuming Hawaiian native, however, all this destruction meant one thing: fresh real estate.
The lava cricket, Caconemobius fori—'ūhini nēnē pele in Hawaiian—is, according to many biologists, the first multicellular life form to take up residence on new Hawaiian lava flows. How this poorly understood insect manages to thrive in a harsh, sterile landscape when virtually nothing else can is a mystery. This week, scientists are heading out to Kilauea's latest lava fields in hopes of learning the cricket's secrets. The answers may rewrite the rules on which adaptations make an animal a good pioneer.
Marlene - Zuk - Entomologist - University - Minnesota
Marlene Zuk, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul who is leading the first extensive study of these crickets in decades, concedes that they seem unimpressive next to the dramatic geology. "There's the lava and the scape of this barren land, and then there's this cricket."
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Hawaiian locals had long observed that in the wake of eruptions, 'ūhini nēnē pele was quick to appear on the scene, but the species wasn't formally described by scientists and given its Linnaean name until 1978. Four years earlier, a group led by entomologist Frank Howarth of Honolulu's Bishop Museum was out exploring Kilauea's lava fields when it spotted the crickets. Lacking formal traps, the group baited empty wine bottles with bits of "rancid raw cheese." The improvised pitfalls snared 153...
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