Not cute enough to be loved or scary enough to be feared, but wonderful enough to be treasured.


Despite being only an early career taxonomist, I've already had to endure many times the "why is this species important?" kind of question. This comes under many different forms and in a variety of situations.


For example, it might happen when applying for research fundings or for a scholarship. In this more practical, goal-focused instance I have to convince people that yes, it is important to understand the taxonomy of what I'm studying, and yes, especially if the aim is to kill the damn' insect.


It can also happen at the pub, among friends, or on the bus, after I've spent what seems like just a few minutes (more likely too many) describing in excitement two new species of psyllids. The question is often accompanied by very dubious facial expressions and squinting eyes. Why is this new species important? Why should we care?


Let's be clear, these questions are not wrong or unfair. Why would you care about a new species of insect that is so small you almost cannot see it? Is it a cute animal that will leave your interlocutor in awe? Or is it something they should be scared of? Does it bite? Is it a dragon? What has taxonomy to do with all this?


A specimen of a psyllid, Ctenarytaina fuchsiae. Psyllids are like very, very tiny cicadas. The specimen is mounted on a small paper triangle a few millimetres long.

Alas, quite often the species I tend to talk about are not as cute as koalas. I soon realized that no, despite the exquisite setae on the legs or the weird antennae being almost cute to me, they don't make up for the lovely fur of a native wallaby. In the case of psyllids, I have to admit, beauty and cuteness aren't really their strongest asset.


"Is it dangerous, then?" they might ask.


"Well, some species are dangerous to agriculture, yes. They may be vectors for viruses or plant patho..."

"No, no, I meant, is it really dangerous? Like a deadly wasp?"


"Well wasps aren't often deadly to humans. They are pretty crazy insects....but no, psyllids are not deadly"

Silence.


While you try to quickly think how to sell your beloved insect, maybe with some very cool fact (you can find some cool stuff here!), the other person often moves to the next topic with an almost mumbled "..okaay".


Recently, this kind of conversation assumed a whole new importance for me.

After a few months of peer-review and after completing my PhD I finally described my first two new species of psyllids. Unfortunately for my friends and my partner, this has obviously become the main topic of every conversation.