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Published February 20, 2010

SANTA FE — Ronnie McLaughlin IV, a budding entomologist only 7 years old, was routinely searching out crawling creatures when he made a backyard find so rare it will go on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Ronnie found a pink grasshopper on Valentine’s Day. He named the inch-long insect “Love Bug” and placed it in the terrarium in his room.

When his mother, Kelly McLaughlin, contacted the museum, she got an enthusiastic return call from entomologist Erin Mills.

“I was so excited when I heard about them finding a pink grasshopper,” Mills said. “It’s just one of those kind of cool, mysterious things about nature that a lot of scientists don’t quite understand. So it’s a really cool thing to stumble upon around your home.”

Mills, one of two entomologists at the museum, never has seen a pink grasshopper in her years working with insects.

“It’s a genetic mutation where they have not enough of one pigment, or too much of one type of pigment,” she said. “Pink grasshoppers are not totally rare, but they are unusual. It’s kind of lucky if you come across one.”

In the insect containment room, the pink grasshopper was contentedly surveying a meal of romaine lettuce.

She (or he — it’s too soon to tell) already has gone through one molt, which means the young grasshopper is growing.

Mills hopes to surround Love Bug with a stress-free environment, through more molts and, in a few months, adulthood.

She phones the McLaughlins at their Santa Fe home to give updates and is writing a blog on the insect’s progress.

“Anything can happen with a bug,” Mills said. “Probably her biggest challenge right now is making it through all of her molts and getting to be an adult.

“They have to shed a whole skin. It can be a bit touchy.”

Mills has high hopes for Love Bug. The entomologists could follow the example of the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans where pink katydids (a relative of grasshoppers) have been bred and put on display.

Love Bug would not necessarily have to have a pink mate in order to produce pink offspring.

“There is a possibility those genes could be carried over to the next generation,” Mills said. “I’d like to have pink grasshoppers on display all the time. It would be awesome.”

In the meantime, Ronnie will be on the lookout for another pink sighting. He is autistic, home-schooled as part of an intensive home therapy program. One of his strongest interests is bugs.

“We told her (Mills) we would keep checking our backyard,” said McLaughlin, who also home-schools Ronnie’s younger brother, Connor.

“She said, ‘Who knows? You might have a hot spot.’”

Source:  http://galvestondailynews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=d409f006d55e5108



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