hide captionColors on the highly toxic bush hopper warn predators to stay away.
Colors on the highly toxic bush hopper warn predators to stay away.
Apples and oranges, in a way, but he's making a point: That grasshopper is something like a living artifact, he explained; it has adapted for modern times, but it carries valuable information about Earth's past. Maybe it's not as cool as a dinosaur, but it's still worthy of attention, he says.
"It's very hard to explain why we should care," he admits, "and to be completely honest, there isn't a very good answer."
Naskrecki is a research associate and entomologist at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. He's also a photographer and has a whole book of critters and creatures you might never think twice about. It's called Relics: Travels in Nature's Time Machine.
"Relict organisms," Naskrecki writes in the introduction, "which I prefer to call simply 'relics' ... are often the last carriers of genes that have otherwise disappeared from the world's gene pool."
"Sphenodontia, the order of reptiles that once flourished in many habitats ... is considered a sister group to lizards and snakes. ... This means that both groups had a common ancestor but diverged very early in their evolutionary history, probably before early Jurassic. ... But while lizards and snakes are now the dominant lineage of reptiles ... tuatara [above] is the only relict of the Sphenodontia."
Not all animals in the book are classic "living fossils," Naskrecki explains. "The sloth, which belongs to a relatively young group of mammals ... is there because it is a part of a very old ecosystem — the rainforest of the Guiana Shield in South America. This forest represents one of the last remaining fragments of pre-Columbian America, and is a sanctuary of the type of ecosystem that has largely disappeared."
"Nymphs ... of the family Tessaratomidae are some of the flattest insects on Earth. Their body is nearly two-dimensional, which allows them to squeeze into tight spaces at the bases of leaves on which they feed," the book says.
"Within insects ... blattodeons display levels of devotion and parental sophistication otherwise found only in birds and mammals. ... [Their] ancestors first appeared 350 million years ago in the humid forests of the Carboniferous period," Naskrecki writes.
Take horseshoe crabs, for example. "It was already a living fossil when the dinosaurs first appeared," Naskrecki says excitedly on the phone. "They go back 450 million years. ... And the thing is that they have changed so little. It's like a peephole into the Jurassic — or even earlier."
But of the hundreds of horseshoe crab species that used to exist, there now remain only four, says Naskrecki, "and they are declining very fast."
Born in Poland, Naskrecki recalls an early obsession with natural history, which started with the discovery of a fossil. And he has been at it — doggedly — ever since. He travels the world doing research and documenting his findings.
"I am a scientist first, photographer and writer second," he says. "I recognize how powerful the tool of photography is in conservation."