The jumping cockroach from Table Mountain

That cockroaches are not exactly blessed with the best image has largely to do with the notoriety of the kitchen cockroach. But in fact only about a dozen of the over 4000 scientifically identified cockroach species belong to what are known as ‘civilisation followers’. Most species live in the leaf litter of tropical forests, and some in tree trunks, small water bodies, sandy deserts, or in commensal (food-sharing) relationships in ant nests.

Some cockroaches have light-emitting organs, while others are able to roll themselves up into a ball like a hedgehog. Similarities in body structure and gene sequences show that praying mantisses are the cockroach’s closest relative. They are ba-sically ‘predator’ cockroaches. In recent years, re-search has shown that termites are specialised cockroaches having evolved elaborate sociality. The cockroach family thus demonstrates extra-ordinarily diverse organisms and a great ability to adapt.


The new jumping cockroach

The jumping cockroach was discovered back in 2006 by Dr. Mike Picker and Dr. Jonathan Colville from the University of Cape Town during an ex-cursion on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. This type of locomotion was unknown in cockroaches until then. The insects were over one centimetre long, and their wings were re-duced to small stumps. Dr. Picker, an expert on the ecology of South African insects, had already been working under a multi-year research agree-ment with Senckenberg. Professor Horst Bohn from the Zoological State Collection in Munich was also brought on board because of his vast taxonomical knowledge. This was the team that set about studying the various aspects of this new cockroach species.

A study of the complex male genital organs in the jumping cockroach showed they belong to the sub-group Blaberoidea. This assignment was con-firmed in conjunction with Marie Djernæs from the Natural History Museum in London using gene sequence analysis. From this position in the cockroach system, the team concluded that the jumping locomotion of the newly discovered spe-cies is a fairly recent product of cockroach evolu-tion and probably occurred in the mid-Tertiary. The knee joint of the jumping cockroach is remi-niscent of jumping adaptation in grasshoppers/lo-custs. This shows that differing insect groups use similar morphological solutions when adapting to new conditions.

One of the most interesting discoveries in 2010

While the discovery of the jumping cockroach was certainly a scientific sensation in its own right, the fact that it was found on Table Moun-tain, an area well explored by entomologists, was particularly surprising. It was eventually an-nounced to the scientific community as Saltoblat-tella montistabularis at the beginning of 2010 (in the Senckenberg series Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny, Issue 68(1)). And in 2011, it was de-clared as one of the 10 most interesting new discoveries of all the new organisms announced in 2010.


Dr.  Klaus-Dieter Klass
of the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Dresden was leading in announcing a scientific sensation back in 2002. At the time, the discovery of a new order of insects, the Mantophasmatodea (heelwalkers or gladiators) was published in the “Science” research journal (Issue 297) and then presented to the global media. These insects are also restricted to southern Africa. Since then, apart from his research on morphology in cockroaches and other insects, Dr. Klass has dedicated much of his work to the species diversity of Mantophasma.

Editor-in-chief: Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny
Member of Editorial Board: European Journal of Entomology
Member of Editorial Board: Insect Systematics & Evolution

Publications by K.-D. Klass before 2002

• Klass K.-D. (2001): Morphological evidence on blattarian phylogeny: “phylogenetic histories and stories” (Insecta, Dictyoptera). Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift 48: 223–265.
• Klass K.-D. (2001): The female abdomen of the viviparous earwig Hemimerus vosseleri (Insecta: Dermaptera: Hemimeridae), with a discussion of the postgenital abdomen of Insecta. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 131: 251–307.
• Klass K.-D. & Kristensen N.P. (2001): The ground plan and affinities of hexapods: recent progress and open problems. In: Deuve T. (ed.), Origin of the Hexapoda. Annales de la Société Entomologique de France NS 37: 265–298.
• Klass K.-D. (2000): The male abdomen of the relic termite Mastotermes darwiniensis (Insecta: Isoptera: Mastotermitidae). Zoologischer Anzeiger 239: 231–262.
• Klass K.-D., Thorne B.L. & Lenz M. (2000): The male postabdomen of Stolotermes: termites with unusually well-developed external genitalia (Dictyoptera: Isoptera: Stolotermitinae). Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 81: 121–130.
• Klass K.-D. (1999): The pregenital abdomen of a mantid and a cockroach: musculature and nerve topography, with comparative remarks on other Neoptera (Insecta: Dictyoptera). Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift 46: 3–42.
• Klass K.-D. (1998): The ovipositor of Dictyoptera (Insecta): Homology and ground-plan of the main elements. Zoologischer Anzeiger 236: 69–101.
• Klass K.-D. (1998): The proventriculus of the Dicondylia, with comments on evolution and phylogeny in Dictyoptera and Odonata (Insecta). Zoologischer Anzeiger 237: 15–42.
• Klass K.-D. (1998): Possible homologies in the proventriculi of Dicondylia (Hexapoda) and Malacostraca (Crustacea). Zoologischer Anzeiger 237: 43–58.
• Klass K.-D. (1997): The external male genitalia and the phylogeny of Blattaria and Mantodea. Bonner Zoologische Monographien 42: 1–341.
• Klass K.-D. (1995): Die Phylogenie der Dictyoptera. Diss. Univ. München. Cuvillier, Göttingen. 400 pp.