Forcepflies, commonly known as earwigflies, because the males have a large genital forceps that resembles the cerci of earwigs, are part of a family that was widespread  from Australia to Antarctica and over the Americas during the Jurassic period and extant members are rare now.

Meropeidae, one of the smallest and least known families of Mecoptera, only has two living species, the North American Merope tuber and the Western Australian Austromerope poultoni (the fossil species is Boreomerope antiqua). The biology of both of these species is essentially unknown, and their larvae have never been seen, but now a third extant species of forcepfly Meropeidae from Brazil has been described in Zookeys, the first record of the family from the Neotropical region.

The distribution and biogeography of the family are discussed and it is even proposed that Meropeidae originated before continental drift and then divided into two branches, northern and southern, with the breakup of the old supercontinent Pangea

This picture shows the newly-discovered forcepfly Austromerope braziliensis. Credit: Dr. Renato Jose Pires Machado

Despite all previous collecting efforts in this area the species had never been recorded before. The specimen was collected in a private ranch near a forest fragment surrounded by farms in the Atlantic Forest biome, one of the most threatened in Brazil.

It can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodland, Jarrah forest, and sand plain vegetation. What makes forcepflies special is the fact that little is known about their biology and the immature stages remain a mystery to scientists.

The adults, who are nocturnal and seem to live on the ground, are also capable of stridulation, or the production of sound by rubbing certain body parts.

This picture shows a close-up of the peculiar forceps of Austromerope. Credit: Dr. Renato Jose Pires Machado

"The discovery of this new relict species is an important signal to reinforce the conservation of Brazilian Atlantic Forest biome. Certainly there are many more mecopterans species yet to be discovered in these forests", said the lead author Dr. Renato Machado from the Texas A&M University, College Station, USA.

Citation: Renato Jose Pires Machado, Ricardo Kawada & José Albertino Rafael, 'New continental record and new species of Austromerope (Mecoptera, Meropeidae) from Brazil', ZooKeys 269: 51–65, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.269.4255 (Open Access)