A 2-year-old’s afternoon in the garden with her mom led to the discovery of an entirely new species.
The newly discovered tree hopper species, the Hebetica sylviae, was named after none other than young Sylvie Beckers, now 5, who discovered it while overwatering the flowerbed three summers ago.
“Usually when you discover a species, you want to give it a name that describes something about the animal or plant,” her mom, Dr. Laura Sullivan-Beckers of Kentucky, told InsideEdition.com. “Because we don’t know its biology yet and since she was involved, I thought it would be a good thing to call it after her.”
Sullivan-Beckers, an assistant professor of biology at Murray State University who specializes in the evolution of mating behavior in spiders, told InsideEdition.com it all started in the summer of 2016, when she had invited her then-2-year-old daughter into the garden to help her plant wildflowers.
“I put the seeds in and I let Sylvie water the flower bed,” she said. “She watered and watered and watered and the soil flooded with water and there were all these tree hoppers that were bright green and they floated to the top.”
Because tree hoppers are normally found on trees, Sullivan-Beckers said she was immediately fascinated and began taking pictures to send to her Ph.D. adviser.
“We looked at one and he was like, ‘Oh, this is really weird. This is out of place,’” she recalled. “He then put me in contact with some people at USDA. and they were the ones that looked at it and compared it with specimens around the world.”
A lot of research and hard work later, they found that Sullivan-Beckers and her daughter had discovered an entire new species.
“You don’t think about it happening in rural Kentucky,” she joked. “This just landed in my backyard.”
Since they have only found the specimen after it was deceased, they haven’t been able to make many strides in research about the Hebetica sylviae, but she said they did determine that it was most likely a prey species for wasps that likely resides at the top of extremely tall oak trees.
Even with minimal knowledge about the new species, Sullivan-Beckers said she hopes the new discovery, born out of a sweet mother-daughter bonding moment, encourages more families to get outdoors.
“There’s biodiversity even in your own backyard,” she said.