Kentucky toddler accidentally helps mom discover new bug species


MURRAY, Ky. (WTVQ) – A Western Kentucky mom was gardening with her daughter when they discovered a new species of bug.

Dr. Laura Sullivan-Beckers is a biology professor at Murray State University and thanks to some help from her daughter Sylvie Beckers, next month Dr. Sullivan-Beckers will add introducing a new type of Treehopper bug to her resume.

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Confirming if a new bug truly is undiscovered takes time. This story starts about three years ago when Sylvie was only two.

Dr. Sullivan-Beckers said she and Sylvie had just planted wildflower seeds and it was Sylvie’s job to water the flower bed.

Well, a two-year-old with a watering can…led to a flooded flower bed, her mom said.

But that’s the accident that brought to the surface the new Treehopper bug.

Dr. Sullivan-Beckers said she’s studied Treehoppers before and this particular version was not one she’d ever seen before.

“We actually excavated the entire flower bed, and collected everything in there,” she said.

It didn’t stop there.

“Then twice a day for the rest of the summer, we kind of excavated the top few inches of soil every day in search for new Treehoppers,” Dr. Sullivan-Beckers said.

She said she consulted her Ph.D. advisor from the University of Missouri, Dr. Rex Cocroft about what she found and he encouraged her to send off her specimens to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for further inspection.

Dr. Stuart McKamey approves new species with the U.S.D.A. and is the co-author of the publication announcing Dr. Sullivan-Beckers’ bug.

Dr. Sullivan-Beckers said this is unimaginable.

“It’s amazing. I mean a lot of my friends that are in the field, we all agree, it’s just something we all dream about,” she said.

There’s more.

Dr. Sullivan-Beckers gets to name the bug. She chose to dedicate it to the toddler who made it all possible.

The pea sized Treehopper species is called Hebetica Sylviae.

“For me once in a lifetime opportunity, I probably won’t discover another insect again,” she said. “So to be able to name something after her, that’s going to live on forever, is really phenomenal.”


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Monica Harkins joined the ABC 36 News team in June 2019 as a Multimedia journalist and Anchor/Producer. She’s born and raised in Austin, Texas and headed “North,” as she calls it, to study broadcast journalism and business at the University of Missouri. While at Mizzou she anchored and reported for KOMU 8 News, an NBC affiliate in Columbia, Missouri all four years. During her childhood she played almost every sport, but they always called her “Hollywood” for her love of theatre. In high school, she realized her excitement for theatre and performing was only a small piece of the puzzle. It’s story telling that’s her passion. She’s especially passionate about social media and creative platforms to tell stories. Her most recent experiment is being a FAA certified drone pilot. As a proud Texan she says she’s made of country music, Southern hospitality and Sweet Tea. When she’s not at work you can find her trying new recipes, listening to crime podcasts, reading the latest romance novel or rockin’ out to live music with friends. She says she’s only a tweet or Facebook message away, so say hi and send her the latest on your community. @MonicaHarkinstv or