Master's student nets prize for mantis research

18 October 2023 | News

Did the New Zealand praying mantis land here before European settlers and how much does it differ from its Aussie counterpart?

These are questions that have been bugging Lincoln University student George Gibbs, but he’s hunting down some answers as part of his Master of Science in Conservation and Ecology.

And his project recently caught the attention of the Entomological Society of New Zealand, which has awarded him a prize to support his research.

George’s work involves collecting specimens of the New Zealand praying mantis from across the country, extracting their DNA and recording their morphology.

“I will also be looking into the Māori history of the praying mantis in New Zealand to see if there could be cultural support for it being here before Europeans,” he said.

He's been carrying out this research since last year, when he began a project on the NZ praying mantis as part of his Bachelor of Science (Conservation and Ecology). He noticed there was very little information on the insect, which was often misidentified as its own species.

Together with Lincoln University Ecology Lecturer Jon Sullivan, George explored original species descriptions and 1990s fauna of New Zealand, piquing his interest and convincing him to pursue his Master’s thesis on the subject to clarify any confusion around the NZ praying mantis.

Receiving the entomology prize from the Entomological Society of New Zealand was a great moment for George.

“I feel quite excited and proud,” he said. “I have only been formulating the thesis so far, but the society thinks it’s a good idea to back. The award comes with funding, which will help pay for the genetics part of my research.

“This will allow for me to be able to sequence more mantids and get a better idea of variation across the country.”

When asked what had attracted him to Lincoln University, George explained that a friend had studied there and suggested it was the best option for him due to its small size and dedicated staff who would ensure he had the best opportunities and support.

After researching the university further, George found it would be the ideal place to study insects and ecology. He was particularly impressed with the entomology museum, which provided an exciting and unique research opportunity for him.