Earth News Journal 32: Darwin Beetle

A new beetle species was named after the renowned explorer Charles Darwin on February 12, Darwin’s 205th birthday, according to a recent article on the National Geographic Daily News website.

Dubbed Darwinilus sedarisi, this newly discovered beetle joins the cluster of 58,000 known species of rove beetles, named after David Sedaris, a revered naturalist and author with a “fascination [for] the natural world,” and Charles Darwin, the adventurous evolutionist, who is said to have collected the beetle himself on the well-known HMS Beagle voyage in 1832.

Surprisingly, scientists uncovered this never-recorded beetle species over a century after the initial expedition to Bahia Blanca, Argentina while sorting through a pile of specimens on loan from London’s National History Museum.

Stylianos Chatzimanolis, an entomologist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, was the one who noticed this deviating beetle in the cornucopia of insects on file. The specimen in question had “antennae with an unusual saw-toothed appearance,” so Chatzimanolis decided to investigate. What he found was a never-before documented rove beetle, with only one-known counterpart located anywhere else on Earth.

“I was both in awe and scared to death handling the specimen, so I really tried to minimize time spent handling it,” he wrote in a blog. “Finding a new species is always exciting,” Chatzimanolis later said in a statement. “Finding one collected by Darwin is truly amazing.”

After the discovery, Chatzimanolis scoured the globe and other “North American and European museums for more specimens of the beetle but found only one other: a beetle collected in Rio Cuarto, Argentina before 1935 and housed at the Museum für Naturkunde der Humboldt Universität.”

Though finding only one other specimen is rare for a newly-named species, Chatzimanolis is optimistic that these beetles are just “hiding in refuse piles of ants and other insects.”  The grave alternative is that “the species has plummeted in number,” as most of its native Argentine habitat has been converted to agricultural fields over the past century. Chatzimanolis sincerely hopes “that a newly described species is not already extinct.”

Reflection

I enjoyed reading this article because it made me feel enthusiastic for the field of science. Despite the fact that we’ve already circumnavigated the Earth, there are still discoveries to be made, still wonders to astound us, as ever-questioning individuals. Perhaps there are additional species residing in museums that have been long overlooked or overgeneralized by previous explorers, in their haste to categorize their bountiful findings. Modern technologies have allowed us to examine the genetic makeup of species with a single drop of blood – much more advanced technologies and opportunities than scientists had in the 1830s. There could still be surprises lurking in the bowels of the world’s most famous museums! I am in favor of re-combing the cellars of prestigious, international museums, along with continuing our current expeditions into the ‘final frontier’ of space and the deep, vast ocean, in search of new discoveries. We have the tools and abilities to uncover great, exciting finds – we only need to take a second look.

Dell’Amore, Christine. “Found: New Beetle Collected by Darwin 180 Years Ago.” National Geographic. N.p., 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

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