Beetles, biodiversity and ‘Battlestar Galactica’

Michigan State entomologists have discovered dozens of new beetle species — and named some after iconic sci-fi heroines

The original Star Trek television series took place in a future when space is the final frontier, but humanity hasn’t reached that point quite yet. As researchers like Michigan State University entomologists Sarah Smith and Anthony Cognato are reminding us, there’s still plenty to discover right here on Earth.

Working in Central and South America, the duo discovered more than three dozen species of ambrosia beetles — beetles that eat ambrosia fungus — previously unknown to science. Smith and Cognato described these new species on June 16  in the journal ZooKeys.

The Spartans also selected an unusual naming theme named in deference to the female beetles who have helped their species survive and thrive by boldly going where they hadn’t before.

Many of the new species are named for iconic female science fiction characters, including Nyota Uhura of “Star Trek”; Kara “Starbuck” Thrace from the 2000s “Battlestar Galactica” TV series; and Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” books and movies.

The wing coverings of the C. katniss come to an arrowhead-like point, which reminded the researchers of Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games,” shown below. “The Hunger Games” image courtesy of Lions Gate Entertainment Inc.

“One of our colleagues from London asked if it’s good to name a species after popular characters, if the popularity would backfire and make people think this is frivolous,” said Cognato, director of the Albert. J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection. He’s also an entomology professor with appointments in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the College of Natural Science.

“But overall, our colleagues think it’s a good thing,” Cognato said. “It gives us a chance to talk about taxonomy — the science of classifying organisms — and about diversity.”

Understanding the world’s biodiversity is one of the major drivers of this and related research. Scientists estimate that there are 10 million nonbacterial species in the world and that humans have classified only about 20% of those.

“And some are lost before they’re ever discovered,” said Smith, who is the curator of the A. J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection. When people disrupt native ecosystems with farming and mining, for example, undiscovered species can face extinction before researchers know about them.

For this project, the team did some of its field work in Peru, where illegal gold miners can be particularly devastating to forests. “They’re turning the forest into a wasteland” Smith said. “It may never recover.”

Working in such threatened areas, Smith and Cognato are helping identify beetle species before it’s too late, as well as characterizing a rich variety of physical traits and behaviors.

To be clear, they did this field work long before the pandemic struck, starting around 2008. But it takes time to perform the thorough investigations required to ensure that a species is indeed distinct from its closely related cousins.

“With South America, it can be really hard to know whether a species is new or not, just because the fauna is so poorly studied,” Smith said.

With the stay-at-home orders in effect, she and Cognato had time to focus on projects that had been simmering on the backburner, such as this one that details ambrosia beetles they had collected belonging to the genus Coptoborus.

These tiny beetles make their homes by boring into trees. Once inside, they sustain their nests by cultivating fungus that serves as food. There, a mother produces many female offspring and one or two dwarfed males. The main job of those males is to mate with their sisters, creating a new generation of females prepared to disperse and produce a new brood. This all leads to another reason for studying these beetles: they can become pests.

These females arrive at trees ready to bore inside, start a fungus farm and reproduce. Though most prefer to nest in dead or dying parts of trees, some can attack fully healthy trees that are ecologically and economically important. For example, there are species within the genus known to attack balsa trees in Ecuador, the world’s leading exporter of balsa wood.

And if tree-dwelling beetles find their way into nonnative habitats, they can pose large threats to trees that have no natural defenses against the insects. Michiganders are all too familiar with the emerald ash borer, which has claimed millions of ash trees in the state. Another nonnative species of fungus-farming beetle devastated redbay laurels and avocado trees in the Southern U.S.

By identifying species abroad, in their native habitats, researchers including Smith and Cognato are helping the U.S. better prepare for if and when a new pest shows up here. And, historically speaking, Coptoborus beetles are hardy travelers.

The researchers thought the C. starbuck‘s appearance gave it a tough persona, leading them to name it for Kara “Starbuck” Thrace from “Battlestar Galactica,” shown on the right. “Battlestar Galactica” image courtesy of NBC Universal.

Their ancestors originated about 20 million years ago, likely in Southeast Asia, before emigrating and making homes across much of the tropics.

“That’s one of the reasons we chose to name them after female sci-fi characters. Not to anthropomorphize too much, but you have these adventurous females that were blown off their log or had their wood-encased home thrown into the ocean by a mudslide,” Cognato said. If these mated females made it to a new land, they could start a new population, allowing the species to proliferate.

“Along the way, there were so many ways to die, but they ended up colonizing an entire continent.”

Fast forward to now and there are thousands of ambrosia beetle species, including more than 70 of the Coptoborus genus — and counting. In christening the new beetles, Smith and Cognato got some inspiration by finding similarities between the beetle and its namesake.

For instance, the C. uhura was given its name because its reddish color, reminiscent of the uniform worn by Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura character in the original “Star Trek” TV series.

The C. uhura’s reddish hue reminded the researchers of the uniform worn by Lt. Uhura in the original “Star Trek” television series, shown below. “Star Trek” image courtesy of CBS Studios Inc.

And Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley character in the “Alien” film franchise had a shaved head in the movie “Alien 3.” One of the beetles, now named C. ripley, was also glabrous, or without hair.

The C. ripley is glabrous, which means hairless, reminding the researchers of Ellen Ripley and her shaved head in “Alien 3,” shown on the right. “Alien 3” image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Other names were selected because the duo just liked the characters and found them inspiring. For example, the C. scully beetle was named after Dana Scully, Gillian Anderson’s character on “The X-Files.”

The character is also behind what’s known as the “Scully Effect.” By showing a successful female scientist on TV, the show helped raise awareness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM — professions among young women.

In their paper, Smith and Cognato wrote, “We believe in the ‘Scully Effect’ and hope future female scientists, real and fictional, continue to inspire children and young adults to pursue STEM careers.”

Smith and Cognato also took the opportunity to name some beetles in honor of real-life people who have made an impact on their work and their lives.

For example, the C. erwini, is named after a renowned entomologist and friend Terry Erwin, who passed away in 2020. Erwin helped popularize a technique called canopy fogging to collect beetle specimens living in treetops.

Coptoborus erwini

“Without his dedication to canopy fogging, this species and most of those described in this publication may never have been discovered,” Smith and Cognato wrote in their study, which is part of a special issue in memory of Erwin, who was also editor-in-chief of ZooKeys.

Also, the C. bettysmithae is named after Smith’s grandmother, Catherine “Betty” Smith. Sarah remembers Betty’s incredible strength in battling cancer and her help fostering her granddaughter’s scientific interest.

Some of the beetles were named for real-life inspirations, like the C. bettysmithae, named for Sarah Smith’s grandmother, Catherine “Betty” Smith.

“My grandmother supported me a lot with entomology,” Smith said. “I used to spend many weekends with her, and she’d take me out to catch dragonflies.”

Now, she and Cognato are out catching and characterizing insects that are new to science. In doing so, they’re helping protect native ecosystems, painting a more complete picture of the planet’s bountiful biodiversity and even drawing some attention to the power of naming and classifying things.

“Taxonomy was probably one of the first sciences of humans. You can find evidence of it throughout history and across cultures,” Cognato said.

This naming likely started so humans could easily share information about which plants were safe to eat and which animals were dangerous. This is still valuable information today, but naming has evolved to help us appreciate even more dimensions of life on Earth.

Think about being a kid in a park or backyard, Cognato said, and the innate desire to know and name the animals there, say, robins or squirrels. Classification builds connection.

“It helps us communicate and it helps us live better,” Cognato said. “It helps us understand the world and biodiversity.”

Original source:

Smith SM, Cognato AI (2021) A revision of the Neotropical genus Coptoborus Hopkins (Coleoptera, Curculionidae, Scolytinae, Xyleborini). In: Spence J, Casale A, Assmann T, Liebherr JК, Penev L (Eds) Systematic Zoology and Biodiversity Science: A tribute to Terry Erwin (1940-2020). ZooKeys 1044: 609-720. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.144.62246

Rare South American ground beetles sport unusual, likely multi-purpose antennal cleaners

The newly described Ball’s stange-combed beetle (Nototylus balli)
Photo by Terry L. Erwin

For 157 years, scientists have wished they could understand the evolutionary relationships of a curious South American ground beetle that was missing a distinctive feature of the huge family of ground beetles (Carabidae). Could it be that this rare species was indeed lacking a characteristic trait known in over 40,000 species worldwide and how could that be? Was that species assigned to the wrong family from the very beginning?

The species, Nototylus fryi, or Fry’s strange-combed beetle, is known so far only from a single, damaged specimen found in 1863 in the Brazilian State of Espíritu Santo, which today is kept in the Natural History Museum of London. So rare and unusual, due to its lack of “antennal cleaners” – specialised “combing” structures located on the forelegs and used by carabids to keep their antennae clean, it also prompted the description of its own genus: Nototylus, now colloquially called strange-combed beetles. 

Left foreleg showing antennal grooming organs in the newly described Ball’s stange-combed beetle (Nototylus balli)
Photo by Terry L. Erwin

No mention of the structure was made in the original description of the species, so, at one point, scientists even started to wonder whether the beetle they were looking at was in fact a carabid at all. 

Because the area where Fry’s strange-combed beetle had been found was once Southern Atlantic Forest, but today is mostly sugar cane fields, cacao plantations, and cattle ranches, scientists have feared that additional specimens of strange-combed beetles might never be collected again and that the group was already extinct. Recently, however, a US team of entomologists have reported the discovery of a second specimen, one also representing a second species of strange-combed beetles new to science.

Following a careful study of this second, poorly preserved specimen, collected in French Guiana in 2014, the team of Dr Terry Erwin (Smithsonian Institution), Dr David Kavanaugh (California Academy of Sciences) and Dr David Maddison (Oregon State University) described the species, Nototylus balli, or Ball’s strange-combed beetle, in a paper that they published in the open-access scholarly journal ZooKeys. The entomologists named the species in honour of their academic leader and renowned carabidologist George E. Ball, after presenting it to him in September 2016 around the time of his 90th birthday.

Despite its poor, yet relatively better condition, the new specimen shows that probable antennal grooming organs are indeed present in strange-combed beetles. However, they looked nothing like those seen in other genera of ground beetles and they are located on a different part of the front legs. Rather than stout and barely movable, the setae (hair-like structures) in the grooming organs of strange-combed beetles are slender, flexible and very differently shaped, which led the researchers to suggest that the structure had a different role in strange-combed beetles. 

Judging from the shapes of the setae in the grooming organs, the scientists point out that they are best suited for painting or coating the antennae, rather than scraping or cleaning them. Their hypothesis is that these rare carabids use these grooming structures to cohabitate with ants or termites, where they use them to apply specific substances to their antennae, so that the host colony recognises them as a friendly species, a kind of behaviour already known in some beetles. 

However, the mystery around the strange-combed beetle remains, as the scientists found no evidence of special secretory structures in the specimen studied. It turns out that the only way to test their hypothesis, as well as to better understand the evolutionary relationships of these beetles with other carabids is finding and observing additional, preferably live, specimens in their natural habitat. Fortunately, this new discovery shows that the continued search for these beetles may yield good results because strange-combed beetles are not extinct.

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Original source:

Erwin TL, Kavanaugh DH, Maddison DR (2020) After 157 years, a second specimen and species of the phylogenetically enigmatic and previously monobasic genus Nototylus Gemminger & Harold, 1868 (Coleoptera, Carabidae, Nototylini). ZooKeys 927: 65-74. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.927.49584


The first bioluminescent click beetle known from Asia represents a new subfamily

A remarkable bioluminescent click beetle was discovered in the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests in southwest China. Having prompted the description of a brand new subfamily, the species is the very first bioluminescent click beetle known from the continent.

A remarkable bioluminescent click beetle was discovered in the subtropical evergreen broadleaf forests in southwest China. Scientists Mr. Wen-Xuan Bi, Dr. Jin-Wu He, Dr. Xue-Yan Li, all affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Kunming), Mr. Chang-Chin Chen of Tianjin New Wei San Industrial Company, Ltd. (Tianjing, China) and Dr. Robin Kundrata of Palacký University (Olomouc, Czech Republic) published their findings in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Even though the family of click beetles (Elateridae) contain approximately 10,000 species worldwide, it is only about 200 species able to emit light, and they inhabit Latin America and Oceania. Interestingly, the position of the luminous organs varies amongst the different click beetle lineages. In some, they are found on the foremost of the three thoracic segments of the body (prothorax), in others – on both the prothorax and the abdomen, and in few – only on the abdomen.

Luminescent behavior of Sinopyrophorus schimmeli gen. et sp. nov.
Video by Mr Wen-Xuan Bi.

“In 2017, during an expedition to the western Yunnan in China, we discovered a dusk-active bioluminescent click beetle with a single luminous organ on the abdomen, ” recalls lead scientist Mr. Wen-Xuan Bi.

Since no bioluminescent click beetle had previously been recorded in Asia, the team conducted simultaneous morphological and molecular analyses in order to clarify the identity of the new species and figure out its relationship to other representatives of its group.

Co-author Dr. Xue-Yan Li explains:

“The morphological investigation in combination with the molecular analysis based on 16 genes showed that our taxon is not only a new species in a new genus, but that it also represents a completely new subfamily of click beetles. We chose the name Sinopyrophorus for the new genus, and the new subfamily is called Sinopyrophorinae.”

In conclusion, the discovery of the new species sheds new light on the geographic distribution and evolution of luminescent click beetles. The authors agree that as a representative of a unique lineage, which is only distantly related to the already known bioluminescent click beetles, the new insect group may serve as a new model in the research of bioluminescence within the whole order of beetles.

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Original source:

Bi W-X, He J-W, Chen C-C, Kundrata R, Li X-Y (2019) Sinopyrophorinae, a new subfamily of Elateridae (Coleoptera, Elateroidea) with the first record of a luminous click beetle in Asia and evidence for multiple origins of bioluminescence in Elateridae. ZooKeys 864: 79-97. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.864.26689

Star Wars and Asterix characters amongst 103 beetles new to science from Sulawesi, Indonesia

From left to right: Trigonopterus asterix, T. obelix and T. idefix, three newly described species from Sulawesi (Indonesia). Image by Alexander Riedel.

The Indonesian island of Sulawesi has been long known for its enigmatic fauna, including the deer-pig (babirusa) and the midget buffalo. However, small insects inhabiting the tropical forests have remained largely unexplored.

Such is the case for the tiny weevils of the genus Trigonopterus of which only a single species had been known from the island since 1885. Nevertheless, a recent study conducted by a team of German and Indonesian scientists resulted in the discovery of a total of 103 new to science species, all identified as Trigonopterus. The beetles are described in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

“We had found hundreds of species on the neighboring islands of New Guinea, Borneo and Java – why should Sulawesi with its lush habitats remain an empty space?” asked entomologist and lead author of the study Dr Alexander Riedel, Natural History Museum Karlsruhe (Germany).

In fact, Riedel knew better. Back in 1990, during a survey of the fauna living on rainforest foliage in Central Sulawesi, he encountered the first specimens that would become the subject of the present study. Over the next years, a series of additional fieldwork, carried out in collaboration with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), managed to successfully complete the picture.

“Our survey is not yet complete and possibly we have just scratched the surface. Sulawesi is geologically complex and many areas have never been searched for these small beetles,” said Raden Pramesa Narakusumo, curator of beetles at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (MZB), Indonesian Research Center for Biology.

Dense mountain forest of Central Sulawesi, where some of the new species have been found. Image by Alexander Riedel.

 

Why have all these beetles remained overlooked for so long?

Unlike the all-time favourite stag beetles or jewel beetles, tiny beetles that measure no more than 2-3 millimeters seem to have been attracting little interest from entomologists. Their superficial resemblance does not help identification either.

In fact, the modern taxonomic approach of DNA sequencing seems to be the only efficient method to diagnose these beetles. However, the capacity for this kind of work in Indonesia is very limited. While substantial evidence points to thousands of undescribed species roaming the forests in the region, there is only one full-time position for a beetle researcher at the only Indonesian Zoological Museum near Jakarta. Therefore, international collaboration is crucial.

103 newly discovered species of the genus Trigonopterus from Sulawesi. Image by Alexander Riedel.

103 beetle names

Coming up with as many as 103 novel names for the newly described species was not a particularly easy task for the researchers either. While some of the weevils were best associated with their localities or characteristic morphology, others received quite curious names.

A small greenish and forest-dwelling species was aptly named after the Star Wars character Yoda, while a group of three species were named after Asterix, Obelix and Idefix – the main characters in the French comics series The Adventures of Asterix. Naturally, Trigonopterus obelix is larger and more roundish than his two ‘friends’.

Other curious names include T. artemis and T. satyrus, named after two Greek mythological characters: Artemis, the goddess of hunting and nature and Satyr, a male nature spirit inhabiting remote localities.

Additionally, the names of four of the newly described beetles pay tribute to renowned biologists, including Charles Darwin (father of the Theory of Evolution), Paul D. N. Hebert (implementer of DNA barcoding as a tool in species identification) and Francis H. C. Crick and James D. Watson (discoverers of the structure of DNA).

 

Six-legged déjà vu

Back in 2016, in another weevil discovery, Dr Alexander Riedel and colleagues described four new species from New Britain (Papua New Guinea), which were also placed in the genus Trigonopterus. Similarly, no weevils of the group had been known from the island prior to that study. Interestingly, one of the novel species was given the name of Star Wars’ Chewbacca in reference to the insect’s characteristically dense scales reminiscent of Chewie’s hairiness. Again, T. chewbacca and its three relatives were described in ZooKeys.

The flightless beetle species Trigonopterus chewbacca, described as new to science in 2016. Image by Alexander Riedel.

 

On the origin of Trigonopterus weevils

Sulawesi is at the heart of Wallacea, a biogeographic transition zone between the Australian and Asian regions. The researchers assume that Trigonopterus weevils originated in Australia and New Guinea and later reached Sulawesi. In fact, it was found that only a few populations would one day diversify into more than a hundred species. A more detailed study on the rapid evolution of Sulawesi Trigonopterus is currently in preparation.

 

Future research

To help future taxonomists in their work, in addition to their monograph paper in ZooKeys, the authors have uploaded high-resolution photographs of each species along with a short scientific description to the website Species ID.

“This provides a face to the species name, and this is an important prerequisite for future studies on their evolution,” explained the researchers.

“Studies investigating such evolutionary processes depend on names and clear diagnoses of the species. These are now available, at least for the fauna of Sulawesi.”

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Original Source:

Riedel A, Narakusumo RP (2019) One hundred and three new species of Trigonopterus weevils from Sulawesi. ZooKeys 828: 1-153. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.828.32200

Two new beetle genera and 4 new species from the Australopacific in a new monograph

An outstanding monograph of the Australopacific Region’s saprinine hister beetles supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Amid his ongoing revisionary work on a number of hister beetle genera, the Slovakian-born naturalised Dutch entomologist and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation researcher, Dr. Tomáš Lackner, Bavarian State Collection of Zoology, together with fellow entomologist Dr. Richard Leschen, Landcare Research, discovered two new genera and a total of four new species from the Australopacific Region. The newly described endemic insects are featured in an extensive monograph published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Hister beetles, also known as Clown beetles because of their flattened legs, represent a quite diverse family (Histeridae) of beetles living almost everywhere around the world. Amongst their characteristic traits are their shiny metallic wings. Most of these beetles are predaceous and feed on larvae of other insects, including some pests. Occasionally, some species filter-feed on dung. Curiously, the Clown beetles tend to play dead when threatened.

While the hister beetle subfamily Saprininae is common and diverse throughout the globe, with only 40 species in nine native and three introduced genera, they are poorly represented in the Australopacific Region. This is one of the reasons the present discoveries documenting the new diversity in the group are remarkable.

The authors note that their scarcity in the area might be as a result of the long-standing isolation of the Australian continent in combination with the originally densely forested large islands like New Zealand and New Guinea.

However, “the Australopacific Region harbors several species with very interesting morphologies and ecologies,” point out the scientists.

Image 2 The new species Saprinus rarusAmongst the most impressive newly described saprinines, there is the first truly myrmecophilous species and genus (Iridoprinus myrmecophilus) known from the region, which is likely to be dependent on its co-habitation with ants. The beetle is only known from Australia where it has been collected from the nests of another species, endemic to the country – the Meat anSimilarly, the new histerid species Saprinus rarus is the first known termitophilous saprinine from the Australopacific Region and only the third in the subfamily as a whole. Found in the nest of the arboreal Tree termite, the species had been previously collected, but it has been so rare that it has not been determined as a new to science species until now. Hence, it earned the scientific name rarus as in ‘rare’.

In conclusion, the team noted the next challenge about the Australopacific saprinines – the genus Saprinodes which is not only restricted to Australia, but also has a life history shrouded in mystery. So far, it has only been collected from pitfalls and flight intercept traps.

For lead author Dr. Tomáš Lackner, this is the tenth in a line of studies focused on the world’s remarkable histerids published in ZooKeys.

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Original source:Image 3 Sarandibrinus araceliae

Lackner T, Leschen RAB (2017) A monograph of the Australopacific Saprininae (Coleoptera, Histeridae). ZooKeys 689: 1-263. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.689.12021

About Alexander von Humboldt Foundation:

The Alexander von Humboldt foundation is an intermediary organisation for German foreign cultural and educational policy promoting international cultural dialogue and academic exchange. It offers flexible sponsorship programmes for researchers at all stages of their careers to enable outstanding scientists and scholars from abroad to complete long-term research stays in Germany.

Champions of biodiversity: A weevil genus beats records of explosive evolutive radiation

With as many as 120 recently discovered weevils placed in the genus Laparocerus, it now hosts a total of 237 known species and subspecies. They are all flightless beetles and most of them endemic (living exclusively in one geographic location) to a single island of the archipelagos of Madeira, Selvagens and the Canary Islands (17 islands in total). Only two species inhabit Morocco, the nearest continental land.

Independent Canarian entomologist Dr. Antonio Machado, who has been collecting and studying this genus of weevils for the last sixteen years and researched 46,500 specimens so far, was helped by geneticist Dr. Mariano Hernández, from the University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, to undertake a phylogenetic study using three mitochondrial genes and one nuclear gene. The resulting phylogenetic tree also allowed for estimating the whole evolutionary process along a timeframe of about 11.2 million years. Their study is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The molecular analysis confirms that all Laparocerus weevils have a common evolutionary ancestor (monophyly), but could not clarify whether that ancient founding species arrived from southern Europe or northwestern Africa. The two extant Moroccan species were found to be the result of a back-colonisation from the Canary Islands to Africa, and not the ancestral source lineage, which unfortunately is still unknown.

weevils PR 2Colonisation of Macaronesia started in Porto Santo, Madeiran archipelago, which is the oldest island, and from there it ‘jumped’ to Madeira and the Desertas. The colonisation of the Canary Islands started shortly after, and it basically moved stepwise from the east to the west in line with the decreasing age of the volcanic islands. Yet, there have been several back-colonisations, as well (see map). Large islands, such as Tenerife (2034 km2), ended up with 65 species and subspecies. Globally, there is an outstanding ratio of one endemic Laparocerus for each 35.7 km2; a record not beaten by any other genus of plant or animal in Macaronesia.

The evolutionary process responsible for such richness comprises sequential radiation events in these archipelagoes, each generating several monophyletic groups. These groups, 20 in total, have been recognised as subgenera of Laparocerus, and five of them — Aridotrox, Belicarius, Bencomius, Canariotrox, and Purpuranius — are described as new to science in this study. Colonisation routes, habitat shifts, disruption of populations by volcanism, dispersal by massive landslides, and other relevant aspects for adaptive and non-adaptive radiation, are largely discussed and confronted with previously published data referring to other groups of beetles or to other biological organisms (spiders, bush crickets, plants, etc.).

“If oceanic islands have been traditionally considered as laboratories of evolution and species-producing machines, Laparocerus will become the ideal guinea-pig for broadening studies in dispersal and speciation processes of all kinds,” say the authors. “Working with such a group is like getting a picture of Nature with more pixels. Several intriguing cases highlighted in this contribution may turn into the inspiration for further phylogeographic research.”

The scientists hope that, in near future Laparocerus will merit sharing the podium with Darwin´s finches or Drosophila in the studies of island evolution”.

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Original source:

Machado A, Rodríguez-Expósito E, López M, Hernández M (2017) Phylogenetic analysis of the genus Laparocerus, with comments on colonisation and diversification in Macaronesia (Coleoptera, Curculionidae, Entiminae). Zookeys 651: 1-77 (02 Feb 2017) https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.651.10097

Foreign beetle species recorded for the first time in Canada thanks to citizen science

With social networks abound, it is no wonder that there is an online space where almost anyone can upload a photo and report a sighting of an insect. Identified or not, such public records can turn out to be especially useful — as in the case of an Old World beetle species — which appears to have recently entered Canada, and was recently discovered with the help of the BugGuide online portal and its large citizen scientist community.

Having identified the non-native rove beetle species Ocypus nitens in Ontario, Canada, based on a single specimen, author Dr Adam Brunke, affiliated with the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Ottawa, sought additional data to confirm his discovery.

Eventually, he found them in the citizen-generated North American digital insect collection BugGuide, created and curated by an online community of naturalists, insect enthusiasts and entomologists. After he verified as many as 26 digital photographs to be records of the same species, he concluded that the rove beetle has expanded its distribution to two new locations — Ontario, its first in Canada, and the state of Vermont, USA. His study is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

The species O. nitens is a fairly large rove beetle measuring between 12 and 20 mm in length and visibly distinguished by the characteristic form of the head and relatively short forewings. Furthermore, the insect is quite easy to spot because it prefers living around humans, often being spotted in woodlots and backyards.

As a result of the hundreds of years of Transatlantic trade, many species have been transported accidentally among various produce to subsequently adapt and establish on the other side of the ocean. While the rove beetle species O. nitens was first reported from the Americas in 1944, it was not until the turn of the new millennium that it escaped the small area in New England, USA, which had so far been its only habitat on the continent. Then, its distributional range began to rapidly expand. It is unlikely that the presence of this rove beetle, especially in Ontario, has long remained undetected, because of thorough and multiple sampling initiatives undertaken by professionals and students in the past.

The effect of the newly recorded species on the native rove beetles is still unknown. On the other hand, there are observations that several related beetles have experienced a drop in their populations in comparison to the records from the beginning of the century.

“Citizen-generated distributional data continues to be a valuable ally in the detection of adventive insects and the study of their distributional dynamics,” concludes the author.

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Original source:

Brunke A (2016) First detection of the adventive large rove beetle Ocypus nitens (Schrank) in Canada and an update of its Nearctic distribution using data generated by the public. Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e11012. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e11012

End of an era: New sixth volume Research on Chrysomelidae the last with its original editors

The new and sixth volume of Research on Chrysomelidae consists of five research articles devoted to the latest findings about the amazing family of over 37,000 leaf beetle species from more than 2,500 genera. Among the studies, conducted by authors from all around the world, there is a new species of potentially dangerous legume-feeding pest, as well as new information regarding the life cycle,ecological interactions, species richness factors and taxonomy of some leaf beetles.

The latest volume devoted to one of the most intriguing beetle families also marks a turning point for the entomologists sharing special fondness for the leaf beetles. While the “spiritus rector” of the Chrysomelidae research community, Prof Pierre Jolivet resigned from his position last year, now Dr Jorge Santiago-Blay is also stepping down from the editorial board.

The third of the original trio, Prof Michael Schmitt, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität, takes the opportunity to look back to the beginning of the community and pay tribute to his long-year colleagues in his Editorial. He also confirms that the series, by now traditionally published in the open access journal ZooKeys, is far from over.

“I thank Jorge Santiago-Blay from the bottom of my heart for his tireless engagement in fostering leaf beetle research and his friendship, and wish him All the Best for whatever he may entertain in the future,” read his words.

In his short publication accompanying the five-piece issue, Prof Michael Schmitt recalls the very beginning of his team’s existence, started in 2001. He does not omit to note the numerous obstacles surrounding the first issues. At a point, having completed the enormous book “The green book – New Developments in the Biology of the Chrysomelidae”, comprising 62 chapters by 111 authors, as well as the first two volumes of Research on Chrysomelidae, they were made to drop the series due to unsatisfying selling numbers.

However, everything changed after the conversation Prof Pierre Jolivet and Prof Lyubomir Penev, Pensoft Publishers, had at the 9th European Congress of Entomology, held in Hungary in 2010. There they agreed to publish the next Research on Chrysomelidae volume as a special issue in ZooKeys, one of Pensoft’s journals.

Shortly after, the collaboration turned out so successful that it is now resulting in a fourth consecutive special issue. In the meantime, last December, the 30th anniversary of Symposia on Chysomelidae was celebrated in another leaf beetle-themed ZooKeys issue. Moreover, the next issue is already planned. It will cover the proceedings of the 9th International Symposium on Chrysomelidae and will be edited by Prof Michael Schmitt and Dr Caroline Chaboo, University of Nebraska State Museum, USA.

“The present volume is the fourth, but certainly not the last, published by Pensoft. Although the pullout of Pierre Jolivet and Jorge Santiago-Blay marks a crucial cut in the history of Research on Chrysomelidae, I understand the reasons of their decision to step down,” concludes Prof Michael Schmitt. “I hope and wish that the series will prosper and remain accepted as a forum of leaf beetle research by the community of Chrysomelidae enthusiasts all over the world.”

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Research on Chrysomelidae 6 Special Issue is available to read and order from here.

Original source:

Schmitt M (2016) Editorial. In: Jolivet P, Santiago-Blay J, Schmitt M (Eds) Research on Chrysomelidae 6. ZooKeys 597: 1-2. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.597.8618

The first long-horned beetle giving birth to live young discovered in Borneo

A remarkably high diversity of the wingless long-horned beetles in the mountains of northern Borneo is reported by three Czech researchers from the Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic. Apart from the genera and species new to science, the entomologists report the first case of reproduction by live birth in this rarely collected group of beetles. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Generally, insects are oviparous, which means that their females lay eggs and the embryonic development occurs outside the female’s body. On the other hand, ovoviviparous species retain their eggs in their genital tracts until the larvae are ready to hatch. Such mode of reproduction is a relatively rare phenomenon in insects and even rarer within beetles, where it has been reported for a few unrelated families only.

The long-horned beetles are a family, called Cerambycidae, comprising about 35,000 known species and forming one of the largest beetle groups.

“We studied the diversity of the rarely collected wingless long-horned beetles from Borneo, which is one of the major biodiversity hotspots in the world,” says main author and PhD student Radim Gabriš. “The mountains of northern Borneo, in particular, host a large number of endemic organisms.”

The scientists focused on the group which nobody had studied in detail for more than 60 years. They found surprisingly high morphological diversity in this lineage, which resulted in the descriptions of three genera and four species new to science.

“During a dissection of female genitalia in specimens belonging to the one of the newly described genera, named Borneostyrax, we found out that two females contained large larvae inside their bodies,” recalls Radim Gabriš. “This phenomenon have been known in a few lineages of the related leaf beetles, but this is the first case for the long-horned beetles.”

However, according to the authors, the modes of reproduction remain unknown for many beetle lineages besides Cerambycidae, so the ovoviviparity might be, in fact, much more common. Further detailed studies are needed for better understanding of the reproductive strategy in this group.

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Original source:

Gabriš R, Kundrata R, Trnka F (2016) Review of Dolichostyrax Aurivillius (Cerambycidae,Lamiinae) in Borneo, with descriptions of three new genera and the first case of (ovo)viviparity in the long-horned beetles. ZooKeys 587: 49-75. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.587.7961

Flightless survivors: Incredible invertebrate diversity in Los Angeles metropolitan area

Urban wildlife is surprisingly understudied. We tend to know more about animals in exotic places than about those that live in our cities.

This is why researchers Emile Fiesler, president of Bioveyda Biological Inventories, Surveys, and Biodiversity Assessments, USA, and Tracy Drake, manager of the Madrona Marsh Preserve, looked into the fauna of the Madrona Marsh Preserve, California, a small nature preserve in one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas.

Consequently, they published the astonishing number of 689 species of invertebrates, which have managed to survive decades of farming and oil exploration, followed by development pressures, in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal. The study was minimally invasive as the live animals have been recorded with macro-photography.

Even though it is the insects that first developed the ability to fly, long before the dinosaurs became birds, the latter have always received the most of our attention. This major evolutionary breakthrough, which has occurred more than once in the past, is also a reason why insects are currently the most diverse animals on earth in terms of number of species.

“Insects and other invertebrates have filled all ecological niches and all corners of our planet,” explain the authors. “No surprise that these small creatures conquered our cities and invaded our homes as well.”

Most of the urban dwellers, however, have been introduced – accidentally or deliberately – by humans.

“The remainder – native ‘wild’ species – are able to survive in the city mainly due to their adaptivity,” they point out. “It is therefore surprising to find a number of flightless species in a small area surrounded by urbanization.”

The Madrona Marsh Preserve is located in Torrance, which is part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The greater Los Angeles Metropolitan area is one of the world’s largest, with a human population of more than 17 million.

Figure 2 = Bradynobaenid Wasp Fiesler-2016The Madrona Marsh Preserve, boasting seasonal wetlands, is well known as a birdwatchers’ paradise. Besides birds, its other vertebrates (mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes), as well as its flowering plants, are relatively well known. The invertebrate fauna of the Preserve, on the other hand, aside from butterflies and dragonflies, was virtually unknown.

Interestingly, night surveys revealed the presence of a ‘second shift’ diversity, or creatures seemingly complementary to those active during the day.

Among the long-time survivors are wingless camel crickets as well as velvet ants, which are wasps whose flightless females look like furry ants. Another curiosity that intrigued the researchers is an obscure flightless female bradynobaenid wasp.

The researchers were especially surprised by their encounter with a large Solifugid [image 3] – also known as Camel Spider or Wind Scorpion. Solifugids are little-known arachnids that are neither spiders, nor scorpions, and can grow up to 15 cm (6 in). Their order’s name Solifugae translates from Latin as “those that flee from the sun”.Figure 3 = Solifugid Fiesler-2016

All in all, the biodiversity study resulted in 689 species without a backbone, belonging to 13 classes, 39 orders, and 222 families, found on this island surrounded by urbanization.

“Not unlike the moas and dodos, these ‘island’ inhabitants stayed grounded through the ages,” acknowledge the researchers.

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Original source:

Fiesler E, Drake T (2016) Macro-invertebrate Biodiversity of a Coastal Prairie with Vernal Pool Habitat. Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e6732. doi: 10.3897/BDJ.4.e6732

 

About the authors:

Emile Fiesler is president of Bioveyda Biodiversity Inventories, Surveys, and Studies, and Tracy Drake is manager of the Madrona Marsh Preserve.