Friday, February 14, 2014

Darwin's beetle

Darwinilus sedarisi
A few days ago on February 12th we were celebrating Darwin's 215th birthday. The international Darwin Day is a celebration to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of the great mind. Usually the day is used to highlight Darwin's contribution to science and to promote science in general. One scientist used to occasion scientists to name a long lost new beetle genus after him to commemorate the legacy of the father of evolution. Here is the story:

In 1832 Charles Darwin disembarked from the HMS Beagle in Bahia Blanca, Argentina where he traveled by land to Buenos Aires. In Bahia Blanca, Darwin collected several fossils of large mammals along with many other living organisms, including several insects. Among those was a beetle specimen which was considered lost for many years until it was rediscovered recently in the Natural History Museum, London.

The beetle was discovered and described by Dr. Stylianos Chatzimanolis, an entomologist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA as a new genus and species of rove beetles, the largest family of beetles with more than 58,000 described species. The scientific name for the new species is Darwinilus sedarisi. The genus name (Darwinilus) was given in honor of Charles Darwin, while the epithet (sedarisi) was given in honor of Mr David Sedaris, an American Grammy Award-nominated humorist, comedian, author, and radio contributor.

Only two specimens are known for this new species, both collected before 1935. Despite extensive work  in many major European and North American museums no other specimens have been found. Most of the habitat where the species is found has been transformed into agricultural fields so there is a danger that it might be forever lost due to extinction. But who knows, rove beetles are taxonomically not fully understood. About 400 new species are being described each year, and some estimates suggest 3/4 of tropical species are as yet undescribed.

May I humbly ask for a small piece of the leg? This species really deserves a DNA barcode which in turn might be helpful one day in finding a few more living members of the species.

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