Beetles of the Museum, 2015 redux | Curator of Coleoptera

Dear Beetlers,

Well as 2015 becomes an ever distant memory and we scuttle, creep, scurry, amble and roll (for this is how beetles move right?) into 2016, let us look back on a very successful year of collection enhancement.

Photo showing three people stood at the edge of a drop in a forest in Borneo

Extreme collecting in Borneo: Alessandro, Max and Howard erecting a Flight Interception Trap on a precipice!

The collection here is a big one, and serves to represent the world’s known Coleoptera biodiversity as comprehensively as possible but it is an uphill task to curate, much in the same way as a dung beetle may struggle against the desert sands with its dung ball prize.

A significant proportion of our time is spent in developing our collection in manifold ways. We may undertake fieldwork to places where habitats are under threat, or where we already have an excellent timeline of data from a certain locality upon which we wish to continue to develop, or even places that have never been collected in before – yes, they do still exist.

We may recurate parts of the collection and in doing so come across ‘overlooked’ specimens that turn out to be new to the collection, or even new to science.

We may host researchers from all over the world who are expert in a certain family, and it will take their expert knowledge to discover new species in the collection as well as help us to identify specimens in the collection previously undetermined.

With a collection so long in the making (some of our oldest specimens date back to the Voyage of the Endeavour in 1768) and indeed in a collection of the largest order of animals on the planet – the Coleoptera – it is no wonder that there are natural history treasures awaiting discovery under the lock and key and watchful eye of its custodian curators.

So how many new species did we add to the Museum collection in 2015 – 1,942 is how many!

Yes, 1,942 new species to the collection. Still a drop in the beetle soup when you consider there are about 400,000 known species of which we have ca. 250,000 represented here, but it shows that we are growing and improving the collection by 30-40 species a week throughout the year.

Of the ca. 183 extant families within the Order Coleoptera (depending on your taxonomic point of view!) the new species added represent only 32% of these families. Below is a chart showing the proportional representation of the 59 families contributed to in 2015.

Image of a pie chart showing the proportions

The proportional representation of the 59 families of Coleoptera in our collections with contributions made to them during 2015

The proportions of different families may be influenced by dedicated curatorial projects, the research input from a visiting researcher, or the return of a large and significant loan. Sometimes it reflects a major donation or acquisition, such as the Luigi Magnano collection of Curculionoidae acquired in 2014, and very apparent in the diagram above (not just Curculionidae but also Apionidae, Brentidae, Anthribidae).

Many families are represented by the addition of just one species but these families in themselves are also small and perhaps one might say, ‘obscure’ such as the Omalisidae (12 known species, four in the Museum collection) – soft-bodied elaterid beetles with restricted ranges mostly in the Mediterranean. They are rarely collected; the winglessness of the females may contribute to this rarity and restricted distribution.

Another interesting family is the Trogossitidae which is relatively small (ca. 600 species worldwide) and rarely collected (one new species added to the Museum collection in 2015, Trichocateres fasciculifer Kolibáč, 2010). Also, there has not been much taxonomic interest in the family and, like some other cleroids, it has endured a rather ‘chequered’ past. However, our colleague Jiří Kolibáč has gone a long way in introducing some modern taxonomic order to these beetles as found here (zookeys.pensoft.net).

Some of the highlights from 2015

Photo of the specimen from above and its information card

A paratype of Cyanopenthe leei, collected in Taiwan in 2008.

This is a paratype of Cyanopenthe leei, one of the fruits of the Museum’s 2008 fieldwork in Taiwan, and named this year by our own Max Barclay together with Yun Hsiao from Taiwan and Darren Pollock from the USA. It is named after the famous Taiwanese coleopterist Chi-Feng Lee, who was one of the Museum party’s hosts and collaborators during the fieldwork trip.

The genus Cyanopenthe had only two species (one from India described by George Charles Champion, with the type in London, and one from Thailand described by our close colleague from Moscow, Nikolay Borisovich Nikitsky), and now has 4; they are charismatic blue Tetratomidae.

Below is Pseudocistela marginata, collected by our colleagues Hillery Warner and Laurence Livermore in Virginia, USA, and new to the collection. Our representation of Nearctic beetles is old and rather patchy, and it is a rare treat to have fresh North American specimens like this.

Photo showing a pinned specimen of the beetle with accompanying taxonomic information and QR code on card

First specimen of Pseudocistela marginata (Ziegler 1844) added to the Museum collection. Image via Flickr.

Here are some excellent species that were newly added last year by Chrysomelidae curator Michael Geiser who has an unhealthy fondness and bias toward the ‘squishy stuff.’

Photo of a pinned specimen, pictured from above

Paleosepharia lawa Mohamedsaid, 2001 (Chrysomelidae: Galerucinae). Not cited since its original description, where it was described from a single holotype. Image via Flickr.

 

Photo of the specimen from above

Sphaerarthrum satanas Wittmer, 1972 (Cantharidae: Silinae). Previously only known from the type series from “Kina Balu”, which consists of 9 specimens collected in the late 19th century, shared between the Paris and the Basel museums, and in rather poor condition. Image via Flickr.

Both of these species were collected by Max Barclay, Beulah Garner, Howard Mendel and Alessandro Giusti during the 2013 Borneo expedition, just days before Michael Geiser joined the Museum (and immediately set to work identifying the specimens his colleagues had brought back).

Photo showing Beulah and Max crouching beside the plant, with Max using a poster to collect

Max and Beulah investigating a prize Bromeliad for beetles in Borneo

Photo of the specimen from above

Pseudictator kingsleyae Juhel, 2015 Holotype. Image via Flickr.

Some of the specimens of course have a historical story attached to them. The new genus shown above, a new species of large longhorn beetle from West Africa, is named after Mary Kingsley – who led a very exciting life, much of which is discussed at victorianweb.org.

According to that biography:

“she braved everything from disease and cannibals to foaming rapids, in order to obtain specimens and reach areas where no European had previously trod. She was probably the first woman, and certainly the first European woman, to reach the summit of West Africa’s highest peak, Mount Cameroon”

Her ‘Gold Coast’ expedition, for all its dangers, yielded only 12 beetles for the Museum, but this one was an entirely new genus, and the unique type of a new species. Proportionally, that must be one of the best success rates of virtually any entomologist.

This beetle has been confusing curators for more than a century, so we took it to Prague Insect Fair last year to show it to Pierre Juhel, the expert on African Callichromatini, who immediately recognised it as new and offered to describe it, and of course we requested it should be named after Mary.

The Callichromatini includes the beautiful British ‘musk beetle’ Aromia moschata, and is a group of usually metallic coloured and fragrant smelling longhorns that often bore as larvae in still-living timber.

The unlikely looking pseudomorphine Carabid pictured below, formed part of the type description of the new genus and species Guyanemorpha spectabilis, Erwin, 2013. Rarely collected by dint of their remarkable life history that they likely live out in ant’s nests; this specimen was returned to our collection in 2015.

Photo of the specimen from above with scale bar (5 mm) below

Guyanemorpha spectabilis female holotype. Image © Erwin T (2013).

Sometimes our efforts in supporting biodiversity discovery are recognised by the designation of an honorific patronym. In 2015 scientific associate Hitoshi Takano was so honoured by Callophylla takanoi, described by Cetoniine expert Jean-Philippe Legrand, 2015.

Photo of the specimen from above

Callophylla takanoi specimen collected by Hitoshi in Zambia in 2013. Photo Keita Matsumoto 2016.

Max Barclay was also honoured by Brazilian Cerambycidae expert Antonio Santos-Silva, who named a specimen collected by Max in Peru as Parandra (Parandra) barclayi 2015.

Three photos of the specimen from above, below and the left side

Parandra (Parandra) barclayi 2015. Image via Insecta Mundi.

Interestingly the type-series of this beetle was collected at high altitude, close to the tree line; a bird in one of the few remaining tall trees on the mountainside had been dropping down pieces and the occasional complete or almost complete dead beetle, and Max was standing under the tree collecting the bits.

Roger Booth, curator of Cucujoidea was honoured in 2014 by the featherwing beetle expert, our close colleague Michael Darby, and the Acrotrichis boothi Darby, 2014 specimen entered our collection in 2015.

And several species were named after former Museum staff Martin Brendell and Howard Mendel, especially from their 2001 Borneo expedition. Though, let it be said, our motivation for developing the collection has absolutely nothing to do with getting a species named in our honour. Not one bit. No, really, not.

We would like to thank all of the researchers worldwide who have contributed to supporting the field of taxonomy and in turn helping us to continue to make the Museum collection a world class one of significant relevance to what we know and have yet to learn about the world’s biodiversity.

A complete list of the species added in 2015 can be found via researchgate.net.

If anyone would like to know more about which species are represented in our collection please get in touch with us directly:

Beulah Garner

Find my previous Beetle blog entries in the archive on the Museum’s website.