Triassic beetle research mistake rectified


This May 2014 video says about itself:

The rove beetles are a family (Staphylinidae) of beetles, primarily distinguished by their short elytra that leave more than half of their abdomens exposed. With approximately 58,000 species in thousands of genera, the group is currently recognized as the largest family of beetles. It is an ancient group, with fossil rove beetles known from the Triassic, 200 million years ago, and possibly even earlier if the recently described Leehermania proves to be a member of this family. They are an ecologically and morphologically diverse group of beetleI, and commonly encountered in terrestrial ecosystems.

I did not leave all these inverts together, this video was taken just after I dumped what i’d found into a container to sort through them (I brought a small container with me in the woods).

From the Field Museum in the USA:

Identity crisis for fossil beetle helps rewrite beetle family tree

September 9, 2019

Summary: A tiny fossil beetle, about the size of FDR‘s nose on the US dime, is a totally different species than scientists thought it was, meaning that the beetle family tree needs a rewrite.

There are more different kinds of beetle than just about any other kind of animal — scientists have described about 5,800 different species of mammals, compared with nearly 400,000 species of beetles. Of those 400,000 kinds of beetles, more than 64,000 species are members of the rove beetle family, Staphylinidae. These mostly small earwig-looking insects are found all over the world, and they’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs. But scientists are still figuring out exactly when rove beetles first evolved. A new study in Systematic Entomology suggests that the fossil beetle species believed to be the oldest rove beetle isn’t a rove beetle at all, meaning the beetle family tree needs a rewrite.

The beetle at the center of this mix-up, about the size of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s nose on the U.S. dime, is Leehermania prorova. When the fossils of Leehermania were first discovered in the 1990s along the Virginia and North Carolina border, they were believed to be the oldest rove beetles ever discovered — by about 50 million years.

Until 2012, the only public information on the fossils was two images, published in 1996 and 2005, but no formal description. Anyone who didn’t have direct access to the fossils of the species could only make guesses about its placement in the tree of life based on those photos.

So, when a formal description of the beetle was finally published, beetle scientists around the world were excited to read it.

“When Leehermania was formally described, and more photos came out, we thought to ourselves ‘that doesn’t look quite right for a staphylinid,'” says Margaret Thayer, a scientist at the Field Museum in Chicago and one of the paper’s nine authors. It didn’t look like the rove beetles that Thayer has spent her career studying.

“I happened to be at the museum when I first read the paper, so I went and looked through the specimens in our collection to compare,” said Alfred Newton, also a Field Museum scientist and paper author. His hunch was that this beetle might be more closely related to Hydroscaphidae, a living family of miniature insects known as skiff beetles, placed in a different suborder from rove beetles.

Across the Atlantic, Martin Fikáček recalled a similar feeling upon comparing the description and photos with the classification of Leehermania as a staphylinid. To Fikáček, a scientist at the National Museum in Prague, the beetle seemed to be a closer fit in the Myxophaga — the suborder that contains skiff beetles. Scientist Chenyang Cai at China’s Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology and several other authors came to the same conclusion.

One of the clues that Leehermania wasn’t really a staphylinid was its mandibles — the pincer-like jaws. “Staphylinids all have exposed mandibles, from at least some angle,” says Newton. “In Leehermania, what were originally interpreted as mandibles are actually maxillary palpi — a different mouthpart structure entirely. The mandibles aren’t exposed here at all, at least from what we can see.”

Another hallmark of staphylinid beetles is their somewhat club-shaped antennae, which start with a narrow base and get wider toward the tip. In Leehermania, the antennae were club-shaped, but the club was more narrowed toward the tip.

Given the hidden mandibles, distinct antennal shape, and other features, including “paratergites” — little plates on the sides of most staphylinid abdomens that are absent in Leehermania — and the shape of the female insects’ genitalia, something wasn’t adding up. Leehermania seemed to be a much better fit in the suborder Myxophaga than in Staphylinidae.

Thanks to the power of the internet, the scientists were able to collaborate freely and quickly across four continents. “The international collaboration that occurred here was really important to the success of the study,” said Shûhei Yamamoto, a Field Museum scientist and paper author who studies staphylinidae and other beetles.

As the group’s hunch turned to a theory, then a study, then a formal analysis, the tests they ran showed Leehermania fitting nicely as a member of the beetle suborder Myxophaga, likely as a sister to the ancestors of today’s skiff beetles. This discovery means that the rove beetle family isn’t yet documented to be as old as scientists thought, but the skiff beetle family is now way older — Leehermania lived 226 million years ago, 100 million years before the next oldest fossil skiff beetle known.

Misclassification of extinct species happens all the time in science, for a variety of reasons.

For one, fossils can be extremely difficult to decipher. Since compression fossils like Leehermania are trapped in a sheet of rock, there is often only one viewing angle, though two in this case: a bird’s-eye-view called “dorsal,” or the top surface, and the “lateral” or side view. Any information about the species has to be gathered from these limited perspectives, so some information on colors, textures, patterns, anatomical details, and of course life-cycle information may be impossible to retrieve. Analysis is even more challenging when your specimens are only 2-3 mm long.

Lack of comparative data also causes problems for researchers. Not only are many characteristics of the insects lost in fossils, but until 2011, the large amount of data used here to test Leehermania’s placement in different families didn’t exist.

“Our analysis made use of a huge data set of morphological characters of beetles gathered for the ‘Beetle Tree of Life’ [BToL] project,” says Thayer. “That project was really crucial to our analysis and provided a framework upon which we were able to analyze Leehermania.” Four authors of the new paper, including Thayer and Newton, were among the authors of the published version of the BToL morphology paper. DNA-based analyses published by the BtoL project and other researchers were also essential to the Leehermania analyses.

Testing and revising the placement of living things in the tree of life is like working on a huge sudoku puzzle with contributors from all over the world. You have methods to figure out where the numbers should go, but if they’re incorrectly placed, you only know — eventually — based on their relationships to the surrounding numbers. If you carry on with the puzzle for too long with an incorrect placement, numbers filled in after the fact might also be incorrect. Revisiting Leehermania’s classification was important to help other researchers avoid using the fossils incorrectly to date analyses of beetles as a whole or identify other beetles as staphylinids based on Leehermania.

For the staphylinid family, losing their oldest ancestor produces new questions about how the family evolved.

“The re-classification of Leehermania means that staphylinids are now 50 million years younger than we thought,” says Fikáček. “But if staphylinids are so much younger, that means that this family evolved into many lineages much more rapidly than we thought they did.” Of course, older staphylinidae fossils are likely to turn up in the future and new analyses will be needed.

At a time in the Earth’s history when life was still recovering after a mass extinction, the appearance of Leehermania and staphylinidae is a testament to how resilient and adaptable beetles can be to diverse, and often harsh, living conditions.

“Throughout history, beetles have survived conditions that other animals have not,” says Fikáček. “As we study these insects, we might reveal some secret to evolutionary success that beetles possess.”

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New South American water beetles discoveries


This 2009 video says about itself:

Adults and larvae of Hydrophilidae

This is a video of aquatic beetles belonging to the family Hydrophilidae. These insects are also known [as] “water scavenger beetles” or “silver water beetles”.

From the University of Kansas in the USA:

New water beetle species show biodiversity still undiscovered in at-risk South American habitats

August 13, 2019

Researchers from the University of Kansas have described three genera and 17 new species of water scavenger beetles from the Guiana and Brazilian Shield regions of South America, areas seen as treasure houses of biodiversity. The beetles from the countries of French GuianaFrench Macron wants destructive gold mining in French Guiana, Suriname, Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela were discovered through fieldwork and by combing through entomological collections at the Smithsonian Institution and KU.

The beetles are described in a new paper in ZooKeys, a peer-reviewed journal.

Lead author Jennifer Girón, a KU doctoral student in ecology & evolutionary biology and the Division of Entomology at KU’s Biodiversity Institute, said the new species hint at vast biodiversity left to be described in regions where resource-extraction operations today are destroying huge swaths of natural habitat.

“The regions we’ve been working on, like Venezuela and Brazil, are being degraded by logging and mining,” she said. “Eventually, they’re going to be destroyed, and whatever lives there is not going to be able to survive. At this point, we don’t even know what’s there — there are so many different kinds of habitats and so many different resources. The more we go there, and the more we keep finding new species, the more we realize that we know next to nothing about what’s there.”

According to Girón and co-author Andrew Short, associate professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at KU, fieldwork and taxonomic work on Acidocerinae (a subfamily of the family Hydrophilidae of aquatic beetles) during the past 20 years have exposed “an eye-opening diversity of lineages and forms resulting in the description of seven of the 11 presently recorded genera since 1999.”

The KU researchers said the three new genera they’ve now added to Acidocerinae possibly have remained obscure until now because many of the species inhabit seepages — areas where groundwater rises to the surface through mud or flow over rocks near rivers or streams.

Girón and Short discovered some of the new species during a field trip to Suriname.

“I have only been to one of the expeditions there,” Girón said. “Before that, I had no experience collecting aquatics. But Andrew (Short) has been to those places many times. It’s very remote, in the heart of the jungle. We went four hours in a bus and then four more hours in a boat up the river. There is a field station for researchers to go and stay for a few days there. We looked for the beetles along the river, forest streams and also in seepages.”

During their fieldwork, Girón and Short, along with a group of KU students, sought the seepages that were rich hunting grounds for acidocerine aquatic beetles.

“If you’re along a big river, you’re not as likely to find them,” Girón said. “You have to find places where there’s a thin layer of running water or small pools on rocks. They’re more common around places with exposed rock, like a rock outcrop or a cascade. These habitats have been traditionally overlooked because when you think of collecting aquatic beetles or aquatic insects in general, you think of rivers or streams or ponds or things like that — you usually don’t think about seepages as places where you would find beetles. So usually you don’t go there. It’s not that these aquatic beetles are especially rare or hard to find. It’s more like people usually don’t collect in these habitats.”

Girón said the descriptions of the new aquatic beetles also underscore the usefulness of museum collections to ongoing scientific research in biodiversity.

“It’s important to highlight the value of collections,” she said. “Without specimens housed in collections, it would be impossible to do this kind of work. Nowadays, there has been some controversy about whether it is necessary to collect specimens and deposit them in collections in order to describe new species. Every person that has ever worked with collections will say, ‘Yes, we definitely need to maintain specimens accessible in collections.’ But there are recent publications where authors essentially just add a picture of one individual to their description without actual specimens deposited in collections, and that can be enough for them to publish a description. The problem with that is there would be no reference specimens for detailed comparisons in the future. For people who do taxonomic work and need to compare many specimens to define the limits of different species, one photo is not going to be enough.”

To differentiate and classify the new species, Girón and Short focused on molecular data as well as a close examination of morphology, or the bodies of the aquatic beetles.

“This particular paper is part of a bigger research effort that aims to explain how these beetles have shifted habitats across the history of the group,” Girón said. “It seems like habitat has caused some morphological differences. Many aquatic beetles that live in the same habitats appear very similar to each other — but they’re not necessarily closely related. We’ve been using molecular techniques to figure out relationships among species and genera in the group.”

Girón, who grew up in Colombia and earned her master’s degree in Puerto Rico, said she hoped to graduate with her KU doctorate in the coming academic year. After that, she will continue her appointments as research associate and acting collections manager at the Natural Science Research Laboratory of the Museum of Texas Tech University.

Borneo dung beetles and deforestation


This February 2015 time-lapse video is called Dung removal activity by dung beetles (Malaysia, Borneo).

From Queen Mary University of London, England:

Sexual competition helps horned beetles survive deforestation

July 30, 2019

A study of how dung beetles survive deforestation in Borneo suggests that species with more competition among males for matings are less likely to go extinct, according to research led by scientists from Queen Mary University of London and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

The team followed 34 different species of tunneller dung beetle in the tropical rainforest of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. These are similar to the familiar ball-rolling dung beetles but they bury dung directly under the place where it’s deposited. Some of these species have males which compete intensively for access to females and which carry horns which they use in fights with rivals, whereas other species have less competitive males which don’t fight each other and which don’t have horns.

In the study area, 34 of these beetle species are found in pristine “old-growth” forest, and the team tracked each of them across a gradient of increasing environmental disturbance going from the old-growth forest, to lightly logged forest, then heavily logged forest and finally oil palm plantations where the original forest has been almost completely replaced.

The results, which are published in the journal Ecology Letters, showed that species with horns were more likely to persist in the disturbed environments than were those without horns, and in the most disturbed environment, oil palm plantation, all of the 11 species that remained had horns. Furthermore, the researchers found that among the species with horns, those with relatively large horns for their body size were more likely to persist and had larger population sizes.

Dr Rob Knell from Queen Mary University of London said: “Strong sexual selection, in this case, competition between males, means that some males “win” and father a large proportion of the next generation. When a population is stressed by changes to the environment the winning males can be the ones best adapted to the new environment, and this can boost the rate by which the population adapts to the new environment, making them less likely to go extinct. This is something that has long been predicted theoretically but it is the first time that this effect has been shown in the field.”

Dr Eleanor Slade from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore added “This tells us that if we want to understand how animals can adapt to changing environments then we need to think about their mating systems as well as other aspects of their biology. Understanding which species may be particularly prone to extinction after environmental change is important when evaluating species conservation status and management practices.”

Sexual selection describes the process by which members of one sex compete with each other for access to members of the opposite sex. It is ubiquitous across the animal kingdom and drives the evolution of traits such as sexual ornaments and weapons, which give advantages to individuals in competitions for mating. While these traits can benefit individuals, the effect of strong sexual selection at the level of the species is less clear. There are several ways in which sexual selection might actually increase extinction risk. These include the cost of growing and carrying sexual ornaments and weapons, the energetic expense and risk of injury from contests with rivals, and the risk of predation during conspicuous sexual displays.

These traits are also, however, indicators of an individuals’ condition and can reflect underlying genetic quality. Strong sexual selection can therefore enhance the spread of beneficial genetic variants by the mechanism explained above potentially reducing extinction risk.

Widodo plans to move Indonesian capital to Borneo. By Owen Howell, 17 September 2019. The government’s move to relocate the country’s administrative centre is aimed at removing itself from the social disaster of Jakarta, but will potentially create an environmental disaster on Borneo: here.

First bioluminescent click beetle discovered in China


This 16 June 2019 video from China is about the newly discovered beetle species Sinopyrophorus schimmeli.

From ScienceDaily:

The first bioluminescent click beetle discovered in Asia represents a new subfamily

July 23, 2019

Summary: The first record of a luminescent click beetle in Asia, representing a new to science subfamily, is reported from southwest China. Molecular analysis provided new evidence for the multiple origins of bioluminescence in the family of click beetles.

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.

“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.

South African dung beetles, new research


This 2007 video says about itself:

African Dung Beetle | National Geographic

Sacred to ancient Egyptians, these beetles recycle – of all things – dung.

From the University of Würzburg in Germany:

How dung beetles know where to roll their dung balls

June 25, 2019

Summary: When the South African dung beetle rolls its dung ball through the savannah, it must know the way as precisely as possible. Scientists have now discovered that it does not orient itself solely on the position of the sun.

The South African dung beetle Scarabaeus lamarcki has — to put it mildly — an interesting technique to ensure its offspring a good start in life. When the animal, which is only a few centimetres tall, encounters elephant dung, for example, it forms small balls out of it which it then rolls away in a randomly chosen direction. After a while, the beetle stuffs the dung into underground passages, which serve as its breeding chamber; where it then lays its eggs.

How the dung beetle finds its way from the elephant dung pile to the underground passages: This is what Dr. Basil el Jundi is interested in. The neurobiologist heads an Emmy Noether Junior Research Group at the Biocentre of Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany, and investigates the navigational ability of insects.

Together with scientists from Sweden and South Africa, he has now discovered that the dung beetle — contrary to previous assumptions — does not only orient itself on the position of the sun when navigating, but also includes information about wind direction in its route planning. The researchers have published their new findings in the current issue of the journal PNAS — Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

On a straight line away from the dung heap

“South African dung beetles must roll their dung ball away from the dung pile as quickly as possible to prevent the ball from being stolen by other beetles,” explains el Jundi. To ensure that they actually get out of the dangerous area as quickly as possible, the beetles roll the ball away from the dung pile along a straight line. In order to keep their course, they use celestial cues as orientation references — for example, the position of the sun. However, it was not yet clear how the beetles find their way when the sun provides no useful information, for example when it is noon.

Basil el Jundi and his team can now answer this question: “We have discovered that dung beetles use the wind for orientation in addition to the sky.” The animals perceive the corresponding signals via their antennae. The necessary information is provided by high wind speeds, which occur in the African savannah especially around noon, when orientation by the sun becomes difficult.

The combination of the systems increases precision

However, to produce an efficient and robust “compass”, the animals must combine and harmonize the wind information with the other celestial signals. This is the only way to ensure that they find their way, even in a sudden calm, by flexibly switching back to the solar compass as the main orientation signal. As the researchers were able to show, this combination of different orientation systems not only makes it easier for the beetle to find its way, but it also increases the precision of the beetle compass.

For their study, the scientists worked within a laboratory arena in which they were able to simulate and control the position of the sun and the wind direction to precisely record their effects on beetle navigation. Their experiments not only show that the beetles set the wind directional information relative to the position of the sun. “We could also show that the beetles were able to transfer the directional information, which they have set with the sun as their only reference, to the wind compass,” says el Jundi. This shows that both the wind compass and the solar compass in the beetle brain “access” the same spatial memory network and therefore communicate with each other.

A highly plastic neuronal machinery

Thus, the recently published study shows that dung beetles use a much more dynamic compass than science has previously thought possible. The access to different sensory modalities enables the animals to navigate at any time with highest precision. Their abilities clearly exceed human abilities — even though they are equipped with a brain that is smaller than a grain of rice. In addition, the results confirm that an insect brain is not a “static substrate”, but a piece of a “highly plastic neuronal machinery that can adapt to its environment in a perfect way”, as the scientists write.