Researchers from the Natural History Museum of Denmark have discovered a new beetle species with an unusually shaped male genitalia that resembles a bottle opener.
This discovery, part of a study led by biologist Aslak Kappel Hansen and his team, highlights the intricate and often surprising aspects of insect biodiversity.
“Genitalia are the organs in insects that evolve to be different in every species. As such, they are often the best way to identify a species,” said Hansen.
“That’s why entomologists like us are always quick to examine insect genitalia when describing a species. The unique shape of each species’ genitals ensures that it can only reproduce with the same species.”
This unique approach to species identification led to the discovery of six new species of the rove beetle genus Loncovilius, hidden for decades in museum collections.
Among these, one species, now named Loncovilius carlsbergi, stood out due to its peculiarly shaped male sexual organ.
“This species is characterized, among other things, by the fact that the male’s sexual organ is shaped remarkably like a bottle opener,” said Hansen.
“Therefore, we thought it is obvious to dedicate this species to the Carlsberg Foundation, which has generously supported independent research for many years. Their support for various projects, expeditions, or purchase of the scientific instruments at the Natural History Museum of Denmark contributes to the discovery of new species on our planet.”
Climate change poses a significant threat to these beetles, especially given their unique habitat preferences. Unlike their predatory rove beetle counterparts – which live on the ground among dead leaves, under bark or on fungi – Loncovilius beetles are found on flowers in Chile and Argentina.
“We suspect that they play an important role in the ecosystem. So, it’s worrying that nearly nothing is known about this type of beetles, especially when they’re so easy to spot – and some of them are even quite beautiful. Unfortunately, we can easily lose species like these before they’re ever discovered,” said study co-author Josh Jenkins Shaw.
Study lead author José L. Reyes-Hernández further highlighted the vulnerability of these species to habitat changes induced by climate change.
“Loncovilius populations are likely to change in coming decades. Our simulations demonstrate that at least three of the Loncovilius species are at risk because the rapidly changing climate strongly alternate more than half of their habitat area by 2060,” said Reyes-Hernández.
“It is important to stress that many more species will be affected by this change, but we don’t know how because only for four species we had enough data for our analysis.”
The discovery of these species comes at a critical time, as the planet faces an unprecedented biodiversity crisis.
“It is estimated that as many as 85% of all species on Earth are still not formally named and described. Many species go extinct without ever having been named or recognized by science and as a consequence by humanity as a whole,” said Jenkins Shaw.
“A taxonomic name is important because nature conservation relies on knowledge about species in particular areas. Without such a description, species are often left out of conservation efforts.”
In a unique twist, the researchers have created a functional stainless steel model of Loncovilius carlsbergi’s genitalia, doubling as a bottle opener.
Hansen hopes that this novel approach will spark broader interest in insect research and awareness of the biodiversity crisis. The team is now working on producing this bottle opener, aiming to engage people in conversations about the planet’s species crisis over a beer.
This discovery not only adds to our understanding of beetle biodiversity but also serves as a reminder of the myriad of undiscovered species that play vital roles in our ecosystems, emphasizing the need for continued research and conservation efforts in the face of climate change and habitat loss.
“It’s important that we recognize the vast wealth of yet to be researched species around us before it’s too late,” said Hansen. “We would like for people around the world to talk about the crisis facing our planet’s species. A move towards serious learning and awareness may be sparkled by a light chat that takes place over a beer.”
Loncovilius beetles, a group of newly identified insects, are part of the rove beetle genus. These beetles are relatively small, measuring about a centimeter in length.
The beetles inhabit various regions in South America, particularly in Chile and Argentina. Their habitat ranges from lowland areas to high-altitude environments reaching up to 2,600 meters in the mountains. This wide range of habitats indicates a notable adaptability within the species.
A distinguishing characteristic of the Loncovilius beetles is that all their legs have sticky bristles. This trait is relatively unique within their family, as most predatory beetles typically have such bristles only on their front legs. This adaptation likely plays a role in their survival and interaction with their environment.
Despite the recent discovery of the new species, and the intrigue surrounding its unique genital structure, much remains unknown about the Loncovilius beetles. Their life cycle, ecological role, and full range of behavioral patterns are areas that require further research.
Image Credit: Matías Gargiulo, through iNaturalist)
The research is published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
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