There are almost 400,000 different species of beetles, and of those, more than 64,000 belong to the rove beetle family staphylinidae.
When compared to the 5,800 different species of mammals, beetles have most other animal family trees beat. However, researchers are now rethinking the origin of staphylinidae rove beetles.
Rove beetles are some of the oldest beetles in the world dating back to the Cretaceous period.
New evidence suggests that the oldest known rove beetle isn’t actually a member of the rove family at all, which means that the entire beetle family tree may need to be rewritten.
The beetle at the heart of it all is Leehermania prorova which, until recently, was believed to be the oldest species of rove beetle ever discovered. Leehermania prorova fossils were found in the 1990s along the border of Virginia and North Carolina.
“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, one of the researchers who thought something was not quite right about the beetle’s placement on the family tree.
Thayer was not the only one who was tipped off by the description of the species.
Researchers from the National Museum in Prague and China’s Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology thought that the fossil species did not fit with other rove beetles but more closely resembled beetles in the Myxophaga suborder.
Unlike staphylinids, Leehermania didn’t have exposed mandibles and the narrow club-shaped antennae of Leehermania differs from the wider club-shaped antennae of staphylinids.
Nine researchers across four continents collaborated together to reclassify Leehermania.
After theorizing that the beetle didn’t belong to staphylinidae, the researchers conducted several tests that showed that the beetle belonged to the suborder Myxophaga.
The new family placement means that rove beetles are not the oldest family of beetles ever to live. Instead, Leehermania is one of the oldest skiff beetles ever describes.
“The re-classification of Leehermania means that staphylinids are now 50 million years younger than we thought,” said Martin Fikáček, a member of the research team. “But if staphylinids are so much younger, that means that this family evolved into many lineages much more rapidly than we thought they did.”
The researchers published their findings in the journal Systematic Entomology.
By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer
Image Credit: Shutterstock/khlungcenter