Discovery of New Beetles in Australia

By Dr Alfonsina Arriaga Jiménez, UNE Discovery

Last week, I had a Zoom meeting with a colleague, entomologist James Tweed from the University of Queensland (UQ). We were chatting about insects on islands when he suddenly told me about a new species he had just described. Of course, that was fascinating, and we talked for a while about the importance of taxonomy and naming species to establish conservation measures for their protection. Later on, I received a notification that my colleagues and good friends from the Queensland Museum, Kathy Ebert and Nicole Gunter, had also described a new dung beetle, which was equally fabulous. You can read all about them in the Australian Journal of Taxonomy.

Fig 1. Cephalodesmius carminya Ebert & Gunter new species

Taxonomy, the science of classifying and naming species, is like organizing a giant puzzle where scientists group species based on similarities and then give each of them a special name. Discovering new species is like an exciting treasure hunt, where scientists find new specimens while exploring forests, mountains, or other ecosystems. Sometimes, it’s just a bit of luck to see something that no one else has before, and other times it’s a lot of hard work, going through many specimens, going back to collect more, and even using DNA to help with the task.

In case you haven’t seen it already, we have included some amazing pictures of the newly described “Punk beetle” and some pictures of the new flightless dung beetle too. The two discoveries follow a similar process, where they had to compare their findings and specimens with other collections.

James was camping when he saw this little bit of “bird poo,” but after a closer look, he noticed it was a beetle. While Kathy and Nicole have been working with this group of beetles for several years, and they noticed some differences between the specimens from Mackay and the ones from other areas.

Fig 2. Excastra albopilosa Tweed, Ashman & Ślipiński, gen et. sp. nov. as it was found; resting on a Lomandra leaf in Binna Burra Lodge campground.

Museum collections hold specimens carefully preserved from all around the world, providing a window into the incredible diversity of insect life. These collections are vital for scientists studying insects because they allow them to compare species, track changes over time, and understand how insects adapt to different environments. Additionally, they serve as a reference for identifying new species and studying their behavior, anatomy, and ecology. They are like time capsules, preserving invaluable information for future generations of scientists and helping us better understand the role insects play in our ecosystems.

James, Kathy, Nicole, and other scientists around the world use Museum Collections to compare their findings, and in this case, the three of them had access to material deposited in the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC) in Canberra and the Queensland Museum (QMB).

If you want to read more details about these new beetles, follow the links to their scientific papers, and have a look at the beautiful pictures in them. Keep your eyes open for the new species that still are to be discovered and have a visit to your closest museum to have a look at the beautiful specimens in them.

ABC link to the “punk beetle”:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-03-21/punk-beetle-chance-discovery-lamington-national-park/103606194

The Australian Journal of Taxonomy links to the scientific papers:

https://www.taxonomyaustralia.org.au/ajt/papers/wytkrs0sub

https://www.taxonomyaustralia.org.au/ajt/papers/4wzohfwhh4