Researchers sifting through leaf litter on the Indonesian islands have discovered 98 new species of beetles from the genus Trigonopterus. The new beetles -- none of which have ever been seen by a human eye before -- were described in ZooKeys this week.
An international team led by Alexander Riedel of the Natural History Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany, went into the remnants of original rainforests of Sundaland (Sumatra, Java, Bali, Palawan) and the Lesser Sunda Islands (Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores) in search of the flightless weevil genus Trigonopterus. Only one species of this genus has been recorded west of Wallace’s Line, the boundary between Southeast Asia and Australia. While some of these tropical islands are popular tourist destinations, their leaf litter still harbor unexplored insect fauna -- the team had previously run into this situation in remote forests of New Guinea.
"Many of these species are restricted to small areas; sometimes they are found only in a single locality," says Yayuk Suhardjono of Indonesia’s Cibinong Science Center in a news release. "These beetles are wingless and usually stay for millions of years where they are. This makes them extremely vulnerable to changes of their habitat." This isolation also explains how little groups evolve into completely different species so quickly, Washington Post reports.
The team collected over 4,000 specimens by sifting litter, and a portion of DNA from 703 weevils were sequenced. One of the 99 species they found, Trigonopterus amphoralis, already exists in museum collections, but been considered “lost” since the 1920s.
Then came the challenge of naming all 98 new species. Some were named for their localities, while others were named using the Indonesian numbers one through 12. And then there’s one named after Sir David Attenborough in recognition of his documentaries on natural history. Trigonopterus attenboroughi is pictured to the right. It joins a list of nearly 10 other animals and plants named in Attenborough’s honor, Verge reports, including an echidna, a genus of plesiosaurs, and an extinct armored fish.
To speed up the process of describing these new species -- because these forests could quickly be converted into farmland -- the team uploaded their photographs and a description to the Species ID website, bringing them to the public’s attention immediately.
This is the Java rainforest at Halimun National Park, where some of the new species were found:
Images: Alexander Riedel CC-BY 4.0