Chrysina optima (Bates, 1888) is fast becoming the most famous beetle in the Natural History Museum's Coleoptera collections.
Not only is this beetle rarely collected which adds to its mystique, its aura of beauty and other-worldliness, its remarkable metallic colouration that makes one think of shiny chocolate covered sweeties, beautiful gold jewels and rather seasonally, Christmas baubles… oh for a Christmas tree decorated with nothing but beautiful shiny beetles…
But, better than any of that, this beetle’s fame will know no bounds, as it has become the star of a brilliant new song made especially for the Natural History Museum!
How can a very special beetle, that rests in perpetuity in a darkened drawer, just one of the nine million beetle specimens residing in the Museum, become such an overnight sensation? Well read on...!
This beetle was first collected and named in 1888 by Henry Walter Bates, who travelled extensively in the Amazon and came across this Chrysina in Costa Rica. It was published in the Biologia Centrali-Americana, which itself was published from 1879 to 1915 in 215 parts and written by the leading natural historians of the day, including Bates.
What did Bates find special about this beetle?
Here is an excerpt from the original description of the type specimen:
'The rich red-golden hue of the upper surface and mirror-like polish make it one of the most conspicuous species of a genus remarkable for metallic splendour.'
Chrysina optima Bates
Nowadays this lucky beetle is cared for by a super team of curators who instinctively know of its star potential. So, one day when a curious artist came knocking on the heavy wooden doors guarded by entwined snakes, the portal into the Coleoptera section of the Natural History Museum, with a very specific scientific question; it was this beetle that best described the answer we would give him.
And so it came to pass that we met John Hinton, an artist and performer who very much likes to go camping. He told us that he would be camping in the Museum grounds during the school’s half-term week this past October and had this question that he simply couldn’t get off his mind – could we help?! Of course we could!
And his question was a big and very important one; it is in fact the first question of taxonomical science…WHAT IS A TYPE?
Here is the answer we decided upon, and John has been singing about it ever since…we invite you to join in in the chorus!
This project is a collaborative one between the Natural History Museum and the artist John Hinton. It was devised as part of the events performed in the October half term 'Campsite' as part of the Darwin Centre Arts Events Programme curated by Sarah Punshon.