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A new group of beetles with a heart-shaped leg joint has been discovered in the Belize rainforest by Museum scientist Max Barclay.
The new genus, named Ivierhipidius, has been described from two specimens found during fieldwork in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve in western Belize.
Among thousands of collected specimens, the beetles were the only two to have a distinctive heart-shaped joint connecting their upper leg and abdomen.
'When I saw the beetles, I knew they were something unusual right away,' says Barclay, beetle collections manager at the Museum. 'I was unable to match them to any known group of beetles.
'I eventually realised that they belonged to a new genus that no one had scientifically described before.'
Barclay showed the beetles to Professor Michael Ivie, Curator of Entomology at Montana State University.
'He recognised them as something he had seen before, and told me which collections had similar insects,' says Barclay. 'It's why I named the genus in his honour.'
While searching through these collections for species to match the beetles to, Barclay soon came across more Ivierhipidius specimens that had previously lain unidentified. Many belonged to new species and came from countries beyond Belize.
'I found a new Brazilian species on a visit to Rio de Janeiro, and an Argentinian species in three separate collections in Argentina and the Czech Republic. Professor Ivie himself sent me an Ecuadorian species.'
Ivierhipidius is now known to contain at least four species from across Central and South America. I. paradoxus, the species found in Belize, inhabits lowland rainforests, while I. youngi and I. monneorum have both been found up to 2,000 metres above sea level, in Ecuador and Brazil respectively. The final species, I. cechorum was collected in northern Argentina, near the Aconquija mountains.
Barclay is keen to learn more about the genus he has just described.
'We've never seen a female or immature Ivierhipidius,' he says. 'However, we do know that the males don't even have a functional mouth to eat, so their only purpose is to search for mates.'
Most of the specimens were collected using traps for flying insects, but he believes that the females are flightless, and that their larvae develop parasitically inside other insects, like those of their closest known relatives.
'We also don't yet know what its heart-shaped joint is used for, but it is unique to this group.
'One in five living creatures is a beetle, so it's incredible that we are still uncovering new species today, particularly with new modifications of body parts that tell us more about their evolution.'