Eight new species of jewel beetle have been uncovered

The beetles were collected more than 150 years ago by Charles Darwin and Henry Walter Bates.

The Museum's beetle collections are vast - they contain more than eight million specimens, housed in 22,000 drawers.

Curators work hard to care for and categorise each and every specimen, but there is still plenty that we don't know about them, and new species are often found among them.

Dr Jaroslav Marek, from the University of Pardubice in the Czech Republic, has found eight new species while working with this collection. All the beetles are jewel beetles, which are named for their iridescent colours.

Max Barclay, the Museum's beetle curator, says, 'This is a very exciting discovery. There are surely thousands of new discoveries like this just waiting to be made in the Natural History Museum's great collection.

'It's like a time capsule that allows us to visit vanished habitats, like the Brazilian coastal forests of the 1830s. Collections are the last great frontier of exploration.'

A drawer full of beetles

Many of the beetles held at the Museum are preserved in drawers for researchers of the future to learn more about

 

The beetles that Dr Marek found were collected in South America during the 1830s and 1850s by two great Victorian collectors: Charles Darwin and Henry Walter Bates.

Darwin is most well-known for his theory of evolution. He was a young man when he sailed to South America on the voyage of HMS Beagle as the ship's naturalist.

He collected more than 8,000 specimens on five-year circumnavigation. Many are now at the Museum, and many were recognised as new to western science during his lifetime. However, many still had secrets left to uncover.

Dr Marek reviewed more than 200 specimens from the Museum's collections, to find that eight new species were previously identified as different species.

One of the rediscovered species has been named Taphrocerus darwini, the Latin genitive from the name Darwin, in honour of its collector.

Max continues, 'This is the first time in my career that jewel beetles have been described from Darwin and Bates material and is a major discovery.

'Scientists from all over the world visit our collections, but the beetles are so diverse that finding new species requires someone with exactly the right expertise.'

A page from one of Bates' journals

Bates's field journals are filled with meticulous sketches and watercolours. Many of the specimens illustrated here are in the Museum collection.

 

Three of the species were collected by Darwin, and the remainder were collected by entomologist Henry Bates, who spent 11 years collected insects in the Amazon in Brazil.

Max adds, 'Darwin himself said, in his old age and at the height of his fame, that whenever he heard of the capture of rare beetles, he felt like an old war-horse at the sound of a trumpet.

'Little did he know that there were still undiscovered jewel beetles amongst the material he had collected over 50 years previously, waiting for the right expert to recognise them.'

The paper was published in the September 2019 issue of Studies and Reports, Taxonomical Series.

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