Taphrocerus darwini © Jaroslav Marek, The Trustees of the Natural History Museum

Eight new species of beetle discovered in the Natural History Museum’s collection - including three collected by Charles Darwin

A new paper published in Studies and Reports, Taxonomical Series, announces the discovery of eight species of beetle, collected by Charles Darwin on the Beagle Voyage in the 1830s and by English naturalist Henry Walter Bates in the 1850s. The Taphrocerus specimens originate from across South America and were reclassified by Dr Jaroslav Marek from the University of Pardubice (Czech Republic) whilst working with the Natural History Museum’s collections.

Taphrocerus is a genus of the Buprestidae family, commonly known as jewel beetles. Max Barclay, Curator of Beetles at the Natural History Museum, 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.”

Dr Marek reviewed over 200 specimens from the Museum’s collections to find that eight new species were previously identified as different species, of which three were originally collected by Darwin. One of the rediscovered species has been named Taphrocerus darwini, the Latin genitive from the name Darwin, in honour of its collector.

Charles Darwin was a young man when he embarked on his voyage with the HMS Beagle but his inordinate fondness for beetles was a major driving force in his adventures, and he later attributed his world-changing theory to his youthful beetle enthusiasm. Darwin collected more than 8,000 specimens on the five-year circumnavigation, at least 5,000 of which are now part of the collections at the Natural History Museum.

The Museum’s Coleoptera collection is among the oldest and most important in the world. The collection contains eight to ten million specimens and over 100,000 original ‘type’ specimens, housed in 22,000 drawers.

Mr Barclay continues: “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 as being new.”

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

 

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Notes for editors

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