Meet the New Beetle

The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other, for the simple reason that there are nearly 300,000 species of beetle known, and perhaps more, as compared with somewhat less than 9,000 species of birds and a little over 10,000 species of mammals. Beetles are actually more numerous than the species of any other insect order.
-JBS Haldane, What Is Life?

Beetles are the most numerous group of animals, in part because they are found in a wide diversity of habitats. One of the newest beetles, Hydroscapha redfordi, was discovered in the hot springs of Idaho by Crystal Maier, Michael Ivie, James Johnson and David Maddison ( http://dx.doi.org/10.1649/0010-065X-64.4.289 ).

The Idaho population was feeding on algae on a rock face with water temperatures of 50 C (122 F). They like it hot. This finding greatly extends the northern limit of the Genus Hydroscapha. The hot spring habitat is far warmer with conditions very different from conditions in nearby locations not associated with hot spring activity. The hot springs are an island of warmth in a much colder area.

Originally believed to be another population of a closely related beetle, Hydroscapha natans, several characteristics of the H. redfordi did not match those of Hydroscapha natans. Additional evidence including DNA analysis and distinguishing morphological characters suggest a new species. Hydroscapha redfordi, was named after American actor, Robert Redford in part because of his interest in environmental preservation. Co-Author Michael Ivie relates a movie role of Robert Redford, “Jeremiah Johnson”, as an inspiration to work in the Rocky Mountains.

The authors speculate that many as yet undescribed species may exist in other hot springs. New species commonly form when populations have reproductive isolation. As local populations independently evolve adaptations to local conditions, the populations acquire increasing numbers of differences. Absent migration between populations and intermating, these new genetic traits will not spread. The beetles in each location will become more different as each generation passes and eventually different enough to be considered different species.

There are numerous hot springs that could provide habitat to Hydroscapha redfordi, or similar beetles. However, distances between hot springs can be large and the area of suitable habitat small. Hydroscapha redfordi, lacks fully developed wings, so it is “stuck” in its current location. The small size of fully winged beetles in this Genus (1-2 mm) limits the ability to migrate between sites. Speciation is predicted to occur among isolated populations of Hydroscapha beetles that are confined to hot springs.

Could the possibility of finding numerous new species of beetles set off an exploration of hot springs for new beetle species? If nothing else, it is a great excuse to visit the hot springs.

Hydroscapha redfordi
Photo: Crystal Maier

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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