Home Animal Research This newfound longhorn beetle species is unusually fluffy

This newfound longhorn beetle species is unusually fluffy

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A close up shot captures the small and long white hairs protruding out of the body of this longhorn beetle.

Meet Excastra albopilosa, a newly identified species of longhorn beetle that rocks an unusually fluffy white coat.

Discovered in Australia, the fuzzy-looking arthropod also has distinct, separated eye lobes, short antennal segments and unique variations in the shapes of its legs. All these factors suggest the beetle may warrant being classified as its own genetic family, or genus, researchers report March 19 in the Australian Journal of Taxonomy.

Roughly 18,000 species of all kinds are discovered each year — at least half of which are insects. “I’m actually surprised that this species had not been discovered before,” says Menno Schilthuizen, an evolutionary biologist at Taxon Expeditions in Leiden, Netherlands, who was not involved in the study. The visually striking beetle, measuring nearly a centimeter in length, was found in a popular area among longhorn beetle enthusiasts.

While staying at an ecolodge near Lamington National Park in Queensland, entomologist James Tweed had stepped out to brush his teeth when he stumbled across “some white thing” hanging on a long and narrow leaf of basket grass. Upon closer inspection, Tweed suspected the thing might be a type of longhorn beetle (Cerambycidae). He snapped a photo and uploaded it to iNaturalist, an app that helps people identify organisms. Other app users couldn’t identify it. Neither could the senior beetle experts at the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra.

Together, the researchers scanned through the collection of all longhorn beetle databases of Australia. Given the newfound beetle’s distinct physical appearance, “we were pretty confident that this was a distinct genus and species,” says Tweed, of the University of Queensland in Brisbane. Its proposed name is derived from the Latin words Excastra, meaning “from a camp,” and albopilosa, meaning “white and hairy.”

Tweed and colleagues remain uncertain about the exact function of the white hairs. If the fluff gives predators the impression that the beetle has a fungal infection, then that might reduce the insect’s chances of getting eaten. Or perhaps the hairs help the beetle regulate its body temperature.

Discovering species that are new to science, Schilthuizen says, is a “very satisfying feeling.” Of the estimated 5 million insect species globally, researchers have named only about a million. The work is a way to “at least safeguard yet another species, add it to the scientific literature and make sure that somebody else recognizes it when they find it,” he says.

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