While researchers from the California Academy of Sciences are spanning the far reaches of the globe to find new plants, animals, and other life forms, there are still many things to discover closer to home. In 2013, Academy scientists discovered two new plant species and eight new beetles from Mexico.
In his time as a naturalist, Charles Darwin was fascinated with beetles and amassed one of the world's most important collections. Today, researchers at the Academy are continuing that tradition. On November 19, 2013, Igor Sokolov, a Schlinger Postdoctoral Fellow at the California Academy of Sciences, published a paper on ZooKeys, describing eight new species and a new genus of beetle.
According to Sokolov, these miniscule ground beetles remain largely uninvestigated. Prior to his recent discoveries, there were only two other species from two different genera described from Mexico. These beetles rarely emerge and are so tiny that they have gone largely unnoticed. "These types of beetles live all over the world, including here in California, but are very difficult to collect," says Dr. Dave Kavanaugh, Senior Curator of Entomology at the Academy. "Even if you can isolate them from the dirt and leaf litter where they live," Kavanaugh explains, "They're no bigger than the head of a pin, so they are nearly impossible to see with the naked eye." Then once you have found the beetles and get them back to the lab, it takes a steady hand to dissect them and tediously compare each specimen under a microscope. "Igor is the only person I know who has good enough hands to do this work," Kavanaugh says.
The study of these beetles illustrates how isolation and slight changes in habitat can influence the evolutionary process. "These beetles are blind, flightless and don't move around very much, yet they are found in nearly every corner of the world," says Kavanaugh. This tells us that they are probably ancient. They have evolved and diverged to succeed
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California Academy of Sciences