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Serendipity at the Smithsonian: The 107-year journey of the beetle Rhipidocyrtus muiri
Date:7/14/2014

ugh it begins with Frederick Muir's travels in Borneo in the summer of 1907.

"Muir, a quintessential field entomologist, traveled extensively in the Pacific region in the first quarter of the 20th Century. Reading accounts of his travels invokes an intense sense of wonder, adventure and nostalgia in all but the most jaded naturalists," explains Falin.

One of his epic adventures was a 38-month expedition (July, 1906 Sept., 1909) in search of sugarcane borer biological control agents. This outing led him back and forth from China to Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore and the current nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, the expedition finally ending in Australia to recover from typhoid fever.

Indeed, it was in the midst of his 19061909 expedition, during a six week visit to the island of Borneo (July to September 1907), that Muir collected the specimen that is now recognized as Rhipidocyrtus muiri. Muir apparently deduced the creature's parasitic nature and had it sent to William D. Pierce (18811967) at the USDA office in Washington, DC.

A terse handwritten note associated with the specimen provides the barest of insights as to its early history while simultaneously revealing Muir's great interest in it: "This was left with Pierce and after his [Pierce's] leaving [~1918] Muir visited USNM [~1918] and got [E.A.] Schwarz to find it. Then in 1928 Muir again visited us and called attention of H.S.B. [Herbert S. Barber] [to the specimen] but [Muir] declined to take it back."

At some point the pinned specimen and its associated slides, vital for its taxonomic recognition, became separated. The pinned specimen travelled from Washington, DC to Kansas via Illinois while the slides remained "hidden" in a different section of the Smithsonian's vast collection.

It was only a happenstance encounter that led to the rediscovery and reassociation of the body and slide-mounted abdomen and other sclerites in 2011,
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Contact: Zachary H. Falin
ksem@ku.edu
Pensoft Publishers
Source:Eurekalert  

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Serendipity at the Smithsonian: The 107-year journey of the beetle Rhipidocyrtus muiri
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