Darwin’s Long-Lost Beetle Resurfaces on His Birthday

The beetle now known as Darwinilus sedarisi was collected by Charles Darwin in Argentina back in 1832, during his HMS Beagle voyage, but was considered lost at the Natural History Museum in London. Natural History Museum

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin! To celebrate the late evolutionary biologist's 205th birthday on Wednesday, an entomologist is "regifting" one of the beetles Darwin collected during his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle.

Darwin picked up the beetle and several other insect specimens in 1832 when he visited Bahia Blanca in Argentina. He brought the bug back to London's Natural History Museum, but no one ever got around to classifying it. The specimen was considered lost for many years.

Then, in 2008, the museum lent several insects from its extensive collection to Stylianos Chatzimanolis, an entomologist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "To my surprise I realized that one of them was collected by Darwin," Chatzimanolis recalled. "Finding a new species is always exciting. Finding one collected by Darwin is truly amazing."

In the journal ZooKeys, Chatzimanolis classifies the rediscovered bug as a new genus and species of rove beetle called Darwinilus sedarisi. That name pays tribute to Darwin as well as one of Chatzimanolis' favorite writers, David Sedaris. "I spent many hours listening to Mr. Sedaris’ audiobooks while preparing the specimens and the figures for this and other manuscripts," Chatzimanolis explained in the ZooKeys paper.

The entomologist could find only two specimens of the species, both collected before 1935. That suggests Darwinilus sedarisi may have fallen prey to evolution's downside — but Chatzimanolis hopes not.

"One certainly hopes that a newly described species is not already extinct," he said in a news release.

For more about Darwin and his 205th birthday, check out last week's "Virtually Speaking Science" podcast as well as the Darwin Day website. And if you're up for some birthday brain-teasers, delve into these 10 calendrical coincidences from Aziz Inan, an indefatigable number-juggler at the University of Portland.