What the island wasn’t known for was its beetle inhabitants, specifically the tiny weevils of the genus Trigonopterus, as only a single species had been classified on the island since 1885. But now thanks to new research in the open-access journal ZooKeys, a total of 103 new Trigonopterus species have been identified and described.
“We had found hundr of species on the neighboring islands of New Guinea, Borneo and Java – why should Sulawesi with its lush habitats remain an empty space?” asks Dr. Alexander Riedel, lead author of the study and an entomologist at Natural History Museum Karlsruhe in Germany.
Riedel actually came across the first specimens of these new species back in 1990 while doing a survey of the fauna living in the rainforest foliage in Central Sulawesi. Over the coming years, he collaborated with the Indonesian Institute of Scientists (LIPI) to fill out the rest of the picture.
“Our survey is not yet complete and possibly we have just scratched the surface. Sulawesi is geologically complex and many areas have never been searched for these small beetles,” explains Raden Pramesa Narakusumo, curator of beetles at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (MXB), Indonesian Research Center for Biology.
These beetles have likely remained overlooked for so long due to their size (no bigger than 2-3 millimeters) and superficial resemblance amongst their genus. Many look so similar that DNA sequencing is the only efficient method to determine if they are in fact separate species.
Along with figuring out which beetles were members of different species, the researchers were faced with the daunting task of naming 103 separate species. While some species were named in ways that indicated their localities or characteristic morphology, others received much more unique names.
One small, green and forest-dwelling species was named after the Star Wars character Yoda, while three other species were named after the main characters in the French comics series The Adventures of Asterix. Two species were named after Greek mythological characters Artemis, the goddess of hunting and nature, and Satyr, a male nature spirit inhabiting remote places.
“This provides a face to the species name, and this is an important prerequisite for future studies on their evolution,” explained the researchers. “Studies investigating such evolutionary processes depend on names and clear diagnoses of the species. These are now available, at least for the fauna of Sulawesi.”
By Connor Ertz, Earth.com Staff Writer
Main Image Credit: Alexander Riedel