18th century specimen reveals new South African weevil genus

Jul 25, 2013

The new weevil genus was discovered during a routine study of some weevil specimens collected by the Swedish botanist and entomologist Carl Peter Thunberg, a disciple of Carl Linnaeus, during his trips in the then Cape Colony of the Dutch East India Company (now Cape Town, South Africa). The study revealed one tiny specimen measuring barely 1.8mm belonging to an hitherto unknown genus. This specimen was collected between 16 April 1772 and 2 March 1775 or when Thunberg returned from Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) in 1778.

Dr Miguel A. Alonso-Zarazaga, a specialist at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), Madrid, Spain wanted to do a modern study of the species described by Thunberg with the specimens he collected, and particularly this one, which has not been found again since its discovery and description in 1813, after Thunberg's return to Sweden. His results have been published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The description of the new genus Thunbergapion has allowed other colleagues to identify just a few specimens in other collections that could also belong in the same genus, all from South Africa. 'Now the interest lies in finding populations of these species in the field that can be studied to discover their biology and host plants', said Dr Alonso-Zarazaga. 'Their close relatives living in the Mediterranean region use species of Saint John's wort as for adults and larvae. These are also present in South Africa, but other plants cannot be ruled out.'

The species of this recently discovered genus could be relict, a term meaning that their populations now cover a small geographic area (in this case in South Africa) but in the past were more widely distributed. It is interesting to see the relationship with Mediterranean species, a link already established for some other groups of animals. But in South Africa the has been strongly altered by man, introducing new plants or modifying large extensions of land for agricultural use, not to mention the urban growth.

'This discovery comes to us from the past', said Dr. Alonso-Zarazaga, 'Thanks to the good management of old collections like that of Thunberg in Uppsala, we can have a glimpse into the fauna that existed in South Africa in the end of the 18th century and that, perhaps in some cases, could have disappeared. That is why it is important to keep Natural History museums, collecting and keeping samples of the past and present faunas for the future generations. More than 200-year-old, this discovery has enriched the South African biodiversity because the Museum of Evolution of the Uppsala University has played the role in which society cast it.'

Explore further: 71 new parasitoid wasp species discovered from Southeast Asia

More information: ZooKeys 317: 89-101. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.317.5477

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A new cryptic spider species from Africa

Mar 07, 2013

The species from the genus Copa are very common spiders found in the leaf litter of various habitats. Being predominantly ground-living, they occur widely in savanna woodlands but also occasionally in forests, ...

A new species of yellow slug moth from China

Jun 04, 2013

The moth genus Monema is represented by medium-sized yellowish species. The genus belongs to the Limacodidae family also known as the slug moths due to the distinct resemblance of their caterpillars to som ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cancer stem cells linked to drug resistance

Most drugs used to treat lung, breast and pancreatic cancers also promote drug-resistance and ultimately spur tumor growth. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered ...