The mysterious scarab beetles: Two new species of the endangered ancient genus Gyronotus

October 22, 2013
This image shows a living G. Perissinottoi in its natural habitat. Credit: Lynette Clennell

Famous as the sacred beetles of ancient Egypt the scarab beetle group in fact represents much greater diversity around the globe. Some of the most vulnerable representatives are contained in the flightless genus Gyronotus, which currently includes six known species. A recent study published in the open access journal Zookeys describes two new species with unusual distribution from southern Africa.

The two new G. perissinottoi and G. schuelei both dwell in grasslands/savannas, while most of the other known species in the exhibit a preference for forest habitats. G. perissinottoi occurs in a small but biodiversity unique area in southern KwaZulu-Natal, in the beautiful Umthamvuna Nature Reserve. The second species, G. schuelei originates from western Swaziland and is currently known only from two specimens.

The representatives of the genus Gyronotus as well as several other genera of the tribe Canthonini, are regarded among the most endangered of the African Scarabaeinae because of their sensitivity to disturbance. Apart from G. glabrosus and the two newly described , Gyronotus species are linked to coastal and low-lying forest habitats, which have undergone massive transformation during the past 50 years, through clearance, degradation and fragmentation.

This image shows a grassland landscape at the margin of the riverine forest of the Umthamvuna Nature Reserve, where G. Perissinottoi is found. Credit: Lynette Clennell

This image shows the second new species G. schuelei. Credit: Mickaël François
"The genus Gyronotus is part of the tribe Canthonini, which has long been recognised as a relict of the ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland. Members of the genus are also wingless and particularly vulnerable to environmental disturbance. Thus, they are undoubtedly of substantial biodiversity and conservation value, with status ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered,"comment the authors of the study Dr. Moretto and Dr. Perissinotto.

Explore further: Unearthed: A treasure trove of jewel-like beetles

More information: Moretto P, Perissinotto R (2013) Description and ecology of two new species of Gyronotus van Lansberge, 1874 (Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae) from southern Africa. ZooKeys 344: 73. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.344.6101

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