I think that Acanthoferona ferox is one of the coolest pterostichine beetles anywhere and that says a lot when there are around 4000 other species in the world to compete with. Partly it is my own peculiar taste in beetle style, the sleek, classic pterostichine form. The predatory look- big head and large jaws. The parallel-sided shape and the enormous hind trochanters (where the muscles for driving wedge-pushing motion in carabids are found). Also it has an enigmatic history, uncertain taxonomy and a connection to wine. I also must admit there is a mystique in the search for rare insects. I don’t mind admitting I share this one vanity with the likes of Darwin, as I too “feel like an old war-horse at the sound of a trumpet” when it comes to rare beetles.
The original specimen, and only specimen known for nearly 100 years, was collected in 1889 around Mt. Compass, South Australia, but not recognized as a species until B.P. Moore described the species in 19651. The next time specimens were collected was by accident when they turned up in large pitfall traps set for mammals and reptiles during a survey on lands in the Fleurieu Peninsula, SA in 1996. The rediscovery was hailed by the local winery, Currency Creek, on
whose property the beetle was found. They were so enthused that they dubbed one of their fine wines “Carabid Tempranillo”. I think this only species of carabid that has ever been used as the basis for a wine’s name. We joke that one might expect the wine to have a touch of formic acid and hints of simple hydrocarbons, in line with the beetle’s defensive chemicals. Of course it doesn’t. It is a light, easy to drink tempranillo that I am thankful is good so I don’t need to pretend to like it just because of the beetle. Unfortunately 2007 was the last vintage and it is only availed in limited supply, by the bottle at the cellar or by special arrangement.
Scientifically it is an interesting species. Described as the only member of its genus (monotypic) and so set apart with no certain affinities to other pterostichines. The limited number of specimens, none of DNA quality, and its isolated and endemic range made collecting these beetles one of the missions of my 2010 sabbatical in Australia. I wanted to see where it lives and place it in the pterostichine phylogeny.
I spent a week in the Adelaide area, part of my time at the South Australian Museum, where Peter Hudson was my kind host. Part of the time I was traveling and collecting with Jim Liebherr. During my time with Jim we searched high and low on the winery property, but had no luck finding the elusive Acanthoferonia ferox (though wine tasting went pretty well). Jim had to go to Western Australia for a few days, but I continued my pursuit of A. ferox with the help of Peter and kind permission of the folks at Minnawarra Station. Minnawarra Station was the only other locality where the beetle had been found. The care and concern land owners in the area have for the flora and fauna is truly commendable and that they opened their gates to me and let me wander their property is something I greatly appreciate.
For several days and nights I raked leaf litter, rolled logs and rocks, headlamp searched, pitfall trapped and scrambled through briar and brush. No Acanthoferonia.
Then a teaser. Some old, loosely capped mammal/herp traps had in their bottom, among accumulated debris of no interest to the mammalogist or herpitologists, disarticulated parts of A. ferox. The pulse quickens and the intensity of the search is rekindled. More logs, more raking, I know they are here.
But no luck finding the beetles alive.
With only two days left, despair was setting in. Is this to be the “one that got away”?
–The rest of the story in my next post….
“I try all things, I achieve what I can.” ― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
1. Moore, B. P. Studies on Australian Carabidae (Coleoptera) 4.–The Pterostichinae. Transactions of the Royal entomological Society of … 117, 1–32 (1965).