Australia: Fine Wine and Fine beetles (part 2)

More on the beetle:

Nurus brevis

Nurus brevis

In part 1 of my search for Acanthoferonia ferox I wrote about the rarity of the beetles and the story that ties wine country habitat to the beetles. I think it is worth mentioning what makes these beetles scientifically interesting, so that is the topic of first part of this post. Aside from life history information, that we know so little about, the original description placed A. ferox in the Trichosternus series. This informal group of Australian pterostichines includes a lot of big, metallic or black, large-jawed beetles. They are often truly stunning to look at and the group includes some of the few species of carabids known to brood eggs and clutches of young larvae. One genus in the group, Nurus, even has species listed as endangered. The NSW government site says of Nurus brevis “the Scientific Committee is of the opinion that the numbers of Nurus brevis Motschulsky, 1865 have been reduced to such a critical level and its habitats have been so drastically reduced, that it is in immediate danger of extinction.” It is the only genus of carabids in Australia I know of that has species so listed.

Acanthoferonia ferox from Moore 1965. left is fore-body, top right male genitalia and bottom right the part of the hind leg showing the elongate trochanter

Acanthoferonia ferox from Moore 1965. left is fore-body, top right male genitalia and bottom right the part of the hind leg showing the elongate trochanter

But I digress. My initial study of the type of A. ferox seemed to indicate it was not near Trichosternus and relatives, but in among the Notonomus series. This is the most species-rich group of pterostichines in Australia and it includes Leiradira, which I wrote about in an earlier post. One of the most curious features, which sets A. ferox apart from most other Australian ptetrostichines are the huge, elongate and pointed hind trochanters. Enormous trochanters pop up here and there in pterostichines. Where and why? That is a story for another day.

Suffice to say that A. ferox was enigmatic, distinctive and there is some evidence that suggests it could be Trichosternus-like, Notonomus-like or could they be related to one of the two other “big trochanter” genera that are in the region, Secatophus and Teropha. Or are big trochanters, which house the muscles that power wedge-pushing in soil, a convergent adaptation? A proper study of morphology and analysis of DNA data seemed the obvious next step.

But first I needed some beetles for study and DNA extraction.

The Search:

After looking high and low, well mostly low, and only finding dead bits of the beetles I was nearly ready to concede. It’s not my first rodeo and I know that sometimes you just can’t find them. I had drug Pete Hudson and a representative from the Minnawarra Station family through the bush for hours and I am sure they were ready to call it a night. It was about 1130pm and I had just finished inspecting a large, bloated kangaroo corpse (yea, that’s just as good as you are imagining) and reached down to flip a branch about the size of my arm laying on the ground , slightly embedded in the soil. Nothing I hadn’t tried about 100 times already, but this time, there it was. I knew it immediately. I imagined, just for a moment, it knew me too. About 20mm long, black, shiny with a slight green tinge. It hunched in response to me violating its secretive nocturnal ambulation. When I grabbed, it assumed the locked out position, with forebody arched upward and jaws spread wide in defiance.

Acanthoferonia ferox habitat, Minnawarra Stn, SA

Acanthoferonia ferox habitat, Minnawarra Stn, SA

I let out a whooping shout and the others rushed over to see. I think I can paraphrase their reaction as “oh, is that it?” I was too giddy to expound on the importance of this specimen and how every species we find, describe and place into phylogenetic context is one more puzzle piece leading to the full picture of our understanding of the natural world, one more pixel that increases the resolution of our view. They were too tired to benefit from any pearls I might have cast anyway.

I stayed late that night and came back the next (alone). I didn’t see another Acanthoferonia. Given what I know now, I think they can be more easily collected earlier in the season, when it is still quite wet. Much the same as the wine country carabid beetles in California.

As for the phylogenetic position of this species. The final analysis is literally running on my computer while I write this. I suppose a part three is in order.


About Kip Will

I'm an insect systematist with expertise in carabid beetles, who is always happiest in the bush.
This entry was posted in Carabids, Coleoptera, Entomology, Pterostichines. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Australia: Fine Wine and Fine beetles (part 2)

  1. Great story. Reminds me of Darwin’s story about having a beetle in each hand, so he popped the next one in his mouth…

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