During a visit to California Academy of Sciences, you might find yourself standing in front of the Project Lab asking, “What is that person doing in there?” And if you happened to ask that question today the answer would be: discovering new beetles! Although most of my time in the Project Lab is spent working on my PhD dissertation research studying the biogeography and evolutionary relationships of snail-eating beetles, today is not a normal day in the Project lab. Today, I am identifying and describing new beetle species previously unknown to science.
These tiny little beetles hail from Australia and come out at night to prey on other insects. Entomologists like myself use morphology (body shapes and structures) and DNA to help us determine if an insect is a new species. Sometimes something as trivial as a tiny hair or a wrinkle can be crucial to identifying a species. Additionally, two insects that may look identical to the naked eye could be very distantly related once we look at their DNA!
Here in the Project Lab, I will examine specimens from natural history museums world-wide in order to determine which ones are new species. Many microscope hours later, I will use our Auto-montage imaging system to capture high-resolution photographs of each new species. Finally, I will provide a written description and name for each new species. Getting to choose the name of a brand new species is a perk well worth all of that hard work!