Whenever I’m talking about my work as a scientist, especially to young children, I usually mention that a part of my job is describing new species. The fifth graders that I’ve been teaching find this absolutely amazing and always ask lots of questions: “How many have you described?” “What did you name them?” “How did you name them?” “How many are there still to describe?”
I always tell them that there are over 400,000 species of beetles and that there are thousands and thousands more to be described. The next time I see my students I’m going to mention a recent paper in which 138 new species of histerid beetles in the genus Operclipygus were described! They will love it. Just look at these amazing beetles! The common name for the Histeridae is the clown beetles…though I’m not sure why since they are often found near dung piles and carrion. Maybe I just don’t know that much about clowns…or maybe common names are just odd. You can see a lot more of these beetles because the data from this paper are all online at MorphBank including habitus images and scanning electron micrographs (SEMs). The article is also open access, so you can download and see for yourself what an impressive work it is. Be warned – if your internet connection is slow, it will take a while to get onto your computer. The paper is just so massive Oftentimes it takes quite a bit of effort to describe even one species as new, so describing 138 all in one publication is quite a feat!
Oh also, the authors state towards the end of the paper that even though “this study documents a large number of previously unknown species, it is very likely that many more remain to be discovered.” I’ll mention that to my students as well to perhaps encourage some future taxonomists!