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Planet Earth

An Indecent Beetle

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The ground beetle fauna in the Northeast is pretty well studied by people who are well-known entomologists--as far as entomologists go, says Kip Will, a graduate student at Cornell. That’s why Will and his adviser, entomologist James Liebherr, were surprised to find a new beetle species in Cornell’s collection, one that had escaped the scrutiny of bug experts for 85 years. As part of a study, Liebherr and Will were sifting through thousands of beetles in Cornell’s collection when they came across an odd pair taken from nearby McLean Bog. Scouting out other museum collections and boggy areas, Will found that the new beetle ranged from Maine to Maryland, and from Ontario to Ohio. It had been misidentified as a common woodland beetle, Platynus decentis, a species with a lot of natural variation. Unlike the woodland beetle, the new beetle has a series of hairs on its lower legs and wings long enough to fly--a big help in getting from bog to bog, its exclusive habitat. Liebherr and Will have dubbed their find Platynus indecentis: the fact that it could happily be going about its beetle business right under the noses of prominent entomologists, says Will, seemed positively indecent.

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