Rare Antarctic beetle find delights

BeetlesImage copyright
Dr Allan Ashworth

Image caption

The fossilised forewings were discovered on the Beardmore Glacier

Scientists have made a rare find: a new species of fossil beetle from Antarctica.

It’s the first evidence of a ground beetle found on the southernmost continent.

And Antarctic insects are themselves a rarity – the absence of biodiversity is considered a consequence of a lack of moisture, vegetation and the low temperatures.

The specimen is described in the scientific journal Zookeys.

Fossilised forewings from a pair of beetles were discovered on the 200km-long Beardmore Glacier, near the Transantarctic Mountains.

The new species and genus has been named Ball’s Antarctic Tundra Beetle, after George E Ball – an expert on ground beetles.

It lived between 14 and 20 million years ago, when Antarctica was warmer than today.

The beetle joins a sparse record of insects from the southernmost continent. Today, Antarctica’s insect fauna consists of just three species of flightless midges.

Dr Allan Ashworth from North Dakota State University and Dr Terry Erwin from the Smithsonian Institution think the beetle must have inhabited the sparsely vegetated sand and gravel banks of a meltwater-fed stream.

This stream was once part of an outwash plain at the head of a fjord in the Transantarctic Mountains.

Plants associated with the extinct beetle include southern beech, buttercup, moss mats, and cushion plants, all typical for a tundra ecosystem.

The species may or may not have been able to fly.