A case of lost and found at UTC
A piece of natural history dating back to 1832 was recently discovered by a local associate professor at UT-Chattanooga, and he's been given the privilege of naming it.
Dr. Stylianos Chatzimanolis, an entomologist at the university since 2008, has been studying insects for nearly 15 years. He specializes in a specific type of beetle called rove beetles. While working to identify a group of them on loan from London's Natural History Museum, he made a surprising discovery about a particular specimen.
"I started compiling a list of all the rove beetles that were collected by Darwin and only then I realized that this was considered lost," says Chatzimanolis.
That's right--it's a beetle collected in Argentina by naturalist Charles Darwin while traveling the world in his famous ship The Beagle.
Darwin never assigned a scientific name to the beetle, only noting when and where he found it. While the museum has preserved it since 1836, it was eventually misplaced among other unidentified specimens.
It took Chatzimanolis nearly a year to realize he found a proverbial needle in a haystack.
"Great feeling," Chatzimanolis exclaims. "At that moment I realized it's going to get some attention because it's a Darwin species and was considered lost."
Because Chatzimanolis made the discovery he got to officially name the species, a big honor in the scientific community. He chose Darwinilus sedarisi--the first part named after Charles Darwin, the second after humorist and one of Chatzimanolis' favorite authors David Sedaris.
"I realized he's fascinated with the natural world because he has several little stories on arachnids, insects, mammals," Chatzimanolis explains.
The professor's paper on the discovery was published in February, fittingly on the date of
Darwin's birthday. He says he has also told his story to the NatGeo cable channel.
Chatzimanolis adds that there's only one other known sample of this beetle in a collection dating back to around 1910. Now, thanks to him, the species is one of 350,000 beetles that have been identified. But he thinks it may now be extinct because of deforestation of it's natural habitat.
Chatzimanolis knows it's a race against time naming the others, a necessary step in studying the world around us.
"Every new species we describe helps us understand how species interact with each other in the ecosystem," says Chatzimanolis.
He's studying other beetles from the London Darwin collection which he says also might turn out to be new species. He believes a million more species of beetles are out there that have yet to be named.