ITHACA, N.Y. -- Sitting patiently in museum insect collections for at least 85 years, this Ithaca bog beetle waited to be discovered. Now, thanks to Cornell University entomologists, not only has it been 'discovered,' but this bog beetle now has an official name: Platynus indecentis.
In August 1995, Kipling W. Will, a graduate student in entomology from Columbus, Ohio, and James K. Liebherr, Cornell professor of entomology and curator of the Cornell insect collection, were working through the university's insect collection when they stumbled upon a species that looked familiar but which they could not immediately identify. "Kip and I were sorting through the Cornell insect collection and I made a species identification key and he was testing the key on a variety of specimens," Liebherr said. "Kip found that one of the specimens just didn't fit the key. We suspected we had something new. This species had somehow remained mixed into the Cornell collection along with another extremely common beetle species that's been known to science since 1823."
Through careful anatomical comparisons with known species from North America, Europe and Asia, assisted by colleagues Smithsonian Institute in Washington and the Natural History Museum in Paris, the entomologists determined that this species, which can be found in many institutional insect collections throughout the Northeast, had never been given proper scientific identification. The half-inch long predator, a natural resident of the Ithaca area, had eluded entomologists' detection for decades.
It is no longer incognito. The Coleopterists Bulletin (Dec. 30, 1996) published the official name of the new species and genus. Other entomologists can use the accompanying key to identify this new species within their collections. The article was authored by Leibherr and Will.
A member of the ground beetle family, Platynus indecentis now joins more than 2,600 other beetles species found in North America, north of Mexico, including 60 introduced from other parts of the world.
Through study of specimens from museums in the northeastern United States and Canada, Will and Liebherr have found that this beetle's natural range extends from Maine to Ohio and Ontario to Maryland. The earliest collected specimen found so far belongs to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which was found at Palisades on Hudson, N.Y., on April 2, 1907. The collector was not noted on the specimen label. There are also specimens from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., and those are labeled only "Massachusetts" and "Pennsylvania." Liebherr suspects the Harvard specimens may be older than 1907.
This beetle loves bogs. "It lives in habitats that people don't usually get to," Liebherr said. "New York state and the surrounding areas have these things that are unique to our region, and they are worth protecting. We've been here in the Northeast for some 300 years, and we still don't know it all."
The first Platynus indecentis species that Will and Liebherr examined at Cornell was on found at McLean Bog. Other specimens were found in boggy areas at Fall Creek, in Tompkins County.
"It just shows the complexity of the systems surrounding us," Liebherr said. "Sometimes finding these things are serendipitous."