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World's Tiniest Beetle Discovered In Colombia, New Study Reveals

Oct 12, 2015 05:39 PM EDT
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Featherwing Beetle
The featherwing beetle, also known as Scydosella musawasensis, is the smallest known free-living insect.
(Photo : Dr. Alexey Polilov)

Featherwing beetles are changing the meaning of the word "small" – at least as it applies to insects. Thats because a recently discovered family member, Scydosella musawasensis, came in a surprising 0.325mm in length, according to a recent study, making it the world's tiniest, free-living insect. 

This species was originally found in Nicaragua in 1999 but a recent study by Dr. Alexey Polilov, from Lomonosov Moscow State University was the first to thoroughly examine and measure the samples, according to a news release.

The tiny insects are characterized by their elongated oval body, yellowish-brown coloration and antennae split into 10 segments. They are also the only representative of this featherwing beetle genus, the researchers noted. 

Previously, researchers were unable to measure the beetle's size because preserved specimens were embedded in preparations for microscopy studies. Now, however, the specimens collected from Colombia were measured using specialized software and digital micrographs. 

The interesting thing about this tiny beetle is that it lives independently, rather than parasitically off of another organism, researchers explained. They generally inhabit areas with ample amounts of leaf-litter, decaying logs, compost heaps, tree holes, decaying fungi, animal dung or other organic matter – in other words, the perfect environments for molds and fungi upon which larvae and adult beetles feed. 

The species' range is also much wider than originally thought, which also means that localities of fungi and molds the tiny beetles feed on are also more widely distributed, according to the study that was recently published in the journal ZooKeys

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