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Whirligig Beetles Collected In Alabama Help Identify Unknown Museum Specimens

Nov 10, 2015 12:55 PM EST

A new species of whirligig beetle has been spotted in the U.S. Researchers from the University of New Mexico stumbled upon the new species while hunting for a similar whirligig beetle in Alabama's Conecuh National Forest.

Whirligig beetles, which belong to the family Gyrinidae, are named after their odd twirling swimming patterns. Even though they can swim effortlessly on the surface of undisturbed ponds, lakes, or streams, they will quickly dive underwater when threatened. When researchers came across the new species, Dineutus shorti, they noticed it looked similar to 11 unidentified specimens housed at the Enns Entomology Museum in Missouri. 

"When I got back and checked my samples, sure enough, it was the same species," Grey Gustafson, a Ph.D. student at the University of New Mexico, said in a news release. "It was lucky that somebody had originally noticed that this was potentially new, and that the natural history collection was around to preserve the specimens and that Dr. Sites contacted me. And then it was even more serendipitous that I happened to stumble upon it."

Gustafson identified the new species with the help of Dr. Robert Sites, an entomologist at the University of Missouri's Enns Entomology Museum. Their findings were recently published in the journal Annals of the Entomological Society of America.

The short, clubbed antenna of whirligigs also sets them apart from other beetles. Additionally, they have two pairs of compound eyes that allow them to see predators above water and hunt prey below. Generally the beetles are black, but sometimes have a bronze or metallic glow. The bugs are known to benefit the environment by cleaning the water of dead or dying insects and helping control other freshwater invertebrates. In turn, they act as a main food source for nearby fish.

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