New Beetle Species Named After Both Charles Darwin and David Sedaris

By Ben Wolford on February 12, 2014 9:04 AM EST

Beetle
Charles Darwin discovered a new species of rove beetle in 1832, but the specimen was lost to science. (Photo: University of Tennessee at Cha)

Now David Sedaris can say he has a beetle named after him. Along with Charles Darwin, who spotted the insect in South America in 1832, the beetle will henceforth be known as Darwinilus sedarisi, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga announced Wednesday.

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Dr. Stylianos Chatzimanolis, a University of Tennessee entomologist, discovered and described the insect in an article published in the journal ZooKeys. Chatzimanolis is perhaps the world's greatest admirer of a distinctly icky-looking family of beetle called Staphylinidae, or rove beetle in common terms. He maintains a blog called Rove Beetle Musings, where he recently wrote, "I would be a millionaire if I had a penny for each specimen I had identified in collections around the world."

This one won't make him a millionaire, but it's definitely an interesting find. In 1832, the great biologist Darwin set off on his famous expedition, during which he made the observations that would change the way we think about life and the human species. But before he described evolution, he stopped in a place called Bahia Blanca, a coastal town in Argentina. There he gathered some fossils and some insects. One of them was this rove beetle.

But it was lost and never documented scientifically until now, more than 180 years later on Darwin's birthday, Feb. 12. Apparently the Natural History Museum in London mislabeled or misplaced it. "I received on loan several insects from the Museum in London, and to my surprise I realized that one of them was collected by Darwin," Dr. Chatzimanolis said in a statement. "Finding a new species is always exciting; finding one collected by Darwin is truly amazing." Less exciting is the fact that nobody has seen a living Darwinilus sedarisi since 1935. Two specimens are known. "One certainly hopes that a newly described species is not already extinct," Chatzimanolis said.

Typically the discoverer gets to pick the name. The Darwin part is obvious, but the Sedaris part is not. Chatzimanolis didn't mention it, and Sedaris' agent did not immediately respond to an email. It's not uncommon, however, for new species to be named after random famous people or even fictional characters. In 2012 a new species of fish was named after Barack Obama. And in 2011 a new fungus borrowed from the Nickelodeon cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants. It's calledSpongiforma squarepantsii. 

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