Stephen Colbert gets his own beetle

A. colberti, the new species of dytiscid beetle
A. colberti, the new beetle species

Stephen Colbert, that humble, modest satirist who shuns the spotlight and demurely rejects recognition, finally has an animal named after him: a species of Neotropical diving beetle, Agaporomorphus colberti.

The two taxonomists who named the species, Kelly Miller at UNM and Quentin Wheeler at ASU, are no stranger to naming new species after famous people, having named beetles after Roy Orbison and his widow Barbara (Orectochilus orbisonorum); Darth Vader (Agathidium vaderi); and former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Agathidium bushi, A. cheneyi and A. rumsfeldi).

The researchers’ decision was a response to Colbert’s request last year to have “something cooler than a spider” named after him. The pair sent Colbert a photo of the beetle and a card for his 45th birthday on May 13.

Says Miller:

“Last year, Stephen shamelessly asked the science community to name something cooler than a spider to honor him. His top choices were a giant ant or a laser lion. While those would be cool species to discover, our research involves beetles, and they are ‘way cooler’ than a spider any day.”

The new beetle was discovered among unidentified beetles at the United States National Collection of Insects (USNM). This species, native to the American tropics, is unique among other species in the genus because of its “extremely complicated male genitalia,” characterized by a series of hair-like structures “on each side of the dorsal midline of the male median lobe,'” write the authors in their paper in the journal Zootaxa.

Incidentally, the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University (of which Wheeler is director) annually selects a list of “Top 10” new species described in the previous year. The Top 10 from 2008 will be announced May 23, on the anniversary of birth of Linnaeus, the founder of our taxonomic system. The list is selected by international committee of taxonomists and has criteria ranging from creativity of names to unusual size or coloration. Last year’s list can be viewed here.

Miller, K.B., & Wheeler, Q.D. (2008). A new species of Agaporomorphus Zimmermann from Venezuela, and a review of the A. knischi species group (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae: Copelatinae) Zootaxa

Author: Christine Buckley

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