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Living fossil among world’s smallest beetles

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have revealed the family relationships between the world’s smallest beetles, the featherwing beetles. There are more than 800 species of featherwings around the world with one described as a living fossil.
A beetle, Motschulskium sinuatocolle.
Motschulskium sinuatocolle, a living fossil. Photo: Mikael Sörensson

Despite the fact that featherwing beetles are common, it is an unknown animal group, according to biologist Mikael Sörensson at Lund University. In a new study, together with his colleague Juan Delgado from the University of Murcia in Spain, he has mapped the family ties between the more than 800 species, of which approximately 80 are found in Sweden.

They carried out the mapping with the help of larvae. The bristles on the larvae create patterns that reveal both the family relationships as well as the featherwing beetles’ closest relatives.

On three different occasions, the featherwings invaded an environment entirely different to forests – namely the seashore. Today, a small number of species live on beaches under rotting seaweed.

“One of the species, Motschulskium sinuatocolle, can be considered a living fossil. The species only exists along the north-western beaches of North America. It demonstrates many primitive characteristics which has led to my colleague and I being able to classify it as new basal branch of the featherwing family tree and a living fossil”, says Mikael Sörensson.

“It is quite simply something ancient that has managed to remain on earth without developing much at all.”

The researchers’ results were recently published in an article in the respected journal Invertebrate Systematics.  

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