Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Finally, a rove beetle post!

One of my current projects involves the revision (or better, "a review") of the genus Trigonopselaphus. The name (as it is currently defined in Herman 2001) does not mean much and this is part of the reason why I am working on this review. These are truly amazing rove beetles, some with lengths over 20 mm and bright metallic coloration. They are also extremely rare in collections with just a handful of specimens known in all major collections.

Taxonomy had always such a great appeal to me because part of what you do is detective work - you try to figure out what happened to names (and specimens!) since they were originally proposed. Usually the work is rewarding but sometimes frustrating and perhaps disappointing, especially when you realize that historical specimens are lost forever.

One such story is the fate of Trigonopselaphus herculeanus (Laporte), 1835. The species was described originally in the genus Staphylinus (like anything else in those early days) by Laporte, whose full name was Fran├žois Louis Nompar de Caumont LaPorte, comte de Castelnau. Neal Evenhuis wrote recently a great paper in Zootaxa regarding Laporte and the mysterious loss of (part of) his collection. To make a long story short, Laporte decided to donate his personal collection to the USA and the collection arrived in the National Institution (later to be called Smithsonian) in 1842. Unfortunately, that collection was destroyed by fire in 1865. But perhaps the type of T. herculeanus was not included in the materials destroyed by fire?

A second collection of Laporte is held today in Australia at Museum Victoria but that collection contains only his later materials. Ken Walker (curator at Museum Victoria) explained to me that Laporte kept little cardboard drawings of all the species he did not have for his second collection. And unfortunately, a drawing of T. herculeanus was present in his Staphylinidae drawer at the Museum Victoria.