By Michael L. Ferro
Amazingly, many animals can only be told apart by their tallywhackers, and there is one that is so amazing that it needs to be named after the man with a million balls: Stephen Colbert. And YOU can support the project that will make this happen at https://experiment.com/sonoma!
For whatever reason — no one’s entirely sure — some species diverge, and although they may look the same from the outside, a thorough inspection of the “Old Chap” will show that they are definitely different.
I work on little rove beetles in the genus Sonoma. They’re fierce predators of springtails and live in leaf litter. There was supposedly only one species in the eastern U.S., but when I started looking closely, I found a bunch of different wangs, and before the dust settled I had sixteen different dongs in hand!
Getting a look at these “Pirates of Men’s Pants” isn’t easy. They’re internal, so you have to dissect the 2-mm long beetle to get to its 0.25-mm long “Undercover Brother” — not a simple operation.
I described 15 new eastern U.S. species, but it turns out there are also undescribed species in the West. I’m now describing 14 new species and am re-illustrating genitalia for 40 already-described species (to help with ID). Each drawing takes about 6–8 hours.
Why care about little brown beetles? Humans are music makers, comedians, singers, and explorers. We explore the Earth, the stars, the atoms, and all forms of life. A species represents a unique twig on the tree of life — the newest member of a chain of ancestors and decedents that stretches back, unbroken, for more than 3.5 billion years. To describe a new species is to discover a portion of the universe that no one has ever explored before.
Even better are the new mysteries that species create: I have in hand at least 11 species of Sonoma from one mountain in Oregon! How do they coexist? Are they found at different elevations? Active at different times of the year? Do they live in different levels of the leaf litter? No one knows.
So what are the goals of this research?
1. To describe 14 new species, complete with an illustration of each species’ aedeagus (a doodle of it’s “Doodle”), and to name the one with the gnarliest knob after Stephen Colbert!
2. To re-illustrate the wee-wee for all of the old western species so we have spanking new illustrations of every Sonoma schlong (to help with ID).
3. Most of the specimens are 30+ years old, so we have no DNA! This project will get fresh specimens and DNA to test if Sonoma is one genus or two (or three!) and to help figure out where the weird genus Megarafonus fits.
Yes, Stephen Colbert has had species named after him before, but (let’s Donald Trump this): “This is the best, most-awesome species that’s ever been discovered by man. It’s four times cooler than a unicorn. Next to being me (Donald Trump), nothing could be greater than to have this species named after you!”
Contributing the price of a cup of coffee can be fun, and it will enable lasting research that will survive for generations and give us a better understanding of the magnificent universe we live in.
Please visit https://experiment.com/sonoma to participate.
Michael Ferro is collection manager at the Clemson University Arthropod Collection. Even though he has an adult job, he never really grew up. He spent his youth playing in the mud and collecting bugs on a little farm in Missouri. To date, he’s been involved with 20 refereed publications (even one on folklore about a tree), has described 17 new species (Staphylinidae: Sonoma and Batrisodes), has published on almost 60,000 specimens, and has done some nice traveling. Visit http://www.spongymesophyll.com for publications and other odd adventures he’s undertaken on the web.