South Africa: New Cape Diving Beetle an ‘Evolutionary Relic’

A new diving beetle species has been discovered in the Noordhoek area of Cape Town and has been described as an evolutionary relic.

Dr David Bilton of Plymouth University, who lead the new species identification process, said: “Our study of DNA sequences shows that the closest relatives of Capelatus [Cape diving beetle] live thousands of miles away, and that they last shared a common ancestor around 30-40 million years ago”.

The Cape diving beetle is so different from any of the world’s other diving beetles that it has been placed in a new group all on its own, with its nearest relations to be found around the Mediterranean and in New Guinea.

“This beetle’s a real evolutionary relic, which only seems to have survived in a very small area close to Cape Town, probably because this region has had a relatively stable climate over the last few million years,” Bilton said in a Plymouth University statement.

Bilton’s team used a combination of morphological (or structural) and molecular (DNA) data to study the beetle. It was established as a highly distinctive, and apparently endangered member of the world fauna.

The beetle is between 8mm to 10mm in size. Its feet, wing cases, genitalia and size are so unique that it was put it into a category of its own, and, therefore, placed in its own genus.

Capelatus prykei was named after Stellenbosch University (SU) entomologist, Dr James Pryke, who collected it in dense vegetation in local wetlands in 2006 while he was doing research for his PhD on arthropod conservation.

“I certainly didn’t expect to have it name after me. I am very happy about that – it is quite an honour,” said Pryke, who lectures in landscape ecology, conservation management and meta-population dynamics in the SU Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology.

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