This Newly Discovered Fluffy Beetle Is Cuter’n A Bug’s Ear

This Newly Discovered Fluffy Beetle Is Cuter’n A Bug’s Ear

Newly discovered Autralian beetle almost mistaken for bird poo

This Newly Discovered Fluffy Beetle Is Cuter’n A Bug’s Ear

Serendipitous discovery of a new longhorn beetle species that was almost mistaken for a bird poop on a leaf

A PhD student at the University of Queensland recently discovered a new genus of longhorn beetle whilst camping in an ancient rainforest on Australia’s Gold Coast.

“I was walking through the campsite at Binna Burra Lodge one morning and something on a Lomandra leaf caught my eye,” said discoverer, entomologist James Tweed, in a statement.

The Binna Burra Ecotourism Lodge is located within Lamington National Park in southeast Queensland. Lamington National Park is part of the ancient Gondwana Rainforests of Australia’s World Heritage Area, and is home to a variety of unusual wildlife and birds, particularly the rare Albert’s lyrebird. ‘Binna Burra’ is an Aboriginal phrase meaning ‘where the beech tree grows,’ referring to a stand of Antarctic Beech growing nearby.

“To my amazement, I saw the most extraordinary and fluffiest longhorn beetle I had ever seen,” continued Mr Tweed, whose doctoral research focuses on the conservation, ecology, and taxonomy of Norfolk Island insects.

This remarkable beetle was tiny — less than half an inch long.

“Measuring 9.7 millimeters, it was a striking red and black beauty covered in long white hairs.”

But he’d never seen anything like it before. After the trip, Mr Tweed got to work. He searched scientific papers, books, and online images for a match to his marvelous fluffy insect but nothing looked even remotely similar.

Plenty of interest and commentary ensued after Mr Tweed posted photographs of his find to an Australasian Beetles Only Facebook group, but even the most expert beetle specialists there couldn’t identify it. Finally, an email to the experts at the Australian National Insect Collection, the world’s largest collection of Australasian insects. After examining tens of thousands of specimens from museums all over the country, they confirmed the fluffy beetle was indeed a completely new species.

But only later, when Mr Tweed took his beetle to ANIC to compare it to their extensive collections that everyone realize that he had not just stumbled across a new species, but this insect was an entirely new genus of longhorn beetles.

As discoverer, Mr Tweed and his taxonomic collaborators, had the honor of giving the beetle its scientific name.

“We chose the name, Excastra, for the genus, which is Latin for ‘from the camp,’ and for the species name, we decided on albopilosa which translates to ‘white and hairy’.”

Why is this particular beetle so fuzzy? To my eye, the beetle almost appears to have evolved its fuzz as some sort of disguise to hide it from predators.

“We don’t yet know what these hairs are for, but our primary theory is that they make the insect look like it’s been killed by an insect-killing fungus,” Mr Tweed speculated.

“This would possibly deter predators such as birds from eating it, but until someone can find more specimens and study this species further, we won’t be able to say for sure why this beetle is so hairy.”

How did this unusual beetle remain undiscovered until now? Isn’t this area a popular destination for entomologists who are keen to find new species?

“The area near Lamington National Park has been popular with entomologists for more than 100 years so it’s puzzling that it hasn’t been found until now,” Mr Tweed agreed.

But despite its distinctive appearance, this beetle is quite small and thus, could be easily overlooked — or mistaken for bird poop. It also might be quite rare.

“I’ve been back several times to look for more of them but haven’t had any luck,” Mr Tweed added.

For the time being, this remarkable longhorn beetle is the only known representative for its entire species and genus in the world. According to Mr Tweed, serendipitous discoveries like these highlight how many unknown species are out there and how many of those could be under threat from extinction.

“We’re experiencing rapid declines in biodiversity globally, and it’s difficult to conserve species if we don’t even know they exist,” Mr Tweed pointed out.

“Insects are the most diverse group of animals on the planet but are also the most underappreciated and understudied,” Mr Tweed added.

“Best estimates suggest there may be 5.5 million insect species worldwide and only one-fifth of these have been named and described.”


James M.H. Tweed, Lauren G. Ashman & Adam Ślipiński (2024). Excastra albopilosa, a remarkable new genus and species of Lamiinae (Insecta: Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) from southeastern Queensland, Australia, Australian Journal of Taxonomy 54:1-8 | doi:10.54102/ajt.iv1x5

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