Two new species of poorly known earth-boring beetles discovered from Maharashtra, India

Coleoptera is an insect order comprising of beetles and weevils and has economic and ecological importance. This order is the most speciose, including more than 3,89,487 extant species under 176 families worldwide (Zhang, 2013). There are about 22,334 species of beetles reported from India (Chandra et al. 2018). Out of these, there are 420 species of dung beetle placed in 38 genera in India (Mittal & Jain, 2015). Generally, when we speak about insects, an image of a disgusting creature comes to the mind of many of us. But, insects are an important component of our ecosystem. Many of them are pests on most economic crops, medicinal plants, and forest trees; some are important as they are used in Industries (Silk Industry, Apiculture, Lac culture, food industry, etc.), which helps pollinate plants. Also, they are a secondary source of food for birds, bats, etc.

The present article deals with the discovery of two new species of earth-boring beetles from Maharashtra, India. Researcher’s Dr. Aparna Sureshchandra Kalawate discovered the two new species of beetle from Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Western Regional Centre (WRC), Pune and Dr. Oliver Hillert from Berlin, Germany. Dr. Aparna, the lead researcher, describes these earth-boring beetles: they are classified under the superfamily Scarabaeoidea of order Coleoptera having clubbed antennae and their legs are modified to burrow deep in the soil. Further, she explained that, by burrowing deep into the soil, they help improve the nutrient recycling of the soil, soil aeration, improve the texture of soil and helps in seed (present in the animal faeces) dispersal from one place to another and burying them. There are generally two groups in the dung beetle fauna. The one group feeds on animal dung and burying it in the soil. The other group is polyphagous herbivores causing economic losses to agricultural crops by feeding on a wide variety of crops.  

Dr. Aparna Sureshchandra Kalawate, while studying the unidentified collections of beetles housed at ZSI, WRC, Pune belonging to the Bolboceratidae family of dung beetles by came across a series of beetles that could not be associated with any of the already known species of the genus Bolboceras. She informed the same to her collaborator Dr. Hillert and they started working on describing the species. The new species are named as Bolboceras bopdevense and  Bolboceras trimbakense. They are named based on the “type locality” (collection locality). The discovery is published in the latest issue of the Zootaxa (23, April 2021), an International peer-reviewed journal on animal taxonomy, said Dr. Hillert.  

The genus Bolboceras, Kirby, 1819 is mainly the south Asian genus with a few representatives from tropical Africa. Dr. Aparna further explained these species, “it is a complex group and hence, less work has been carried out on this particular group”. With the addition of these two new species, the genus is now represented by 25 species from the world and 18 of them are known from India. The identification of the species was done from the morphological and genitalial characters. As said earlier about its cryptic nature, relying only on the morphological characters will not help as the adults look morphologically similar with some differences. Hence, dissection of male genitalia serves the purpose of delineation of species. Dr. Aparna informed, “Earlier in 2018, one species Bolboceras sahyadriense was discovered from Satara district of Maharashtra by us”.

Adults of this genus are nocturnal, living usually in deep burrows in the soil. Scientists differ in the opinion of the feeding habits of these beetles. Some have reported that members of the Bolboceratini tribe have a specialized habit of feeding on subterranean fungi. Some say that the feeding habits are still entirely unknown, added Dr. Hillert. The distribution of the new species, Bolboceras bopdevense is from Bopdev Ghat, Kondhwa taluk, Pune district, Maharashtra, and Bolboceras trimbakense from Trimbakeshwar, Nashik district, Maharashtra, India. The females of these groups are sexually dimorphic and challenging to identify.

Reference

Aparna Sureshchandra Kalawate & Oliver Hiller. Two new species of the genus Bolboceras Kirby, 1819 (Coleoptera: Bolboceratidae: Bolboceratinae) from India with an updated identification key of the Bolboceras nigricans Westwood, 1848 species group. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4964.3.7; http://zoobank.org/urn:lsid:zoobank.org:pub:9DCEC917-64BE-4955-B7CD-DF5E15FBDAF4

About author

Dr. Aparna Sureshchandra Kalawate is currently working as a scientist in the Zoological Survey of India. She did her Ph.D. in Agricultural Entomology from Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri, Maharashtra, in Pesticide residues management under the supervision of Dr. M.D. Dethe. She is presently working on the taxonomy of Moths and Scarab beetles at Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Western Regional Centre (WRC), Pune. ZSI is a premier institute for taxonomy and systematics, and so she is involved in the inventory, taxonomy, and systematics of Moths and Scarab beetles of the Northern Western Ghats. 

Many moths and scarab beetles are cryptic in nature. It is challenging to identify them on the basis of morphological characters and hence integrated taxonomy comes to the aid. She has described three new moth species and two subspecies from the cryptic moth genus Olepa Watson, 1980 (Lepidoptera: Erebidae: Arctiinae) namely, Olepa zedesi Kalawate in Kalawate, Dinesh & Shabnam, 2020; Olepa ghatmatha Kalawate in Kalawate, Dinesh & Shabnam, 2020; Olepa suryamal Kalawate in Kalawate, Dinesh & Shabnam, 2020; Olepa suryamal rekhae Kalawate in Kalawate, Dinesh & Shabnam, 2020; Olepa schleini chandrai Kalawate in Kalawate, Pawara, Shabnam & Dinesh, 2020. She has recorded a new record of Olepa schleini Witt et al. 2005 a Palearctic species from the Satpura ranges of Maharashtra, India. The crypticity of this cryptic genus was solved with the description of morphological, genitalial and DNA barcode studies. She is working on the taxonomy and systematics of scarab beetles in beetles, commonly called dung beetles. She has described three beetle species new to science, namely, Bolboceras sahyadriense Kalawate and Hillert, 2018; Bolboceras bopdevense Kalawate and Hillert2021and Bolboceras trimbakense Kalawate and Hillert, 2021. Taxonomic studies are basic science and proper identification of any species, especially those species, major and minor pests on many economic crops. The above-said genus Olepa is a little pest on many crops like castor. With proper knowledge of the species, one can adequately utilise the management practises to control them without damaging the natural ecosystem of the crops. 

Before joining ZSI, she worked as a scientist in the Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute (IPIRTI), Bangalore, an Autonomous Institute under MOEF&CC, New Delhi, in Wood Preservation Division from 2008 to 2014. She has an Indian patent on “Wood preservatives and a method for protecting wood and wood-based panel products,” bearing Patent No. 297510. She has completed many in-house and sponsored projects from various agencies as PI of the project. She has published almost 50 research papers, eight popular articles, 1 Book, and 2 Book chapters, and many are in press. 

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Edited by: Dolly Singh

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