The background story definitely adds to the intrigue. Coincidentally, Canadian entomologist Professor Steve Marshall had visited Porongurup about 5 years ago specifically because Farhan Bokhari had previously photographed this very rare beetle here and had shared the locality information. Marshall wanted to photograph it himself for his upcoming book on beetle natural history and diversity but did not find it, and instead later got permission from Farhan to use his image. We met Professor Marshall during that visit. Without knowing his background story, I recently sent him our photos of this exact same beetle. You can imagine his amazement, and mine; when he told me how this beetle ‘had done the full circle!’ It is such a pleasure to be able to share our images and learnings with you here.
These guys have the most ancestral characteristics of ALL beetle species still living. They are from one of the oldest lineages going back to the beginnings of all Coleoptera (The Beetle family). They are the oldest living Australian beetle species – older than Gondwana itself! 200 million years ago they were more widespread but only four of the original eighteen species remain today. All four are endemic to Australia, with only one of the four found in Western Australia including right here in the Porongurup. The general morphology of Beutelius rutherfordi diverges considerably from the other three species. The affinities and taxonomic placement of it are not yet clear and more work needs to be done.
They are rare, very rare, and knowledge of them is equally scarce. There is only 5 adult specimens and a single larva specimen in existence! The fact that it has been so well described and named from so few specimens is testimony to its importance. This critter is absolutely significant as far as beetles go but it is by no means the only critter to be amazed at in this place that in itself is incredibly ancient.
Why does it matter? Because knowledge is powerful. By understanding the evolutionary processes that enabled critters like this to survive, despite the odds, can only be a good thing for a whole host of reasons – a much bigger conversation for another day.
But more about the beetle! Without a degree in beetle morphology, it is fair to say Beutelius exhibit a number of stand-out features. Besides its Jurassic origins, it has a unique combination of spines and scales covering its body. It is the male that is flightless (rare among beetles) and lives in rotting logs or underground! According to CSIRO entomologist Dr John Lawrence, who described this beetle, ‘it’s a living fossil and is living proof that Australia still harbours an enormous wealth of ancient animals and plants which remain unknown and undiscovered’. Going forward, Professor Marshall makes the valid point ‘What exactly was the beetle doing in the field? So little is known about the biology of these things that every observation is interesting!’ There is still so much we don’t know.
Rumi Quotes ~ ‘If our eyes are opened, we will see the things worth seeing’