Sunday Spinelessness – What the… ?

By David Winter 17/07/2011 3

Issac Asimov provided one of my favourite quotes about science

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…

Scientific questions are almost never solved in eureka moments. Answers take time, planning, analysis and, finally, results from multiple studies made available for the scientific community to scrutinize. But there plenty of exciting moments in science, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of noticing something that doesn’t quite fit with the way you think the world works. From there you can start spinning off theories that might explain the anomaly, and most excitingly, think how you might test those ideas against reality.

Something a little bit similar goes on in the life of a bug nerd. There are lots of creatures I’d love to see and never have. I’ve never seen a tardigrade, or a mantidfly [you really want to click that link, they’re amazing] and reading Ted’s blog means I’m forever looking out for one of our native tiger beetles. It’s definitely a thrill seeing finally seeing some creature that you’re read about and seen photos of, but it’s at least as exciting to see something you didn’t even know existed. For a bug nerd, “What the …” is just as exciting a phrase as “A’huh”, and that’s exactly what I said when I turned some tree bark and found this spiky little guy:

Just as “That’s funny …” is a trigger to hypothesising and mentally developing a research proposal, “What the …” is a precursor to reading searching, viewing and poking about in the hope of placing the strange creature into what we know about life. I have to admit I haven’t got very far in this particular example. The thickest of those tufts mark the back end of the animal, and I’m pretty confident it’s a beetle larva (you can make out two of the three legs on the near side of the body is this photo). Beyond that I’m a bit stuck, there are plenty of weevils with larvae that live under bark, but this doesn’t look like any I’ve been able to find. Similarly, quite a few beetles in the family Dermestidae (called ‘skin beetles’ since some species are scavengers of animal corpses and some even specialise in eating hide) have spikey looking larvae like this one, but I can’t find any helpful references for these beetles in New Zealand and don’t know if there is a give away as to whether this animal fits in that family. If anyone knows what this is, or might be, I’d love to learn!

3 Responses to “Sunday Spinelessness – What the… ?”

  • My first thought was Dermestidae as well. Normally the larvae are encountered feeding on carrion and dried carcasses, but the mature larvae of some species are known to bore into dead wood for pupation.

  • Cheers Ted,

    I returned this one to his tree when I was done (sort of failing to ) photograph him. Perhaps I should poke around a bit more and see if I can find another to rear inside and see what emerges

  • The way i see it “that’s funny” is a great starting point for an alert scientist, which if lucky will be followed by the “eureka moment” as he/she suddenly understands why it was “funny”.
    Eureka moments are few and far between, but I would still rate them as the highlight of research.