Most of us don’t think twice about insect genitalia, but entomologists are obsessed with it. They have to be. It’s an important way to tell the difference between species that may otherwise have a lot of similarities. Some genitalia are more surprising than others. A team of scientists from the Natural History Museum of Denmark went in search of previously undescribed species and discovered a male beetle with a sexual organ shaped like a bottle opener. The researchers hope it will spark public interest in insects threatened by climate change.
There are different kinds of bottle openers. This one is the type that acts like a lever with an extension that slips under the cap and a part that goes over the top to help peel the cap off the bottle. The research team gave the beetle an appropriate name: Loncovilius carlsbergi. That should ring a bell for fans of Danish beers.
The South American species is one of six new rove beetles the research team found in insect collections at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and other facilities. These archives often contain unidentified or misidentified species, offering scientists a chance to dive in and make new discoveries. The research team published its results in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society in late October.
The researchers didn’t just pull any old beer name out of a hat. Loncovilius carlsbergi honors the Carlsberg Foundation, an organization that funds science research. Carlsberg brewery founder J.C. Jacobsen started the foundation in 1876. “Their support for various projects, expeditions, or purchase of the scientific instruments at the Natural History Museum of Denmark contributes to the discovery of new species on our planet,” said study co-author Aslak Kappel Hansen in a University of Copenhagen statement on Monday.
Rove beetles in the family Staphylinidae tend to hang out in moist environments among leaf litter, according to the University of Florida. Rove beetles are widespread, but there’s a lot left to learn about them. “Staphylinidae is the largest family of beetles, with over 63,000 species known worldwide and probably over 75% of tropical species still undescribed,” the university said.
Loncovilius carlsbergi is a bit different from most of its peers. The Loncovilius beetles in Chile and Argentina live on flowers. “We suspect that they play an important role in the ecosystem. So, it’s worrying that nearly nothing is known about this type of beetles, especially when they’re so easy to spot – and some of them are even quite beautiful,” said study co-author Josh Jenkins Shaw. “Unfortunately, we can easily lose species like these before they’re ever discovered.”
Scientists have been sounding alarms over the loss of biodiversity due to human-caused climate change. A report from earlier this year warned that nearly half of the planet’s animal species are now in decline. The Loncovilius researchers said simulations show climate change could negatively impact the beetles’ habitat area. This highlights the need for describing previously unidentified species. “A taxonomic name is important because nature conservation relies on knowledge about species in particular areas. Without such a description, species are often left out of conservation efforts,” said Jenkins Shaw.
The researchers aren’t sure why the beetle’s penis evolved into its notable shape, but the resemblance was too strong to ignore. The team went the extra mile and created a model of the beetle’s genitalia in stainless steel. It’s now a functioning bottle opener scaled for human use. The team plans to put the opener into production. That means you could pop a cold one with a beetle’s private parts, and hopefully have a meaningful discussion about insects and climate change while you imbibe.