Defining, grouping and naming stag beetle species has turned out to be difficult but fun.
Three views of male Lamprima aurata from North Queensland
Photographer: Kindi Smith © Australian Museum
The prettiest stag beetles in the world are in Australia and New Guinea and are coloured like jewels. But, being pretty, there is also a pretty big mess associated with naming them. We tried to make sense of all the names.
Beautiful beetles attract collectors, and collectors like to have their specimens named. In the past, collectors didn’t have the ability to transmit photos to each other – other people's species were often unknown and ignored. In a group like the golden stag beetles, genus Lamprima, this has led to an anarchy of names.
It seems like everyone and their dog has had a go. Every single colour variety, shape, size and remotely collected stag beetle specimen has been given a name. What do these 41 names mean? Is there just one species, a few or many?
We looked at 1200 specimens from many collections representing all parts of Australia and New Guinea. We measured, dissected and plotted them. As is usual in beetles, close scrutiny of genitalia was important.
We found only 5 species. Most significantly, one of these is only known from a single specimen collected about 100 years ago, which makes it one of the rarest of beetles, if it isn’t already extinct. In contrast, another species turns out to be found throughout eastern and southern Australia, where it seems to vary according to climate. The vivid colours of this species show geographic distributions which suggest they are linked to climate variation. The conundrum continues as we sort through our results, so standby for the next instalment…
Chris Reid, Kindi Smith & Max Beatson