The Darwin Beetle

Like most modern biologists, Charles Darwin ranks high on my short list of intellectual/entomological heroes. Actually, with all due respect to others on the list—Carl Linnaeus, Alfred Russell Wallace, John Lawrence LeConte, and others, Darwin sits at #1. His theory of evolution, offered more than 150 years ago to a powerfully skeptical world, continues to provide the basic framework for modern biology (as Theodosius Dobzhansky said in his 1973 paper in American Biology Teacher, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”). Thus, when Max Barclay recently posted on Facebook a photograph of a beetle collected by Charles Darwin himself, it reminded me that I have yet to visit Down House in Kent (the home of Charles Darwin) or to see anything personally touched by the man whose legacy I revere more than any other. Little did I know that Max did not post the photo from The Natural History Museum in London, but from Austin, Texas where he and I were each arriving for the annual meetings of the Entomological Society of America. When I commented on his post how I would love to see a beetle collected by Darwin someday, Max replied that he had the specimen with him and that he would bring it to the meetings for me to see (and I quote, “Most fun it has had since it flew to 22-year-old Charles Darwin’s gas lamp in Tierra Del Fuego in December 1832”). Can you imagine my anticipation?! True to his word, Max found me at the opening reception, came up from behind me, and placed  the plastic, see-through box housing the specimen on the table in front of me. I recognized it instantly, but still seeing “C. Darwin” on the label almost felt like I’d just met the man himself. I asked Max if it was okay to open the box, to which he agreed, and I even dared to grab the pin head and re-position the specimen for photographs. Call me crazy, but it was as spiritual an experience as I’ve had since, well… “Mrs. Ples” stood before me!

At any rate, here is the “Darwin Beetle,” followed by proof that I really got to hold it!

Sericoides glacialis (Fabricius), collected at Tierro del Fuego in 1832 by Charles Darwin.

Scarab beetle collected at Tierro del Fuego in 1832 by Charles Darwin. Identified as Sericoides glacialis (Fabricius) by Andrew B. T. Smith in 2012 after standing for many years as ‘Sericodes Reichii Guer.’

Holding the ''Darwin Beetle''

Holding the ”Darwin Beetle”

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

17 thoughts on “The Darwin Beetle

  1. Maybe I mentioned this when I saw the original post, but soem years ago, the AMNH had a display of beetles and other insects collected by Darwin. What I recall best is that, as in your photo, the specimens looked as if they could have been collected in the past few weeks. The only thing that gave their age away was not the specimens, but the pins. many of which were coated with verdigris. The insects last longer than the metal pins!

  2. Very cool Ted! I just received a couple buprestids to examine and froze when I read the date of the first specimen I picked up….1833! It looked like it could have been collected last week.

  3. I visited Down house two years ago and walked the path behind the house that Darwin used to walk every day – even saw a couple of fawns there in the bushes. Very, very much worthwhile, and a completely awe-inspiring visit.

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  5. I’ve been to Down House, various sites in Cambridge, and the Natural History Museum in London. Get thee to these places, Ted! 🙂

  6. It would be fascinating to know exactly where Darwin collected this specimen.
    I am currently on a yacht in the Beagle channel, and in a particular rather far-flung location in the fiords (in the area in which the Beagle sailed) I recently observed an incredible number of what appears to be this speices. They were crawling all over the decks and their carcases formed a crust on the mooring lines. But I have never observed even one in any other location, and judging from a lack of information about them online I assume they are not normally very common or widespread.


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