USDA nets enormous private collection of beetles

So many types of Agrilus

By an anonymous spokesperson at the USDA, with a little assist by ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 1/18/22

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL) at the USDA has acquired what may be the world’s largest private collection of beetles in the genus Agrilus.

Agrilus has a …

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USDA nets enormous private collection of beetles

So many types of Agrilus

Posted

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL) at the USDA has acquired what may be the world’s largest private collection of beetles in the genus Agrilus.

Agrilus has a wide variety of jewel beetles, from the pretty-but-invasive emerald ash borer to the newly discovered Agrilus andersoni Hespenheide and tens of thousands in between. Maybe more! They’re still finding them!

But the SEL now has a significant chunk of beetleage for research purposes. The Eduard Jendek beetle collection, developed over the last 30 to 40 years in Slovakia, “boasts,” says the press release, “over 25,000 specimens, making it one of the largest private collections of metallic wood-boring beetles in the world.” That translates to 80 percent of the known species in South and Southeast Asia.

And even so, that’s only half the total Agrilus known.

How does one get so many beetles?

It took hundreds of expeditions in “highly remote and difficult to access areas that have since been deforested or are no longer accessible,” says a USDA spokesperson.

“The result of Jendek’s efforts is manifested now in a collection that includes thousands of authoritatively identified specimens, many reared from recorded host plants and rare species known only from the single type specimen,” said ARS research entomologist Lourdes Chamorro. “The collection is also especially unique in that it is databased and includes specimens from new, unpublished distribution records.”

Jendek has a beetle named after him, Agrilus dureli Jendek.

Why does this massive amount of beetles matter?

Yes, the giant collection of beetles is awe-inspiring. And, for some of us, a little bit funny. But there’s a serious note here.

Members of the genus Agrilus are often considered potentially invasive and, therefore, destructive towards agriculture, forestry and other natural resources, according to the USDA. The beetle poses a threat to ash trees in the eastern United States, and in two recent instances, the collection and Eduard Jendek have been the only ones to confirm the identity of these new pests.

SEL researchers will use the collection to prepare and prevent future beetle-related economic damage as they study the species and make predictions about the next serious pest that shares the same genes.

“With the current advances in sequencing DNA from pinned specimens,” said ARS research associate Kojun Kanda, “we also hope to use this material to gather molecular data that can be used for identification purposes and to study the evolution of various traits like host-plant usage.”

Several agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (ARS, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to acquire the collection from Eduard Jendek. It is housed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

“Because the collector is a world expert on this group, the collection is well-curated and all specimens identified,” said Floyd Shockley, entomology collection manager of the National Museum of Natural History. “This really is one of those once- or twice-in-a-career major acquisitions.”

Want to know more about beetles? Visit the Smithsonian’s beetle page, https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/beetle, for lots of great information  on the order and some attractively photographed members of it. Wikipedia’s entry for Agrilus is an impressively long list of species.  

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