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New Beetle Species Unearthed at Orapa Diamond Mine Rewrites Evolutionary History

Botswana – The Orapa diamond mine, already renowned for its vast diamond reserves, has yielded another treasure: a new beetle species dating back to the Cretaceous period. Named Paleothius mckayi, this discovery pushes the boundaries of our understanding of these ancient creatures’ geographical and temporal distribution.

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The beetle, identified as a staphylinid rove beetle, is the first fossilized specimen of its kind found in Africa and the entire Southern Hemisphere. This finding highlights the Orapa mine as a crucial site for exploring past biodiversity, offering a glimpse into a world where these beetles coexisted with dinosaurs.

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Paleothius mckayi, named after renowned paleoentomologist Ian James McKay, boasts a distinctive elongated body, long antennae, and sharp mouthparts indicative of a predatory lifestyle. Its discovery in lake deposits suggests it once roamed the leaf litter surrounding an ancient crater lake in the region.

Rove beetles are known for their adaptability and mobility, thriving in diverse environments worldwide. They play a vital role in pest control, organic matter decomposition, and nutrient cycling within their ecosystems.

Previously, similar fossils have been found in locations like China, Russia, Myanmar, and England. The addition of Botswana to this list underscores the Orapa mine’s significance as a Cretaceous deposit teeming with diverse plant and insect life.

This discovery also lends credence to the concept of “punctuated evolution,” where some creatures evolve in sudden bursts after long periods of stability. Paleothius mckayi exhibits remarkable similarities to modern rove beetles, suggesting minimal evolutionary changes over millions of years.

The meticulous process of describing a new species from fossils involves detailed morphological analysis under various lighting conditions. This painstaking work often requires repeated examinations to identify unique characteristics that justify the classification of a new species.

Lead author Sandiso Mnguni emphasizes the significance of thorough examination, stating, “The more you look at the specimen, the better you understand it. You might notice details you missed before, which helps you describe it better.”

The researchers anticipate describing more fossil rove beetles and other insect groups from the Orapa deposits in the future. This highlights the untapped potential of the mine in furthering our understanding of Cretaceous ecosystems and the evolutionary paths of insects on Earth.

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