One of the many things that interests me is entomology…so much so that I am now a graduate student in entomology. One of the great things about being a part of the Entomology Department is that you are surrounded by like-minded geeks, and it is not uncommon to hear things like “Dude, I just saw this paper about a Cerambycid with stinging antenna! How cool is that?!”
Well, quite frankly, that is really freakin’ awesome! How have I not heard of this until now??
So a brief summary: Cerambycidae is the family name of a group of beetles that are typically referred to as the “longhorn beetles”. When I say “family”, I am talking the scientific classification: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Anyone remember biology class? King Phillip Came Over For Good Soup? Seriously people, work with me here. These guys belong to the Kingdom Animalia, just like us and unlike plants. They belong to the Phylum Arthropoda, which is where we jump off the bandwagon and go join the other mammals, and the Class Insecta, which is where lobsters, crabs and the like all bid a fond adieu and part ways with their six-legged relatives. Now we start dividing up the insects, separating out the butterflies and moths from the wasps and bees. Beetles of all sorts end up in the Order Coleoptera, which is actually a fairly impressive order when you examine the numbers. According to the 1992 book “Global Biodiversity: status of the Earth’s living resources“, beetle species make up 20% of all known species! Impressive enough, until they mention that only an estimated one out of every five to ten beetle species have actually been described. That, my friend, is a lot of beetles.
Anyhow, the beetles we are talking about belong to the Family Cerambycidae, and as their name suggests, they tend to be noted for having long ‘horns’, or antennae, like this guy:
Typically antennae (plural for antenna, by the way) fill the role for insects that our noses play for us. They are olfactory sensors, and do not usually play the role of death-dealing appendage. There are a number of venomous creatures in this world, but true stinging appendages have only ever been identified in scorpions and some wasps…until these guys were discovered:
Meet Onychocerus albitarsis, who hails from the moist lowland forests of southeastern Peru. To follow up on our earlier lesson on taxonomy, this guys belongs to the Genus Onychocerus and the Species O. albitarsis, since species names are always given as a two-part name (genus and species). This guy…well, actually it is a girl, according to the paper…was described in a short communication entitled “Convergent evolution in the antennae of a cerambycid beetle, Onychocerus albitarsis, and the sting of a scorpion” by Berkov, et al.
Frankly, I think it makes more sense to have your stingers on your antennae, rather than sticking out of your butt…though the location admittedly does not make wasps or scorpions any less threatening. Anyhow, I thought this was awesome and wanted to share. Enjoy!