Prehistoric Beasties!

Federica Turco is a post-doctoral research fellow working at Queensland Museum. She and research associate, Geoff Monteith, are investigating some amazing beetles living in dark caves near Rockhampton. These beetles have been around since the Pleistocene epoch (approx 2.6 million – 12,000 years before the present) and possibly even the Late Pliocene (3.6 million years ago).

They belong to the genus Mystropomus (Order: Coleoptera; Family: Carabidae) and the whole family is composed of ground-dwelling predatory beetles.

Adult Mystropomus

These ancient creatures crawl over cave floors, lying in wait for their invertebrate prey. Even the larvae are predatory using a weird structure at the end of their abdomen to snare their prey. First they dig out a burrow in the soil in a sheltered place.

Larva in burrow

Then they close over the hole with their enlarged abdomen covered with sensitive setae (bristles). As soon as any prey walks over this, the setae trigger a quick response from the larva, which backflips to grab the prey with its huge mandibles (jaws). So these creatures have amazing structural and behavioural adaptations to help them catch their food.

Larva ready to attack

Beetles such as these once inhabited the rainforest regions of Queensland but with the Great Drying some moved to higher rainforest regions and some found shelter in cave environments. Fede and Geoff are collaborating with Wendy Moore (University of Arizona) and Andrea Di Giulio (University “Roma Tre”), who are specialists on this sub-family of Carabidae (Paussinae). There appears to be two species, one that is found from Sydney up the coast to Mackay, and another species that inhabits the wet tropics from Bowen to Cooktown. The cave populations may belong to a third new species but work is still in progress.

You can learn more about animal adaptations by watching some animal adaptation videos that come with a student worksheet linked to the Australian Science Curriculum. To learn more about some of the effects of the Great Drying and how this affected the evolution and distribution of some Australian species, you can view the online learning resource Dinosaurs, Climate Change and Biodiversity.

Visit Queensland Museum’s website on Beetles to find out more about these amazing creatures.

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