Sometimes these are quite mysterious and have included both an aberrant specimen of a common species and a species new to the country (most exciting to a bug-nerd!). Next mission - a species new to science... but until then here's a close look at the contents of a small tube of tiny beetles that arrived preserved in ethyl acetate. In this case, the identity was clear as a letter was included stating that these were voucher specimens of Aphthona pallida from North Yorkshire in northern England, a small (1.5-1.8mm) species of 'flea beetle' found on Geranium and Erodium, in this case Geranium pratense.
|Ventral view of A. pallida showing sculpturing and bristles on the legs and abdomen; note the large hind femurs.|
This may be nothing special in itself, but until 2009 there was considerable confusion between this species and A. nigriceps in Britain, with various taxonomic authors treating them as separate species, the same species, or subspecies. Not easy for those trying to produce accurate species records. They have been treated as separate species in some key continental European texts such as Warchałowski (2003) which separates them using the presence of a dark sutural stripe in A. nigriceps. Then, in a 2009 paper, Sinclair & Hutchins discussed the status of A. pallida, concluding that it was definitely a British species and separating it from A. nigriceps most clearly by the shape of the tip of the aedeagus.
Further work (summarised in the accompanying letter mentioned above which was from Jim Jobe, Coleoptera recorder for the Harrogate and District Naturalists' Society) suggests that the darkened suture is an unreliable feature and that the aedeagus is the only certain way to separate these two species. I do not have a specimen of A. nigriceps to hand, but there is an excellent image here, including the aedeagus. Comparing this with the aedeagus of A. pallida below, it is clear that the aedeagal tip of A. nigriceps is flatter/broader, a feature noted by Sinclair & Hutchins (2009).
|Aedeagus of A. pallida; note the tip which is less flattened/broadened than that of A. nigriceps.|
Sinclair, M. & Hutchins, D. (2009). Aphthona pallida (Bach, 1856) (Chrysomelidae) is a British species. The Coleopterist 18(3): 155-157.
Warchałowski, A. (2003). The Leaf-beetles (Chrysomelidae) of Europe and the Mediterranean Area. Natura Optima Dux Foundation, Warsaw.