NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: The new beetle species Capelatus Prykei was discovered by a team of international researchers in the wetlands of Nordhoek. Picture: UNIVERSITY OF PLYMOUTH

A NEW species of beetle, described as a “real evolutionary relic”, has been discovered by a team of international researchers in an area of wetlands near Noordhoek.

The dark brown beetle Capelatus prykei, which measures between 8 and 10mm, was investigated after being netted by researchers at the base of dense tussocks of grass.

According to a research team headed by Dr David Bilton, of Plymouth University in the UK, the beetle bears little similarity to other types of beetles found in the Western Cape, and indeed in most of Africa. Its closest relatives are today found around the Mediterranean and in New Guinea.

Bilton and his colleagues, including Plymouth entomologist Clive Turner and researchers from the Museum of Zoology in Munich, published their findings in the latest issue of the journal Systematic Entomology.

In a media release, Bilton, who has studied water beetles here for a number of years on annual field trips, said the find was unexpected: “(The beetle) immediately looks odd, quite unlike any previously known diving beetle.”

There are more than 4 000 diving beetle species worldwide, almost all of which are aquatic predators, carrying an air bubble with them to breathe while underwater.

“It’s fairly common to find new species of beetle, but it’s much less usual to find things which are so different they have to be put in their own genus,” he said.

DNA sequencing showed that the Western Cape’s newest beetle’s closest relatives live thousands of kilometres away, and that they last shared a common ancestor around 30 to 40 million years ago.

Bilton described the beetle as an “exciting addition to the fauna of the region, which highlights the interest of this hot spot of biodiversity”.

“This beetle is a real evolutionary relic, which only seems to have survived in a very small area close to Cape Town, probably because this region has had a relatively stable climate over the last few million years.”

The study’s authors said the new beetle also appears to be under severe threat, as it has only been found in an area of wetlands encompassing 10km².

“On the basis of available data, it is suggested that Capelatus prykei be afforded a provisional IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) conservation status of critically endangered,” wrote the authors.

Bilton said that old museum specimens uncovered by the research team showed that the beetle used to be present in other places, although these sites were now lost to the suburbs of Cape Town.

He said it was possible the beetle is today genuinely restricted to a single locality.

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