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Thursday, 07 May 2009 17:49

Cool looking beetle named for Stephen Colbert

Only a few weeks ago Stephen Colbert, of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” had a high-tech, space-orbiting treadmill named for him on the Space Station. Now, two American scientists have named a diving beetle for him. What is way cooler than that?

ITwire reported on April 16, 2009 that the Space Station’s Treadmill-2 would be named after Colbert in the article “Name of Space Station Node 3 surprise to Stephen Colbert.”

Colbert, the host of The Colbert Report on TV station Comedy Central, was originally hoping to have the new Node 3 on the International Space Station named after him, but that fell through after NASA decided to name it Tranquility, to honor the first manned landing on the Moon.

U.S. entomologists (bug people) Quentin Wheeler, from Arizona State University, and Kelly Miller, from the University of New Mexico, sent Colbert a birthday card on his 45-year-old birthday (May 13th) with the riddle: “What has six legs and is way cooler than a spider?”

The riddle was in reference to his plea for the scientific community to name something after him that is more “cool” than a spider.

And, of course, a diving beetle is way more coler than a spider. Just ask any beetle!

The new name for the diving beetle is Agaporomorphus colberti. The species is from Venezuela.

It’s official, too! Check out page two for the scientific paper describing the new name for this diving beetle, all under the name of Colbert.

Check out the scientific paper in Zootaxa entitled “A new species of Agaporomorphus Zimmermann from Venezuela, and a review of the A. knischi species group (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae: Copelatinae)" (pdf file}.

The paper begins by stating, “A new species, Agaporomorphus colberti Miller and Wheeler, sp. n., is described from specimens from Departamento Amazonas, Venezuela. The new species belongs to the A. knischi Zimmermann species group based on the common presence of a pair of series of fine setae on the dorsal surface of the male median lobe of the aedeagus.”

To see if the diving beetle and Stephen Colbert look anything alike, check out the picture of A. colberti in the ScienceDaily.com article.

When asked about the honor to Colbert, Dr. Wheeler stated, “Last year, Stephen shamelessly asked the science community to name something cooler than a spider to honor him. His top choices were a giant ant or a laser lion. While those would be cool species to discover, our research involves beetles, and they are 'way cooler' than a spider any day.”

For more information on Stephen Colbert and his new association with the Venezuelan diving beetle, please go to the EurekAlert article “Entomologists name 'diving beetle' for Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert.”

The two entomologists are trying to draw more attention to the wide diversity of beetles, their chosen field of study.

The Eurekalert article states, “Taxonomists believe there are roughly 500,000 named species in the scientific order Coleoptera (beetles) and probably three times that many waiting to be discovered – an amount that far exceeds the number of species in any other group of plant or animal.”

ScienceDaily.com states, “There are about 1.8 million species [of beetle] that have been described since Carolus Linnaeus initiated the modern systems for naming plants and animals in the 18th century. Scientists estimate there are between 2 million and 100 million species on Earth, though most put that number closer to 10 million. Even with some 20,000 new species discovered each year, there are many that will go out of existence before being studied.”

Page three concludes with comments from Drs. Wheeler and Miller.

Dr. Wheeler states, "Charting the species of the world and their unique attributes are essential parts of understanding the history of life. It is our own self-interest as we face the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet."

Dr. Miller adds, "In a time when new planets are being found around other stars and people are wondering whether life exists elsewhere in the universe, many people aren't aware of how much is not known about life on our own planet."

And, "Opportunities like this help boost awareness of the vast diversity that remains undiscovered on Earth, and of taxonomy, the science that seeks to discover it."

Both scientists are trying to popularize science so it is not so mysterious to people, and so it comes across as an interesting subject (which it is).

Hopefully, more children will look to science as a course of study in school and maybe a major in college.

More scientists, engineers, and other professionals are needed in the United States and all over the world to better understand the world we live in, and the Universe that surrounds us.

And, in his own querkie way, Stephen Colbert is helping to make science more fun for all people.

There are even "Science is Fun" websites out there in Internet Land. Check out " From the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Shakhashiri has a Website full of fun chemistry experiments and cool science activities to do in school and at home.

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