New species of fluffy longhorn beetle discovered after chance sighting

An Australian researcher has stumbled upon a striking new genus of longhorn beetle that appears to be covered in white, fluffy hairs.

The discovery was made completely by accident by PhD candidate James Tweed, who was camping in a rainforest in the Gold Coast hinterland, in southeastern Queensland.

“I was walking through the campsite at Binna Burra Lodge one morning and something on a Lomandra leaf caught my eye,” says Tweed, who nearly mistook the beetle for bird droppings.

“To my amazement, I saw the most extraordinary and fluffiest longhorn beetle I had ever seen. Measuring 9.7 millimetres, it was a striking red and black beauty covered in long white hairs.”

Photograph of a beetle covered in white fluffy hairs
Credit: Lingzi Zhou, Australian National Insect Collection

A search through books and scientific papers – even posting photographs to an Australasian beetles group on Facebook – followed, in an ultimately fruitless effort to identify the species.

Finally, it took a collaboration with experts at the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC) in Canberra to confirm the beetle was not only a completely new species, but a new genus, or family of species, as well.

“We chose the name Excastra for the genus, which is Latin for ‘from the camp’, and for the species name, we decided on albopilosa which translates to ‘white and hairy’,” says Tweed.

Photograph of a beetle from the side. It is covered in white fluffy hairs
Credit: Lingzi Zhou, Australian National Insect Collection

“We don’t yet know what these hairs are for, but our primary theory is that they make the insect look like it’s been killed by an insect-killing fungus. This would possibly deter predators such as birds from eating it, but until someone can find more specimens and study this species further, we won’t be able to say for sure why this beetle is so hairy.”

Tweed has been back several times to the area to look for more specimens but hasn’t had any luck yet.

“The area near Lamington National Park has been popular with entomologists for more than 100 years so it’s puzzling that it hasn’t been found until now,” says Tweed.

The new finding is described in a paper in the Australian Journal of Taxonomy.

Please login to favourite this article.