- Associated Press - Saturday, September 20, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - The University of Alaska Museum of the North added a rare Alaska-only beetle to its collection this summer.

Chionotyphlus alaskensis is a tiny, blind beetle first documented in 1976 that hasn’t officially been spotted elsewhere in the world except Fairbanks, Nenana and Chatanika.

Until this month, the university museum didn’t have a sample among the 2,500 insect species in the collection there, something that hadn’t escaped the attention of Derek Sikes, the museum’s curator of insects. Sikes became insect curator in 2006 and searched unsuccessfully for a Chionotyphlus alaskensis samples during the past few summers.

“I felt almost embarrassed, frustrated that I hadn’t found it yet,” he said.

That changed this August when he found two adults and a larva on a south-facing aspen slope in the Fairbanks area. He’s keeping the exact location to himself for now because he doesn’t want people to interfere with the habitat where the rare insects were found.

Sikes loosely translates the beetle’s Greek scientific name as “blind, snow-loving Alaska thing.” They’re hard to find because they’re less than two-millimeters long and because they live in soil below the top layer of organic matter called the “leaf litter,” he said. They have six short legs, but they move more like worms by extending and contracting their bodies. Not much is known about the Chionotyphlus alaskensis’ lifecycle except that it eats even smaller invertebrates like springtail and very small mites.

The two adult beetles and the larva have been added to the museum’s collection although they’re not likely to become part of an exhibit because they’re so tiny, Sikes said.

The larva may be the subject of further study, he said. Alfred Newton, a visiting curator from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, confirmed this week it was Chionotyphlus alaskensis larva.

“Prior efforts to collect the larva had failed so this was an exciting find,” Sikes said.


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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