TORONTO — A remarkably complete beetle fossil on display for 26 years in a Denver, Colo., museum and once mislabelled as a longhorn has been identified as a new species and named after the world’s most famous natural historian.
The frog-legged beetle Pulchritudo attenboroughi, which means Attenborough’s Beauty, was named after British broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, the researchers said, for his contributions to the field of natural history.
“Nobody imparts the grandeur and beauty of nature more impressively than Sir David,” said Frank Krell, the senior curator of entomology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, in a news release. “This fossil, unique in its preservation and beauty, is an apt specimen to honor such a great man.”
Attenborough’s Beauty lived nearly 49 million years ago in a geological time period known as the Eocene epoch, and sat labelled as a longhorn beetle in the Denver museum’s “Prehistoric Journey” exhibition since it opened in 1995.
But some of its features didn’t match up with the characteristics of other longhorn beetles, according to the researchers, which led Krell to seek out a longhorn beetle expert from Luxembourg.
Krell and Francesco Vitali, the invertebrate zoology collections curator at the National Museum of Natural History of Luxembourg, studied the beetle fossil. They found that its crooked hind legs identified it not as a longhorn beetle, but as a type of frog-legged leaf beetle.
Making that identification was easier because of the quality of the fossil.
Beetles are sturdy insects, but aren’t typically found intact and usually only leave behind wing cases, the researchers said. However, well-preserved fossils can be found in sedimentary deposits researchers call lagerstatten. The Eocene Green River Formation in northwest Colorado, where Attenborough’s Beauty was found, is one of those deposits.
“This is one of the most magnificent beetle fossils ever found,” Krell said. “The patterning is preserved in unsurpassed clarity and contrast, making this one of the best-preserved beetle fossils. It is most definitely deserving of its name.”
Krell and Vitali chose the name Pulchritudo, Latin for beauty, because of the quality of the fossil. Krell said they settled on the second part of the scientific name, attenboroughi, immediately.
They published their findings on Friday in the journal Papers in Palaeontology.