What’s on the van? – Darwin’s dung beetle

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This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Darren Mann, assistant curator of the Museum’s Hope Entomological Collection

On the 27 December 1831 a young naturalist by the name of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), on a ship by the name of the HMS Beagle, began a five year journey around the world. During this voyage he collected many specimens of plants and animals, which he later dispersed to some of the most eminent scientists of the day.

Of all the insects in this small collection, the beetle Onthophagus australis (Guérin, 1830) is by far my favourite, simply because it’s a dung beetle, which are my favourite insects. I think dung beetles are both beautiful in form and ecologically are extremely interesting.

This very specimen was collected by Darwin during 1836 at Hobart town, Tasmania. At the time, Reverend Frederick William Hope (1797-1862), the British entomologist who founded the Museum’s Hope Entomological Collection, thought the beetle was a new species to science; it had in fact already been described from Port Jackson, Australia by French entomologist Félix Guérin-Méneville (1799-1874). This is a widespread species found in Tasmania and south-western Australia, where it feeds on all sorts of dung.

During Darwin’s early life, Hope was a friend and mentor, and as such Darwin sent some of the Australian insects he collected to Hope for study. Sadly, Hope took ill and retired to Italy, never completing his work on Darwin’s insects.

To date we have found over 130 Darwin specimens in our collections. Some of these have even travelled back to Australia to form part of the temporary exhibition at the National Museum, which celebrates Darwin in Australia.

Darren Mann, Assistant Curator, Hope Entomological Collection

What's on the van?

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