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ITIS Expands Its Beetle Coverage

ITIS beetle photo
Courtship of two clown beetles, Spilodiscus instratus, a North American species. Photo credit: copyright Jeff Gruber, used with permission
In the last issue of Access we mentioned that the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) is in the midst of a large, continuing effort to update its plant names. As work continues on plant names, so too does ITIS' expanded coverage of another important taxonomic group - beetles (order Coleoptera).

For those who are not entirely familiar with ITIS, it serves as the authoritative federal information source for the names and classification of plants, animals, fungi, and microbes of North America as well as many global treatments. It includes scientific and common names, hierarchical classifications, historical documentation, expert citations for each name, and taxonomic serial numbers (these work like a social security number for an organism; i.e., if two organisms have the same name, these numbers will be different and, thereby, let you know they're different organisms). ITIS also provides the preferred name, but also the other names that have been applied to any given species. In so doing, ITIS gives users the basic information they need to do a comprehensive search of the literature.

As for a brief look at beetles, their diversity is wide-ranging. Many are beneficial for their contribution as pollinators, others as recyclers of organic material, and still others as predators of other insects (biological control agents). Conversely, many beetle species are agricultural pests, such as the boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis), which feeds on cotton buds and flowers. The Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) can destroy potato crops.

Additional beetle attributes that point to their incredible numbers as well as the importance of this order to our understanding of Earth's biodiversity include: constitutes one of the most abundant animal forms, contains more species than any other order in the animal kingdom, comprises about 36 percent of all known insect species (approximately 360,000), exists in nearly all habitats and terrestrial ecosystems, and is often abundant in freshwater environments.

In short, the challenge to expand ITIS coverage to include all beetle species is a formidable one. ITIS is on the path to meet that challenge and has recently completed and made available several beetle families (identified here by their scientific names):

Dytiscidae - Water beetles (predaceous diving beetles). Dytiscids eat tadpoles, among many other things. In recent months, ITIS added 4,199 species worldwide, including more than 600 species in North America. This was accomplished in collaboration with Dr. Anders Nilsson of the University of Umea, Sweden. "These additions should help the USGS BioData effort in Water a great deal," said Dr. Gerald "Stinger" Guala, ITIS Director. "The request to us was to add more aquatic invertebrates. This is a big step in that direction." The USGS BioData retrieval system provides access to aquatic bioassessment data (biological community and physical habitat data) collected by USGS scientists from stream ecosystems across the nation.

Histeridae - ITIS has finished a full treatment for the more than 4,304 species worldwide (450 North American species) with the collaboration of Dr. Michael Caterino of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, CA. Hister beetles or clown beetles (see photo), are mostly small and dark beetles, although some are metallic blue, green, or marked with red. They are important ecologically and economically by, for instance, contributing to reduce noxious fly populations. Several species are important predators of pest weevils and have been introduced to different countries to control these pests.

Hydraenidae - ITIS covers 1,627 species worldwide. Hydraenids are minute aquatic beetles or beetles that live in or on soil. Adults and larvae feed on microscopic flora and fauna (algae, bacteria, protozoans, and so forth) found on the surface of stones, sand grains, and plant matter. There are over 100 species of hydraenids in North America.

Buprestidae - ITIS covers 798 species in North America. This was accomplished with the collaboration of Dr. Charles Bellamy of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Buprestids are commonly known as metallic wood boring beetles or jewel beetles. Recognizable characteristics are their cylindrical shape and commonly iridescent hard bodies. Some buprestid species are important pests, like the recently introduced emerald ash-borer (Agrilus planipennis).

Bostrichidae - These beetles are highly destructive, attacking both hardwoods and softwoods. Some even bore through lead cable coverings and plastic pipes. ITIS now has complete world coverage for the bostrichids, which includes 576 species, 111 of them found in North America.

In summary, new ITIS additions for Coleoptera include 11,504 species distributed worldwide, including approximately 2,060 North American species.

"As always, the value that ITIS brings to the management and/or control of beetles as well as other biota is the invaluable assistance it provides to those who want accurate taxonomic or classificatory information on these species," said Dr. Daniel E. Perez-Gelabert of ITIS and the Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. "The correct name of a species is like a key word to all existing information about it. These data are fundamental to all efforts to inventory and map species distributions and patterns, which is all important to produce rational conservation policies."

You can reach ITIS at http://www.itis.gov/.