An Inordinate Fondness for Wasps

Ed Yong in the Atlantic:

Lead_960_540 (1)When talking about whether theology has anything to learn from science, the British biologist J. B. S. Haldane used to quip that God must have “an inordinate fondness for beetles.”

He had a point. Around 380,000 species of beetle have been described, which accounts for a quarter of all known animal species. There are more species of ladybugs than mammals, of longhorn beetles than birds, of weevils than fish. Textbooks and scientific papers regularly state that beetles are the most speciose group of animals; that is, there are more of them than there are of anything else.

But Andrew Forbes, from the University of Iowa, thinks that this factoid cannot possibly be right.

In a new paper, published online as a pre-print, Forbes and his colleagues argue that nature’s apparent beetlemania is more a reflection of historical bias than biological reality. Beetles are often conspicuous, shiny, beautiful, and varied—qualities which meant that 19th-century naturalists like Charles Darwin collected them for sport, and eagerly compared the size of their collections. Thanks to their inordinate fondness for beetles, we have a disproportionately thorough picture of the group’s diversity. The same can’t be said of other groups of insects that are smaller on average, harder to study, and less charismatic.

More here.

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