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Treasure trove of new insects discovered on island

Treasure trove of new insects discovered on island

Over 100 insect species which have previously been unknown to science have been discovered on an Indonesian island. Found in remote rainforests, the tiny beetles have been overlooked for decade. All 103 of the new insect species belong to the same group – Weevils. Scientists have named the new beetles after Star Wars and Asterix characters, including Yoda.

The beetles are only a few millimetres in length and only one single member of their insect group had been found on the island of Sulawesi and this was as long ago as 1885. Sulawesi is covered in tropical rainforest and is known for its exotic wildlife such as birds and monkeys. The research team believe there are still insects out there that are not known to science. "Our survey is not yet complete and possibly we have just scratched the surface," said Raden Pramesa Narakusumo, curator of beetles at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (MZB), Indonesian Research Center for Biology. "Sulawesi is geologically complex and many areas have never been searched for these small beetles."

The scientists say evidence points to thousands of undescribed insect species roaming the rainforests. However, this does not change the fact there has been a decline in insects which is connected to two main issues. Dr Alexander Riedel said "The decline of insects that we currently discuss in Europe is presumably largely caused by intense agriculture and insecticides," he told BBC News. "Whereas the wealth of insect biodiversity in the tropics is endangered by the destruction of rainforests."

Globally there are well over a million species of insect and recent studies have suggested there has been a global decline in population around the world. Insects are the bottom of the food chain and underpins most of life on Earth. Dr James Hogan of the Oxford Museum of Natural History said the study highlights how much of biodiversity we have yet to discover and catalogue. "In fact, when talking about biodiversity in reality what this means to a great extent is exactly what is described here - small insects less than 5mm long," he said. "With biodiversity under increasing threat it is vital to do this kind of work before it's too late."

The beetles found on Sulawesi were identified by DNA sequencing which is not usually available in Indonesia.