Analyn Cabras is a woman with a lot of “ists” behind her name. She’s a biologist. She’s a taxonomist. She’s a conservationist. And she’s a coleopterist.
Words ending in “ist” denote a person who practices, is an expert in, or who studies a particular subject. In Cabras’ case, it means she studies living things, categorizes them, and works to protect them. And the living things she focuses on the most are beetles.
Cabras conducts her research in mountainous regions on the Philippine island Mindanao.
This beetle is about the size of Cabras' thumbnail.
Studying beetles is a pretty big field. Earth is home to more than 400,000 species of beetles. They are the largest group of animals on the planet. Beetles can be found on every continent but Antarctica. They can live where it’s hot, where it’s cold, where it’s dry, or where it’s wet. They range in size from the barely visible (feather-winged beetles) to the almost-too-big-to-hold-in-one-hand (titan beetles).
You’ll find Cabras looking for beetles on Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines. High up in the rainforests, she spends her days sneaking up on tiny, iridescent beetles from the weevil family.
“You have to be very, very careful in approaching them,” Cabras says. Many beetles are sensitive to vibrations. Jewel weevils are no exception. “If they sense you coming, they fall to the ground. Once they fall to the ground, it’s almost impossible to find them.”
Belly up with legs tucked in, the beetles are tough to see among the leaf litter on the ground. This is just one of the lessons Cabras has learned from many seasons of fieldwork.
Cabras uses a magnifying glass in the field to get a closer look at a beetle.
This island keeps her busy because so little is known about what lives there. “A lot of exploration in the late 19th century focused on Luzon, which is the largest island of the Philippines. Here in Mindanao, we have so many mountains which are still unexplored,” Cabras says. She sees her job as cataloging what’s there and looking at how these beetles relate to each other and the natural world.
So far, her work has been full of surprises. Many scientists spend their entire careers searching for something new. Yet, Cabras can’t seem to stop finding things that are new. “It feels like every time we go into the field, we discover at least one new species. It’s kind of mind-blowing. In one area of eastern Mindanao, we found four new species in a 1.5-kilometer (less-than-a-mile) stretch.”
It sounds simple, but you have to know what to look for. “When you do this kind of work, you have to be really, really patient.” Cabras says. “When you first start field research, you will not find [anything]. But as you go more often into the field, you will find so much, you won’t know where to begin! You’ll find yourself surrounded by beetles.”
Know Your Scientist
In her work studying beetles, Analyn Cabras plays many roles:
an expert in the branch of science concerning living organisms
a person who studies or collects beetles
a person who advocates or acts for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife
an expert in or student of the branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings
a biologist that names and groups organisms into categories