Finding Something New
Cabras takes great care when she thinks she’s found something new. She signals to her teammates to stop moving. She doesn’t want any sudden movements to scare off a beetle. Then she tries to take a photograph of the scene. “I usually take photos of their food plant and habitat,” she says. This gives information to taxonomists as well as ecologists and conservationists.
When the beetles feel vibrations on tree leaves, they fall to the ground. They are very hard to find in dead leaves.
Many jewel weevils, for example, have ranges as tiny as one patch of forest. They eat only certain plants. It is vital, then, to conserve the plant if you hope to conserve the beetle.
A Fuller Picture
There’s another reason why Cabras tries to record the scene: “For some of my colleagues, this is the first time they are seeing the species alive,” she says. If possible, Cabras collects a beetle as a sample. Then it can be looked at in the lab.
This beetle would become important to Cabras’ research. She discovered a new species that looked similar.
Cabras uses a microscope to look closely at beetles.
This work requires special skills. “You have to train your eyes to look into the microscope. But you also have to train your hands,” Cabras says. Beetles must be cut apart to see what is inside them. That means good eyes and steady hands. But, Cabras can’t always trust what she sees.
Jewel weevils, for example, sparkle like gems. Their elytra, or wing covers, shimmer with colors from turquoise and gold to orange and pink. This makes them easy targets for predators. But weevils want to be seen. Color is a warning: Don’t eat me. I taste bad.
This is called aposematism. The animal lets its predator know that it is not worth eating. Bright colors, sounds, and odors can warn predators. Cabras didn’t realize how much this was going to affect her research.
This leaf beetle looks like some jewel weevils.