The island of Madagascar is a hotspot for animal diversity. This island country is home to numerous types of insect species. Given the country’s many different insect types, it is difficult for experts to pin down the oldest surviving insect located on the island. Amazingly, researchers have managed to trace the DNA of a particular type of beetle back to a time when all of the world’s continents formed one single continent, Pangea. The Malagasy striped whirligig beetle (MSW beetle) is an extremely rare insect, as its genetic pedigree stretches all the way back to two hundred and six million years ago during the Triassic period. The MSW beetle, or the Heterogyrus milloti, possesses the oldest known lineage of any plant or animal from Madagascar.

Researchers from the University of Kansas compared living Heterogyrus milloti  specimens with closely related beetle specimens from the fossil record. These extinct and fossilized beetle species came from, what is currently known as, Europe and Asia. No specimens have been collected on the island of Madagascar. Today, whirligig beetles are carnivorous aquatic insects. There are more than one thousand known species of beetles dwelling within America today. Some of these beetles belong to the subfamily Gyrininae. According to researchers, these unique insects were wiped out along with the dinosaurs. This event is known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. Researchers believe that certain types of whirligig beetles persisted after the extinction event. This could be due to the remoteness of the beetles preferred habitat in Madagascar. In smaller environments genes may have passed onto new generations with relative ease. In any case, Madagascar is currently home to several native whirlibird species. Sadly, one researcher from the University of Kansas has claimed that many striped whirligigs are now endangered, even populations that were contained within Madagascar’s National Parks. Human activity has robbed whirligigs of the solitude that they need in order to survive.


Do you think the consequences of climate change can be better understood by studying how insects are responding to changes in today’s environment?


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