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The Orbison Beetle Comes Dressed To Rock

January 29, 2008

Roy Orbison and his widow Barbara were honored in a very creative way during a tribute concert for Roy on January 25th.  A new beetle, the whirligig, which looks as if it wears a tuxedo, has been named after the Orbisons. The scientific name for the whirligig is now Orectochilus orbisonorum. The ending of the name, “orum” specifies that the beetle was named for the couple. Had it just been named for Roy it would end in an “i” and for Barbara, it would end in “ae”.

Along with the honor of which Barbara claims, “I have never seen an honor like that,” came an original art piece titled “Whirligig”. The painting, done by ASU scientist and artist Charles J. Kazilek, included nine images of the beetle on cotton watercolor paper. Entomologist Quentin Wheeler of Arizona State University who had announced the naming of the beetle, also awarded Barbara with the painting which he says is in the style of “[Andy] Warhol meets Carl Linnaeus.” Melding the pop artist with the father of taxonomy seemed appropriate.

The beetle, called a whirligig because it swims rapidly in circles when alarmed, is less than a quarter-inch long and belongs to a family of beetles that typically live on the surface of the water, the Gyrinidae family. The whirligig name comes from the beetle’s reaction to a scare ““ swimming rapidly in circles.

The beetle has “divided” eyes which can remarkably see simultaneously above and below the water. Upon seeing this beetle, one might think it had four eyes because of a band of material separating the upper and lower segments of the eyes.

This beetle looks as if it is wearing a tuxedo due mostly to its white underbelly, unique for the Gyrinidae family. The beetle has a clear cuticle through which the internal tissues, which are white, are easily seen. The outer surface or uppermost part of the beetle is shiny black with minute hairs.

Sixty-five new species of slime-mold beetle in the genus Agathidum were discovered in 2005 by Wheeler, Paolo Mazzoldi of Bresca, Italy, a taxonomist, and Kelly Miller of the University of New Mexico. These beetles were named after famous people such as President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and even Darth Vader.

PHOTO CAPTION: This lateral view shows the new species of whirligig beetle, revealing its divided eyes (above and below the water line) and its white underside. Credit: Charles J. Kazilek, Arizona State University

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Arizona State University

Original Release (including more images)




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