Monday, 8 September 2014

Weird Animal Names: Hitler's Beetle

Hitler's Beetle (Anophthalmus hitleri)
Anophthalmus hitleri
Credit: Photo by Michael Munich,
Own work.  (CC BY-SA 3.0 US) 
This is Anophthalmus hitleri, a small blind beetle named after Adolf Hitler! The species occurs exclusively in five humid caves in Slovenia.

The beetle was described by German engineer and beetle collector Oscar Scheibel (1881 - 1953), who was sold a specimen that was found in 1933, in a cave of the former Yugoslavia. [4]

Scheibel named the new species after Adolf Hitler, who had become Chancellor of Germany during the same year. The genus name (Anophthalmus) means "without eyes", so the full name translates to "the eyeless one of Hitler". Scheibel's dedication did not go unnoticed by the Führer, who personally send him a letter to show his gratitude!

Other than its unusual name, the beetle exhibits no notable characteristics, such as extravagant colors or antennae. However, it is a highly sought Nazi memorabilia, with collectors paying really good money to obtain one. In 2002, a well preserved specimen had an estimated price of almost 2000 $ (£1200) [2]. Experts have warned multiple times that the high demand from collectors encourages poaching that might eventually lead to the species extinction. Apparrently, not even museums are safe from collectors and memorabilia dealers, as the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology had almost all of its A. hitleri specimens stolen in the past. [3]

There have been several proposals after the end of the World War II to rename the beetle, however they have all been rejected by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature*. To retain consistency in scientific sources, Latin designations of species cannot be changed once a name has been registered, unless the name had violated the established rules back when it was initially registered. Apparently, this was not the case with Anophthalmus hitleri.

Brief Description
A.hitleri adults are 5 - 5.5 mm long, eyeless and have been found in five caves of Slovenia. The body is reddish brown and covered by short, barely visible hairs. Males are glossy whereas females are slightly duller. Adults and larvae are presumed to be predators on smaller cave inhabitants, as the species is a member of the (predatory) Trechinae subfamily.

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Coleoptera
Family: Carabidae
Subfamily: Trechinae
Genus: Anophthalmus
Species: Anophthalmus hitleri
Conservation Status: Not officially assessed, possibly threatened due to collection

* Organization dedicated to "achieving stability and sense in the scientific naming of animals".

References & Further Reading
- Oscar Scheibel: Ein neuer Anophthalmus aus Jugoslawien. Entomologische Blätter (Berlin), 33, 6, S. 438–440, 1937

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