New species aren’t always discovered in remote locations, as an otherwise unknown beetle recently found in a busy metropolis proves.

The aquatic beetle, Hydraena ataneo, was even found on a bustling university campus full of entomologists eager to make such discoveries. It would be like King Midas tripping over a gold brick, existing there for ages right under his feet.

I hope the discovery inspires students to pay attention to what’s on their own campuses. In this case, students undergoing field training at Ateneo de Manila University, in Manila, Philippines, made the find. Manila is the world’s 10th largest megacity. (A megacity is a metropolitan area with a total population in excess of 10 million people.)

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The students from the university’s biology department sampled small creeks, ponds and pools in wooded areas within their sprawling university campus. The hunt was a huge success. They found seven species of water beetles, including this new species. It sports long deely-bopper-type appendages that wiggle around as it moves.

The “deely bopper” isn’t an antenna — it’s part of the bug’s feeding tools.

“I was so amazed that there are new species even in the Ateneo Campus in the middle of Manila,” said Arielle Vidal, who at the time of find was enrolled in the department’s life sciences program. “Then I was sure that I wanted to write my thesis on a taxonomic topic.”

Kimberly Go, her thesis partner, added that they “pushed through and investigated a remote river catchment in Mindoro. We found several new species of the same genus there, too.”

Hendrik Freitag, their thesis adviser and author of a recent ZooKeys paper on the bug, explained, “The long-palped water beetles (genus Hydraena) are in fact one of the most overlooked and diverse genera of aquatic beetles. Only 14 species of this genus — all endemic — are known from the country by now, but many more wait to be named and described.

“All of them display these extremely enlarged palps of the maxilla. These are real mouthpart appendages and not the antennae. Those species that were found in the Ateneo campus must have re-colonized the area after the tree cover has re-established in the last 50 years and the small creeks began to flow again.”

The urban deely bopper beetle has since been spotted outside of the university campus too.

Clister Pangantihon and Dr. Ronald Lagat, both facilitators of the Philippine Aquatic Biodiversity Workshop held at Ateneo earlier this year confirmed, “We found Hydraena ataneo also in the neighboring Province of Cavite during our workshop.”

Museums are full of dried up bugs that scientists have collected, not knowing what they were. Now that this species has been documented, other examples of it were found in such a collection at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria, which boasts the world’s largest scientific collection of water beetles.

This latest study goes to show that small patches of semi-natural habitats can thrive within densely populated and highly urbanized cities and suburbs. Maybe your own backyard is one such oasis?

Image: H. Freitag, Ateneo de Manila University