B.U.N.K. Volume 2, Number 1 (1984)

Description of a new family of ground beetles (Coleoptera: Adephaga) with comments on metaphysical character paradoxes in systematics

John H. Acorn
Department of Entomology
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta


Recently, while spending my idle hours in pleasant pursuit of the wondrous works of Nature, I chanced upon a specimen of beetle so singularly remarkable that I was immediately swept up in a sea of questions surrounding it. Surely, so perplexing an organism has never crossed my lab bench, and thus I was motivated, and not without due hesitation I must add, to describe it as the type of a new family of adephagan Coleoptera. The peculiarities of this animal are such that they are best left to the description thereof, which follows hereafter.

Order Coleoptera
Suborder Adephaga
Superfamily Caraboidea
Family Howareutidae, fam. nov.

Derivation of name: Named for Howard McGinty, a fine and upstanding example of a man. Also "eu", meaning true. Hence the true family of beetles named after Howard McGinty.

Type genus: Howareutus Acorn, gen. nov.

Diagnosis: Same as for the type genus, as the family is monotypic.

Discussion: The metaphysical implications of this species are so bizarre as to warrant its placement in a separate family. No self-respecting systematist could think otherwise.

Howareutus Acorn, gen. nov.

Type species: Howareutus aefternoonani Acorn, sp. nov.

Diagnosis: Same as for the type species, as the genus is monotypic.

Howareutus aefternoonani Acorn, sp. nov.

Derivation of name: The derivation of the generic name is similar to that of the family. The specific epithet is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "aefter", meaning after, and Noonan, referring to Gary Noonan, that eminent researcher of "dingy carabids." This species was described after Gary left the University of Alberta, hence, "after Noonan".

Type material: A single male, herewith designated as holotype, is deposited in the collection of John R. Spence, Department of Entomology, University of Alberta, Edmonton. It was captured near Kinsella, Aiberta, on June 10, 1983.

Diagnosis: Superficially resembling an adult Harpalus ochropus Kirby (Figure 1), but with the second and third elytral striae of the left elytron fully and completely crossing in the basal third of their length, with concomitant total confusion of the elytral characters.

Figure 1. Howareutus aefternoonani Acorn, sp. nov. Holotype male.


The things which systematists rely upon to distinguish species, genera, and other natural groups, are the presence of shared derived characters. Whether these be referred to as synapomorphies, autapomorphies, or what have you, the truth remains that they are characters, and that the basic unit of systematic research is the character. Consider then, the problems inherent in utilizing the traditional elytral character of the presence or absence of a setiferous puncture in the third elytral interval, with respect to the type specimen of H. aefternoonani. On the right elytron, we would answer with a resounding yes! Of course there is one, and why shouldn't there be?

But on the left elytron, the story is far from simple, and is enough to torture the inquisitive mind. Yes, there is a puncture, but what interval is it in? The second, you ask? Ah, you mean the interval lateral to the second stria, do you not? Then no, that interval is barren of punctures. Then the first interval, the one lateral to the first stria? Again, I must answer no - that interval as well is bare. The third interval - medial to the third stria is as well unpunctured. How can this be?!

Of course, the puncture exists, and a clever observer has shown me that it is in the interval medial to the second stria - the first interval. Bravo! But yet another colleague says no, that it is the interval lateral to the second stria - the third interval. And yet another claims it is in the interval between the second and third striae, the second interval.

The conclusion, dear reader, is obvious and disheartening. This beetle defies the normal workings of systematics, and possesses a character which is truly evasive and paradoxical in form.

There is, however, a common feeling that this specimen represents merely an abberant individual of the carabid species Harpalus ochropus. After all, abberant individuals may possess extra supraorbital hairs, or lack the usual ones, or have extra elytral punctures. These characters, however, are simply "individual autapomorphies". Certainly an individual can be autapomorphic in lacking a common feature of its species, or possessing an extra hair or puncture.

However, and this is the pivotal question, can a character which defies recognition by all rational means be an autamorphy? I should think not. Plus, I hasten to remind you that the type specimen possesses this character on only one of its two elytra, and thus contains an internal systematic paradox.

In summary the Howareutidae comprise an example of an evolutionary phenomenon new to science, and akin to nothing we have ever seen before. They possess a character which behaves like a wave function in quantum mechanics, which only assumes a position when it is measured, and is otherwise present in a number of positions simultaneously, according to a probabilistic function. The implications of this are staggering, and bode ill for the future of traditional systematics.

Copyright © 1984, 1996, David R. Maddison, John H. Acorn, and Robert S. Anderson.