Over the course of two scientific expeditions to the subtropical forests of Mozambique, Will Watson, Wildlife Consultant from Docklow discovered a species of water beetle new to science. The 2.7 mm long diving beetle has been named Haliplus watsoni. Will says:
“I am absolutely chuffed to have found a new species of beetle and honoured and somewhat embarrassed to have it named after me. This is a particularly rare accolade as it is not normal convention to name species after the finder. The location was stunning and the expedition had its moments of excitement. I was initially concerned by that I might be confronted by crocodiles and hippos. However, in the end I was infected by the microscopic parasite which causes bilharzia. Thankfully I am now fully recovered and this discovery certainly makes all the pain and effort worthwhile.”
The water beetle was discovered on the Manda Wilderness Community Game Reserve which is managed in association with the local community by Nkwichi Lodge. The reserve is in the province of Niassa in northern Mozambique in the Great Rift Valley and borders Lake Niassa (also known as Lake Malawi). The reserve covers 130 000 hectares; just over half the size of Herefordshire but with a fraction of its population. It is an unspoilt wilderness with Brachystegia forest, savannah, swamps, streams, mountains and miles of sandy beaches with crystal clear water. Lake Niassa has been described as the most biologically important lake in the world. It is 365 miles long and 55 miles wide and is the 9th largest in the world.
The water beetle was collected from a seasonal floodplain pool close to the village of Manda Mbuzi in December 2008 during the rainy season. Further water beetle specimens were collected from the same site on a second trip to Mozambique in April 2009. A standard size EFE GB net was used to collect water beetles from the shallow margins of the pool. Only the small beetles were retrieved; those less than 3.5 mm which could be stored in 5 mm glass vials. They were preserved in isopropyl alcohol. Will was escorted through the reserve and assisted on both occasions by local guides Jackson and Peter Mandala.
Registering and confirming the new species
After my return to the UK all water beetle specimens collected in Mozambique were first sent to Professor Garth Foster in Scotland, Secretary of the Balfour-Browne Club. Shortly afterwards he forwarded the Haliplidae specimens to Bernhard Van Vondel in Holland; the international water beetle referee for that family. At the time he thought one of the Haliplidae was a new species; however it took a year and half before he was able to confirm this. Over this period he checked other reference specimens in collections held privately and in museums in other parts of the world. My six Haliplus specimens from Mozambique were compared with Haliplus specimens collected in the 1970’s from Nigeria and in the 1940’s in the Democratic Republic of Congo which had either been wrongly identified or not fully described. It was then apparent that these were same species of water beetle. Van Vondel then described them as a new species in the Dutch scientific publication Netherlande Entologische Vereniging: African Haliplidae (Coleoptera), Bernhard J. Van Vondel. Volume 153 239-314 December 2010.
Relevance of the discovery
The beetle´s discovery comes at a time when the Mozambique Government and the World Wildlife Fund are in the process of establishing the Lake Niassa Reserve and the Manda Wilderness Community are developing eco-tourism on their reserve. This find indicates how valuable the surrounding freshwater habitats are for biodiversity and should help inform and direct conservation efforts.
Status and distribution
Haliplidae are small crawling water beetles which swim by using alternating leg motions. They occur on all continents with the exception of Antarctica. They are found in association with aquatic plants and typically live around the edge of freshwater habitats. Their larvae feed on algae. Haliplus watsoni is distinguished from other African Haliplidae by the small dark mark on the pronotum; the segment between the head and the abdomen.
Haliplus watsoni, probably has a broad distribution as it also occurs in Nigeria. However, judging by the three records depicted on the distribution map one might assume that it is not very common. It is one of nine species of Haliplidae newly described from African by Van Vondel in his latest paper. There are now 44 species of Haliplidae described from Africa.
“Etymology: This species is named after W.R.C. Watson, collector of the type material”. If it were specific to just Mozambique it might have received a local name.
“Thanks to all the staff at the Lodge who made my stay so memorable and a special thanks to Peter Mandala and Jackson for guiding me and assisting during collection and to Joaochincyami for making a new teak handle for my pond net. I am particularly indebted to Bernhard Van Vondel for his painstaking identification work. Without everyones combined efforts this discovery would not have been possible.”