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Astonishing Frog-Legged Beetle Fossil Is New Species Named "Attenborough's Beauty"

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Rachael Funnell

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clockAug 9 2021, 17:13 UTC
Astonishing Frog Legged Beetle Fossil Is New Species Named "Attenborough's Beauty"

The 40-million-year-old beetle is almost complete. Image credit: ©Denver Museum of Nature & Science

It’s a great honor for any naturalist to have a species named after them, and while David Attenborough may already have a few under his belt, his latest addition is a real beauty. A rare fossil that has frozen almost an entire beetle in time was found, after much consideration, to be a new-to-science species of frog-legged beetle. Retrieved from what was once the Eocene Green River Formation in northwest Colorado, the arresting specimen has been dubbed Pulchritudo attenboroughi, or Attenborough’s Beauty, approximately 49 million years after its demise.

“Nobody imparts the grandeur and beauty of nature more impressively than Sir David,” said Frank Krell, Denver Museum of Nature & Science Senior Curator of Entomology, in a statement. “This fossil, unique in its preservation and beauty, is an apt specimen to honor such a great man.”

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Krell and co-author Francesco Vitali, National Museum of Natural History of Luxembourg Invertebrate Zoology Collections Curator, worked together to identify this new species in a paper published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology

What’s perhaps most remarkable about the specimen is its near-perfect preservation. Beetles are tough critters with some extant species being able to survive being run over by a tank, but generally speaking, they rarely star in the best fossils. After it expired, P attenboroughi took to the waters of the Eocene Green River Formation before sinking into the sediment. While most beetles tend to come apart at this stage, with their remains being preserved as individual wing cases, this particular dead beetle held true.

Why? Thanks to the particularly favorable conditions found at deposits known as lagerstätten, which are home to the kind of fine-grained sediment that delivers very well preserved and sometimes almost complete fossils like Attenborough’s Beauty. The Eocene Green River Formation is one such deposit and so is a dab hand at preserving the creme de la creme of fossilized beasties.

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“This is one of the most magnificent beetle fossils ever found,” said Krell. “The patterning is preserved in unsurpassed clarity and contrast, making this one of the best-preserved beetle fossils. It is most definitely deserving of its name.”

While the species is new to science the fossil is not, having been on display in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science's “Prehistoric Journey” exhibition since 1995. Here, it was labeled as a longhorn beetle for many years but Krell and Vitali noticed some characteristics that weren’t typical of these beetles so did some snooping. Sure enough, the two exposed the beetle’s true identity as a frog-legged leaf beetle owing to its curved legs.


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