A surprising revelation came from the Philippine rainforest when University of Alberta researcher Tom Terzin discovered two intriguing weevil species. One of the finds represents a previously unknown species, while the other is believed to have been extinct for nearly a century.
The discovery was made while examining beetle samples collected in 2016 and 2017 from bushes in the Northern Negros National Park on Negros Island. The tropical forest, located in the heart of the Philippines, has nearly disappeared due to logging, agriculture, and a population boom at the end of the 20th century.
In his quest to understand how insect life evolves in changing environments, Terzin, whose research focuses on color patterns and mimicry in insects, was drawn to an unassuming short-nosed weevil not for its color patterns but for its simplicity. In contrast to the metallic sheen of its relatives, this black insect, about half an inch long, is unique in that its surface is adorned with bright scales without clearly defined patterns.
The new insect, named Metapocyrtus (Trachycyrtus) augustanae, is named in honor of Augustana's campus. The uniqueness of the species stands out for its striking simplicity, which contrasts sharply with its more flamboyant relatives. This marks a deeply satisfying moment for Terzin-not only as a lifelong achievement in discovering a new species, but also for what this discovery might reveal about animal life.
Describing the discovery, he said, "They behave like tiny natural robots. They have an exoskeleton and segmented bodies, and they crawl around obeying simple rules. If there's an obstacle in their way they usually go around it, which is generally how a robot would behave."
He is even more excited about the rediscovery of another weevil species known as Metapocyrtus (Orthocyrtus) bifoveatus, or commonly called the short-nosed weevil. The last recorded sighting of this insect on the island was about 100 years ago, and it was thought to be extinct due to its limited existence in the lowland rainforests affected by deforestation. However, the discovery of new specimens in the higher forested areas of the island is good news for the country's biodiversity.
"Somehow this species has managed to survive in higher altitudes of over 1,000 meters, which shows a struggle for life, that they refused to become extinct from deforestation. In the world of insects, it's almost like discovering a dodo bird," says Terzin.
Although weevils are a natural part of rainforests and make up the largest family of beetles, it is important to understand the existence of both weevil species. That's because both the weevil and the short-nosed weevil have the potential to become pests, especially in the face of climate change, Terzin said.
"They're like asteroids that cross the Earth's orbit. Some of them can be dangerous, but they're even more dangerous if we don't know about them. So it's important to monitor their population—and that means we first need to discover them," Terzin added.
Both specimens are now housed at the Augustana Tropical Insect Research Center, where their availability can be used for various teaching and research projects.
As one of the few Western researchers allowed to explore the country's national parks, Terzin hopes to discover more new insect species when he returns in 2025. He also hopes that the discovery of the two weevil species will encourage the Philippine government to be more open to international scientists.