A team of entomologists in India had to put their new species celebration on hold last year, when they found out their discovery had already been discovered.
The Journal of Insect Science paper, initially published in December 2012, was retracted in October 2013, after several entomologists confirmed that the beetle was actually a previously identified species called Acanthophorus serraticornis. (The notice has a November 2014 date, but we understand that’s because the journal switched servers.)
Here’s the notice for “A new record of longicorn beetle, Acanthophorus rugiceps, from India as a root borer on physic nut, Jatropha curcas, with a description of life stages, biology, and seasonal dynamics”:
This paper (originally published as 12.141) described the root borer, Acanthophorus rugiceps Gahan (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae), as a new record on physic nut, Jatropha curcas L. (Malpighiales: Euphorbiaceae), in India. The species involved has since been identified as Acanthophorus serraticornis (Olivier) by Dr. Alain Drumont (Entomology Department, Institut Royal des Sciences naturelles de Belgique, Bruxelles Belgium), which is known to be present in India. The original paper has therefore been withdrawn.
Richard Levine of the Entomological Society of America, which publishes the Journal of Insect Science, gave us a play-by-play on how the error was discovered:
As it says in the retraction document, Alain Drumont from the Entomology Department at the Institut Royal des Sciences naturelles de Belgique was indeed the one who first pointed out the misidentification to Dr. Henry Hagedorn, the editor-in-chief of JIS who passed away in January 2014.
Dr. Mathyam Prabhakar, one of the authors of the paper, also received notice that the insect was misidentified. After consulting with some local taxonomists, who agreed that it had been misidentified, he wrote to Dr. Hagedorn about it. Dr. Hagedorn then decided to withdraw the paper.
The paper has been cited three times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
Cataloguing species in the field is tricky. We’ve seen similar mix-ups before, from plants to snakes. It’s just another reminder that, if we are in the sixth mass extinction, we might not know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone – or even after.
Hat tip: JATdS