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Sunday, May 14, 2006

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Scientists have emotions, just like real people

One of H G Wells' less well-known short stories is "The Moth", about the hatred that develops between two entomologists. The hatred in the story began when one scientist "extinguished a new species" created by the other. That is, he wrote a paper claiming that a supposedly new species was only something that had already been described.

The latest issue - Volume 6 - of "Calodema", the "journal devoted to promoting knowledge about the flora and fauna of Australia and the Pacific" has a paper that reminded me of the H G Wells short story. Dr Dewanand Makhan has written an indignant article in which he forcefully restates his view that three Chinese water beetle types that he has studied really are new species, and not merely specimens of already known species. Dr Makhan supplies drawings and photomicrographs to support his case. He has also made some further observations that he says show that his species are truly novel finds. I am no expert, but he seems to have made his case. Of each water beetle, he writes that it is "hereby reinstated as a full and distinct species".

As H G Wells meant to show in his short story, scientific scholarship is not immune from strong emotion.

Dr Makhan has contributed another paper to Volume 6 of "Calodema", on another of his fields of interest, jumping spiders (Salticidae) from Suriname in South America. Also on the topic of spiders, there is a book review by Englishman Maurice Pledger of Dr Trevor Hawkeswood's "Spiders of Australia". Trevor (spilopyra@hotmail.com) is the Editor of "Calodema" and a prolific field biologist with an international reputation. As Pledger notes in his fulsome review, this book on Australian spiders is an especially good guide because it includes so many original observations and conveys the inspiring message that research on Australia's natural history remains an exciting work-in-progress.

Other papers in this issue of "Calodema" cover a variety of taxa and topics: a description of the pupa of a stag beetle from Queensland; notes on a beetle that lives in dead individuals of the distinctive "grass trees" of Australia; more on Trevor Hawkeswood's signature group - the jewel beetles; extensive butterfly checklists provided by Kelvyn Dunn from Australian National Parks, including the very rich Iron Range National Park of Cape York Peninsula; and a herpetological survey of an ecologically degraded area of New South Wales.

Most people interested in natural history are interested in the Australian zone. "Calodema" is a rich source of relevant material, especially for those with a more than casual interest.

Julian

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