Outside of zombie movies, unfamiliar creatures are rarely discovered in cemeteries. Yet that’s what happened at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where scientists from the United States Forest Service recently discovered an entirely new species of jewel beetle while surveying trees (no zombies, for better or worse). For those who study such insects, the discovery is a cause for excitement.
“I don't want to downplay the fact that this is a major international scientific discovery of a major new species of insect,” Joseph Charap, the director of horticulture at the cemetery, tells Gothamist. “This is the first [new species] we’ve discovered here.”
The discovery—reported earlier this week by Brooklyn Paper—is the result of an ongoing partnership between the cemetery and the Forest Service. That partnership is “an insect-rearing barrel project, in which we examine trees that are showing symptoms of stress,” Charap says. Material from the tree is placed into a barrel, and insects are then lured to antifreeze that is placed near the front of the barrel. (Unfortunately, the insects die in the antifreeze trap.)
“When the insect emerges from the wood, the Forest Service screens the insect,” Charap adds. “And this is how this discovery was made. We work very closely with our partners at the Forest Service. We are in constant communication about stuff they're finding and relaying to us to provide us with more information about our arboretum.”
The insect first caught a scientist’s eye two years ago while he was taking wood samples from a beech tree. The first clue that the beetle was unusual: its private parts.
“The male genitalia didn’t match anything we have on file,” Marc DiGirolomo, the technician who made the discovery, told Brooklyn Paper. DiGirolomo then sent the insect to an expert in the Czech Republic, and later to Canada for DNA testing. The new species was subsequently unveiled this summer in the European Journal of Entomology. “[R]esearchers identified the beetle as part of the Agrilus genus,” the New York Times notes; for now at least, you can refer to it as “Agrilus species 9895.” (It will be formally named at some later date.)
Charap admits he is a little nervous about what sort of impact the new species could have. “Who knows if it even will cause damage,” Charap says. “We don’t know.” Invasive species such as the long-horned beetle are known for harming trees and generally wreaking havoc in forested areas.
“We don't know how potentially damaging this pest can be,” Charap says. “I'm not... thrilled. I mean, I'm not excited.”