A unique flightless dung beetle discovered in The Brandberg

I was part of a three-week long dung beetle and lacewing collecting expedition to the Kaokoveld during April 2019. Our aim was to survey the selected groups in a north south transect. This expedition was partly funded by the SCIONA project. Our route started at Opuwo and then via Orupembe we went as far north as the Cunene River to Camp Synchro. From there we travelled south along a pre-determined transect to Purros, and then to the Brandberg as our final destination. This year the Kaokoveld was exceedingly dry and to make matters worse, it was preceded by an exceptionally dry season, meaning that collecting conditions were sub optimal.

Arriving late afternoon at the Brandberg, we were saddened that our trip was at an end. However, I have long suspected that the Brandberg would be an ideal habitat for the flightless dung beetles of Namibia and was feeling optimistic. This was my first visit to this magnificent mountain and I had only a single day to make it count.

The flightless dung beetles of Namibia (figure 1) are an amazing group that have adapted quite well to living in this harsh arid environment. They have become flightless to conserve water. Not being able to fly meant that they had to find a dependable source of food and found that Dassie (Procavia capensis) dung middens to be the ideal habitat.

Early the next morning I got ready for a long hike. It is easy to find the dung middens by looking for the characteristic white urine streaks (figure 2) on the granite boulders. Soon, I found dead but broken fragments of beetles that I could see was something unique. I needed at least one live male specimen to describe the species. Later, during the afternoon I decided to look at a different site about five kilometers away. I found an overhanging boulder that sheltered the underlying midden from the harshest sun and started sifting the substrate. Only more fragments of dead beetles. Then finally, walking on the silt next to me I noticed the prize, a live male specimen! Climbing down the Brandberg’s steep slopes, drenched in sweat and covered in dust never felt so good.

The new species was named Versicorpus daures in honor of the Brandberg Mountain as “Dâures” in the local Damara people’s language it is the name for the Brandberg Mountain.

The original species description can be found in: Deschodt, C.M., Sole, C.L., 2019 A new species of Versicorpus Deschodt, Davis & Scholtz, 2011 (Scarabaeinae: Byrrhidiini) from the Brandberg Mountain, Namibia. Zootaxa 4671 (1): 139–144.

The images used here are with the kind permission of Hennie de Klerk who was part of the trip.

Author(s): Christian M. Deschodt