Scientists name ‘diving beetle’ for Colbert

May 6, 2009

Top 10 new species to be announced May 23

"What has six legs and is way cooler than a spider?" asks a riddle on the cover of a birthday card sent to Stephen Colbert by entomologists Quentin Wheeler at Arizona State University and Kelly Miller at the University of New Mexico. Download Full Image

The answer - Agaporomorphus colberti - is a diving beetle from Venezuela named by Wheeler and Miller to honor Colbert, the satirical host and executive producer of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."

Knowing Colbert's fondness for recognition (there's his popular segment on the show: "Who's Not Honoring Me Now") and for presents, the scientists sent the political satirist a framed print of the beetle as a birthday gift to mark his 45th birthday on May 13.

"Last year, Stephen shamelessly asked the science community to name something cooler than a spider to honor him. His top choices were a giant ant or a laser lion. While those would be cool species to discover, our research involves beetles, and they are ‘way cooler' than a spider any day," Wheeler says.

Wheeler and Miller are no strangers to shameless promotion, especially when it comes to shining attention on biodiversity and the field of taxonomy. The pair have named beetles to honor the late rock ‘n' roll legend Roy Orbison and his widow Barbara (Orectochilus orbisonorum); for fictional "Star Wars" character Darth Vader (Agathidium vaderi); and for former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Agathidium bushi, A. cheneyi and A. rumsfeldi).

Wheeler is director of the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, in addition to being a university vice president, dean of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and a professor in the School of Life Sciences.

Miller, a former student of Wheeler, is an assistant professor of biology at the University of New Mexico and curator of arthropods at UNM's Museum of Southwestern Biology.

What makes beetles cooler than spiders? Their strength in numbers - they dominate other groups of species. Taxonomists believe there are roughly 500,000 named species in the scientific order Coleoptera (beetles) and probably three times that many waiting to be discovered - an amount that far exceeds the number of species in any other group of plant or animal.

The beetle named for Colbert - Agaporomorphus colberti - belongs to a species group (A. knischi Zimmerman) based on the common presence of a pair of rows of fine setae on the dorsal surface of the male's reproductive organs.

There are about 1.8 million species that have been described since Carolus Linnaeus initiated the modern systems for naming plants and animals in the 18th century. Scientists estimate there are between 2 million and 100 million species on Earth, though most put that number closer to 10 million. Even with some 20,000 new species discovered each year, there are many that will go out of existence before being studied.

"Charting the species of the world and their unique attributes are essential parts of understanding the history of life," Wheeler says. "It is our own self-interest as we face the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet."

That urgency is shared by Miller and others, including Harvard biologist and conservationist E.O. Wilson, in their quest to draw attention to biodiversity.

"In a time when new planets are being found around other stars and people are wondering whether life exists elsewhere in the universe, many people aren't aware of how much is not known about life on our own planet," says Miller. "Opportunities like this help boost awareness of the vast diversity that remains undiscovered on Earth, and of taxonomy, the science that seeks to discover it."

Wheeler adds: "Naming a beetle for Stephen Colbert is in sync with the institute's goal to popularize science."

As another part of its public awareness campaign, the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University annually unveils the top 10 new species described in the previous year. The list of top 10 new species from 2008 will be announced May 23, a date that coincides with the birth of Linnaeus.

The top 10 new species are selected by an international committee of taxonomists - scientists responsible for species exploration and classification. Last year's list is at:


On May 23, the institute also will release the State of Observed Species (SOS) Report on human knowledge of Earth's species, summarizing the number of species newly described in the most recent year for which complete data are available.

More information about Agaporomorphus colberti is at:">">http://www.mapres...

Students earn recognition for academic achievement

May 6, 2009

Eleven outstanding undergraduate students are recipients of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences spring student awards and honors. The annual selection recognizes student achievement, leadership, and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Among this year's honorees, students were chosen for their research on medieval literature, work with autistic children, and installation of water purification systems in southern Mexico.

Whitney Meshay and Steven Tran - Convocation Speakers

Whitney Meshay is a senior majoring in German, religious studies and political science. She is a member of College Ambassador where she aids students with their academics and helps make their life at ASU "as easy and painless as possible." During her sophomore year, she was a student orientation leader. Meshay, who also will earn a certificate in international studies, plans to attend graduate school to study national security policy, focusing on intelligence analysis. Download Full Image

Steven Tran is a senior majoring in political science with minors in Japanese and women and gender studies. He will also earn a certificate in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) studies. He is a member of Sigma Phi Beta and has held diverse positions such as community relations chair, president and pledge educator. Tran also spent two years at Equality Arizona, the state's only statewide advocacy organization for the LGBT community.

As the Convocation Speakers, Meshay and Tran exemplify the goals and achievements of a liberal arts and sciences education, at the moment and for the future. They represent the college's graduating class and will address their peers at the May 15" target="_blank">convocation ceremonies, one at 8 a.m. and the other at 11:30 a.m.

Kendall Gerdes - Leadership Award

Kendall Gerdes is a senior majoring in English with a certificate in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) studies. She is the co-director of the LGBT Coalition where she provides support for LGBT students and connects them with resources needed to succeed. She helped organize the National Coming Out Day, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and World AIDS Day at ASU. Gerdes presented a paper at the Federation Rhetoric Symposium where she was the only undergraduate student presenting. She also has been a peer tutor at the Writing Center.

The college's Leadership Award is given to a student who performs well academically while taking on leadership roles outside of the classroom to make significant social contributions.

Crystal Allison - ASU Alumni Association Outstanding Graduate

Crystal Allison is a senior majoring in global studies. In 2006, she participated in the ASU Alternative Spring Break project, traveling to Louisiana to help rebuild communities after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Allison has also worked with autistic children for three year as an autism habilitator with Arizona Autism United. She has been accepted to George Washington University's physician assistant program that is designed to lead to a master's degree in public health and health sciences.

The ASU Alumni Association Outstanding Graduate award recipient is nominated by individual colleges and is presented at the honors convocation.

James Randall - Student Achievement Award

James Randall is a senior majoring in anthropology. Randall has served the ASU community in many ways, including facilitating an ASU 101 class, as a community assistant in Residential Life, and as an ambassador in the ASU Multicultural Student Center. He was also on the board of directors of the Programming and Activities Board and president of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity.

The Student Achievement Award is presented to a student whose life and academic accomplishments are exemplary.

Kristina Manymules - Jean Chaudhuri Memorial Scholarship Award

Kristina Manymules is a senior majoring in American Indian studies and justice studies. After taking an introductory class in justice studies, Manymules was inspired to work toward equality, justice and unity in the world. The class also offered her the opportunity to relate American Indian issues to global justice issues and view the world beyond the Navajo reservation. She aspires to continue her education at the Indigenous People's Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona and earn a juris doctorate focusing on civil and property law. She hopes to represent the Navajo Nation and help end the cycle of poverty.

The Jean Chaudhuri Memorial Scholarship, established in Chaurhuri's memory by her husband, a former associate dean of academic programs, recognizes the achievements of an American Indian student who has succeeded in the world outside of his or her culture.

David Duran - Adult Re-entry Award

David Duran is a senior majoring in justice studies and Spanish. Duran encourages his children to stay in school by telling them, "If I can do it, you can do it." He plans to continue his education at ASU with a master's degree in Spanish literature.

The Adult Re-entry Award is bestowed on students who have had their education interrupted or postponed by events in their lives, yet successfully conquered complex challenges upon returning to college.

Louis Maizy - Scholarship Award

Louis Maizy is a senior majoring in physics. He is the vice president of the Society of Physics Students and an undergraduate researcher in an ASU nanoscience lab. Maizy helped organize and design educational and interactive physics displays for ASU Homecoming events. He has been accepted to graduate school to obtain a doctorate in physics.

The Scholarship Award recognizes that good scholarship is an inferred goal of a liberal arts and sciences education. It signifies that good research is one of the best humanistic achievements of our society.

Charles Armstrong - Transfer Student Award

Charles Armstrong is a senior majoring in biology. He has an associate's degree of science from Mesa Community College. Armstrong studied the effects of chronic stress on the brain and behavior as an undergraduate researcher working with Associate Professor Cheryl Conrad in her neuroscience lab. The experience was part of the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research program.

Armstrong is dedicated to helping the homeless and volunteers his time to Maggie's Place, Andre House, and Health Care for the Homeless. He plans to attend medical school and become a physician serving the less fortunate.

The Transfer Student Award is bestowed on students who have transferred from other institutions and have been successful in completing their degrees in an exemplary way.

Brandy Gibson - Len and Rena Gordon "Spunky" Award

Brandy Gibson is a senior majoring in English literature. After leaving high school in the ninth grade, Gibson went to the public library and immersed herself in literature and poetry. She earned an associate degree from Mesa Community College and though she had some initial apprehension about university-level classes, she has attended ASU with great success. Gibson presented a paper at the inaugural Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Undergraduate Conference with guidance from Professor Robert Bjork, director of the center. "She did an excellent job in presenting her work and especially in fielding some very tough questions after her presentation," Bjork wrote in his nomination of Gibson for the award. Gibson plans to continue her medieval scholarship by attending graduate school.

The Len and Rena Gordon "Spunky" Award, established by a former associate dean of academic programs and his wife, recognizes a student who has shown "spunk" in overcoming obstacles to succeed as an undergraduate.

Anne Marie Norgren - Sun Angel Funk Award

Anne Marie Norgren is a junior majoring in mathematics with a minor in nonprofit leadership and management. Norgren served as chair of Camp Sparky, a student-run nonprofit organization that works with at-risk youth in the Phoenix metropolitan area. She also spent a summer in southern Mexico installing water purification systems, teaching people how to use clean water and working with orphaned children.

The Sun Angel Funk Award is funded by the Funk and the Sun Angel endowments and is given to students who achieve academic prominence and demonstrate community focused awareness with their actions.