science 5.11.2016 9:12

Poachers threaten Hitler beetle

Ljubljana, 5 November - Several caves in Slovenia are home to a beetle that has no remarkable features apart from its name, which has made it world famous. Anophthalmus hitleri is an endangered species, but is unfortunately popular among collectors of items related to Nazi Germany and has been subject to poaching.

Ljubljana
Anophthalmus hitleri
Photo: Tomi Trilar

Endemic to Slovenia, the blind and pigmentless beetle can be found in caves in the Celje area (NE). It is a protected species, like all the other Anophthalmus beetles, and cannot be traded legally, entomologist Tomi Trilar has explained for the STA.

Anophthalmus hitleri is nonetheless often found on the insects market. It is illegally taken from its habitat, while there has also been a case of a theft from a museum collection.

Slovenian experts have rejected rumours that the beetle, named after the Nazi leader in 1937 by collector Oskar Scheibl, can be worth several thousand euros on illegal markets. A more realistic estimate is a few dozen euros, or in exceptional cases EUR 200.

Trilar has meanwhile noted that only experts, capable of carefully examining its genitalia, can really distinguish the Hitler beetle from other species in the genus.

As regards its potential extinction due to poaching, done with well hidden cups containing a saturated salt solution that acts as a preservative, Trilar explained it was unlikely, as most of the beetles never leave cracks in the caves that are inaccessible to people.

There are many cases of animals named after well known people, especially among spiders. These for instance also carry the names of Angelina Jolie, Nelson Mandela, Johnny Cash and Barack Obama, while there are also beetles named after Che Guevara, Sigmund Freud, Theodore Roosevelt, Orson Welles and Casanova.