Immortalised By A Beetle

I have done some work on our family tree and we have traced the Bennett family back to the 18th century.  The name Bennett comes from the medieval given name Benedict, originating from the Latin "benedictus" meaning "blessed" and. while I may occasionally curse my job because of all the travel, I have been blessed in so many ways. 

Although my wife and I are childless, my brother and cousins have done their best to keep the family name alive. However, thanks to my work at the World Bank I have trumped them all by ensuring that the name Bennett will never die out. How? By having a beetle named after me – the ‘Superbotrechus Bennetti’.

My last major highway project in China was the Hubei Yichang-Badong (Yiba) expressway. This was being built through an area with karst (limestone) caves and so my environmentalist Anil Somani advised me that we needed to be extra careful due to the potential impact on the environment.

The Bank has very strict safeguard policies which we must follow on our projects. These are designed to minimize or mitigate the environmental and social impacts of the projects. I was not awre of this but karst caves present particular challenges because they often contain unique species, particularly invertebrates, not found anywhere else. The Youtube video below shows the implications of development on these ecosystems.

Anil suggested we bring in Tony Whitten to our team as an advisor. Tony is the biodiversity specialist for East Asia, and very enthusiastic about caves.

We were fortunate that the project was with the Hubei Provincial Communications Department who were committed to minimizing the environmental impact of the project. Once Tony had explained the importance of cave biodiversity they agreed to undertake a survey with a local university as a baseline effort.

This survey identified a number of caves in the area, with different levels of human impact. We then narrowed our work down to caves within 1 km of the centreline of the road, and conducted further surveys and sampling of the cave biodiversity. This helped us to define specific mitigation measures to be taken in the project – such as putting in fencing to prevent workers accessing the caves, or changing the runoff from the road so that the caves would not be flooded. It was great to be working with the team and Tony got particularly excited when they discovered what was thought to be a new species of beetle.

The process for identifying a species is quite precise. Tony said some people spend years with a single sample. Glad I build roads. The samples were sent off to Guangzhou and from there they worked with specialists in France to classify the samples. Tony was pleased to tell me that: “the beautiful trechine carabid beetle from Duandongzi Cave, Yichang, is both a new genus and species and is named the Superbotrechus bennetti.” A full description of the beetle is in the paper here (it is in French).

When I commented to Tony that I wasn’t sure it was a complement to have a beetle named after me he responded: “Hey, I’ve had a ‘dull, transparent’ snail, a beetle with boggle eyes, a fish with strange genitals etc named after me so count yourself lucky!”.

So there we have it. Thanks to Anil, Tony, Wang Yanghong from the HPCD, the Bennett name will live forever. And  I will take a blind beetle over a fish with strange genitals any day.

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One Response to Immortalised By A Beetle

  1. Congratulations with having a beetle named after you! What a great honour 🙂 At least it will never cause shame to the Bennett name!
    Love from the in-laws.

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