The Slovenia Times

World's first documented cave beetle larger than life

Science & Education
Leptodirus hochenwartii, the first documented cave beetle in the world found in Postojna Cave.
Photo: Tomi Trilar/Museum of Natural History

Leptodirus hochenwartii, the world's first ever documented cave beetle, whose discovery in Postojna Cave in 1831 would pave the way for a new field of biology, has obtained a special place at the Slovenian Museum of Natural History in the form of a giant scale model.

The two-metre model is based on 3D images of a real beetle, which was only 13 millimetres long from the tip of its antennae to its hind legs.

Based on a digitalised 3D model made by the National Building and Civil Engineering Institute, Matic Kajzar from the company MA-3D Design has printed out the giant model from acrylonitrile styrene acrylate.

The institute's high-tech equipment makes it possible to analyse even the smallest details of the animal's body both on the outside and inside, down to the micron precision.

Morphologically, the two-metre model is virtually identical to the actual beetle, featuring all the details, including the colours.

The model has been included in the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Natural History in Ljubljana.

According to the museum, the beetle was discovered by assistant lamplighter Luka Čeč in 1831 while he was exploring Postojna Cave.

The insect was described in the newspaper Illyrisches Blatt in 1832 by naturalist Ferdinand Schmidt as a new genus and a new species with the Slovenian name drobnovratnik or the narrow-necked cave beetle.

The museum notes that until then it had not been known that caves could be inhabited by insects at all.

As the first specimen of the narrow-necked cave beetle was damaged, Schmidt promised a reward to a person who would bring him a new intact specimen, but was not lucky.

Schmidt found a second specimen in Postojna Cave himself 16 years later. While looking for the rare insect, he discovered a whole series of unknown cave animals not only in Postojna Cave but in some neighbouring caves as well.

"The unexpected finds stirred much imagination all over the world and attracted many foreign researchers to visit Slovenia. A new field in biology began, eventually called speleobiology," the museum writes on its website.

As a cave insect Leptodirus hochenwartii depends on the constant temperature and moisture in the cave and could not survive outside it. Like the olm, its much more famous neighbour, it has no eyes and no pigment.


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