Incredibly Well-Preserved Ancient Beetle Dubbed Attenborough's Beauty

It's not uncommon for scientists to gather fossils and other objects of interest only to have the items left uninvestigated for many years. That is exactly what happened to a unique and extremely well-preserved frog-legged beetle fossil that has been on display at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for decades. Despite the fossil being on display for years, it has only recently been investigated and determined to be a new species of frog-legged beetle.

The fossil has been on display in the museum's Prehistoric Journey exhibition since the exhibition opened in 1995. It was discovered in the Green River Formation in Garfield County, Colorado. The fossilized beetle was alive 49 million years ago and is so well-preserved you can see the patterns on its wing casings. Researchers dubbed the newly discovered species "Pulchritudo attenboroughi" or "Attenborough's Beauty."

The Beetle was named in honor of Sir David Attenborough. It's rare to have such an incredibly well-preserved beetle in the fossil record. While they are robust when alive, they don't easily fossilize as a whole beetle. When beetles die on water, they float. Eventually, they sink, reaching the sediment, where they often fall apart.

Scientists typically find a single wing case in the fossil record. However, some deposits with fine-grain sediments are particularly good at preserving beetles, often resulting in nearly complete fossils. Deposits of that type are known as lagerst├Ątten, and the Eocene Green River Formation located in northwest Colorado, where the specimen was found, is one of them.

Researchers note that identifying the species of beetle was a challenge. It was labeled as a longhorn beetle in the exhibition display but had features that didn't match up. Researchers say ultimately, the crooked legs of the beetle are what gave away its identity as a frog-legged leaf beetle.