Scientists Find Real Millenium Bug

SYDNEY, Australia, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - The millenium bug is real, but it cannot be found in computers.

The newly discovered insect to be formally named "Millennium Bug" belongs to a new genus of the family Veliidae - small water striders. Insect scientists can use water striders to monitor the quality of fresh water.

Scientists Tom Weir, an entomologist with the Australian government research organization CSIRO, and Dr. Nils Møller Andersen of the Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen will describe their finding in a scientific paper to be published shortly in the Australian journal "Invertebrate Taxonomy."


The Millenium Bug is shown here many times its real size of two millimeters (.078 inches). (Photo courtesy CSIRO)
Found in mountain streams of southeast Queensland and northeast New South Wales, this insect is presently known to exist at only eight localities in that region. About two millimetres long, it lives on the surface of the water in quiet areas of freshwater streams.

Head of the Australian National Insect Collection, Dr. Ebbe Nielsen, says, "The "Millennium Bug is a 'waiting' predator/scavenger that feeds on small insects."

The bug's actual scientific name cannot be made public until international procedures for scientific naming are complete, but both its scientific and common names will be the "Millennium Bug."

"Inland freshwater is one of Australia's most important and precious resources, in terms of planning our future," Dr. Nielsen said. "Protecting it is one of the great challenges we face in the new Millennium."

"The reason I asked Dr. Andersen, who is the world authority on this group of insects, and Mr. Weir to work on water striders is so we can use them to monitor the quality of freshwater all over Australia," Dr. Nielsen explained.

"Insects are very fine instruments for indicating the biological health of their environment. The goal here was to identify the various species of small water striders so we know exactly what they can tell us about the health of our streams and waterbodies."


Forest stream near Kenilworth, Queensland is the type of quiet freshwater stream where the Millenium Bug might be found. (Photo courtesy Maroochy Tourism)
Bugs from the Veliidae family are often found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world and occur on many oceanic islands. Relatives are the only insects to inhabit the surface of the open oceans.

"This new genus includes four species, of which three, including the Millennium Bug, are new to science," said Weir. "These bugs have an interesting adaptation of the tarsi (feet) that enables them to 'glide' across the surface of the water without breaking the surface tension."

The study of the Millennium Bug and its relatives is part of a much larger project to study the most diverse group of animals associated with water surfaces.

"This is yet another remarkable indication of how much of Australia's biological wealth remains undiscovered at the start of the 21st century," said Dr. Nielsen.

"So far we have scientifically described fewer than a third of the insect species on this continent. The work of exploring Australia scientifically is still in its early stages."