Hitler's bugs

25-08-2006

If we say Hitler and beetles, you may think of a fascist dictator and an old Volkswagen car. But there's another kind of beetle linked to the notorious German dictator, lurking in the caves of Slovenia. Michael Manske of Radio Slovenia International has more on this curious story:

Anophtalmus hitleriAnophtalmus hitleri Slovenia has a number of endemic animals, most famously the proteus anguinus, commonly referred to as a "cave salamander" or "human fish". The amphibian is proudly displayed on the ten-tolar coin. But another cave dweller has recently started getting a lot of unwanted attention from around the world.

The story begins shortly before the Second World War, when the Nazi entomologist Oscar Scheibel discovered a blind beetle in the caves of Slovenia. He named it Anophtalmus hitleri - in honor of the German dictator. Contrary to expectations, Hitler was honored to have his name bestowed on a blind, cave-dwelling insect, even sending Scheibel a thank-you letter.

In 1945, Hitler committed suicide in a bunker in Berlin, the war drew to a close, and his name entered the lexicon as a synonym for evil. But his beetle namesake quietly continued on with his now-infamous name. Today, the bug has become a sought-after item among neo-Nazis as well as among people trading in the lucrative market of World War II memorabilia. Since the bug only exists in a few caves in Slovenia, it's often difficult to come by - inflating the price even further. In fact, it's said that a single specimen of the brown beetle can now fetch upwards of 1,000 euros on the open market.

People have begun raiding Slovenian caves in the hopes of finding the insects and a number of specimens were even stolen from the zoological research institute in Munich.

The obvious question is: Why not change the name? Surely, most interest in the beetle would die down if the name, which literally translates to "eyeless Hitler", were altered. So why not?

The answer is tradition. Once a name is given and accepted within the scientific community, it is very rarely changed. So there are currently no plans to relieve the poor bug of its infamous name.

The Hitler beetle is still not endangered, or anywhere near extinction, but if prices continue to rise, it may find itself sharing Hitler's gruesome fate.

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