Is the smallest insect ever debate finally settled?

Posted Oct 13, 2015 by Tim Sandle
After a long debate about the accuracy of measurements and the measurement method, the world’s smallest insect has finally been announced. And it is very, very tiny.
Featherwing beetle  of the family Ptiliidae. The family is divided into 3 subfamilies.
Featherwing beetle, of the family Ptiliidae. The family is divided into 3 subfamilies.
Udo Schmidt
The smallest insect is a species of featherwing beetle, with the particular specimen that created a buzz in the world of entomology isolated from fungus in Columbia back in 1999. The size of this diminutive treasure is 0.325 millimeters (mm), that’s equivalent to 0.013 inches for those yet to adopt the metric system.
The tiny featherwing beetle has been found only a few times, being spotted in Nicaragua and Colombia. Only around 85 examples of the species are held in collections which have been examined. The name featherwing beetle was adopted because the hindwings of the insect are narrow and feathery.
The smallest of these species is the record holder, coming in at 0.325 mm. The beetle goes by the scientific name of Scydosella musawasensis. The 85 specimens are the only representative species of the genus Scydosella.
The measurement was made by Dr. Alexey Polilov, of Lomonosov Moscow State University Moscow. The measured beetle has a long, oval body with yellowish-brown colouration. The beetle is also characterized by antennae that are split into 10 segments.
The reason for the time, and a little controversy, over making the measurement is because the specimen in question, along with other representatives of the species, is held in a preservative and embedded onto a slide. This happened before a precise measurement could be made.
Given that the embedded beetle could not be accurately measured, Dr. Polilov went into the field and tracked down new examples. The new specimens were collected in 2015 from Chicaque National Park, Colombia. Subjecting these to digital photography, he then used extrapolated measurements from the micrographs to assess the size of the 1999 specimen. This process was aided by special imaging software.
Using this process the record 325 micronmeter (µm) or 0.325 mm size was declared. The results have been reported to the journal ZooKeys, in a paper called “How small is the smallest? New record and remeasuring of Scydosella musawasensis Hall, 1999 (Coleoptera, Ptiliidae), the smallest known free-living insect.”
In other insect related, and perhaps equally controversial, news researchers have put forward, in a paper, the discovery of a new species of fly. This may not seem that remarkable, but the fly has caused a tumultus taxonomic tornado because it has been so-named through photographic evidence alone.