The east end of La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur in Buenos Aires offers a quiet contrast to the more populated central and western areas. Few people leave the levee-trail system that surrounds the famous wetlands and pampas grass stands in those latter areas; however, those that do find in the east a mosaic of pastures and young woodlands that offer a greater diversity of sights and invite a more leisurely pace. November is spring in Buenos Aires, and as such there were a number of plants beginning to bloom in the Reserve. One plant I found blooming in abundance in one small part of the east area was a member of the family Malvaceae that I take to be Abutilon pauciflorum, a few of which were being devoured by these leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae).
These beetles are clearly members of the subtribe Doryphorina within the nominate subfamily, looking very similar to the North American species Zygogramma suturalis (ragweed leaf beetle) or the vittate species of Calligrapha (subgenus Bidensomela), e.g. Calligrapha bidenticola. Both of these genera are represented in Argentina, and at first I was inclined to believe the beetles belonged to the latter genus since its Central and South American members are associated almost exclusively with malvaceous plants (North American species of Calligrapha have adapted to plants in several other families). However, a view of the tarsus in the last photo suggests that the claws are joined at the base, a character that immediately separates members of the genus Zygogramma from the genus Calligrapha (species of Doryphora also have fused tarsal claws but exhibit a completely different gestalt). Eight species of Zygogramma have been recorded from Argentina, but I wasn’t able to find photographs of any that look reasonably similar to the individuals in these photos. The identification will have to remain, frustratingly, non-specific.
Update 12/6/11: I just received an email from Shawn Clark (Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah) saying that he suspects the beetles belong to the genus Desmogramma. This genus is distinguished from both Zygogramma and Calligrapha by having the prosternum sharply angled upward anterior to fore coxae or mesosternum with a distinct horn directed anteriorly (Flowers 2004) and the claws widely separated and unarmed. Unfortunately, neither character is visible in these photos. Three species of Desmogramma are recorded from Argentina, and the coloration of these individuals resembles that described by Stål (1862) for D. striatipennis (D. semifulva and D. nigripes have the 3rd, 5th and 9th elytral interstices light).
These photographs represent continued efforts with the so-called ‘blue sky background’ technique that I’ve been trying to perfect as an alternative to the black background one typically gets in insect macrophotography with full-flash illumination of the subject. All of these photos were taken at ISO 640 using an MP-E 65mm lens at f/13 with 1/160 sec (1st photo) or 1/125 sec (2nd and 3rd photos) exposure and F.E.C. -1. These are similar settings to those used in my previous and not as satisfactory attempt, but this time the results were much better. Not only is the color of the sky spot-on blue, but these photos have much better detail than the previous. In this case, I believe “locking’” the subject relative to the lens to prevent motion blur was the key—I used my left hand to hold the leaf with the beetle towards the bluest area of the sky, rested the camera lens on my left wrist, used my fingers to fine tune the leaf position as I looked through the viewfinder, and held my breath!
Flowers, R. W. 2004. The genera of Chrysomelinae (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) in Costa Rica. Revista de Biología Tropical 52(1):77–83.
Stål, C. 1862. Monographie des Chrysomélides l’Amérique. C. A. Leffler, Upsal, 365 pp.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011