Something for Adrian

Miscellaneous North American Cerambycidae - click for larger version (1680 x 1120).

In a comment on my  post, Adrian Thysse asked to see hi-res images of specimen drawers from my own collection. Like any good North American entomologist, Adrian was a little bothered by the card-mounting technique used by the sender of the specimen box featured in that post and wanted to see what a nice collection of properly pinned specimens might look like. It’s actually not the first time he’s made this request—back when I first moved this blog to WordPress (more than three years ago) he did so when I put up my Collection page featuring a photo of my “Oh wow!” insect drawer. I’ve thought about doing this ever since he first made this request, but the problem, or at least my problem, with photographing specimen drawers from my main collection is a combination of large drawer size (reducing the size of the specimens in an image of the drawer) and long series of a relatively small number of species in the same genus or closely related genera (making the drawer contents look rather uniform in appearance). I suppose some might still be interested in seeing drawers from a “working collection” such as mine, but I just never had enough motivation to start pulling out drawers and taking photos.

Adrian is in luck, however, as I just happened to be putting together a shipment of miscellaneous North American Cerambycidae for a collector in Europe (to whom I’ve owed insects for longer than I like to admit). The box I’m using for the shipment is smaller than a normal collection drawer and is packed with close to 100 species of this diverse beetle family. There might be a specimen here and there that was collected by someone else, but the vast majority were collected, mounted, labeled, and identified by me. I show this as an example of my curatorial technique, and as a bonus the above image is linked to a fairly large version (1680 x 1120) for those who might be interested in getting a really close look at the specimens and their labels. Here also are closer looks at the specimens in the bottom left and bottom right corners, respectively:

Hmm, is that a wasp at the bottom?

What species is that without the ''normal'' ID label?

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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19 Responses to Something for Adrian

  1. Derek Hennen says:

    That’s an enviable collection, I’m impressed! I’m glad to see that specimen of Megacyllene decora–I was introduced to it this past summer and wish there was more information published about it. Do you happen to have anymore information about it or when you collected it?

    • That specimen was one of several I found crawling on the stems of its host, Amorpha fruticosa, in the prairies of western Missouri. The best way to find this species is find out where some Amorpha stands are and then go there in fall when the goldenrod is in bloom. Adults are attracted to the goldenrod flowers and, occasionally like this one, can be found on the host stems.

  2. Wow (again)! Thanks so much Ted. So neat and orderly, you’d make one ‘ell of a drill sergeant!

    I noticed the Neoclytus spp. in the bottom right corner and that rang a bell. I had to check back on my own blog to see the image I took last year of Clytus ruricola, and it leaves me wondering if I have the ID right.

    The time and dedication it must take to do a job like this is astounding, and to think this is just a small sample of your work! Entomologists are amazing!

    Thanks, I’m going to take a closer look at the the photos when I get back from chauffeuring duties. And I’ll be saving this post for posterity… :)

    • You’re welcome, Adrian. I figured you’d like this one.

      Clytine cerambycids can be tricky to ID, but I think your Clytus ruricola is good—the U-shaped middle yellow band of the elytra is shared by a few other species, but if the antennae are longish (reaching mid-elytra) then that cinches it.

      I love the field collecting, identification work, incorporating specimens into the collection, and writing papers from the data they represent, but frankly I could live without having to do the mounting and labeling. It’s time spent just performing a task and not really learning anything, and my anal compulsions prevent me from doing anything less than a perfect job to reduce the amount of time it takes. I guess that’s why I find myself with such an enormous backlog of specimens still needing to be mounted and labeled (I already have papers published on some of this still unmounted material!).

      I still plan to follow through on that series of posts showing different stages of the curatorial process. It won’t happen overnight, and they may be fairly widely spaced when they do start appearing, but look for them all the same.

  3. Pingback: Longhorn Lost and Longhorns Gained…

  4. I think you could have asked those questions in the captions as ID Challenges!

    • I thought about it, but as I have an ID Challenge in progress I thought that might be overkill. Still, maybe offering up points isn’t a bad idea, since nobody’s attempted an answer.

      Okay – 2 bonus pts in the current BitB Challenge Session for the first correct answers to the questions in the captions.

      • Bonus points, eh? Well, for the first question, no, that’s not a wasp. It looks like Ulochaetes leoninus, which is a longhorn beetle. As for the second question, I think it’s Purpuricenus paraxillaris, which, if I remember correctly, was the first new species you discovered.

        • Sorry Mr. P – it would’ve been a cheeky move on your rivals, but Brady already snatched the points.

          You are correct, however, that P. paraxillaris was the first new species that I discovered (although not the first one that I described).

          • And here I was thinking I was being clever :) I didn’t realize you turned on moderated comments until after I posted.

            By the way, this is an awesome collection. I hope one day to have one as good as this.

  5. Brady Richards says:

    Okay, I’ll give the questions a shot.

    No, the lion beetle in the top picture isn’t a wasp but it is a wasp mimic. The first one I ever caught — after seeing one in a collection even — had me so freaked out that I couldn’t force myself to catch it by hand although I KNEW exactly what it was. I’ve since gotten over that, even snagging one in flight bare handed.

    At first, I didn’t see an abnormal label. I’m assuming you mean the specimen with the yellow label poking out? I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s probably Purpuricenus paraxillaris MacRae and the yellow label signifies a paratype.

    And let me add one more thing: Adrian, I’m green with envy!

  6. Brady Richards says:

    To clarify my last statement in the previous post…I thought the shipment was going to Adrian. I need to learn to get my caffeine in BEFORE I post comments!

  7. Dan Mays says:

    I know that I am a bit late posting this query, but . . .

    I have noticed over the years that sometimes pinned specimens have their legs posed outward in a life-like display and other times the legs are simply left to curl under the abdomen in a natural death repose.

    It seems that most of the time you post photos of collected insects with their legs carefully positioned in life-like displays even though they are quite dead. I realize that this makes for better photography, but I also realize the time-consuming aspect this tedious process requires.

    Way back in my youth when I was making collections for a 4-H project, a state fair judge down graded my collection simply because I had taken the time to display the legs outwardly. He simply stated that it was a “waste of time.” From purely a scientific documentary perspective, perhaps he was correct — and it certainly was time-consuming! However, I still question his ‘holier than thou’ assertion. Certainly as an amateur, I find that being able to see the insect legs (and often the antenna, as well) helps me better understand and sometimes identify certain insects. I believe it adds clarity. Unquestionably it aesthetically augments the display — and maybe this is where the dividing line is drawn: Is this collection going to be primarily used as a display or as documentation?

    I also realize that from a scientific perspective, splayed legs and antenna take up a lot more room — something that is always at a premium. However, I also realize that when entomologists are researching older collected specimens to establish documentation, they often pull out pinned specimens and inadvertently knock off curled appendages that are concealing identifying characteristics. Over the years, some collected specimens have become quite beat-up.

    Where do you weigh in on this?

    • First things first – that 4-H judge is an idiot! No entomologist with half a brain would discourage careful curatorial technique for any reason.

      My mounting technique is designed to be both aesthetically pleasing and space efficient while provide maximum protection against accidental breakage. Note how closely the legs and antennae are positioned against the body – not truly life-like, but something similar. The further that legs and antennae are from the body, the more space they take up and the more prone they are to breakage during handling. In a private collection such as mine, space = $$$ and is thus at a premium, and breakage reduces both the scientific and the aesthetic value of the specimen. Even the labels are designed to maximize space efficiency, with use of multiple smaller labels per specimen rather than one larger label to keep the label footprint smaller than all but the smallest specimens.

      This technique does occasionally obscure some lateral structures needed for identification – usually by the middle leg. In such cases it is a simple matter to place a drop of Barbers solution at the base of the leg, wait a few minutes, and then gently move the leg further underneath the specimen to reveal the lateral structures. It might seem more space efficient and protective to have the legs dangling completely underneath the specimen, but in long-legged species this reduces the vertical space on the pin available for labels and places them at risk of breakage from the pinning surface itself depending on its depth.

      Yes, it takes a lot of time, and even without the above mentioned advantages I’m not sure my retentive tendencies would allow me to do otherwise. Still, I find a box such as the one shown in this photo a delight to behold and cringe when I look at boxes with legs and antennae splayed all over the place. If I was your 4-H judge I would have given you an A+ on your collection!

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