Pollen Bath

Spintherophyta (?) sp. in flower of Abutilon pauciflorum | Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of the smallest insects I saw during my latest visit to  (Buenos Aires, Argentina) was this tiny leaf beetle (family Chrysomelidae) feeding in the flower of a malvaceous plant that I take to be Abutilon pauciflorum. At only ~4 mm in length, it could have easily gone unnoticed had I not noticed there were several feeding in flowers in a small, localized area. The best I could come up with for an ID was subfamily Chrysomelinae due to their globular shape, although the small size didn’t seem right. Turns out I’d forgotten to consider the Eumolpinae, which also contains globular species that are usually much smaller than those in the Chrysomelinae, and according to leaf beetle specialists Shawn Clark and Ed Riley this is likely a member Spintherophyta or a closely related genus.

Covered with tasty, sticky pollen!

Although there are only four species of Spintherophyta in North America (Schultz 1976), and of those only S. globosa is widespread and commonly encountered, the diversity of the genus explodes in the Neotropics (Blackwelder 1946 lists 71 species). Accordingly, neither Shawn nor Ed were brave enough to venture a guess as to which species this might represent. I should probably defer to their good sense, but part of me wonders if that coppery pronotum might suggest S. cupricollis—one of only two species in the genus listed by Blackwelder (1946) for Argentina.

REFERENCE:

Blackwelder, R.E. 1946. Checklist of the coleopterous insects of Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, and South America. Bulletin of the U. S. National Museum 185:551-1492.

Schultz, W. T. 1976. Review of the genus Spintherophyta (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) in North America north of Mexico. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 69(5):877–881.

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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23 Responses to Pollen Bath

  1. This fella is just plain cute, and metallic hues are outstanding. Glad you didn’t just pass it by!

  2. Molly says:

    Can’t believe you even saw it because it would be so easy to walk past. Pretty.

  3. Hi Ted, I checked with the latest work on South American Eumolpinae which is Bechyné 1953. Both Chrysodina cupricollis and Chrysodina gracilis are considered as forms of Chrysodina semiaurata Klug along with some others as well. This species seems to be widespread and variable.
    There are an additional 7 species of Chrysodina listed in Bechyné for Argentina as well. It does not list any species of Spintherophyta for Argentina. The species he list for the genus are all Central American. The species he has in Chrysodina would now be considered Spintherophyta though. Wills Flowers (in 1996) moved the species Bechyné lists from Spintherophyta to Metaparia and all the Central American species of Chrysodina to Spintherophyta. The South American ones have not been synomised as far as I know, but it should be logic they are all Spintherophyta. The following 8 species are known from Argentina:

    Chrysodina callida Bechyné 1950 Argentina: Cordoba, Corrientes

    Chrysodina collaris Lefèvre 1885 Argentina: Buenos Aires, Entre Rios

    Chrysodina olaena Bechyné 1951 Argentina: Cordoba, Chaco, Formosa, Misiones

    Chrysodina opacicollis Lefèvre 1885 Argentina: Corrientes

    Chrysodina opulenta Lefèvre 1877 Argentina: Entre Rios, Santiago del Estero, Tucuman

    Chrysodina parguayensis Jacoby 1898 Argentina: Misiones, Tucuman

    Chrysodina semiaurata Klug 1829 Argentina: Buenos Aires, Entre Rios, Corrientes, Cordoba, Misiones, Santa Fe, Formosa, Santiago del Estero

    Chrysodina simplocarina Bechyné 1953 Argentina: Misiones

    These are some closely related genera worth checking as well. Some of the Spintherophyta were transferred to these. The following are known from Argentina:

    Ischyrolampra clavicornis (Bechyné) 1951 Argentina: Tucuman, Chaco, Santa Fe, Formosa, Entre Rios (was described as Cephalaletes)

    Ischyrolamprina lampros (Lefèvre) 1888 Argentina: Misiones (was Spintherophyta)

    Ischyrolamprina rufitarsis Bechyné 1951 Argentina: Salta

    Nycterodina aulica (Lefèvre) 1884 N. Argentina (was Spintherophyta)

    None of these species are depicted online so I don´t think you´ll find out for sure what yours is any time soon unless you strike lucky with Spintherophyta semiaurata. Besides the species above the genus Brachyphnoea (Nodonota in Bechyné) is also a very similar and could be your beetle as well. It has 10 species listed from Argentina.

    greetings,

    Rob Westerduijn

    • Hi Rob – very nice summary. There is a good quality photograph of a pinned specimen of Spintherophyta semiaurata in Zawadneak et al. (2011), who report the species as a pest of strawberry in Brazil. That species is clearly not the one that I photographed, so perhaps one of the others you listed is a possibility. Shawn Clark did mention that it may be in another closely related genus, and even if he had the specimen he was not sure he would be able to identify it. Oh well, you can’t ID ‘em all!

      • Ted-I would not exclude that species right away. The species is very variable in colour and probably therefor it was discribed as several different species at first. In the text they state: This beetle species has a rounded body varying in color from green, blue or black, always with a metallic luster. But I can imagine (from what I know of similar variable species I get here) the colours on your beetle could well be in the range of variation as well. Also the old name cupricollis seems so suggest such colour patterns. Structurally it looks very similar. first 4 antennomeres reddish brown, Antennomeres 7-11 clearly broadened. Scuttelum concolour with the pronotum. All black legs, The punctures on the elytra (scattered at the base, more or less in lines at the back and sides) also fit as well as the slightly raised humerus. It would be nice to see a picture of what used to be cupricollis to make sure.

  4. Dave says:

    It seems to be in my nature to appreciate the smaller thing in life, but I have to say that they do tend to be monochromatic and often dull. Nice to see one that glitters, especially since the only Spintherophyta I’ve likely to see is glbosa, which barely glistens.

    • I really need to start trying to photograph some of the tiny Agrilus buprestid beetles that I study—all the color and surface sculpture of the big guys, but largely unappreciated because of their size.

      Of course, who am I talk speak of tiny to a mite guy!

  5. Alex Wild says:

    These are beautiful, Ted! Focusing in the little round beetles can be such a challenge…

  6. Ted, I absolutely love these photographs! As Dave above, I also appreciate the smaller things in life – beetles especially. Thanks so much for sharing these!

  7. Marvin says:

    Great photos, Ted.

  8. Mule Springs says:

    Hi Ted: I am curious about the lens you use to get such close up shots. Could you share that information?

    This color of this beetle reminds me of the colors reflected off hummingbirds and the opalescent sheen covering pigeons’ feathers. The color seems to have something to do with light.

    Sher

    • Hi Sher. These photos were taken with Canon’s MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro lens – the first photo probably a little above 1X and the second closer 3X. For that magnification range there is no finer lens!

      You’re right about the colors, which are partially iridescent (due to refraction of light by different layers in the insect cuticle, or shell).

  9. Mule Springs says:

    Ted: Thanks for lens info. I took some photos last year of ants I found inhabiting a snag on our farm. I used a Nikon D3000 with macro filters on the lens. I tried them with my regular lens and a 200mm lens. They helped a bit, but it was still a struggle to get what I wanted. I will check and see what is comparable in Nikon.

    Interesting comment about light refraction. Sher

    • Unfortunately, Nikon does not have a comparable lens. You could use their 105mm macro and bump up the mag with extension tubes, but the most that will get you is a little under 2X. There might be some reverse lens + extension tube combinations that get high mag, but I’m not sure what those would be.

      • Mule Springs says:

        Hmm, well, I guess that is the best I can do if I stay with Nikon. And we are a Nikon house. I share some lenses with my spouse.

        I read the reviews on the 105mm, and it may do the trick for my picture taking. I’d like to photograph and identify insects I see around the farm. Purely documentary — though insects are so beautiful and intricate, I’d like to capture some of their splendor.

        Thanks for pointing me in the direction. :)

  10. TGIQ says:

    Lovely colours, lighting, and depth of field – amazing for such a teensy little thing!

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