Proof that it’s possible to ship large, pinned beetles safely!

Miscellaneous Buprestidae from Dan Heffern

Miscellaneous Buprestidae from Dan Heffern

Those who have followed this blog for awhile know that I’ve been on a bit of a rant during the past few months about the way pinned insect specimens are packed and shipped. This has been prompted primarily by the receipt of several damaged insect shipments, some of the more egregious examples of which are shown here and on Facebook. In all of these cases, damage could have been prevented had the specimens simply been packed and shipped using standard best practices.

I do not wish, however, to give the impression that every insect shipment I receive is damaged. The photo above represents a shipment I just received from Dan Heffern, who is kindly gifting to me some of the excess Buprestidae that he has in his collection in order to make room for his more beloved Cerambycidae. This shipment was especially prone to damage because of the number of large, heavy-bodied specimens it contains. Nevertheless, it arrived safe and sound because of the attention paid by Dan to securing the specimens in place. Note the liberal use of brace pins around each specimen—the larger the specimen, the more brace pins. In addition, the pinning box features a double-foam layer. Double-foam holds specimens much more securely in place than does a single layer, and while I didn’t mention it in my original post it’s a good idea for shipments containing large, heavy-bodied specimens. One drawback of double-foam is that it pushes labels on the pin up close to the specimen, but re-positioning labels on pins is certainly better than having to reattach broken body parts on specimens!

My thanks to Dan for this fine shipment and for paying such great attention to its packing to ensure receipt in the best condition possible!

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Posted in Buprestidae, Coleoptera | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Chrysobothris orono in Tennessee

Virginia pine on bluff tops | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee

Virginia pine on bluff tops | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee

Some years ago, I sent a list of 47 species of Buprestidae for which I had records of occurrence in Tennessee to Joshua Basham, who had recently become interested in the family and wanted to develop a checklist for the state. One of the species on that list—Chrysobothris orono Frost, 1920—caught Josh’s attention, not only because it is a beautiful and very uncommonly encountered species, but also because of the dubious nature of the lone Tennessee record for the species. Knull (1930) recorded a specimen in his collection from ‘‘Fresno Co., Tennessee’’ without further information. However, there is no such county in the state (or any other state in the country outside of California), and Josh was also unaware of any town by that or a similar name in the state.

Chrysobothris orono Frost, 1920 | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee

Chrysobothris orono Frost, 1920 | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee

A few years later, in 2012, Josh and colleague Nadeer Youssef succeeded in finding C. orono in Tennessee at South Cumberland State Park—just one hour east of their facility in McMinnville! They collected nearly two dozen specimens from late May to late July during that and the following year, all associated with exposed roots of Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) growing on the edges of high bluff tops. This was a significant find because it confirmed the occurrence of the species in the state, which heretofore had only been recorded from a handful of states/provinces along the eastern seaboard and around the Great Lakes. Moreover, they found a carcass of an individual that died while emerging from its host, confirming Virginia pine as a larval host. Until then, red pine (P. resinosa) was the only confirmed larval host for the species (Wilson 1969) [Paiero et al. (2012) did also record the species as reared from jack pine, P. banksiana; however, I am unaware of the source of that record]. Both the confirmed state and larval host records were documented in our recent joint paper (MacRae & Basham 2013).

Rarely collected, this species has been reared from several species of pine.

Rarely collected, this species has been reared from several species of pine.

I was especially interested in news of this species being collected in Tennessee, as it was a species I myself had never encountered (having in my collection only a single specimen received in trade). Josh and I had been looking for an opportunity to get out into the field together, so in late May this year I met up with him and Nadeer in McMinnville to look first for Chrysobothris seminole at the type locality in Georgia and then C. orono at South Cumberland State Park in Tennessee. We were a little concerned about the timing of the trip, considering this year’s late spring and that our visit would be on the early side of the dates of occurrence recorded at the site. Nevertheless, Lady Luck shone down upon us, and within minutes of arriving at the site we saw the first beetle. Josh saw it just as it flew from an exposed root and watched it land on a nearby rock. I had hoped to get in situ field photographs of the species, but protocol for the first encounter with any rare, flighty species is to collect the specimen live as a studio backup in the event that I am unsuccessful with field photographs. Josh graciously allowed me to collect and keep this first specimen, and Nadeer saw another individual which he netted in flight shortly afterwards.

Chrysobothris orono was only one of several very cool buprestid species collected on this day...

Chrysobothris orono was only one of several very cool buprestid species collected on this day…

Alas, these would be the only individuals we would see, so I would have to be content with the photos shown here that were taken later that night on a Virginia pine root with an emergence hole.¹ In addition to C. dentipes (see subtext below), we also encountered two other very nice species of Buprestidae at the site. However, discussion and photos of these will be saved for a future post…

¹ It is possible that the emergence hole is that of Chrysobothris dentipes (Germar, 1824), which we also found associated with exposed pine roots at this locality. However, the size of the hole does seem to match the slightly larger C. orono.

The author catches his first ever Chrysobothris orono (photo by Joshua Basham).

The author catching Chrysobothris orono (photo by Joshua Basham).

REFERENCES:

Knull, J. N. 1934. Notes on Coleoptera, No. 4. Entomological News 45(10):207–212 [BioStor].

MacRae, T. C. & J. P. Basham. 2013. Distributional, biological, and nomenclatural notes on Buprestidae (Coleoptera) occurring in the U.S. and Canada. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 89(3):125–142 [pdf].

Paiero, S. M., M. D. Jackson, A. Jewiss-Gaines, T. Kimoto, B. D. Gill & S. A. Marshall. 2012. Field Guide to the Jewel Beetles (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) of Northeastern North America. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 411 pp. [pdf].

Wilson, L. F. 1969. Life history, habits and damage of Chrysobothris orono (Col., Buprestidae) on red pine in Michigan. The Canadian Entomologist 101(3):291–298 [abstract].

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Posted in Buprestidae, Coleoptera | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Big, black (and red), and beautiful!

While I may have already declared Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer) as North America’s most beautiful longhorned beetle, any short list of top candidates for this title must also include the species Crossidius coralinus. Like most other members of this strictly North American genus, these gorgeous beetles emerge as adults during late August and September to feed on the profusion of yellow blooms put forth by their larval host plants, Ericameria nauseosa (gray rabbitbrush). Across the Great Basin and adjacent areas, the relatively large size, spectacularly long antennae, and stunning value contrast between red/black or orange/black beetles, yellow flowers, and blue skies combine to make the sight of C. coralinus a highlight on any fall insect collecting trip. If beauty alone isn’t enough, the species also exhibits an unusual level of polytopism across its range. Red in some areas (e.g., C. c. temprans), orange in others (e.g., C. c. monoensis), bigger or smaller, and varying degrees of development of the black areas that cover the basal edge and apical portion of the elytra, the species segregates into several described subspecies and many more unnamed but locally distinct populations. This post features photos of individuals from several populations that field-mate Jeff Huether and I encountered during last August’s Great Basin collecting trip.

Crossidius coralinus coralinus

Crossidius coralinus ssp. coralinus (male) | Montezuma Co., Colorado

Crossidius coralinus coralinus

Crossidius coralinus ssp. coralinus (female) | Montezuma Co., Colorado

One of the most impressive populations I’ve encountered is illustrated by the male and female individuals shown in the above photos, which were seen near the city of Cortez in southwestern Colorado. Linsley & Chemsak (1961) assigned specimens from this area to the nominate subspecies, characterizing them as “moderate-sized”; however, some of the individuals that we encountered at this site were truly gargantuan (exceeding 20 mm in length). Note how extensive the black areas are in these individuals, especially the female.

Crossidius coralinus jocosus (male) | Costilla Co., Colorado

Crossidius coralinus ssp. jocosus (female?) | Costilla Co., Colorado

Crossidius coralinus jocosus (female) | Costilla Co., Colorado

Crossidius coralinus ssp. jocosus (female) | Costilla Co., Colorado

On the other side of the state near Fort Garland (southeastern Colorado) we encountered a population that Linsley & Chemsak (1961) considered representative of the subspecies C. c. jocosus. In contrast to the larger size and extensive black markings of the nominotypical population we found near Cortez, individuals in this population were considerably smaller in size and exhibited less extensively developed black areas of the elytra. Their small size also made them a little harder to notice—perhaps that is the reason we found so few individuals (~7 total at several sites along Hwy 160). We did note also, however, that the gray rabbitbrush flowers seemed to be well past their prime, so perhaps an earlier appearance of the rains upon which plant flowering and beetle emergence rely had us on the tail end of their activity period.

Crossidius coralinus coralinus

Crossidius coralinus ssp.? (male) | San Juan Co., Utah

Crossidius coralinus coralinus

Crossidius coralinus ssp.? (female) | San Juan Co., Utah

Linsley & Chemsak (1961) noted several populations across middle and southern Utah, but the only one to which they assigned a name was C. c. coccineus in Washington Co. (southwestern Utah). While we didn’t visit Washington Co. on this trip, we did look for these beetles at several sites north of Monticello in San Juan Co. (southeastern part of the state). Geography would place this population close to nominotypical populations, and while the beetles in this population resembled them in size they clearly differed in the greatly reduced black areas of the elytra. Note the male especially, with the black area reduced to little more than a sutural stripe in the apical half of the elytra. Linsley & Chemsak (1961) related specimens collected just a few miles further south from ours to an unnamed population in adjacent Wayne Co. (near Hanksville), both of which seem to be close to C. c. coccineus due to their robust size and the reduced black elytral markings of the male.

Crossidius coralinus ssp. (female) | Nye Co., Nevada

Crossidius coralinus ssp.? (female) | Nye Co., Nevada

Crossidius coralinus is found commonly along the western edge of the Great Basin in the form of C. c. temprans. However, Linsley & Chemsak (1961) presented very few records of the species further east in Nevada. We stopped at several spots in central Nevada while traveling along Hwy 6, but despite an abundance of gray rabbitbrush stands in peak bloom we found but a single male and a single female, the latter shown in the above photograph. Geographically this female should be assignable to C. c. temprans, but the black area of the elytra is not nearly so expanded as is typical for that subspecies. The only record from central Nevada in Linsley & Chemsak (1961) is a single male from White Pine Co. (a little further to the east), but they related that specimen to an unnamed population near Marysvale in Piute Co., Utah of smaller size and with the black area of the elytra distinctly expanded in both sexes.

The author photographing insects on flower head of Ericameria nauseosus.

The author photographs insects on gray rabbitbrush in San Juan Co., Utah.

There are those who say “Subspecies, schmubspecies!” I concede they may be right for a large number of named subspecies, possibly including C. coralinus, and while the basin and range topology of the Great Basin and discontinuous distribution of host plants within that geography provide ideal conditions for the development of distinctive, geographically based populations, I suspect C. coralinus has sufficient mobility to allow gene flow across its range (with the possible exception of populations in California’s Central and Owens Valleys). Moreover, the inability of Linsley & Chemsak (1961) to segregate the central Great Basin populations into discrete taxonomic units suggests that the subspecies concept may not be applicable. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that distinctive, localized populations of this species do exist. Moreover, I hesitate to dismiss subspecies in problematic taxa such as C. coralinus, because doing so makes it easier to ignore variability and presume (possibly incorrectly) no geographic component. Variability is interesting and should be thoroughly evaluated to determine its basis regardless of its basis. Geographically based variability is especially interesting because it suggests the existence of distinct genetic traits that contribute to the genetic diversity of species. Such traits are valuable to protect, and the use of subspecies provides a convenient shorthand for referring to the populations that contain them in both taxonomic and conservation contexts.

REFERENCE:

Linsley, E. G. & J. A. Chemsak. 1961. A distributional and taxonomic study of the genus Crossidius (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae). Miscellaneous Publications of the Entomological Society of America 3(2):25–64 + 3 color plates.

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Posted in Cerambycidae, Coleoptera | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

When is a stag beetle not a stag beetle?

A: When it’s a longhorned beetle!

Parandra (Tavandra) polita

Parandra (Tavandra) polita | Alexander Co., Illinois

Last week I traveled to northwestern Tennessee to visit research plots, and on the way back I took the opportunity to stop by Fort Defiance Park near Cairo, Illinois. Fort Defiance represents the southernmost tip of Illinois, lying at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and on previous visits I had thought that the wet bottomland forest remnants present there looked like promising habitat for the ant-like tiger beetle (Cylindera cursitans). The type locality of a synonym (Cicindela alata) is in northern Illinois, but the type specimens are considered to have been introduced and, to my knowledge, no bona fide records of the species are known from the southern part of the state. I have taken the species nearby on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River (MacRae et al. 2011), so I thought the chances were good of finding it here as well. And find it I did—in good numbers! Success already in hand, I decided to stick around for nightfall and set up some blacklights to see what other beetles might be attracted from the surrounding forests.

Parandra (Tavandra) polita

The color and shape of the body and prominent jaws give the appearance of a small stag beetle.

Sadly, not much of interest was coming to the lights. Temperatures and humidity were good, but a waxing moon with clear skies didn’t help. Worse, the sheets were inundated with caddisflies—always a predictable consequence when blacklighting near large rivers but especially annoying because of their habit of flying into your face (and up nostrils, down shirts, in ears…) when checking the sheet for other insects. A few longhorned beetles did show up, as did some male and female reddish-brown stag beetles (Lucanus capreolus), and later a single coppery tiger beetle (Ellipsoptera cuprascens) also made an appearance. By 10 pm, however, I had decided enough was enough and went to one of the sheets to begin taking it down. As I did, I noticed a reddish-brown, large-mandibled beetle sitting on the sheet that, for all intents and purposes, looked like a small stag beetle. I wasn’t fooled, however, as I knew exactly what this beetle was—I had previously seen this species in the form of two individuals at a blacklight in southern Missouri very near to my current location (although it was 28 years ago!). It was Parandra polita, an usual longhorned beetle belonging to the archaic subfamily Parandrinae, and those specimens (MacRae 1994) plus another collected more recently a few miles north—also at a blacklight in wet bottomland forest along the Mississippi River (McDowell & MacRae 2009)—to date represent the only known occurrences of this uncommon species in Missouri.

Parandra (Tavandra) polita

The entire rather than emarginate eyes distinguish this species from Neandra brunnea,

Linsley (1962) noted the tenebrionid (darkling beetle)-like appearance of beetles in this genus. Perhaps the glabrous, parallel-sided body recalls the appearance of some darkling beetles, but I have always thought these beetles looked more like stag beetles because of the reddish-brown coloration and, notably, fairly large, forward-projecting mandibles that even show the same type of size dimorphism as stag beetles—larger in “major” males, smaller in females and “minor” males. Parandrines differ from most other subfamilies of longhorned beetles by having the antennae short and equal-segmented and the tarsi distinctly pentamerous with slender, padless segments. Another small subfamily of longhorned beetles, the Spondylidinae, shares these characters, but parandrines are easily distinguished from them by several characters including the margined pronotum—also a most lucanid-like character.

Parandra (Tavandra) polita

Parandra polita also has the mandibles contiguous at the base and a narrower, more flattened body.

Although Parandrines are reasonably diverse in South America and Africa, North America boasts only four taxa, with P. polita and Neandra brunnea being the only two occurring in the eastern part of the continent. Annoyingly, I have collected just as few specimens of the latter as the former, despite the fact that N. brunnea is considered to be the most commonly encountered of all four North American taxa. The specimens were all taken in Japanese beetle traps that I ran while working for the Missouri Department of Agriculture in the 1980s, so I have never actually seen a live individual of that species. Parandra polita and N. brunnea are, however, fairly easy to distinguish, as the former has the mandibles triangular and contiguous at the base while in the latter they are sickle-shaped and well separated at the base. The former also has the eyes entire on the inner margin while the latter has them distinctly emarginate, and in basic gestalt P. polita has a narrower, more flattened body than N. brunnea.

A frontal portrait of this beetle was featured a few days ago in ID Challenge #23. A few people were fooled by its lucanid- and even cucujid-like appearance, but Stephen, Harry Zirlin, Nikola Rahme, Jon Quist, and Ben Coulter all correctly guessed this species. By virtue of being first, Stephen rises above the 5-way tie to get the win. However, I should note that Harry was the first to actually provide names for each of the four requested taxa (as did Jon and Ben subsequently), so he could make a valid claim for the win. Also, nfldkings and froglady made really nice comments about my blog and the featured photo, so I award them with honorable mentions!

REFERENCES:

Linsley, E. G. 1962. The Cerambycidae of North America. Part II. Taxonomy and classification of the Parandrinae, Prioninae, Spndylinae, and Aseminae. University of California Publications in Entomology 19:1–102, 1 plate [OCLC WorldCat].

MacRae, T. C. 1994. Annotated checklist of the longhorned beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae and Disteniidae) known to occur in Missouri. Insecta Mundi 7(4) (1993):223–252 [pdf].

MacRae, T. C., C. R. Brown & K. Fothergill. 2011. Distribution, seasonal occurrence and conservation status of Cylindera (s. str.) cursitans (LeConte) (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) in Missouri.  CICINDELA 43(3):59–74 [pdf].

McDowell, W. T. & T. C. MacRae. 2009. First record of Typocerus deceptus Knull, 1929 (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) in Missouri, with notes on additional species from the state. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 84(4) (2008):341-343 [pdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Posted in Cerambycidae, Coleoptera | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

ID Challenge #23

This is a straight up identification challenge. Can you identify the order (duh!), family, genus, and species? Total body length of the subject is ~20 mm. Answers revealed in a couple of days or so, with comments moderated until that time to allow all who wish a chance to participate.

IMG_6786_enh_1080x742

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Posted in [No taxon] | Tagged , | 11 Comments

One-shot Wednesday: Mallodon dasystomus

Mallodon dasystomus | southeast Missouri (Mississippi Co.)

Mallodon dasystomus | southeast Missouri (Mississippi Co.)

Today’s (slightly belated) edition of “One-shot Wednesday” features a beetle that I saw just about this time last year while blacklighting along the Mississippi River in the southeastern lowlands of Missouri. Mallodon dasystomus¹ is a prionid longhorned beetle (family Cerambycidae, subfamily Prioninae) that is sometimes called the “hardwood stump borer”. It is perhaps one of the most widely distributed members of its group, occurring across the southern tier of the U.S. down through Mexico and Central America as far as northern South America.

¹ Until recently the specific epithet was consistently misspelled in most of the literature as “dasytomus“. A closer look at the Greek root words dasus (δασύς), meaning “hairy”, and stoma (στόμα), meaning “mouth”, shows the misspelling to be nonsensical. I, myself, am guilty of using the wrong spelling in my checklist of Missouri longhorned beetles (MacRae 1994), although I can claim to have been “going with the flow”.

Despite the beetle’s wide geographical range, I searched for it both eagerly and unsuccessfully during the 1980s as I was gathering data for my checklist of Missouri longhorned beetles (MacRae 1994). I eventually published that checklist and included the species on the basis of a few specimens seen in other collections, but I never encountered it for myself until some years later during a visit to Cave Creek Canyon in southeast Arizona. As noted by Linsley et al. (1961), this species is common there and is associated with large, partially dead Arizona sycamores (Platanus wrightii). Although nearly 20 years ago, I still recall seeing the large beetles crawling high up on the trunks and sitting in their emergence holes with only their massively-mandibled heads protruding as they tantalizingly waved their antennae about.

That experience would directly lead to my eventually finding this species for myself in Missouri. Shortly after returning to the state in the mid-90s, I was driving along a road in the state’s southeastern lowlands when I passed a very large, half-dead American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). Even at a speed of 40 mph I could see the large emergence holes that immediately reminded me of what I had seen in Arizona, so I hit the brakes, made a quick U-turn, and came back to look at the tree a little more closely. I was convinced the holes were made by this species, and my hunch was proven when I eventually found several beetle carcasses on the ground around the base of the tree. I returned the following weekend with a chainsaw, cut several one-cubic-foot sections of wood from the dead portion of the massive tree’s trunk (with landowner permission), and eventually reared a nice series of adults from the wood. Having uncovered the association of this species with sycamore in the state, I was able to find the species also in several other locations in southeastern Missouri, but I have not managed to find the species in any areas north of the southeastern lowlands in Missouri despite the common occurrence of the host tree.

The beetle in the above photograph landed on the foliage of a large silver maple (Acer saccharinum) next to the ultraviolet light I had setup in wet bottomland forest along the Mississippi River, and wanting to ensure that I got at least one in situ photo of the beetle that is where I shot it. I did try to move it to the trunk of a large, dead sycamore nearby for a more realistically representative photo of how these beetles are usually encountered, but the beetle became quite agitated when I moved it and my considerable patience was never rewarded. I popped it into a vial in hopes of photographs the next morning, but conditions were not to the beetle’s liking and it expired before I had another chance to photograph it. Just the other night I setup a blacklight in a spot not too far from where I saw this beetle in hopes of getting another chance to photograph it. That effort was not successful, but I did find a longhorned beetle species that I had not seen in nearly 30 years! I was successful in photographing that species but (please excuse the teaser) will save those photos for a future post.

REFERENCES:

Linsley, E. G., J. N. Knull & M. Statham. 1961. A List of Cerambycidae from the Chiricahua Mountain Area, Cochise County, Arizona (Coleoptera). American Museum Novitates 2050:1–34 [full text, pdf].

MacRae, T. C. 1994. Annotated checklist of the longhorned beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae and Disteniidae) known to occur in Missouri. Insecta Mundi 7(4) (1993):223–252 [pdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Posted in Cerambycidae, Coleoptera | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Black is beautiful!

Most species in the genus Crossidius exhibit varying amounts of yellow/red/orange coloration on the body. However, one species—Crossidius ater—dispenses with such adornments and remains all-black throughout its expansive range across the Great Basin and surrounding areas. Despite this, they are no less pretty than their more gaudily colored relatives. The adults in these photos were seen on flowers of yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) at two locations in White Pine County, Nevada on 30 August 2013 (all photos w/ natural sky background).

Crossidius ater | 7.2 mi SW NV318 on US6, White Pine Co., Nevada.

Crossidius ater | 7.2 mi SW NV318 on US6, White Pine Co., Nevada.

Crossidius ater | Ely,  1.2 mi S Jct US6/50/93, White Pine Co., Nevada.

Crossidius ater | Ely, 1.2 mi S Jct US6/50/93, White Pine Co., Nevada.

Crossidius ater | Ely,  1.2 mi S Jct US6/50/93, White Pine Co., Nevada.

Crossidius ater | Ely, 1.2 mi S Jct US6/50/93, White Pine Co., Nevada.

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Posted in Cerambycidae, Coleoptera | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment