Beetle Research Roundup

Third-instar larva of Megacephala megacephala (Olivier), photographed near a light trap on 17 July 2006 in Coli, Quebo, Guinea-Bissau, Africa, by Artur R. M. Serrano.The latest issue of the journal Cicindela arrived in my mailbox today, and as usual some interesting papers are included.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, Cicindela is “a quarterly journal devoted to the Cicindelidae,” publishing papers dealing with any aspect of the study of tiger beetles. Founded in 1968 by North American tiger beetle experts Ronald L. Huber, Robert C. Graves, and Harold L. Willis, it was dubbed in those early issues as “…an experiment—an inquiry into the merits (and shortcomings?) of extreme specialization…”. Richard Freitag succeeded Willis in 1975, and that trio has edited and produced this “experiment”—now in its 41st year—ever since!  Issues are available for a very nominal $10 per year ($13 outside of the U.S.).  My sincere thanks to Artur Serrano (University of Lisbon) for permitting me to post his stunning photograph of the third-instar larva of Megacephala megacephala, photographed in Guinea-Bessau, Africa and gracing the cover of this latest issue.

Tetracha virginica in Wisconsin
Despite the common occurrence of this species across the southern two-thirds of the eastern U.S., its northern and western limits of distribution are still poorly known.  Grimek discusses records of this species in Wisconsin during the 45-year period between 1962 to 2007, noting that all of the captures were from sandy areas near rivers in, with the exception of a single specimen, the “Driftless Area” covering the southwestern quadrant of the state.  (The Driftless Area, also called the Paleozoic Plateau, is an area that escaped glaciation during the last glacial period).  The capture of a specimen very near the Mississippi River suggests the species may also be found in Minnesota, where its occurrence has not yet been documented.

Grimek, H.  2009.  Distribution of Tetracha virginica (Linnaeus) in Wisconsin.  Cicindela 41(3):57-61

Brasiella cuyabaensis in Bolivia
Brasiella is a large genus (47 species) of small to very small, mostly Neotropical tiger beetles, of which B. argentata is among the most common and widespread.  While examining specimens of this species that he had collected in Bolivia, Italian coleopterist Fabio Cassola found a second species among the material.  At first thought to potentially represent a new species, its identity was ultimately revealed after examination of the unique male type specimen of B. cuyabaensis from Brazil.  This specimen is very similar to B. argentata except for its genitalia (longer and narrower than in B. argentata), and Cassola has confirmed this in his material as well.  The previously unknown females were especially problematic; however, Cassola found their longer, more convex labrum (upper lip) to be a useful diagnostic character.  Cassola collected B. cuyabaensis some 700 km west of the type locality and speculates that additional specimens of the species may exist in entomological collections, incorrectly placed under B. argentata.

Cassola, F.  2009.  Studies of tiger beetles.  CLXXV.   Occurrence in Bolivia of Brasiella cuyabaensis (Mandl, 1970) (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae).  Cicindela 41(3):63-67.

DNA degrades rapidly in pinned tiger beetles
DNA molecular analyses are increasingly being used to elucidate relationships among tiger beetles, both at the species level and at higher levels of classification.  However, such research is often hampered by the limited availability of sufficient fresh material representing less common taxa.  Pinned museum specimens offer a potential source of DNA for such uncommon taxa; however, successful extraction of useable DNA from pinned specimens has been limited.  Kritsky and Duennes, using a standardized DNA extraction method, determined that DNA extracted from pinned tiger beetles rapidly degrades during the first 25 years after collection before stabilizing at ~10% of the original DNA.  The authors found that frozen specimens yeilded more DNA than specimens killed in ethanol, perhaps due to degradation of DNA by water in the ethanol, and noted that choice of killing method and use of fumigants during storage can also contribute to loss of DNA.  More research is needed to determine optimal conditions for protecting museum specimens while preserving their DNA for future research.

Kritsky, G. and M. Duennes.  2009.  The rate of DNA degradation in pinned tiger beetles.  Cicindela 41(3):69-73.

Mississippi tiger beetles scavenge dead fish
An established breeding population of Cicindela pamphila [= Habroscelimorpha pamphila] was observed during 2006–2008 in a Mississippi coastal salt marsh.  This species was previously considered a rare straggler into Mississippi, occurring primarily along the Texas Gulf Coast south into Mexico.  The Mississippi population was observed co-occurring with C. hamata [= Ellipsoptera hamata], C. severa [= Habroscelimorpha severa], and C. togata [= Eunota togata].  On one occasion, individuals of C. hamata and C. severa were observed feeding on a fresh mullet (Mugil sp.) carcass resulting from a raptor kill, adding these two tiger beetle species to the list for which scavenging on dead vertebrates has now been confirmed.  Despite the co-occurrence of four species of tiger beetles within this area, the author noted no apparent resource partioning and speculates that carrion resulting from predation by birds, racoons, etc. may provide a valuable resource for scavenging tiger beetles that reduces competition for food.

Grammer, G. L.  2009.  A breeding population record of Cicindela pamphila in Mississippi and observations on the scavenging behavior of C. severa and C. hamataCicindela 41(3):75-80.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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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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14 Responses to Beetle Research Roundup

  1. So now I not only have to carry my camera gear, a net, axe, and shovel, but also a dead fish?

    This tiger-beetling is becoming hard…;)

  2. Crystal says:

    OMG I wish you had a high-res pic of the M. megacephala larva…holy smokes what an incredible animal!!!

    The fish-scavenging is interesting…did the authors say whether the beetles had been observed feeding on other vertebrates, or was it just presumed? Not knowing anything about the life history of the fish, I wonder if their choice of carrion is purely incidental or common?

    • Hi Crystal,

      I’ve asked Serrano if he’d be willing to send a higher rez pic – until then this scanned version will have to do. Frankly, I was just happy he even permitted me to post a scanned version. Yes, it’s quite a monster, probably bigger than any of our related species (genus Tetracha). I have what I think is an Amblycheila larva – it is bigger than this thing. It’s asleep for the winter right now, but when I pull it out of the fridge in the spring I’m gonna take some photos that’ll knock your sox off!

      Scavenging has been reported for a number of tiger beetles, most I think are species found in saline habitats – veritable biological wastelands. I suspect the beetles are quite opportunistic and will eat just about anything they can get their jaws on. I feed mine cat food!

  3. Crystal says:

    That one looks like it could eat CATS.

  4. jason says:

    That is one frightening beast. Impressive. But my cats could take it!

    Adrian’s comment gave me a great laugh! Just when you thought you had all the equipment you needed…

    • I’ll let you know when my Amblycheila larva becomes a 3rd instar next summer – we can put it in the ring with your cats and see who will be the victor!

      Adrian actually is not too far off base. I know scarab collectors that carry around the most gawd-awful smelling concoctions for baiting traps. Something to do with packages of chicken parts left in a car trunk for a day or two – can you say involuntary gag reflex?!

  5. TJHawkeswood says:

    Hi Ted

    Great tiger beetle larval head! Is Cicindela available online?

    Best regards, Trevor

    • No, it isn’t. Unfortunate, but I doubt such a small specialized journal produced by dedicated but otherwise unpaid volunteers could survive if it made its content available online for free – it depends too heavily on subscriptions to defray costs.

  6. Cory Cross says:

    The couple of T. virginica that I found at my house outside the front door that is about 5+ miles west of the Mississippi River was very exciting this year. Since you have noted before that T. carolina seems to be the more common species in SE Missouri.

    • Yes, I haven’t run into virginica quite as much down there as carolina. I did find a slug of both species one time while searching under building lights at the Delta Center right there in Portageville.

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