Pseudomethoca simillima – a model for Enoclerus ichneumoneus?

Pseudomethoca simillima (family Mutillidae) - the model?

Enoclerus ichneumoneus (family Cleridae) - the mimic?

Last week, I posted the above photograph of Enoclerus ichneumoneus (orange-banded checkered beetle) and mentioned its possibly mimetic appearance to velvet ants in the family Mutillidae (order Hymenoptera).  By some stroke of serendipity, I encountered a species of Mutillidae the very next day in Missouri’s southeastern lowlands that seems to be a good candidate for one of, if not the, model species that E. ichneumoneus might have evolved to resemble.  Several individuals were encountered as they zigzagged urgently on dry sand deposits along the Mississippi River (where I had hoped, unsuccessfully, to find another locality for our intergrade population of Cicindela scutellaris).  Comparison of the individual in the photo with specimens in my collection (all identified by mutillid expert Kevin Williams, Utah State University) suggests this is Pseudomethoca simillima, and the photo is also a good match with other photographs of the species at BugGuide.  One thing that bothers me with the idea of this being a model for E. ichneumoneus is that I have not seen P. methoca commonly in Missouri (I have only three specimens in my collection), while E. ichneumoneus is one of our most common clerids.  There is another mutillid species in Missouri – Dasymutilla quadriquttata – that also seems to have potential as a model for E. ichneumoneus and that I have encountered much more commonly in the state.  However, D. quadriguttata is somewhat larger than E. ichneumoneus.  At any rate, other than the statement by Mawdsley (1994) that E. ichneumoneus seems to mimic mutillids, I can’t find that any more specific information has been recorded about the possible model(s) for that species.

As a caveat, I shall add that this mutillid was the… most… uncooperative… insect… that I have ever tried to photograph!  They really never stop moving, so you have to track the moving insect through the lens and fire shots when you think you’ve got it centered and focused.  Most of the time you don’t!  Using the Canon 1-5X macro lens for this did not make things any easier.  I tracked this female for quite a while and fired off a number of shots, only to get this one that I thought was fairly decent (and still just missed the focus on the near side of the pronotum).

Speaking of mutillids, I simply must photograph my specimen of Dasymutilla gloriosa (sometimes called the thistledown velvet ant) – you will not believe it!

Photo Details:
Pseudomethoca simillima: Canon MP-E 65 mm 1-5X macro lens on Canon 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/14, MT-24EX flash 1/8 power w/ Sto-Fen diffusers. Minimal cropping and post-processing.
Enoclerus ichneumoneus: Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/14, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power w/ Sto-Fen diffusers. Minimal cropping and post-processing.

REFERENCE:

Mawdsley, J. R. 1994. Mimicry in Cleridae (Coleoptera).  The Coleopterists Bulletin 48(2):115-125.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae

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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.
This entry was posted in Cleridae, Coleoptera, Hymenoptera, Mutillidae and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Pseudomethoca simillima – a model for Enoclerus ichneumoneus?

  1. I agree about the difficulty in photographing the velvet ants. I had the same problem with a fiery-red specimen skittering in the badlands of Writing-on-Stone in Alberta. Many a frame of precious Fujichrome Velvia was wasted on that little wasp!

    • I guess only the advent of digital cameras has made them even possible to consider as photographic subjects – one could easily blow a whole roll of film on such nervous little beasts.

    • I’ve had a bit of luck with velvet ants – though I wouldn’t even consider attempting to photograph them without DSLR!

      • Great – I look forward to your post where you reveal your secrets on how to photograph these things!🙂

        • Ok, so maybe my pictures were better in my memory that in actuality. Here’s a link to one I posted last year. I’ve got several that I took later, many with parts of the wasp in focus, but not all. Guess I don’t have any secrets to share after all.😉

          …hope I did my html right…

          • Your photo is the red velvet ant or “cow killer” (Dasymutilla occidentalis). They pack a quite painful sting, although it is doubtful they actually sting that many cows.

  2. Nice photographs, Ted!

    Your posting makes me think that mimicry might be an interesting topic for a future edition of Circus of the Spineless. I suspect there are a lot of good invertebrate examples lurking in cyberspace that have yet to be assembled.

    • Thanks, Dave. Mimicry seems to be one of those subjects that we assume is better worked out than is really the case. Just thinking about all the examples in the insect world makes we wonder about what relationships there are in other invertebrate groups, especially the marine organisms.

  3. myrmecos says:

    Very nice, Ted! Mutillids can be a real bear to photograph.

  4. Hi Ted – mimicry and camouflage are both topics that intrigue me. Nice shots!

  5. jason says:

    Every velvet ant I’ve ever photographed has been as I run along behind it capturing nothing but blurs that might as well be jellyfish for the lack of detail. They’re on my list of nemesis shots. Of course, the last time I tried was a year ago and I’ve improved my techniques since then (i.e., my photographic luck has improved), so maybe it’s time for another attempt.

    • I guess I don’t feel so bad seeing this was my first attempt at getting one. Of course, I didn’t post any of the many blurred, half-out-of-the-frame shots I got en route to getting this one. Hey, if newbie can do it so can you!

  6. DougT says:

    I was going to leave a comment agreeing about the difficulty of photographing velvet ants. Then I noticed how many folks had done the exact same thing. Velvet ants are like the Energizer bunny. They keep going and going and…

  7. Darren says:

    Beautiful shots Ted. I find mimicry in the insect world such a fascinating topic and these are certainly a great capture!

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