CALLING ALL CEPHALOON
By Arthur V. Evans
In the early 1970′s I went on several family camping trips to Plumas County in California’s Sierra Nevada. My parents had purchased several acres of land bordered by a babbling stream that flowed out of Round Valley Reservoir located just outside the sleepy mountain town of Greenville. Here I spent many spring and summer days wandering along the trails and logging roads in search of all kinds of insects, especially beetles.
Meadow wildflowers bristled with species of lampyrids (Ellychnia) and lepturine cerambycids unlike any I had seen before. Freshly cut pine slash teemed with shiny metallic buprestids (Buprestis, Chalcophora, Dicerca) and cerambycids (Monochamus) sporting incredibly long antennae. Mating and feeding scarab beetles (Hoplia dispar) with their beefy back legs splayed out and sporting various colors and patterns clambered over one another among the blooms of buckbrush. The sunny shore along the reservoir and its associated paths and roads were bejeweled with emerald-green tiger beetles (Cicindela tranquebarica sierra) that, more often than not, remained just out of reach. What a paradise for a budding young coleopterist!
On one of these trips, I was particularly fascinated by the various forms of lichen that festooned the granite boulders and conifer branches. I collected a small chunk of decaying wood clothed with the flourescent green wolf lichen (Letharia). The toxic yellow pigment of this fruticose lichen was used by ranchers to poison wolves and foxes and by Native Americans in dyes and paints.
Upon returning home, I placed that chunk of wood in a terrarium that consisted of a gallon jar supplied with a thick layer of moist, rich soil. After a few weeks, I noticed that a long, slender, leggy beetle had apparently emerged from the rotten wood and taken up residence in my terrarium. It resembled a somewhat homelier version of some of the beetles that I had collected on the meadow flowers. I didn’t know what to feed it and after a day or two it died. I carefully removed the beetle, mounted and labeled it, and placed the specimen among the other longhorn beetles in my collection. At that time my entire insect collection was housed in five cigar boxes. Even at this early stage of my entomological development, two-fifths of my collection (the King Edward and Swisher Sweets boxes) consisted entirely of beetles.
Several years later, I discovered that my terrarium beetle was not a longhorn at all. It was a false longhorn beetle in the genus Cephaloon. Cephaloon is currently placed in the family now known as the Stenotrachelidae, a small group of tenebrionoid beetles with 19 species distributed throughout the Holarctic region. Of the 10 species and four genera of stenotrachelids known in North America, five species occur east of the Mississippi River. The monotypic genera Anelpistus, Nematoplus, and Stenotrachelus all have northern, or boreal distributions, but the fifth genus, Cephaloon, ranges a bit more south in the forested mountain chains of the Sierra Nevada in the west and the Appalachian Mountains of the east. There are six North American species of Cephaloon, two of which occur in eastern North America; two additional species are found in eastern Siberia and Japan.
Thomas L. Casey, Jr. (1857-1925) divided the North American species of Cephaloon into three more genera. Edwin Van Dyke (1869-1952) considered Casey’s taxa as subgenera of Cephaloon. The North American species were later “revised” by the brothers Hopping (Ralph and George) and they relegated Casey’s taxa to synonymy. Ross Arnett, Jr. (1919-1999) reviewed the Nearctic and Palearctic species of Cephaloon. All of the species in this genus are slender, leggy, and somewhat broad-shouldered beetles that resemble lepturine cerambycids, resulting in the common name “false longhorn beetles.”
Stentotrachelids are relatively rare in collections. The short-lived adults are seldom collected in numbers and thought to feed on pollen. Species of Cephaloon are typically found during the late spring resting on flowers or vegetation during the day in montane deciduous and coniferous forests. They are collected by hand, or by sweeping and beating vegetation. Individuals are also attracted to lights at night or captured in Malaise and flight intercept traps. Based on the known biology of C. ungulare LeConte in eastern North America, the larvae of all species of Cephaloon are likely to develop in decaying logs infected with fungal rot.
British entomologist Edward Newman (1801-1876) described the first species of Cephaloon, C. lepturides, in 1838 from a single specimen collected by Edward Doubleday (1811-1849) at Trenton Falls, New York. Doubleday was a well-known British lepidopterist and had undertaken a two-year insect collecting trip to the United States in 1835.
Newman originally placed Cephaloon among other genera for which he did not assign to a “natural order,” or family, but later placed it in the Oedemeridae. Russian entomologist Victor Motschulsky (1810-1871) placed it in the Melandryidae. John LeConte (1825-1883) initially thought that they were meloids, but later selected Cepahloon as the sole representative of his new family, the Cephaloidae. Over the years more genera were added to the Cephaloidae, the name of which was replaced by Stenotrachelidae in 1990 on the basis of priority by Finnish coleopterist Hans Silfverberg.
Little is known about the biology of Cephaloon. Their montane distributions and the saproxylic preferences of the larvae suggest their possible use as biological indicator species. Populations of saproxylic beetles are significantly related to parameters of forest structure and health. The impacts of current forest management practices on these and other saproxylic beetles, especially those that reduce coarse woody debris and fragment old growth forests, are poorly understood and need further study.
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© 2011, Arthur V. Evans