IN SEARCH OF A HOLY GRAIL

Posted in Butterflies, Flies, Insects, Virginia on August 22, 2011 by Dr. Art Evans

By Arthur V. Evans

Last week, on a drizzly Thursday morning, I drove out to Cherry Orchard Bog Natural Area Preserve with my friends and colleagues Anne Wright and Paul Bedell. Straddling a power line right-of-way near the Sussex-Prince George County line, this preserve features a coastal plain acidic seep that supports an amazing assemblage of rare plants, some of which bloom in late summer.  The Virginia Natural Heritage Program staff uses prescribed burns here to prevent trees, shrubs, and woody vines from choking this open wetland, and to restore and maintain this rare plant habitat. However, after yet another extended summer drought here in Virginia, surface water was nowhere in evidence.

My goal was to photograph and collect late summer beetles, while Anne and Paul focused their efforts on odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) and robber flies (Asilidae). Few beetles were out and about, so I strapped on my camera gear and knee-pads and turned my attention to photographing other insects and spiders.

Several tall and luxurious patches of sweet-scented joe pye weed, Eupatorium purpureum, grew smack dab in the middle of the power line right-of-way. These nectar-rich flowers were magnets for all kinds of insects (other than beetles!), including several species of butterflies. A dozen or so each of large showy eastern tiger swallowtails and monarch butterflies flitted from blossom to blossom, occasionally unfurling their probosces to imbibe the flower’s sweet offerings.

I decided to head into the adjacent woods by following a fire line that snaked along the edge of a recent prescribed burn. I scanned the lush wall of vegetation that delimited the surrounding woods from the burn in hopes of finding multi-legged creatures. Nearly half an hour elapsed and all I had to show for my photographic efforts was a young Carolina mantid (Stagmomantis carolina) and a black-and-yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia).

I saw a flash of shiny black wings among the foliage. My first thought was that it might be a mourning scorpionfly, but then it became clear that it was a female robber fly (family Asilidae) dining on a small wasp. I am no robber fly expert, but this particular fly reminded me of the genus Laphria, some of which are bee or wasp mimics.

Just as I was about to take a photograph, she was gone. Fortunately, I saw her land on a nearby leaf and she was still very much in possession of her lifeless prey. I leaned in to take the shot and, with the burst of my flash, she took to the air again. I watched intently as the shiny black fly flitted along the wood’s edge and landed on another leaf. Again, I slowly inched my camera toward her and watched her black shiny body fill up the frame of my viewfinder. And again, the flash of my camera caused her to fly away and into the burn area. I tracked her through several more landings on the low growth before she landed on a log. I took my third and last shot and she was gone. During the pursuit, a slightly smaller individual of the same species, possibly a male, also crossed my path.

I slowly walked all the way around the edge of the burn and back to the car, but saw no more robber flies. I told Paul that I had photographed what I thought to be a Laphria, but he said that the dark wings didn’t really fit any Virginia species in that genus. Paul would certainly know since he had recently published the first annotated checklist of the 115 species robber flies known to occur in Virginia (Bedell, 2010). I promised to post my best photo of the fly in question on my Facebook page as soon as I returned home.

Eric Fisher

Once posted, Paul suggested that it might be the very rare Orthogonis stygia, a species not yet known to occur in Virginia. I sent Paul all three of my images and he forwarded them to Eric Fisher for confirmation. Eric, a dipterist and asilid expert (and fellow alumni of Cal State Long Beach) quickly confirmed Paul’s identification and another new state record for Virginia.

Stanley Bromley (1931) first described this pompilid wasp mimic from three specimens collected in June; two of the specimens were from North Carolina and Mississippi, while the origin of the third specimen was unknown to him.  Another specimen was later recorded from Florida (Bromley, 1950).  Since then, specimens of this exceptionally rare species have been found in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas (Taber & Fleenor, 2003; Barnes et al., 2007).

Paul and I returned to the site only two days after I snapped my photos and searched several hours for Orthogonis. Although our efforts were in vain, we have not given up! Stay tuned for further developments

References

Barnes, J. K., N. Lavers, and H. Raney. 2007. Robber flies (Diptera: Asilidae) of Arkansas, U.S.A.: Notes and a checklist. Entomological News 118: 241-258.

Bedell, P. 2010. A preliminary list of the robber flies (Diptera: Asilidae) of Virginia. Banisteria 36: 3-19.

Bromley, S.W. 1931. New asilidae with a revised key to the genus Stenopogon Loew: (Diptera). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 24: 427-435.

Bromley, S.W. 1950. Florida Asilidae (Diptera) with description of one new species. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 43: 227-239.

Taber, S.W., and S.B. Fleenor. 2003. Range extension, habitat, and review of the rare robber fly Orthogonis stygia (Bromley). Southwestern Entomologist 29: 85-87.

For more information on robber flies visit:

Asilidae (Robber Flies) Page. A Page by Roy Beckemeyer <http://www.windsofkansas.com/Basilidae/asilid.html

Family Asilidae – Robber Flies <http://bugguide.net/node/view/151/bgpage>

Giff Beaton’s Robber Flies (Asilidae) of Georgia and the Southeast http://www.giffbeaton.com/Robber%20Flies.htm>

Robber Flies <http://hr-rna.com/RNA/Robber%20main%20page.htm>

Robber Flies (Asilidae) <http://www.geller-grimm.de/asilidae.htm>

The Robber Flies of Crowley’s Ridge, Arkansas. An Illustrated Guide by Norman Lavers http://normanlavers.net/>

ANOTHER RARE BEETLE ADDED TO THE VIRGINIA FAUNA

Posted in Beetles, Insects, Virginia on August 11, 2011 by Dr. Art Evans

By Arthur V. Evans

While sorting through some spring Malaise trap samples from the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, I came across a single specimen of a soldier beetle-like insect five millimeters in length that was unfamiliar to me. It resembled a drawing that I had seen in Blatchley (1910) of Blanchardia gracilis (now Blatchleya gracilis: Omethidae).

I ran the specimen through the omethid key American Beetles (2002) and determined it to be Omethes marginatus LeConte. The specimen compares perfectly to LeConte’s type in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and represents a new species AND family record for Virginia. Omethes marginatus was previously known from Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; additional new state records include Arkansas and Indiana. Omethids of any stripe are rare in collections and little is known about their natural history.

References

Arnett, R.H., Jr., M.C. Thomas, P.E. Skelley, J.H. Frank, editors. 2002. Volume 2. American Beetles. Polyphaga: Scarabaeoidea through Curculionoidea. CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL.

Blatchley, W. 1910. An illustrated descriptive catalogue of the Coleoptera or beetles (exclusive of the Rhynchophora) known to occur in Indiana. With bibliography and descriptions of new species. Indianapolis, IN.

 

ONE SMALL STEP FIFTY YEARS AGO

Posted in Beetles, Butterflies, California, Insects, Moths, Musings on July 20, 2011 by Dr. Art Evans

By Arthur V. Evans

I grew up on the southwestern fringes of the Mojave Desert in Southern California, just a stone’s throw from the land of The Right Stuff. My summers were punctuated by weeklong family camping trips to the mountains and the coast. Dad preferred the rugged lushness of the Sierra Nevada, especially along the waterways that spilled off its eastern slopes down to the desert environs of the Owens Valley below. Mom loved the beach, so we would spend another week camped out at Morro Bay or Pismo Beach, both located along California’s Central Coast.

In July of 1969, we spent a week in the Oceano Campground at Pismo Beach State Park, which just happens to be a well-known overwintering site for monarch butterflies. I can still smell the heavy canvas of our baby blue and olive-drab tents heated by the sun as it burned through the last bits of morning fog. I spent every possible moment exploring the freshwater lagoon, coastal dunes, and beach in search of insects and other invertebrates. California ctenucha moths, Ctenucha rubroscapus flitted about the flowers and grasses sprouting up on the dunes. Several diurnal and non-bioluminescent fireflies, Ellychnia californicarested on the flowers growing among the stinging nettles that lined the shore of  the lagoon. Red admirals, western tiger swallowtails, and a dizzying array of dragonflies flew hither and yon, all seemingly daring me to capture them. And I did just that with my recently acquired homemade insect net fashioned from a broom handle, a heavy wire coat hanger, and a net bag made of cheesecloth.

In those days I kept my insect collection in sturdy cardboard cigar boxes. King Edward Imperials housed my butterflies and moths, while the dragonflies were stored in a White Owl box. A Roi-Tan Panatelas box protected my true bugs, cicadas, grasshoppers, and katydids. All of my beetles were neatly arranged in a box that once held Swisher Sweets and the Dutch Masters box served as a catchall for everything else. I can still smell that pungent aroma of tobacco mingled with mothballs!

Earlier that week, on the morning of 16 July, Apollo 11 had set off on its historic flight to put men on the moon and return them safely to Earth. The astronaut’s first steps on the lunar surface, interspersed with simulations, would be televised early on the evening of Sunday, 20 July. Fortunately, I would have access to a television by then because that was the day we would return home.

The promise of seeing and collecting still more insects AND watching men on the moon on television was pretty heady stuff for a 12 year-old! The night was shaping up to be hot and uncharacteristically humid and promised an excellent night for insect activity. I turned on the mercury vapor street light mounted on the garage wall. Dad had installed the bright blue light partly to illuminate the front of the house, and partly to attract insects for me. I quickly discovered that it was a beacon for nocturnal insects!

My plan for the evening was to dash from the light to the television and back to watch both spectacles unfold. It wasn’t even dark yet when Neil Armstrong opened the hatch of the Lunar Module and slowly descended down the ladder to utter those now-famous words, all captured on fuzzy black and white, yet still quite memorable video. Throughout the evening, between bouts of nighttime bugs, I watched in awe as Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin bounced across the lunar surface to collect samples and conduct experiments. Just a few years later, I had the opportunity to meet Buzz Aldrin and get his autograph after he gave a lecture on his lunar experience at the annual Kern-Antelope Historical Society banquet held in Rosamond, California.

As night descended, thousands of insects of all sorts swarmed to the bright bluish light, zooming around it as if they, too, were satellites orbiting a heavenly body. My eyes, ears, and nose were simultaneously assaulted by the flappings and scratchings of chitinous wings and appendages. Undeterred, I dove into the swarm from time-to-time to scoop up select specimens off the rough stucco wall. Some of the more notable insects that I saw that night included many white-line sphinx moths, several California prionus, and a raft of 10-lined June beetles.

For those who did not experience the Apollo 11 mission as it took place, it is difficult to imagine the nearly global excitement generated by the landing of men on the moon. I was lucky enough see this epic event on television. I still get a little verklempt when I watch the video some 50 years later and will forever remember that warm summer night all those many years ago and its promise and deliverance of new and exciting things here on Earth and beyond.

References on California insects

Evans, A.V. and J.N. Hogue, 2004. Introduction to California Beetles. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Evans, A.V. and J.N. Hogue, 2006. Field Guide to Beetles of California. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Hogue, C.L. 1993. Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA.

Powell, J.A. and P.A. Opler, 2009. Moths of Western North America. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Powell, J.A. and C.L. Hogue, 1979. California Insects. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

For more information on Apollo 11 and its mission see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_11

http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/history/apollo/apollo11/index.html

http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lunar/missions/apollo/apollo_11/

http://history.nasa.gov/ap11ann/kippsphotos/apollo.html

LUST IN THE DUST AT THE 25TH ANNUAL BUG FAIR

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 6, 2011 by Dr. Art Evans

Join me at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for “Lust in the Dust,” a colorful and intimate look at the natural history of insect and spider sex. This program is a no-holds barred look at the often bizarre and always fascinating sex lives of the world’s largest and most diverse group of animals. This richly illustrated lecture is scientifically sound, yet humorous and engaging for all adult audiences and peppered with sexual double entendres. Topics include insect orgies, flashers and dancers, foreplay, pickup spots, food and sex, chastity belts, dangerous liaisons, immaculate conceptions, rough sex, toxic semen, and more. Fruit flies, bed bugs, honey bees, black widows, and praying mantids are just a few of the characters that appear in these saucy and revealing tales of sex and death!

The lecture is followed by a book signing. Several of my books will be available for sale at the event. Tickets ($35 museum members, $45 non-members) available at 213.763.3399.

EUPHORIA! I HAVE FOUND YOU!

Posted in Arizona, Beetles, Scarabs on March 20, 2011 by Dr. Art Evans

By Arthur V. Evans

Euphoria inda (Linnaeus). © 2011, Arthur V. Evans

One of the first scarab beetles to cross my path here in Virginia every spring is the bumble scarab or bumblebee flower beetle, Euphoria inda (Linnaeus). I have also found these beetles burrowing into thistle flowers in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona and flying in a field next to a parking lot at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado. These beetles feed on various flowers, ripe fruits, and plant sap. They are sometimes found clustering on sap flows on the trunks of trees, or on the stalks of sunflowers, corn, and okra. Bumble scarabs are distributed from Ontario and Quebec south to Florida, west to the Rocky Mountains and southeastern Arizona, and south to Mexico.

Overwintering adults emerge from their hiding places on the first warm days of late winter and early spring and buzz noisily as they fly low over dry leaves, edges of haystacks, compost piles, manure, and other plant debris. These accumulations of plant materials, along with rotten wood and the thatched nests of Formica ants, serve as their breeding grounds. The larvae pupate in earthen pupal cases in summer. Adults emerge briefly in late summer to feed and before settling in for the winter.

Louis A. Péringuey. Iziko South African Museum.

Years ago, while I was a doctoral student at the University of Pretoria, I traveled to Cape Town to spend a week at the South African Museum. There I had the opportunity to study the type specimens of scarab beetles described in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by a former director of the museum, Louis A. Péringuey (1855-1924). Although I was primarily interested in studying melolonthine scarabs, I took the opportunity to look at the types of many scarab species in several subfamilies, especially several monotypic African scarab genera, that is genera that each include only one species.

Péringuey discovered a single specimen of a cetoniine scarab with a label indicating that it was collected in the town of Ladysmith in the Cape Province. He considered this unique specimen to represent an undescribed genus and species from the African continent. In 1907, he named this new species Goraqua smithsana. Curiously, this species was never again collected in South Africa and it remained known only from the type specimen for more than 80 years.

I examined Péringuey’s type specimen of G. smithsana and immediately recognized it as Euphoria inda, which was first described as Scarabaeus indus by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758. The single female specimen that Peringuey used as a name holder for his new genus and species had been mislabeled. Because our system of zoological nomenclature is based on the concept of priority, the older name proposed for this species by Linnaeus takes precedence over subsequent names given to the same species. In the jargon of taxonomy, the name Goraqua smithsana Péringuey is a junior synonym of what is now known as Euphoria inda (Linnaeus). Such changes are not instantaneous and must be published in the scientific literature before they are recognized by the greater taxonomic community.

Erik Holm. Scarab Worker World Directory.

I shared my discovery with Erik Holm at the University of Pretoria. Holm was involved in a series of projects to document the cetoniine scarabs of Subsaharan Africa, of which Goraqua smithsana was a part. He published the synonymy in 1989.

References

Holm, E. 1989. Synonymic notes on the African Cetoniinae III: Goraqua smithsana Péringuey = Euphoria inda (L.) (Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae). Cimbebasia 10: 148.

Iziko South African Museum. http://www.iziko.org.za/sam/ (accessed 20 March 2011)

Péringuey, L.A. 1907. Descriptive catalogue of the Coleoptera of South Africa (Lucanidae and Scarabaeidae). Tribe Cetonini. Transactions South African Philosophical Society 13; 1-546.

Ratcliffe, B.C. and M.J. Paulsen. 2008. The scarabaeoid beetles of Nebraska. Bulletin of the University of Nebraska State Museum 22: 568 pp.

Scarab workers world directory.  http://www.unl.edu/museum/research/entomology/workers/EHolm.htm (accessed 20 March 2011)

© 2011, Arthur V. Evans

CALLING ALL CEPHALOON

Posted in Beetles, Virginia on March 10, 2011 by Dr. Art Evans

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!

Wolf lichen, Letharia sp. © 2002, Arthur V. Evans

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.

Cephaloon lepturides Newman. ©2009, Arthur V. Evans

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.

References

Arnett Jr., R.H. 1953. A review of the beetle family Cephaloidae. Proceedings of the United State National Museum 103 (3321): 155-161.

Casey, T.L. 1898. Studies in Cephaloidae. Entomological News 9: 193-195.

Evans, A.V. and J.N. Hogue. 2006. Field Guide to Beetles of California. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA. 334 pp.

Hopping, R. and G.R. Hopping. 1934. A revision of the genus Cephaloon Newm. Pan-Pacific Entomologist. 10: 64-70.

Lawrence, J.F. 1991. Cephaloidae (Tenebrionidae) (including Nematoplidae, Stenotrachelidae. p. 529. In Stehr, F.W. Immature insects. Volume 2. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co. Dubuque, IA. 975 pp.

LeConte, J.L. 1862. Classification of the Coleoptera of North America. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 3: 209-286.

Lawrence, J.F. and A. Slipinski. 2010. 11.17. Stenotrachelidae C.G. Thomson, 1859. p. 687. In Leschen, R.A.B., R.G. Beutel, J.F. Lawrence (editors). Handbook of Zoology. Arthropoda: Insecta. Coleoptera, Beetles. Volume 2: Morphology and Systematics (Elateroidea, Bostrichiformia, Cucujiformia partim).  De Gruyter, Berlin, Germany. 786 pp.

Majka, C.G. 2011. The Stenotrachelidae (Coleoptera) of Atlantic Canada. Journal of the Acadian Entomological Society 7: 7-13.

Majka, C.G. and D.A. Pollock. 2006. Understanding saproxylic beetles: new records of Tetratomidae, Melandryidae, Synchroidae, and Scraptiidae from the Maritime Provinces of Canada (Coleoptera: Tenebrionoidea). Zootaxa 1248: 45-68.

Newman, E. 1838. Entomological notes. Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine 5: 377-402.

Salmon, M.A. 2000. The Aurelian legacy. British butterflies and their collectors. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA. 432 pp.

Silfverberg, H. 1990. The nomenclaturally correct names of some family-groups in Coleoptera. Entomologica Fennica 1: 119-121.

Storer, T.I., R.L. Usinger, and D. Lukas. 2004. Sierra Nevada Natural History. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA. 438 pp.

Van Dyke, E.C. New species of heteromerous Coleoptera. Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society 23: 252-262.

Young, D.K. 2002. 110. Stenotrachelidae. pp. 520-521. In Arnett Jr., R.H., M.C. Thomas, P.E. Skelley, and J.H. Frank (editors). American Beetles. Volume 2. Polyphaga: Scarabaeoidea through Curculionoidea. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.  861 pp.

© 2011, Arthur V. Evans

A RARE BEETLE NEW TO VIRGINIA

Posted in Beetles, Environment, VCU Rice Center, Virginia on January 22, 2011 by Dr. Art Evans

By Arthur V. Evans

Xylophilus crassicornis Muona. © 2011, A.V. Evans

My insect survey at the VCU Rice Center continues to reveal species that are rarely collected and/or newly recorded for the Commonwealth of Virginia. While sorting through dozens of trap samples containing thousands of insects, I recently discovered three specimens of a rarely collected false click beetle (Eucnemidae), Xylophilus crassicornis. This collection represents the first records for the genus and species in Virginia.

Xylophilus crassicornis was first described by Finnish entomologist Jyriki Muona in 2000 from a single female specimen collected from Maryland in 1902. The specimen was located in the collection of the Entomology Department at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. A second specimen from Alambama was identified last year. The VCU Rice Center specimens, the sex of which are yet unknown, measure 2.8-4.0 mm and were collected from Malaise traps in May that were placed just northwest of the administrative building and among the vernal pools off Kimages Road.

Malaise trap. © 2010, A.V. Evans

Although relatively little is known of their habits and distribution, false click beetles probably play an important role in the interactions between trees, fungi, and forest regeneration. Further study of their biology may suggest their use as important indicators of forest diversity.

References

Hoffman, R.L., R.L. Otto, and R. Vigneault. 2009. An annotated list of the false click beetles of Virginia (Coleoptera: Eucnemidae). Banisteria 34: 25-32.

Muona, J. 2000. A revision of the Nearctic Eucnemidae. Acta Zoologica Fennica 212: 1-106.

© 2011, A.V. Evans

MEET THE FALL CANKERWORM

Posted in Insects, Moths, Pests on January 19, 2011 by Dr. Art Evans

By Arthur V. Evans

Adult male fall cankerworm, Alsophila pometaria. ©2011, A.V. Evans

During a recent warm spell on the heels of New Year’s Day, a small collection of somberly hued moths gathered at my front porch light. I posted a picture of one of these moths on my entomology page on Facebook, and it was immediately identified as the fall cankerworm, Alsophila pometaria (Harris), a moth in the family Geometridae. The caterpillars of geometrids are collectively called inchworms. Adult fall cankerworms present a striking example of sexual dimorphism. Males are fully-winged, while the females are wingless. Native to North America, fall cankerworms are found from Nova Scotia to South Carolina, west to western Alberta, Colorado, Kansas, and California.

Adult female fall cankerworm, Alsophila pometaria. ©2011, A.V. Evans

Adults are typically active in fall and early winter. Females lay batches of 50-200 carefully aligned and upright eggs on small twigs and branches. Before leaving, they cover their eggs with scales from their abdomen. Upon hatching in late spring, each caterpillar descends from its egg on a single silken strand and is dispersed by the wind.

The ravenous larvae consume leaves and young fruits of many kinds of deciduous tree and are especially fond of maple, oak, and elm. Young larvae “skeletonize” patches (cankers) on the undersides of leaves by eating only the leaf tissues between the small veins. Older larvae consume nearly all leaf tissues and leave only the major veins behind. After 4-5 weeks of feeding the caterpillars reach maturity and lower themselves on to the ground via silk strands to enter the soil to pupate.

Fall cankerworm. © 2012, A.V. Evans

Large numbers of fall cankerworm larvae can defoliate trees and seriously damage fruit trees. Most trees and shrubs can withstand the onslaught, but mortality is possible if the plants are already stressed from drought and other adverse conditions. Check with your local nursery or extension agent for information on effective controls for fall cankerworms.

References

Cranshaw, W. 2004. Garden insects of North America. The ultimate guide to backyard bugs. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 656 pp.

Johnson, W.T. and H.H. Lyon. 1994. Insects that feed on trees and shrubs. Second edition with corrections. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 560 pp.

Powell, J.A. and P.A. Opler. 2009. Moths of western North America. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. 369 pp.

© 2011, A.V. Evans

WHAT’S ALL THE BUZZ ABOUT NOBEL PRIZE SEASON?

Posted in Ants, bees, wasps with tags , , , on October 10, 2010 by Dr. Art Evans

By Arthur V. Evans

There have been plenty of reports in the news lately regarding the 2010 Nobel Prizes awarded for cultural and scientific endeavors. The prizes were established in 1895 in the will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, whose fortune was built on, among other things, the invention of dynamite. First awarded in 1901, the prizes are given annually in recognition of outstanding achievement in the fields of chemistry, literature, medicine, physiology or medicine, and physics. The best known and often controversial prize is the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is a good time to recall that nearly 40 years ago Austrian Karl von Frisch (1886-1982) received the Nobel Prize  in Physiology or Medicine in 1973, along with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz, for his pioneering work on communication between insects by studying the sensory perceptions of honey bees that led to the deciphering of their waggle dance in 1946. You can download a copy of von Frisch’s Nobel Lecture here.

Although sometimes claimed by entomologists as one of their own, Von Frisch was actually an ethologist, a zoologist that examines animal behavior relative to their environment. His studies with honey bees (Apis mellifera) produced several revelations. For example, von Frisch discovered that foraging bees were able to discriminate among different species by their scent and that individuals bees consistently forage among the same species of flower. He also learned that, in spite of a great sense of smell, the sense of taste is not particularly well-developed in bees.

He also established that bees can distinguish the colors of  blue, violet, white, and yellow, but that black and red were colorless and therefore indistinguishable to them. Under ultraviolet light, the pigments that make up these colors appear as multicolored patterns called nectar guides.

Von Frisch determined that bees orient themselves and can tell time of day primarily by their relative position to the sun. On overcast days or inside their hives, bees can still do all this by using the polarized light pattern of even a small patch of blue sky, or by relying the Earth’s magnetic field when moving about inside the hive, respectively.

Using all the tools at their disposal, Karl von Frisch proposed that not only do bees have the ability to gather orientation and temporal information from the sun’s daily movement across the sky, they can also relate this information to the current position of the sun from the dark recesses of the hive. This allows foraging bees returning from the field to provide up-to-date information on the direction and distance of nectar sources to their hive mates without having to go back outside to reorient themselves. This information is relayed by performing two basic kinds of “dances.” The information conveyed in these dances is received and interpreted on the vertical surface of the comb and put into practice on a horizontal landscape.

The round dance communicates information about nearby nectar sources about 50-100 meters from the hive. Whirling about in a tight circle, the dancing bee completes two circuits one way, then abruptly turns the other for two more circuits. Delivered on a thickly populated section of comb, bees in the immediate vicinity of the dancing bee struggle to keep their antennae in contact with the dancer’s abdomen. Soon the dancing bee’s wake is filled with bees all fervently trying to keep in step. Direction is not conveyed during the dance, but the type of flowers is transmitted through the dancing bee’s odor.

The waggle dance presents information on distant pollen and nectar sources. The dancing bee moves a specific distance in a straight line on the comb, turns and walks a half circle, then retraces the straight line and waggles its abdomen. Turning in the other direction, the bee completes a figure-8 pattern and waggles along the straight line again. The direction of the straight line relative to the vertical plane of the comb reveals the precise direction of food source relative to the position of the sun. The intensity of the dance, as measured by the number of times the waggle dance is performed informs the other bees as to distance of the food source. Bees receive and reinforce this information by copying the dance and by sensing the odors of dancing bee. Fully informed by the waggle dance, the newly recruited bees leave the hive and locate the food source regardless of intervening physical barriers, natural or man-made.

My first exposure to von Frisch and his groundbreaking work with honey bees was through the 1964 Life magazine article about his life and research at the tender young age of seven. Later in 1966, I saw him in one of the very first National Geographic television specials, The Hidden World of Insects (another milestone in this entomologist’s fascination with insects). I clearly remember being fascinated by his painstaking experiments with experimental feeding stations set among open grassy habitats and stocked with petri dishes of different colors and filled with various sugar solutions.

Karl von Frisch also studied the pheromones produced by queen honey bees and the role they had in maintaining the social order of the colony. Although he published all of his is original findings in German, von Frisch did produce some popular works in English. Two of these titles have long been in my library. Both works are fascinating to read. Animal Architecture covers both vertebrates and invertebrates, including some wonderfully illustrated information on the structures built by arthropods.

Scientists have long been skeptical or flat-out rejected von Frisch’s work with honey bees and his results suggesting that these industrious insects had a language all their own. Recent studies suggest that the importance of the bee’s dance may not be as great as once thought and that most of the bees that witness the dance get it all wrong, if they don’t just ignore it altogether. Only a few workers that “get” the information actually find the food source.

Other scientists are not ready just yet to discount the importance of dancing bees to the overall success of the hive. Both camps agree that most of the research thus far has focused on the message delivered by dancing bees and that there is still much to be learned how this information is perceived by other members of the hive.

WEB SOURCES:

2009. The bees’ knees-The facts. New Internationalist Magazine. http://www.newint.org/features/2009/09/01/facts-about-bees/ (accessed 10 October 2010)

2010. Karl von Frisch. Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_von_Frisch (accessed 10 October 2010)

PRINT SOURCES

von Frisch, K. 1953. The dancing bees. An account of the life and senses of the honey bee. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World Inc. 182 p.

von Frisch, K. 1974. Animal architecture. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. 306 p.

Williams, C. 2009. Show me the honey. New Scientist 203 (2726): 40-41.

REFLECTIONS ON ARIZONA’S JEWEL SCARABS-Part 1

Posted in Arizona, Beetles, Insects with tags , , , , on September 27, 2010 by Dr. Art Evans

By Arthur V. Evans

I can still remember the very first Chrysina that I ever saw alive in Arizona. It was August 5, 1973 and Bob Duff and I had just set up our black lights in Bog Springs Campground in Madera Canyon. A soft-spoken man sporting a white t-shirt, khakis, and a crew cut came into our camp and introduced himself as Gayle Nelson. Only later did I discover that Dr. Nelson was one of the world’s leading authorities of jewel beetles (Buprestidae).

As the sun slowly set, the oaks all around us came alive with the buzzings of beetles. As Bob, Gayle, and I conversed, my eyes darted nervously this way and that  to each and every buzz in the bushes. This was my first night of black lighting in Southeastern Arizona’s Sky Islands and I did not want to miss any choice beetles! I did not know then that most of this crepuscular beetle activity was just the mating and feeding frenzy of several species of plain brown or black June beetles (Phyllophaga).

Just as darkness had completely descended upon us, I heard a bigger buzz followed by a thud. There on the sheet in front of me was an apple green beetle on its back with its lavender legs clawing at the air. I picked up the gorgeous beetle with my thumb and forefinger, only to discover that it’s powerful legs were tipped with needle-sharp claws. In spite of this surprisingly painful encounter, I was not about to let go of my very first Beyer’s jewel scarab, C. beyeri.

For several years afterwards the abundance of Chrysina at my lights were used as a barometer of sorts. I used their numbers, rightly or wrongly, as a way of measuring my success during many summer nights of black lighting in the mountains of Southeastern Arizona. Eventually my sensibilities began to change.

During the 1990’s, I collected specimens of C. beyeri and C. gloriosa alive and took them back to California for display in the Ralph M. Parsons Insect Zoo at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where I worked as the director. Both species thrived for several months on diets of oak leaves and juniper, respectively. Although the captive scarabs produced plenty of grubs, I made no effort to rear them to adulthood. To this day I regret not writing a formal description of the larva of Beyer’s jewel scarab and submitting it for publication; as of this writing, the immature stages of this species remain undescribed.

Now I regard species of Chrysina at my lights simply as old friends and no longer feel the urge to collect them in long series, if at all. I have heard stories of collectors and dealers with considerably less restraint collecting hundreds of specimens from the same mountain canyons, year after year. This annual carnage has led some people to wonder out loud whether or not Arizona’s Chrysina are in real need of some sort of legal protection. Nearly 30 years ago, Arnett and Jacques (1981) declared that both C. beyeri and C. gloriosa, which they mistakenly thought were the only species in the United States, were “…endangered and should not be collected.” However, on a warm and dry night in Madera Canyon this past July, all three species of Arizona’s Chrysina turned up at my light in good numbers. One species, C. gloriosa, was there in incredible abundance. Still, it would be worthwhile for a university or governmental agency to study the overall impact of intensive collecting on Chrysina populations in Madera Canyon and other popular collecting sites in southeastern Arizona.

Commonly known as jewel scarabs, the genus Chrysina is replete with incredibly beautiful, often metallic species. It includes nearly 100 species, most of which occur in Mexico and Central America. The four species in the United States are relics of a rich Neotropical fauna that expanded northward during more favorable (wetter) periods. For the past 10,000 years or so, these species were able to adapt to an increasingly warmer and drier climate by taking refuge in the high elevations of mountains.

 

Weldon Heald

 

The Southwest mountains inhabited by Chrysina are like stepping stones that bridge the gap between the temperate flora and fauna of the Rocky Mountains of the United States and the tropical biota of the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico. This archipelago of mountain “islands” in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern Mexico are surrounded by hot, dry desert “seas.” As such, they were dubbed “Sky Islands” nearly 60 years ago by the natural history writer Weldon Heald. Arizona’s Sky Islands are home to three species of Chrysina; the fourth American species is found in Texas.

All four of the American jewel scarabs were originally described in the genus Plusiotis. As a result of morphological and DNA evidence, the newer name Plusiotis was deemed redundant in relation to the older monicker Chrysina and it was formally synonymized by Dave Hawks (2001). The first species known in the United States, the glorious jewel scarab (C. gloriosa), was described by the father of American coleopterology, John L. LeConte in 1854. LeConte described this emerald-green and silver-striped species based on specimens collected at a copper mine in Texas that are now in the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard.  These specimens were collected by the Secretary of the United States and Mexican Boundary Commission, Thomas Hopkins Webb. A physician from Rhode Island, Webb was appointed Secretary of the Commission in 1850, a position he held until 1854. In addition to his full-time position as Secretary, Webb enthusiastically collected insects, fishes, and reptiles and sent them to the leading authorities of the day. Later, he would become the secretary and principal executive officer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to my friend, colleague, and Arizona scarabaeologist Bill Warner, C. gloriosa occurs in nearly all of the mountain ranges in at least the southern three-quarters of the state where their food plant, Juniperus, grows. Glorious jewel scarabs also occur in New Mexico, and Texas, as well as the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora. With the onset of the summer monsoons, adults often spend their daylight hours feeding and resting on junipers; they are commonly attracted to lights at night, sometimes in large numbers.

In 1882, two years after LeConte’s death, another prominent coleopterist named George Horn described the second American species of Chrysina, LeConte’s jewel scarab (C. lecontei). His description was based on three examples now housed at the MCZ. These included one specimen from Tucson in the cabinet of England-born actor and entomologist Henry Edwards, another from LeConte’s cabinet collected in New Mexico by the curator of the insect collection at the University of Kansas, Professor Francis H. Snow, and a series in his own collection from Prescott, Arizona. Without any fanfare whatsoever, Horn ended his description by quietly dedicating the new species “to a friend.”

Warner notes that LeConte’s jewel scarab has essentially the same range in Arizona as the glorious jewel scarab, but that it is a bit more restricted to the higher altitudes where its food plant, the ponderosa pine, occurs. This species also occurs in New Mexico and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, and Sonora.

 

Henry Skinner

 

The third American species of Chrysina was first exhibited by Horn on November 9, 1883 at a meeting of the entomological section of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. He presented two specimens collected in Rio Grande, Texas by his friend and Philadephia physician, Dr. Horatio C. Wood. Wood was a pioneer in American pharmacology who published numerous papers on pharmacology, physiology, and experimental therapeutics and taught neurology and internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Early in his career Wood published papers in botany, entomology, and myriapodology. He traveled to the borderlands to collect specimens for the Smithsonian Institution and was one of the first white men to see the Grand Canyon. Wood recalled to lepidopterist Dr. Henry Skinner (1905) that the beetles he had given to Horn were either collected near El Paso, Texas, or in the valley of Tornellias [Tornillo] Creek at the great bend of the Rio Grande. The beetles were described in the minutes for the meeting as “pale malachite green, narrowly bordered with pale gold, the elytra are not striate, but with rows of fine punctures, the tarsi are beautifully violet.” Horn formally described Wood’s jewel scarab, Chrysina woodii, in 1885. These specimens are also housed in the MCZ. Horn noted that he saw another specimen in the Museum of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Wood’s jewel scarabs eat the leaves of walnut trees and are apparently diurnal, although some individuals are attracted to lights at night. It also occurs in Chihuahua, Mexico.

In 1905, Skinner, a gynecologist as well as co-founder and editor (1890-1910) of the Entomological News, described Beyer’s jewel scarab (C. beyeri) from four specimens collected in Carr and Miller Canyons in the Huachuca Mountains in southeastern Arizona. This handsome species first came to his attention the previous year when a specimen was sent to him from Reef in Cochise County. Reef was a mining camp in the southwest corner of Cochise County near the Mexican border. It was located in Carr Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains and was named for a noted landmark Carr Reef, an exposed and thick layer of rock. The site is now a campground in the Coronado National Forest. Skinner examined additional specimens presumably collected from the same locality by Beyer, Schaeffer, and Biederman. The Reef post office was officially relocated to Palmerlee (at the base of Miller Canyon) in December of 1904.

Gustav Beyer was a fur manufacturer from New York and an indefatigable insect collector who frequently travelled with his friend and Curator of Coleoptera at the Brooklyn Museum Institute of Arts and Sciences, Charles F. A. Schaeffer. Schaeffer spent a considerable amount of time collecting beetles at his three favorite haunts: Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina, the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and the Huachuca Mountains. Charles R. Biederman, a veteran of the Confederate Army and a resident of the Huachuca Mountains, was an ardent insect collector and is buried on his homestead in Carr Canyon. Before the advent of collecting Chrysina and other nocturnal beetles at light, both Biederman (1907) and another collector, Karl Coolidge (1911), noted a decided lack of success in obtaining specimens of C. beyeri, in spite of considerable searching about trees and in leaf litter. After finding a single specimen of C. beyeri in leaf litter, Biederman raked nearly two acres of leaves to find more beetles, but came up empty handed.

Beyer’s jewel scarab has the most restrictive distribution of all Arizona’s Chrysina and is known only from the Santa Rita, Patagonia, and Huachuca Mountains; it also occurs in the Animas Mountains of New Mexico and the states of Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico. Adults feed on the leaves of Mexican blue oak, Quercus oblongifolia.

In 1915, Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey, a noted and somewhat controversial coleopterist, described several species of Plusiotis, all of which have long been considered synonyms of the previously mentioned species.

Arizona’s jewel scarabs are not only popular with collectors and macro photographers, they also serve as wonderfully instructive subjects for scientific study, especially for scientists seeking to understand the physical qualities and adaptive significance of their brilliant colors. More on this subject will appear in the second and final installment of “Reflections on Arizona’s Jewel Scarabs.”

Sources:

Arnett, R. H., Jr, and R. L. Jacques. 1981. Simon & Schuster’s Guide to Insects. New York: Simon & Schuster. 511 pp.

Barnes, W. C. 1988. Arizona Place Names. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

Biederman, C. R. 1907. Notes on Plusiotis beyeri Skinner. Entomological News 18: 7-9.

Burke, H. R. 2004. Notable Weevil Specialists of the Past. Charles Frederick August Schaeffer (1860-1934). Curculio 49: 5-7. Accessed on 26 September 2010 at: <http://www.texasento.net/Schaeffer.html#Burke>.

Calvert, P. P. 1926. The entomological work of Henry Skinner. Entomological News 37: 225-249.

Coolidge, K. R. 1911. Plusiotis beyeri Skinner. Entomological News 22: 326-327.

Evans, A. V. 2007. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. New York: Sterling. 497 pp.

Hawks, D. 2001. Taxonomic and nomenclatural changes in Chrysina and a synonymic checklist of species (Scarabaeidae: Rutelinae). Occasional Papers of the Consortium Coleopterorum 4(1):  1-8.

Hawks, D. 2001. Checklist of Chrysina species (Scarabaeidae: Rutelinae: Rutelinae). (URL: http://www.unl.edu/museum/research/entomology/Guide/Scarabaeoidea/Scarabaeidae/Rutelinae/Rutelinae-Tribes/Rutelini/Chrysina/Chrysina-Catalog/ChrysinaC.html). In B.C. Ratcliffe and M.L. Jameson (eds.), Generic Guide to New World Scarab Beetles (URL: http://www-museum.unl.edu/research/entomology/Guide/Guide-introduction/Guideintro.html). Accessed on: 27 September 2010.

Horn, G. H. 1882. Notes on some little known genera and species of Coleoptera. Transactions of the American Entomological Society 10(1): 113-

Horn, G. H. 1885. New North American Scarabaeidae. Transactions of the American Entomological Society. 12: 117-128.

LeConte, J. L. 1854. Descriptions of the Coleoptera collected by Thos. H. Webb, M.D., in the years 1850-51 and 52, while Secretary of the U.S. and Mexican Boundary Commission. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 7: 220-225.

Leng, C. W. 1924. Gustav Beyer. Journal of the New York Entomological Society 32(4): 165-166.

Quincy, J. P. 1882. Memoir of Thomas Hopkins Webb. Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 19: 336-338.

Roth, G.B. 1939. An early American pharmacologist. Horatio C. Wood. 1841-1920. Isis 30(1): 38-45.

Skinner, H. 1905. Descriptions of new Coleoptera from Arizona with notes on some other species. Entomological News 16: 289-292.

© 2010, A.V. Evans

%d bloggers like this: