Species of Tragidion are among the larger and more attractive cerambycids in North America, making them popular among collectors. Their bright orange and black coloration clearly functions in mimicking spider wasps (family Pompilidae) in the genera Pepsis and Hemipepsis – the so-called “tarantula hawks.” Unfortunately, species of Tragidion have been difficult to identify due to a high degree of morphological similarity between species, wide range of variation across geographic areas within species, unusually high sexual dimorphism and dichromatism, and apparent potential for hybridization in areas of geographic overlap. This has confounded efforts to delimit species boundaries, resulting in a confusing assortment of names whose proper application has eluded even the most esteemed of North America’s cerambycid taxonomists. Recently, some much needed clarity was provided by Ian Swift and Ann M. Ray in the journal Zootaxa. Their taxonomic review of Tragidion – the first systematic treatment of the entire genus – recognizes seven species in North America and another four restricted to Mexico. Two species – T. agave from California and Baja California and T. deceptum from montane areas of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico (both pictured) – are described as new, and a third – T. densiventre from desert areas of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico – is raised from synonymy under T. auripenne. Four new synonymies are also proposed, and dorsal habitus photographs and a key to all species are provided. Life history information is limited for most species of Tragidion. One species – T. coquus – occurs broadly across the eastern and central U.S., where it breeds in a variety of dead hardwoods, especially oak. Several species occur in the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico – some are found in xeric lowland desert habitats, where they breed in dead branches of Prosopis glandulosa and Acacia greggii (T. densiventre) or dead flower stalks of Yucca and Agave (T. agave and T. armatum), while a fourth (T. deceptum) is found in more montane habitats mining the heartwood of recently dead branches of Quercus. Adults of another species in California and Baja California, T. annulatum, are strongly attracted to brushfires and burning vegetation, and individuals have been observed landing on still-burning and smoldering shrubs, causing their legs and abdomens to melt to the surface of the branches. At several post-burn sites, the melted bodies of this species were common on the charred branches of their hosts, and females have been observed ovipositing on woody shrubs that have been burned. This species likely plays an important role in the decomposition of burned woody material in coastal areas of California. The remaining U.S. species – T. auripenne – is known from only a handful of specimens collected in xeric habitats in the Four Corners region of the southwestern U.S. It’s life history, as well as those of the four strictly Mexican species, remains essentially unknown.
REFERENCE: Swift, I., Ray, A. M. (2008). A review of the genus Tragidion Audinet-Serville, 1834 (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Cerambycinae: Trachyderini) Zootaxa, 1892, 1-25