Revisiting the Swift Tiger Beetle – Part 1

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens with 68mm extension on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/13, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power through diffuser caps

Photo 1 - Cylindera celeripes at Alabaster Caverns State Park in northwestern Oklahoma.

When my hymenopterist friend, Mike Arduser, came back from his first trip to Oklahoma’s Four Canyon Preserve last September, my first thought upon seeing his photos of the area was, “Ooh, that looks like a good place for tiger beetles!” Its rugged red clay and gypsum exposures reminded me of similar country I had seen in the not-too-distant Gypsum Hills of south-central Kansas, where I was fortunate enough to observe a nice population of the fantastically beautiful Cicindela pulchra (beautiful tiger beetle) back in 2005. When I later realized that the area was only 30 miles southwest of a confirmed recent sighting of Cicindela celeripes (swift tiger beetle, now Cylindera celeripes), I thought, “Ooh, I wonder if celeripes might occur there also.”

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens with 68mm extension tube on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/13, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power through diffuser caps

Photo 2 - Cylindera celeripes on lichen-encrusted clay soil at Alabaster Caverns State Park.

Recall that C. celeripes is one of North America’s rarest and least understood tiger beetles. This tiny, flightless, ant-like species has been recorded historically from eastern Nebraska south to north-central Texas, but its range appears to have become highly restricted over the past century. It hasn’t been seen in Nebraska for nearly 100 years now, and most recent records have come from its last known stronghold in the Flint Hills of Kansas. In 2003, however, a photographer by the name of Charles Schurch Lewallen posted on BugGuide a photograph of this species taken at Alabaster Caverns State Park in northwestern Oklahoma, and last year small numbers of adults were seen in the Loess Hills of western Iowa. This last sighting triggered an immediate trip to the site by myself and Chris Brown, who has been co-investigating the tiger beetle fauna of Missouri with me for several years now. The occurrence of this species in Iowa’s Loess Hills had reignited our hopes – faint as they were – that the beetle might yet occur in extreme northwestern Missouri, where the Loess Hills reach their southern terminus. We wanted to see the beetle in the wild to better understand its habitat requirements before resuming our search for this species in northwestern Missouri. We succeeded in finding the beetle – an amazing experience in itself – and brought three adults of this never-before-reared species back to the lab for photographs and an attempt at rearing. We did manage to obtain viable eggs, but we were not successful in rearing the larvae beyond first instar. I wrote about that experience last August in a post entitled, “The hunt for Cicindela celeripes” (that post is now currently in press as an article in the journal CICINDELA).

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens with 68mm extension tube on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/11, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power through diffuser caps

Photo 3 - Cylindera celeripes on gypsum exposure at Alabaster Caverns State Park.

Thus, when my friend Mike asked me earlier this year if I might be interested in joining him on his return trip to Four Canyon Preserve in June, I jumped at the chance. I figured I could look for celeripes at the preserve, and if I failed to find it there then I would go to Alabaster Caverns and see if I could relocate the beetle where it had been photographed in 2003. My goals were modest – I simply wanted to find the beetle and voucher its current presence in northwestern Oklahoma (and if possible photograph it in the field with my new camera!). Before leaving, I wrote to Charles Lewallen, who graciously responded with details regarding the precise location and time of day that he had seen the beetle at Alabaster Caverns, and on the first Friday of June I followed behind Mike and his lovely wife Jane during our ten-hour drive out to Four Canyon Preserve. For three days, I roamed the mixed-grass prairie atop the narrow ridges and dry woodland on the steep, rugged canyon slopes of the preserve – always on the lookout for that telltale “flash” between the clumps of bluestem and grama, ever hopeful that one would prove not to be the ant or spider that it appeared to be (and, indeed, always was). Many tiger beetles would be seen – chiefly the annoyingly ubiquitous Cicindela punctulata (punctured tiger beetle), but celeripes would not be among them. Whether this is due to historical absence from the site or a more recent consequence of the wildfires that swept the area a year earlier is hard to say, but its absence at Four Canyon meant that I would need to make a quick, 1-day detour to Alabaster Caverns before rejoining Mike and Jane at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma, where we planned to spend the second half of the week.

Photo details: Canon 65mm 1-5X macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/13, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power through diffuser caps

Photo 4 - Cylindera celeripes on gypsum exposure at Alabaster Caverns State Park.

Arriving at Alabaster Caverns I was filled with nervous, excited anticipation. Would I find the species, as Charles Lewallen had, or would I get skunked? I kitted up and started walking towards the area where Charles wrote that he had seen the beetle, noting the annoying “Removal of plants and animals prohibited” sign along the way. I hadn’t taken ten steps off the parking lot when I saw it! I froze at first, hardly believing that I had found it that quickly, then started watching the tiny beetle as it bolted urgently from one grass clump to the next. Recalling my experience with this beetle in Iowa (and fearing I would lose it amongst the vegetation), I captured the specimen and placed it live in a vial – I would talk to the park staff later about taking the beetle, but for now I needed to guarantee I had a backup for the lab in case I was unable to get field photographs of the beetle. I started walking again, and within a few minutes I saw another one – okay, they’re here in numbers. I carefully took off my camera bag and assembled the components, all the while keeping my eye on the beetle, and then I began trying to do what last year had seemed impossible – getting field photographs. It was easier this time – the vegetation was not so dense, so I could keep an eye on the beetle as he darted from one clump to another. I tried to wait until he settled in an open spot, but it soon became apparent that just wasn’t gonna happen without a “helping” hand. I started blocking the path of the beetle as he tried to dart away and then removing my hand to see if he would stay put. There were a few false starts, where the beetle looked like he would sit still and then dart just as I was set to take the shot, but eventually it wore down and started sitting still long enough for me to shoot a few frames. Torn between the need to get as many photographs as possible and the desire to look for more beetles, I decided to look around more to see how common the beetle was. As I walked out into the shortgrass prairie above the canyons, I began to see adults quite commonly. Most often they were seen as they bolted out into the open from a clump of vegetation when disturbed by my approach. The substrate was red clay and gypsum – just as I had seen in Four Canyon Preserve, but unlike that area the clay exposures were heavily colonized by a mottling of green, blue, and gray lichens. It made the beetles almost impossible to see when they were not moving – even at close range! I spent about an hour taking photographs of several individuals, even managing to photograph one that appeared to be parasitized by what I take to be a dryinid hymenopteran.

Photo 5 - Cylindera celeripes with parasite (dryinid hymenopteran?).  Note also the ant head attached to right antenna.

Photo 5: Cylindera celeripes with parasite (dryinid hymenopteran?). Note also the ant head attached to right antenna.

After getting a sufficient series of photographs (is there really such thing?), I went to the park office hoping to convey the significance of this find to the Park Naturalist and to convince him/her to let me take some live individuals with me for another attempt at rearing. The Park Naturalist was out of the office, but the Park Historian was there. I could hardly contain my excitement as I explained to her what I had found, why it was so important, and my hope to try to rear the species with adults collected in the field. She not only responded as positively as I had hoped, but accompanied back out into the field so that I could show her the beetles. She told me it would be no problem to take some live individuals for rearing and to please let them know if there was anything else they could do to help me.  She then provided me with the day’s natural history “dessert” by pointing out a Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) – Oklahoma’s state flying mammal – roosting up in the top of a nearby picnic shelter. Standing atop the picnic table put me within arm’s length of the little chiropteran – close enough to see his tiny little eyes looking quizzically back at me.

Photo 6 - Cylindera celeripes macrohabitat, Alabaster Caverns State Park, Oklahoma.  Note rather widely spaced clumps of vegetation (photo details: Canon 17-85mm zoom lens (17mm) on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/64 sec, f/8).

Photo 6 - Cylindera celeripes macrohabitat at Alabaster Caverns State Park. Note rather widely spaced clumps of vegetation.

It had begun sprinkling rain by then, so with some urgency I got my tools, extracted a couple of chunks of native soil and transferred them to the small “Critter Totes” that I had brought for the purpose, and began searching for live individuals to place within them. The beetles had become scarce as the drizzle turned to light rain, and by the time I had split about a dozen individuals between the two containers the rain was coming down hard enough to start puddling. I continued a last ditch effort to find “just one more,” but a lightning strike within a mile of the park put an end to that – the air now felt electric as I hurriedly walked back to the car (gloating unabashedly inside) and began the three-hour drive towards Tallgrass Prairie Preserve… (to be continued).


Photo 7 - Cylindera celeripes microhabitat at Alabaster Caverns State Park. Note thick encrustation of lichens on clay substrate amidst white gypsum exposures.

Photo details:
#1-3, 5: Canon 100mm macro lens w/ 68mm extension on Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/13 (photo 3, f/11), MT-24EX flash 1/4 power through diffuser caps.
#4: Same except Canon 65mm 1-5X macro lens, flash 1/8 power.
#6: Same except Canon 17-85mm zoom lens (17mm), 1/64 sec, f/8, natural light.
#7: Same except Canon 17-85mm zoom lens (35mm), 1/100 sec, f/7, natural light.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Friday flower

Photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/16, MT-24EX flash 1/8 power through diffuser caps

Photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/16, MT-24EX flash 1/8 power through diffuser caps

While photographing small Acmaeodera beetles on flowers of Tradescantia ohioensis at Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area, I thought I should take a photo of the flower itself.  Flowers of Tradescantia species, or spiderworts, are notable for their bright yellow anthers and filaments with numerous hairs. Each of the (usually) six stamens possesses around 70-100 hairs, which in turn are composed of a chain of about 20 large, single cells that are purple in color and contain a large, water-filled central vacuole. The cells can be seen easily with low magnification – click on the photo to see the larger version, with the individual cells that make up each hair clearly visible. I haven’t been able to ascertain the function of these hairs for the plant, but their usefulness in observing division in plant cells (the flowing cytoplasm and nucleus can be seen easily) and their sensitivity to radiation and chemical mutagens have been recognized for many years. The hairs turn pink when exposed to radiation, allowing them to be used as a sort of ‘natural’ Geiger counter.

Update: While writing this post, I sent an email to George Yatskeivych, botanist at the Missouri Botanical Garden and author of Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri (1999, 2006), asking if he knew the function of the filamental hairs.  After reading his response (below), I don’t feel quite so bad for not being able to determine the answer myself:

I don’t know that I have ever heard anyone express a particular use for the hairs on the filaments of Tradescantia species.  Sometimes, hairy filaments help to trap pollen from visiting insects in proximity to the stigma or act as nectar guides, but I do not think that anyone has determined such “uses” in Tradescantia.  There may not be a selective advantage to hairy filaments in the genus.

If any botanist happens to read this post and has some insight about this, a comment would be most appreciated.


Yatskievych, G. 1999. Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri, Volume 1. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, 991 pp.

Yatskievych, G. 2006. Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri, Volume 2. The Missouri Botanical Garden Press, St. Louis, 1181 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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A Silver Anniversary

Twenty-five years ago tomorrow, I discovered my first new species.  I didn’t know it at the time – in fact, it would be several years later before the budding, young entomologist that I was would finally conclude that the large, spectacularly beautiful, cerambycid beetle that I was capturing in my fermenting bait traps just south of St. Louis did indeed represent a previously unrecognized species.

In my first job out of school as a field entomologist for the Missouri Department of Agriculture, I worked with nursery growers to identify insect pest problems on their crops and provide recommendations for control.  Wood boring beetles – especially the longhorned beetles – are a major problem for growers of trees, and it was that importance, combined with a latent interest in taxonomy, that led to my interest in this group (and the beginnings of my identity as a “coleopterist”).  I didn’t just work in entomology – I lived it, and when I wasn’t inspecting rows of trees, checking gypsy moth traps, or scouting for musk thistle weevil release sites in the three counties around St. Louis, I was collecting insects and the primary literature about them.  One of the early papers I came across (Champlain and Knull 1932) described the use of fermenting bait traps for collecting Cerambycidae, in particular species in the genus Purpuricenus.  I desperately wanted some of these beetles – large, showy, velvety black, with vivid red or orange basal markings on the elytra – but had not yet encountered either of the two species then known in eastern North America.   I made a batch of the stuff – basically molasses, beer, yeast, and water – and placed buckets of the slurry at a few spots that I would be able to check periodically while on my rounds.  Much to my delight, I quickly began trapping numerous species of Cerambycidae – including the two species of Purpuricenus.  Most of these specimens were coming to a trap I had placed at one of my favorite collecting spots – Victoria Glades Natural Area in Jefferson Co., some 30 miles south of St. Louis.  Over the next few weeks I acquired a nice little series of the two species, and I increased their number during the following three years with continued trapping.


Purpuricenus humeralis (Fabricius)

The two species were easily distinguished – in Purpuricenus humeralis the basal elytral markings were triangular and covered just the humeri, while in P. axillaris they were transverse and covered the entire basal half of the elytra.  As I studied the series of the latter, however, something seemed amiss.  Some of the specimens were distinctly larger and more robust, while others were smaller and more gracile.  Moreover, the color of the elytral markings on the larger specimens seemed to be consistently more reddish than the pale orange markings of the smaller specimens.  At first I dismissed it as variation – common among longhorned beetles, which can vary greatly in size depending on the quality of the larval host.  But as I studied them more I noted other consistent differences between the two “forms” – the larger with more well-developed pronotal tubercles (the middle one of which bore a distinctly polished apex and the lateral ones more acutely angled), a distinct “tooth” at the apex of the elytral midline, and coarser punctures at the base of the elytra.  It seemed obvious that the two forms represented two different species, but the only other species I could find in Linsley’s (1962) monograph of North American Cerambycidae (my bible!) was P. linsleyi – known then only by the holotype and one paratype from an unspecified location in Texas.  Neither series matched the description of that species very well – the shape of the elytral marking was wrong – but I concluded the larger one must be that species and the smaller was axillaris.  There was another possibility – but that young entomologist just couldn’t entertain the idea of a large, showy, longhorned beetle still undescribed in eastern North America.


Purpuricenus axillaris Haldeman

Some time later I received a series of a Purpuricenus that my colleague Dan Heffern had collected near San Antonio, Texas.  Dan had also taken up collecting cerambycids with fermenting bait traps, and while he was quite proficient with Texas species he wasn’t quite sure what to make of these particular specimens.  He sent them to me for my opinion, and it was quite clear – they were the real P. linsleyi.  The rediscovery of that rare species was an exciting find in itself, but it rekindled the puzzle of the Missouri Purpuricenus – if they were not P. linsleyi, then what were they?  The only conclusion was that two species were masquerading under a single name, and that I would have the privilege of naming one of them.  Wow, my first new species – something every amateur taxonomist dreams about, but I had no idea it would happen so soon, or with such a spectacularly beautiful species!  By then I was living in Sacramento, so I traveled to nearby Berkeley to meet with the late John Chemsak at the University of California and show him my material.  John was a longtime associate of the late, great E. Gorton Linsley, co-authoring with Linsley several later volumes of the North American Cerambycidae monograph, and had managed to borrow type material of P. axillaris from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.  We found that both species were present in the small type series, so together we decided which specimen should be designated as a lectotype for P. axillaris – and thus, which of the two species would be named as new.


Purpuricenus paraxillaris MacRae

It would take several more years before I actually published a description of the new species, naming it P. paraxillaris (meaning “near” axillaris) and selecting as holotype the very first specimen I collected – on June 25, 1984.  I wanted to know its distribution, which meant borrowing material from museums and willing individuals.  I also recognized that some collectors of Cerambycidae might view the description of a large, showy species from eastern North America with some skepticism, so I wanted to be as thorough as possible.  (There were a few private collectors that declined to loan their material to me because of such skepticism.)  During that process, I learned that P. paraxillaris is quite common across the eastern U.S. – in fact, many of the literature references to P. axillaris actually refer to this species, but it wasn’t until collectors began using fermenting bait traps widely that large series of specimens became available for study.  By examining the few available reared specimens, I learned that P. axillaris prefers hickory (Carya) as a host, while P. paraxillaris prefers oak (Quercus) and chestnut (Castanea).  With several hundred specimens of the two species at my disposal, I became more convinced than ever that they were distinct, and with the many specimens of other species in the genus that I had borrowed as well, I decided to expand the scope of the paper to a general review of the entire genus in North America.  This would allow me not only to describe the new species, but report the rediscovery of P. linsleyi as well.  Finally, after several years (remember, I was/am just an amateur), the description was published in the October 2000 issue of The Pan-Pacific Entomologist (MacRae 2000).

For those of you with an interest in such things, I include here a key to the three eastern North American species of Purpuricenus.

Key to adult Purpuricenus in eastern North America 
(adapted from MacRae 2000)

1.         Posterior margin of basal elytral markings distinctly oblique; apical dark area extending forward along suture and reaching scutellum……………. P. humeralis (Fabricius)

1′.        Posterior margin of basal elytral markings more or less transverse; apical dark area not extending forward along suture to scutellum ………………………………………………………. 2

2 (1′).   Discal calluses of pronotum weak, median callus without polished apical line; lateral pronotal tubercles small, angles obtuse; basal elytral punctation relatively finer and sparser; elytral apices subtruncate, angles not distinctly dentate; basal elytral markings yellow to orange ………………………………………………………………………. P. axillaris Haldeman

2′.        Discal calluses of pronotum distinct, median callus prominent and with polished apical line; lateral pronotal tubercles well-developed, angles acute; basal punctation of elytra relatively coarser and denser; elytral apices emarginate, angles distinctly dentate; basal elytral markings orange to red-orange ………………………………. P. paraxillaris MacRae


Champlain, A. B. and J. N. Knull. 1932. Fermenting bait traps for trapping Elateridae and Cerambycidae (Coleop.). Entomological News 43:253–257.

Linsley, E. G. 1962. The Cerambycidae of North America. Part III. Taxonomy and classification of the subfamily Cerambycinae, tribes Opsimini through Megaderini. University of California Publications in Entomology 20:1–188, 56 figs.

MacRae, T. C. 2000. Review of the genus Purpuricenus Dejean (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) in North America. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 76:137–169.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Four Canyon Preserve, Oklahoma


Looking SE into lower Horse Canyon towards Canadian River

On my recent week-long collecting trip, the first three days were spent at Four Canyon Preserve in far northwestern Oklahoma.  This nearly 4,000-acre preserve features a stunning landscape of rugged, wooded canyons dissecting ridges of mixed-grass prairie which provide critical habitat for several rare plants and animals.  Despite years of overgrazing, fire suppression, and invasion by exotic plants, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recognized the restoration potential of this landscape and began management practices to restore its ecological function and integrity after acquiring it in 2004.  The land was rested until April 2008, at which time a wildfire swept through the area and burned approximately 90% of the property.  This event was actually welcomed by TNC, who was already in the process of initiating a prescribed burn – they simply pulled back and let it rip!  The burn, combined with mechanical removal of eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) that had invaded many areas of the preserve, did much to confine woody growth to the canyons proper, and good rains during the past two springs following that burn have resulted in a lush, green, diverse landscape brimming with prairie wildflowers.  The vivid contrast between the green vegetation and the red clay canyons with their white gypsum exposures has created spectacular vistas of a rugged landscape.  This year, cattle have been reintroduced at low levels to simulate the irregular, patchy disturbance experienced in pre-settlement times when native grazers (bison and elk) dotted the landscape.

The flora (Hoagland and Buthod 2007) and avifauna (Patten et al. 2006) of the preserve are well characterized, but (as nearly always seems the case) arthropod and other micro faunas need much additional study.  My hymenopterist colleagues and I were welcomed enthusiastically by TNC staff, who are anxious to incorporate the results of our insect surveys into an overall fauna.  Apoid hymenopterans appear to have benefited greatly from the recent rejuvenation of the preserve’s floral character.  Results for the beetle populations that I encountered, however, were more mixed. Certain groups, such as scarabaeine dung beetles, were quite abundant and diverse (due to the reintroduction of cattle), but others, including the tiger beetles, jewel beetles, and longhorned beetles that I was most interested in finding, existed at rather low and not very diverse levels.  I had hoped to find the very rare Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle) running amongst the clumps of vegetation on the preserve’s red clay exposures but instead saw only the ubiquitous Cicindela punctulata (punctured tiger beetle), and the few jewel beetles that I managed to beat off the lower branches of hackberry (Celtis laevigata) and soapberry (Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii) trees were found only in the small parts of the preserve that escaped last year’s burn.  This seems fairly typical – I generally don’t find many insects in these groups whenever I survey areas that have experienced a significant amount of recent burning.  Some ecologists might take exception to this statement, and they would have little difficulty citing studies that show rapid recolonization of prairies by a majority of prairie insect specialists within two years after a prescribed burn.   Nevertheless, the impact of prescribed burning on invertebrate populations and its potential for causing local extirpations has become a contentious issue among ecologists and entomologists in recent years.  While my experience hardly passes for rigorous investigation, I am becoming increasingly convinced that a certain amount of caution is warranted when designing burn management plans for prairie relicts.

I’ll discuss more about the beetles and other insects (and even some vertebrates) that I saw during my three-day visit to Four Canyon Preserve in future posts.  In the meantime, I share with you some of my photos of this spectacularly beautiful landscape (note the abundance of woody cadavers from last year’s burn in some of the photos).


Looking S into upper reaches of Mulberry Canyon


Looking S into upper reaches of Mulberry Canyon


Looking E across upper Harsha Canyon


Looking SE into Harsha Canyon towards Canadian River


Looking E across lower Harsha Canyon

View of Mulberry Canyon bluffs from Canadian River valley

Looking NE towards Mulberry Canyon bluffs from Canadian River valley


Hoagland, B. W., and A. K. Buthod.  2007.  Vascular flora of the Four Canyons Preserve, Ellis County, Oklahoma.  Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas 1(1):655–664.

Patten, M. A., D. L. Reinking, and D. H. Wolfe.  2006.  Avifauna of the Four Canyon Preserve, Ellis County, Oklahoma.  Publications of the Oklahoma Biological Survey (2nd Series) 7:11-20.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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The “obscure” Dicerca


Photo details (first 2 photos): Canon 100mm macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/13, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power through diffuser caps

During my recent trip to northwestern Oklahoma, we visited Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area, a 17,000-acre chunk of land containing mixed-grass prairie, shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) shrublands, and mesic woodlands along the South Canadian River.  In one of these woodlands, I encountered a small grove of persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) trees – some of which had recently died.  Whenever I see dead persimmons, I immediately think of the jewel beetle species, Dicerca obscura (family Buprestidae).  This attractive species is one of the larger jewel beetles occurring in our country, and although it is fairly commonly encountered in collections, seeing the living beetles in the field is always a treat.  Dicerca obscura is most commonly associated with persimmon, from which I have reared it on several occasions, but Knull (1920) also recorded rearing it from staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina).

IMG_0534_1200x800I began inspecting the dead trees for the presence of the beetles but didn’t see any at first.  Then, I saw something moving right where I had been looking.  I had, in fact, looked right over this beetle without seeing it – even though I knew what could be there and what it looked like.  I don’t know if the species name (from the Latin obscurus, meaning indistinct) was actually given because of its marvelous cryptic abilities, but it certainly could have been.  As I continued to inspect the trees more closely, I found several additional adults – all sitting on trunks that I had just inspected a few minutes prior.  I couldn’t help but think of the irony – in collections, Dicerca beetles are quite gaudy and conspicuous appearing, with their shiny, brassy colors and exquisite surface sculpturing (as exemplified by Dicerca asperatathis photo of a pinned specimen in my collection of a similar species, D. asperata).  However, in the context of their environment, their coloration and sculpturing helps them blend in and become almost invisible.

Dicerca obscura occurs across the eastern U.S. but is absent from much of New England, the Appalachian Mountains, the Allegheny Plateau, and the upper Midwest – apparently due to the absence of persimmon in those regions.  It has been been recorded in Oklahoma as far west as Oklahoma City (Nelson 1975), so my record from Ellis Co. in far northwestern Oklahoma represents a bit of a range extension.  This is not surprising – the species will probably be found wherever persimmon grows.  You’ll just have to look carefully if you want to find it!


Knull, J. N.  1920.  Notes on Buprestidae with descriptions of new species.  Entomological News 31:4-12.

Nelson, G. H.  1975.  A revision of the genus Dicerca in North America (Coleoptera: Buprestidae).  Entomologische Arbeiten aus dem Museum G. Frey tutzing bei München 26: 87-180.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Treatise of Western Hemisphere “Cicindelitae”

Sumlinia hirsutifrons

Sumlinia hirsutifrons (Sumlin). Copyright © T. L. Erwin and D. L. Pearson 2008

ResearchBlogging.orgTiger beetles have long enjoyed a popularity that is disproportionate to their diversity, abundance, and economic importance relative to other groups of beetles. This seems as much due to their charismatic behavior – toothy jawed predators in extreme habitats – as it is to their brilliant colors, dazzling designs, and penchant for polytopism. Never before has this popularity been more evident than in the past decade, during which time there has been a veritable explosion of popular and semi-popular tiger beetle books. Barry Knisley and Tom Schulz (1997) got things going with their regional guide to species occurring in the southeastern U.S., followed closely by a similar guide to the northeastern U.S. (Leonard and Bell 1998).  Both of these books featured color photographs of all species treated and supplemented species treatments with sections on biology, natural history, rearing, and conservation.  No longer were avocational or professional entomologists forced to consult dry, technical treatments in primary journals for information on these anything-but-dry, boring beetles.  These two books were, in turn, followed by several smaller regional treatments, including John Acorn’s (2001) eccentric and highly entertaining Tiger Beetles of Alberta and Paul Choate’s (2003) alternative treatment of Florida species (a silly little article about Missouri’s two dozen or so species also appeared in 2001), as well as a comprehensive summary of the group’s ecology and evolution by Dave Pearson and Alfreid Vogler (2001).  The granddaddy of all tiger beetle books – at least for U.S. cicindelophiles – appeared a few years later in the form of A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada, by Dave Pearson and colleagues (2006).  At long last, keys, photographs, and discussions of habitats, biology, and variation of every species and subspecies known from the U.S. and Canada could be found in a single source.

The latest contribution to this growing body of literature is the most comprehensive yet.  In it, Dave Pearson has teamed up with ground beetle expert and lead author Terry Erwin to provide a synthesis of every species of tiger beetle known to occur in the Western Hemisphere.  Erwin and Pearson (2008) is a beautifully printed and handsomely bound treatise that elaborates the current classification, taxonomy, distribution at the country and/or state/provincial level, and way of life of each species and subspecies, including comments on habitats, flight and dispersal capabilities, seasonal occurrence, and behavior.  References for each species and an extensive bibliography are also provided, as are notes on threatened and endangered species and subspecies.

There is much to like about this book.  The scope of coverage to include the entire Western Hemisphere is unprecedented – few insect taxa, even popular ones, have been treated so expansively.  Those without access to comprehensive libraries of primary tiger beetle literature will appreciate having all of the available information in one book, while those with access to the literature will appreciate the references for individual species.  Even those whose interest is restricted to the North American fauna will find the historical nomenclature handy – something lacking in Pearson et al. (2006).  As a bonus, a full color plate is offered for each genus that offers a spectacular extended focus image of a representative species, along with additional photographs provided by a number of contributors (I myself provided some of the photographs used in the Cylindera and Dromochorus plates) of live beetles and their habitats.  Collectively, these images provide a comprehensive look at the diversity and habitats of New World tiger beetles that has until now not been available.

The book, however, is not without its criticisms.  There has long been controversy within the Tiger Beetle Guild regarding the relationship of tiger beetles to ground beetles and whether/which of the many described subgenera of the genus Cicindela should be accorded generic status.  Erwin and Pearson fall solidly in the camp that consider tiger beetles a subgroup of ground beetles, a position that is becoming increasingly easy to defend on the basis of molecular phylogenetic analyses (e.g., Beutel et al. 2008).  Nontheless, I suspect many will be bothered by the decision to rank tiger beetles as a supertribe – “Cicindelitae” – in the subfamily Carabinae, rather than according the group subfamilial status.  Unfortunately, no justification for such placement is offered (unless this appears in Volume 1).  Likewise with subgenera, Erwin and Pearson break ranks with the preponderance of recent North American literature (including Pearson’s own 2006 book) and accord full genus status to most of the former subgenera of the genus Cicindela, including such familiar North American taxa as Cylindera, Dromochorus, Ellipsoptera, Eunota, and HabroscelimorphaTribonia, on the other hand, is synonymized under Cicindela, leaving Cicindelidia as the only non-nominate subgenus of Cicindela.  Certain of these taxonomic acts will likely confront little opposition (e.g., Dromochorus as a full genus); however, again no justifications are provided, leaving the reader with the impression – rightly or wrongly – that the new rankings are the result of personal preference rather than new anaylsis.  I was also a bit puzzled by the inclusion of some subspecies as valid that Pearson himself had previously synonymized (e.g., Cicindela tranquebarica roguensis and C. tranquebarica lassenica).

The publisher, Pensoft, has established a reputation for quality with their previous offerings, and this book appears to continue that tradition. However, at a price of EURO 95, this book will probably not be highly sought after by the casual North American tiger beetle collector.  Nevertheless, I think any serious student of the group will want this in their library, regardless of how complete their literature collection on the group is.

I thank Terry Erwin for allowing me to use his gorgeous extended focus image of Sumlinia hirsutifrons (Sumlin), which graces the cover of this beautifully produced book.


Acorn, J.  2001.  Tiger Beetles of Alberta: Killers on the Clay, Stalkers on the Sand.  The University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, xix + 120 pp.

Beutela, R. G., I. Riberab and O. R. P. Bininda-Emonds. 2008. A genus-level supertree of Adephaga (Coleoptera). Organisms, Diversity & Evolution, 7:255–269.

Choate, P. M., Jr. 2003. A Field Guide and Identification Manual for Florida and Eastern U.S. Tiger Beetles.  University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 224 pp.

Erwin, T. L. and D. L. Pearson. 2008. A Treatise on the Western Hemisphere Caraboidea (Coleoptera). Their classification, distributions, and ways of life. Volume II (Carabidae-Nebriiformes 2-Cicindelitae). Pensoft Series Faunistica 84. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, 400 pp.

Knisley, C. B. and T. D. Schultz.  1997.  The Biology of Tiger Beetles and a Guide to the Species of the South Atlantic States. Virginia Museum of Natural History, Martinsville, 210 pp.

Leonard, J. G. and R. T. Bell.  1998.  Northeastern Tiger Beetles: A Field Guide to Tiger Beetles of New England and Eastern Canada.  CRC Press, Boca Raton, 176 pp.

MacRae, T. C., and C. R. Brown. 2001. Missouri Tigers. The Missouri Conservationist 62(6):14–19.

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley and C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York, 227 pp.

Pearson, D. L. and A. P. Vogler.  2001.  Tiger Beetles: The Evolution, Ecology, and Diversity of the Cicindelids.  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 333 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Beetle News: a new, online publication

Issue 1 of Beetle News featured a beginners guide to the Silphidae such as this burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. © Richard Wright

Issue 1 of Beetle News featured a beginner's guide to the Silphidae such as this burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. © Richard Wright

One of my favorite of entomology publications has always been the newsletter. Regardless of the specialty group to which they cater, newsletters usually share one, common feature – fun, easy-to-read articles about insects, techniques, collecting trips, etc., written in a casual flavor that makes them unsuitable for stuffy, scientific journals. Unfortunately, they have also shared several difficulties – continually rising costs for production and mailing of hard copies to a small (though dedicated) readership. The internet has changed all that – gone (or drastically reduced) are the costs, and with the growing ease of electronic publication all it takes now to sustain a newsletter are contributions by a few dedicated individuals and an internet-connected readership. Perhaps the finest example of one of these now electronic newsletters is the highly entertaining and informative SCARABS Newsletter, resurrected from the mimeographed ashes of its previous incarnation SCARABAEUS.

Recently, insect macrophotographer extraordinaire Kolby Kirk alerted me to the newest online beetle publication called Beetle News. Created by Richard Wright and hosted by the U.K. based Amateur Entomologists’ Society, this new, online newsletter deals exclusively with British beetles. Richard Wright explains the mission of the newsletter in his inaugural issue editorial:

Welcome to the very first edition of “Beetle News”. This is an internet publication devoted to British Beetles. It is a public domain publication which can be freely copied and distributed provided no charge is made. However, copyright to all text and photographs remains with the original authors and photographers. If you find Beetle News of interest, please pass it to others.

Beetle News will include any relevant material which is not suitable for publication elsewhere. It is not intended for articles which are more suited to formal journals such as The Coleopterist.

The intention is to publish on a quarterly basis, approximately in March, June, September and December. Beetle News can only continue if sufficient material is submitted to make it worthwhile. Please submit material for the June issue by 21st May.
Richard Wright

Articles in the first issue include:

  • Review: British Scraptiidae by Brian Levey – Richard Wright
  • Warwickshire Coleoptera – an update – Steve Lane
  • Somerset beetle records wanted – Andrew Duff
  • Some observations on the Orange Ladybird – Ralph Atherton
  • Vivarium heat mats : a few suggested uses for the coleopterist – Andrew Chick
  • Cassida nebulosa Linnaeus (Chrysomelidae) in flight – Andrew Duff
  • News from recording schemes (Tenebrionoidea, Scirtidae, Stenini, Silphidae) – Scotty Dodd, Jonty Denton, Richard Wright
  • Beetle publications for free download – Richard Wright
  • Beginner’s Guide Silphidae 1: Nicrophorus – Richard Wright

Although restricted to British beetles, I thoroughly enjoyed this newsletter (especially the very well produced and illustrated article on Nicrophorus) and look forward to the next issue, due to appear later this month (June 2009).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Pyromorpha dimidiata

Photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/200 sec, f/16, MT-24EX flash 1/8 power through diffuser caps

Photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro lens on a Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/200 sec, f/16, MT-24EX flash 1/8 power through diffuser caps

Despite being a coleopterist, I was somewhat surprised when I realized that I have not yet posted a Lepidoptera photo on this site – especially considering their abundance, diversity (2nd largest order of insects), and overall photogenicity.  Time to change that.  I encountered this pretty little moth at Reifsnider State Forest in Warren Co., Missouri. 

Pyromorpha dimidiata (orange-patched smoky moth) is one of the so-called “leaf-skeletonizer moths” in the family Zygaenidae.  This particular species is distinguished from a similar, though unrelated species in our area, Lycomorpha pholus (black-and-yellow lichen moth, one of the subfamilies of the tiger moths, or family Arctiidae), by the black hind margin of the forewing and its phenology – L. pholus adults don’t appear until late summer.

Larvae of P. dimidiata are reported to feed on leaf litter, especially oak leaves.  Oaks are present in great quantity and diversity here in Missouri, and in fact this species was photographed in one of Missouri’s finest examples of a mature white oak (Quercus alba) forest – uncommon in Missouri due to the generally less mesic conditions of our upland habitats.

Perhaps I like this moth because it apparently belongs to a mimicry complex involving net-winged beetles (family Lycidae), in particular the species Calopteron terminale (end band net-wing).  Lycomorpha pholus also participates in this mimicry complex; however, unlike that species, P. dimidiata is itself toxic as well – all life stages of this moth contain hydrogen cyanide, which they manufacture rather than obtaining from host plants (Scoble 1992).  Thus, the Calopteron-Pyromorpha mimicry complex appears to be an example of Müllerian mimicry, where both the model and the mimic are toxic.


Scoble, M. J. 1992. The Lepidoptera. Form, Function and Diversity. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 404 pp.

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