Berry Go Round #21

Berry Go Round copyWelcome to Berry Go Round issue #21.  As a first time host of this – or any – blog carnival, I can tell you that it has not only been more work than I could have imagined, but also a lot more fun!  I’ve read, learned, and marveled at the diversity of knowledge presented by the posts that make up this issue – in all, 25 contributions from 15 blogs by 14 authors who know an awful lot more about plants than I do.  Read my summaries first, or jump straight to the posts, but please visit as many as you can. They will be worth the time spent!  If you’ve not visited Beetles in the Bush before now, I hope you’ll also take a moment to browse its Contents to see what might be of interest.

First things first, however.  Berry Go Round needs a badge!  The small badge you see at the beginning of this post is something I made to put in my sidebar using the masthead and title from the BGR website – not a real badge like the ones you find at Circus of the Spineless, Festival of the Trees and Carnival of Evolution.  If you’re artistically inclined and would like to contribute to the growth of BGR, please leave a comment and contact information – we could use your help!  Now – on with the show.

hyphae5Alex at Watching the World Wake Up gets us started with a trilogy of posts as diverse as his interests.  In this fungus¹ post, Alex makes the improbable connection between fungi and The Force (yes, a reference to Star Wars).  Read it, and you will be a believer, too.  I especially enjoyed his post on the search for a rare hybrid oak, not only for the thrill of seeing a probable 4,000-7,000 year old F1 hybrid clone, but also for the most awesome tangent on spiders that any non-entomologist has ever written.  In his post on tumbleweeds, he reminds us that these icons of the west are actually an exotic introduction from Eurasia and recounts the mechanisms by which these ubiquitous plants took over the western U.S.

¹ TANGENT.  Okay I know fungi aren’t really plants, nor are they animals – they’re kinda both and neither.  Botanists, however, appear to have accomodated fungi in their realm of study², I guess because they basically look like plants.  This is much the same situation as entomologists and spiders – the latter not being insects, but sort of looking like them and giving lay folk the same creepy crawly impression.

² NESTED TANGENT.  Despite crossing Kingdom boundaries, the placement of fungi within the botanical realm doesn’t come close to matching the taxonomic disparities that plant pathologists must accept, who despite the microorganismal connotation of the term plant disease have had to accomodate organisms crossing not only Kingdom but also karyotic boundaries – with all three eukaryotic Kingdoms (plants, animals, and fungi) being causal agents in addition to the prokaryotic bacteria³ and the hard-to-even-consider-as-a-life-form viruses.

³ NESTED, NESTED TANGENT4.  I’ve no doubt given short shrift to modern Kingdom-level concepts regarding prokaryotes – I know there are “regular” bacteria and the terribly misnomered blue-green algae, but this entomologist who sometimes masquerades as a general biologist quickly became confused when he found references listing as many as 13 prokaryotic Kingdoms.

4 NESTED, NESTED, NESTED TANGENT. Alex is the undisputed king of the nested tangent, and I hope he forgives me for taking his idea to such level of absurdity!

Genalg1On the other side of the Rocky Mountains, Sally at Foothills Fancies highlights color in alpine tundra – it is amazing how much color can be seen in a high-country fall!  She follows up on that post with another highlighting fall tundra wildflowers, including the spectacular Arctic Gentian (Gentiana algida to most of us, Gentianodes algida if Dr. William Weber has his way).  She also focuses on the less conspicuous “flora” of the tundra – cryptogams – and how seemingly “bare” ground in the tundra is actually thick with lichens and mosses.  Most tundra cryptograms represent species not seen in the lower 48 states except at very high altitudes.

3973291903_8fce836aacLaurent at Seeds Aside submitted a quadrilogy (is that a word?) of posts covering Blogger Bio Blitz 2009.  To start the series, Laurent thinks outside the box by presenting a sampling of old French cultivated potato varieties, then does more conventional bioblitzing in a hedged farmland area in French Brittany (noting a possible case of spider kleptoparasitism along the way) and near the Couesnon river, next to Mézière sur Couesnon.  Seeing and reading these botanical/entomological accounts in France brought back memories of my own visit to the country in 2007.  As I write this piece, I can almost hear the droning buzz of cigales in the dry coastal Mediterranean pine forests.

TrabutJeremy contributes this piece on the history of agriculture at Vaviblog, where he writes about Dr. Louis Trabut – one of many agricultural explorers who searched the North African colony of Algeria in search of plants for introduction into the southwestern United States.  He notes that Algerian agriculture was carried out almost exclusively by the indigenous Berbers for more than a thousand years, resulting in the development and propagation of myriad races of the grape, fig, olive, apricot, and walnut grown in the region today. Jeremy thinks it would be terrific if his post smokes out any information about the history of dates (the plant) in California.

Jeremy is also an author at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog and submitted this post about plant breeding in relation to climate change (raising a fair few comments).  He also notes that the addition of agricultural statistics to the astonishing and wonderful GapMinder deserves celebration and wonders if there some other botanical datasets that might be interesting.  db091001Quick to remind us that he’s not all history and no humor, Jeremy puts together (at “great personal expense”) a series of Doonesbury comic strips at his other blog, Another Blasted Blog.  Doonesbury fans, having surely already seen these, will chuckle once again.  Gardener’s who don’t follow Doonesbury will still appreciate their humor.  Doonesbury fans who are also gardeners will guffaw!

At Denim and Tweed, Jeremy Yoder notes the obvious benefits of synchronized mast seed production as an adaptation in the plants’ coevolution with seed predators, but the not so obvious mechanisms by which this occurs.  He reviews a paper in the latest issue of Ecology Letters that has an answer — synchronization happens accidentally.  I won’t spoil the details of the research and how they reached their conclusion, as Jeremy has done a much finer job of that than I ever could (I study beetles, remember?), but the interaction of resource and pollen limitations is a clue to the answer.

chrysanthFor the pedants among us (count me in!), The Phytophactor has been running a series on plants whose generic names are the common names everyone knows. Here is lesson 4: can you say chrysanthemumum?  This genus has suffered a bit of a decline at the hand of taxonomists in recent years, falling from a burgeoning 300-400 species that used to be in the genus to a pitiful two (not a typo!).  Phytophactor also visited the Great Pumpkin Patch and reports – you won’t believe the cucurbitaceous rainbow he saw! 


Photo by memotion (

Elizabeth Hargrave at The Natural Capital submitted this post on wild grapes.  Native grapes may be smaller and not as sweet as the giant Chilean juice balls found in modern grocery stores. Still, harvesting native species from the wild has its charms – as long as you’re familiar with the several non-edible and sometimes poisonous look-alikes.  If wild harvest isn’t your thing, she also offers some tips for cultivating wild grapes (which is actually much easier than with most cultivated varieties).

myconetThe EEB & flow offers a review of a scientific paper discussing mycorrhizal networks – fungal mycelium that colonize and connect roots of one or more plant species.  Whis this is one of the most intriguing types of fungal-plant associations, even more interesting is its continuation of “The Force” idea brought up in Alex’s fungus post – i.e., evidence of substantial facilitation between plant individuals via these fungal networks (i.e., plants tend to grow better if they are associated with a network).  This is in opposition to the long-held belief that competition, herbivory and dispersal are the main drivers of plant community associations.  They also reviewed a recent paper on the impact of exotic plants on plant-pollinator systems, finding a high overall abundance of exotics in many plant communities but a relative lack of substantial changes in network connectedness.

Fungi continue to muscle in on this carnival of plants, being the subject of a post by Chris Taylor at Castanea dentataCatalogue of Organisms on Diaporthales fungi  that cause disease in trees.  Among the most famous of these to North American readers is Cryphonectria parasitica, the cause of chestnut blight and famed as the bane of the American chestnut, Castanea dentata. However, other trees such as butternut, dogwood, and even non-arboreous woody plants such as grape also have their own pathogenic associates.

PA081120Justin Thomas is one of several erudite botanists behind Get Your Botany On! In this post, Justin discusses Pteris multifida, an exotic fern that he found in Hot Springs National Park while conducting an invasive species survey.  Sadly, this is symptomatic of the Hot Springs area in general, where habitat alteration and rapidly colonizing invasive species have left little room or hope for naturally functioning ecosystems.  Another of the blog’s authors, Keith, quotes with enthusiasm from “Of Woods and Other Things” (Beech Leaf Press, Kalamazoo, 1996), by renowned Indiana Dunes region naturalist Emma “Bickie” Pitcher.  One that caught my eye was “…pale satiny yellow breasts and dark velvety smudges around eyes are apparent.”

20091010-007 Caladenia concolorTim Entwisle at Talking Plants discusses the gorgeous blood orchid, Caladenia concolor.  This endangered Australian species grows sporadically around Victoria and into southern New South Wales.  Apparently some populations consist of only a handful of individuals, and weeds and passing foot damage are probably their biggest threats.  Hopefully Tim and his colleagues will succeed in their efforts to save this stunning species.

herbarius_latinusMary Farmer at A Neotropical Savanna sent me this note, writing “I don’t know how many readers of BGR use the Biodiversity Heritage Library, or know of it, but it is (to me) an extremely valuable resource and they have their own blog (which you no doubt know of) called News and Updates from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. This week’s feature, the oldest book in the BHL, Herbarius latinus, is a ‘…Pre-Linnean text [that] describes 150 plants and 96 medicines commonly found in apothecaries, and each plant description is accompanied by a detailed woodcut.'”  How I adore old botanical scribes – thanks, Mary!


Dover photo

For literature along more whimsical lines, NellJean of Secrets of a Seed Scatterer presents an herbalist’s view of tea with Peter Rabbit and its mentions of Camomile Tea and Rabbit Tobacco.  Apparently smoking rabbit tobacco is done only by little boys in the south, but cut stalks, bundled and dried, can impart a pleasingly aromatic and resinous fragrance to the mustiest of tool sheds.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Proof that I am out standing in my field


Okay, I know this was lame, but for those of you who were expecting to see the newest issue of Berry Go Round today, all I can say is sometimes life/work gets in the way. BGR #21 should be up in the next day or so – in the meantime I’ll let you puzzle and speculate as to what I am actually doing in this photograph.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Florida Metallic Tiger Beetle

Tetracha floridana

Tetracha floridana (Florida Metallic Tiger Beetle), dorsal view

In my previous post, I showed some photographs of the larva of an undetermined species of tiger beetle that I collected from its burrow in dry ground adjacent to a coastal salt marsh near St. Petersburg, Florida. I had assumed the larva belonged to the genus Cicindela or one of its former subgenera and was suprised to learn that this assumption was incorrect when the adult emerged 2 months later. Looking back at the photos, however, I realized that the photos and the information I gave regarding its location and habitat contained all of the necessary information to identify this larva. Five points to Mike Baker, who correctly deduced the genus (Tetracha), and in fact the larva represents Tetracha floridana (Florida metallic tiger beetle).

Hump of 5th abdominal segment, showing simple, thorn-like inner and outer hooks

The hump of the 5th abdominal segment bears simple, thornlike hooks.

The larva can be placed in the genus Tetracha by virtue of its simple, thorn-like hooks (in other eastern U.S. tiger beetle genera, the outer hooks are distinctly curved).  Two other genera of Nearctic tiger beetles that do not occur in Florida also bear simple hooks—Omus (Night-stalking Tiger Beetles, occurring along the Pacific Coast) and Amblychelia (Giant Tiger Beetles, occurring in the central and southwestern U.S.); however, the former bears three rather than two pairs of hooks, and the latter has the inner and outer hooks distinctly separated from each other.


Tetracha floridana (Florida Metallic Tiger Beetle), lateral view.

Four species of Tetracha occur in the U.S., three of which occur in Florida—T. carolina (Pan-American Big-headed Tiger Beetle), T. floridana (Florida Metallic Tiger Beetle), and T. virginica (Virginia Big-headed Tiger Beetle).  However, T. carolina is restricted in the state to the panhandle and interior of the peninsula along rivers and in disturbed sparsely vegetated areas (Choate 2006).  Of the two remaining species, T. virginica is widespread throughout the southern two-thirds of the eastern U.S. and occurs in a variety of habitats (Pearson et al. 2006), while T. floridana is restricted to salt marsh and mud flat habitats along the Gulf coast of Florida from Dixie County south to the Keys (Choate 2006).  While the widespread occurrence and generalist tendencies of T. virginica might suggest that it is the more likely choice, the locality and habitat match precisely with T. floridana.


The anterior lobes of the apical lunules are divergent.

Tetracha floridana is very similar to T. carolina and was long considered a subspecies of that more widely distributed species until Naviaux (2007) elevated it to species rank in his revision of this large genus.  Tetracha floridana is distinguished from T. carolina by the divergent anterior lobes of the apical lunules (photo above) and the uniformly black to dark green elytra that lack any violet or coppery reflections in the anteriolateral regions (photo below) (Choate 2003).

The anteriolateral areas of the elytra lack violet or copper reflections

The anteriolateral areas of the elytra lack violet or copper reflections.

I was happy as heck when I saw the first newly emerged adult in the rearing container, as this is a true Florida endemic.  I have encountered the two other eastern U.S. species commonly under street lamps and at building lights here in Missouri—T. virginica throughout the state and T. carolina in the southeastern lowlands, where it appears to reach its northern limit of distribution.  A fourth U.S. species in the genus, T. impressa (Upland Metallic Tiger Beetle) (T. affinis” in earlier works), occurs in northern Mexico and the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) of south Texas (Erwin and Pearson 2008).  Although I have not yet encountered it on any of my many trips to the LRGV (all of which pre-date my current cicindelophily), I understand it is regularly attracted to building and street lights in Brownsville (Pearson et al. 2006).  I believe I will have to go down there again and verify this for myself someday.

Feasting on a corn rootworm larva.

Feasting on a corn rootworm larva.

The last photo in this series illustrates the unique feeding behavior of these beetles, which despite their terrifyingly toothy mandibles are strictly fluid feeders.  The long, sharp mandibular teeth function primarily in prey subdual and in slicing and shredding their tissues, while the maxillae (second pair of feeding appendages behind the mandibles) and labium (fused third pair of appendages) comprise an “oral mill” that masticates the prey and and rolls it into a bolus.  Two brush-like structures can be seen behind the mandibles in the photo above—these are part of the maxillary laciniae and apparently function in containing and shaping the bolus as it is being masticated.  While this occurs, proteolytic enzymes are extruded from the midgut and mixed with the bolus to liquify its digestible components, which are then sucked into the beetles tiny mouth by the action of a pharyngeal pump.  Like the larva, the adult beetle thus “chews” but does not swallow its prey—a manner of feeding that is not too unlike that of spiders and other arachnids (sans the venom).

Photo details:
All photos: Canon EOS 50D, manual mode, ISO-100, 1/250 sec, MT-24EX flash w/ diffuser caps.
Photo 1: Canon 100mm macro lens w/ 68mm extension tube, f/25, 1/2 power flash.
Photo 2: Canon MP-E 65mm 1–5X macro lens, f/16, 1/8 power flash.
Photos 3–5: Canon 100mm macro lens w/ 36mm extension, f/18–f/22, 1/4 power flash.
Photo 6: Canon 100mm macro lens w/ 68mm extension, f/20, 1/2 power flash.


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.

Choate, P. M., Jr.  2006.  Tiger Beetles of Florida, Cicindela spp., Megacephala spp. (Insecta: Coleoptera: Cicindelidae).  University of Florida, IFAS Extension Service Circular EENY-005, 5 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.

Naviaux R. 2007. Tetracha (Coleoptera, Cicindelidae, Megacephalina): Revision du genre et descriptions de nouveaus taxons. Mémoires de la Société entomologique de France 7:1-197.

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.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Anatomy of a Tiger Beetle Larva

My first experience looking for tiger beetles in Florida had gone well.  Despite its small size and urban surroundings, the narrow strip of coastal scrub and saltwater marsh along the intracoastal waterway behind my sister-in-law’s condominium boasted a robust population of what I took to be a single tiger beetle species.  The specimens I collected and photographs I took would later reveal that two co-occurring and closely related species were present: Ellipsoptera marginata (Margined Tiger Beetle) and E. hamata lacerata (Gulf Beach Tiger Beetle).  I had spent close to two hours under the August sun observing and photographing the beetles before I decided that I had given the preserve a thorough enough look.


As I was heading back, I noticed a little bit of high ground alongside a red mangrove thicket and went over to give it a look.  As I approached I saw something I hadn’t yet seen that day – tiger beetle larval burrows.  Larval burrows, especially larger ones such as these were, are unmistakeable – almost perfectly circular (slightly cut out on one edge) and smoothly beveled around the perimeter.  There were a number of burrows clustered on the small bit of high, dry ground, and my first thought was that their inhabitants represented the same (what I thought was a single) species that I had encountered so commonly that day as adults.  I then reasoned, however, that more likely they represented another species whose adults are active later in the season – perhaps one of the so-called “spring/fall” species whose larvae typically reach maturity during the heat of summer.  The size of the burrows (~5mm dia) suggested they were inhabited by 3rd instar larvae (the final instar before pupation), in which case it may be possible to rear a few to adulthood – if I could get at them. I tried fishing (Pearson and Vogler 2001) a few holes with a grass blade but didn’t get any bites, so I decided to watch for awhile and see if any of the larvae, believing the danger of my approach had passed, would reappear at the tops of their burrows.  Waiting for tiger beetle larvae to appear is a crap shoot – maybe they’re active, and maybe they’re not, and crouching in the stifling summer air of a coastal marsh in Florida is not an easy thing to do for very long.  Fortunately my wait was short, as within a few minutes I saw one re-appear at the top its burrow.  I slowly got out my knife and moved to place the tip on the soil about 1″ from the burrow at a 45° angle for an attempted tunnel block (Pearson and Vogler 2001), but it spooked and dropped back down into its burrow before I could get then knife in place.  No matter, I knew it was in there now and that it would likely reappear if I could muster the patience.  I positioned the knife and waited – crouched under the baking Florida sun, until when it did re-appear I plunged the knife into the soil with authority.  It was a good jab – I had blocked its retreat without injuring it, and a quick flip of the knife popped out the soil plug and exposed the startled larva, flipping vigorously in a vain attempt to escape before settling down amidst its unfamiliar, exposed surroundings.


For those of you who have never seen a tiger beetle larva, they are among the most other-wordly creatures one can imagine.  The large, heavily sclerotized head bears two long, sickle-shaped, upward-pointing mandibles and up to three pair of highly-acute eyes whose arrangement on each side conveys the image of a “face” with congenital birth defects.  The top of the head is flattened to lie flush with the surrounding soil as the larva sits at the top of its burrow, and huge, powerful mandibular muscles fill the cranial cavity.  The remainder of the body – long, narrow, and cylindrical – hangs from the head at a 90° angle down into the burrow and is unremarkably grub-like, save for a curious hump on the dorsal side of the 5th abdominal segment.  Close examination of the hump reveals an intricate pattern of forward-facing hooks and spines that function in anchoring the larva against the side of its burrow to prevent struggling prey from dislodging it.  The life of a tiger beetle larva is a life of waiting – unlike the adults who run down their prey, the larvae sit in their burrows and wait for prey to come to within lunge’s reach.  While the eyes of most grub-like insects detect little more than light and dark, those of tiger beetle larvae are densely packed with photoreceptors that permit detailed focusing and depth perception for detecting whether potential prey has ventured close enough to their burrow (Pearson et al. 2006).  When that happens, they strike with lightning speed, plunge their mandibles into their prey, and drag it down into the depths of their burrow where it is summarily dispatched with a few bites of their powerful mandibles.  Larvae consume they prey in a manner similar to that of adults in that they chew but don’t swallow their prey. Rather, they secrete digestive secretions containing proteolytic enzymes that begin digesting the prey extra-orally as they chew.  The resulting bolus is masticated and its liquid components sucked out until nothing but a dry wad of indigestable chitin remains, which is spat out of the burrow (Pearson and Vogler 2001).


Looking at this strange insect, it occurred to me that I had not yet attempted macrophotographs of a tiger beetle larva out of its burrow, and this would be a good opportunity to get more practice with my Canon MP-E 65 mm macro lens – a lens with incredible magnification capabilities, but one that is also a bit of a temperamental beast to use hand-held in the field.  The subject was unusually cooperative, perhaps too stunned by its sudden predicament to know what to do, and as I took the photographs I focused in particular on characters of the head and dorsal hump (often useful in identifying tiger beetle larvae, at least to genus).  Time was growing short once I finished taking photographs, so I placed the larva in a vial and returned the following day to extract a chunk of native soil to place in a rearing container, managing to collect two more larvae as well (unfortunately, one became instant “prey” for the other.  Note to self: when placing multiple tiger beetle larvae in a container of soil, seal the artificial burrows into which you place each one!).  I paid little further attention to the photographs, other than to transfer them onto my computer and add metadata upon my return to St. Louis.  I didn’t know what species the larvae represented, but I assumed they were something in the genus Cicindela or one of its several former subgenera.  However, had I studied the photos and considered the locality and habitat, I would have realized that my assumption was incorrect¹.  That realization would come in surprise fashion two months later when the two adults emerged within a few days of each other…

¹ Ten points to whoever can use this information to arrive at an identification before my next post 🙂


Photo details:
All photos: Canon EOS 50D, manual mode, ISO-100, 1/250 sec, MT-24EX flash w/ diffuser caps.
Photo 1: Canon 100mm macro lens, f/22, 1/4 power flash (photo slightly cropped).
Photos 2-4: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro lens f/16, 1/8 power flash.


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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(My) Introduction to Florida Tiger Beetles

On the last day of July, I hopped into my stuffed-to-the-brim SUV and began the +1000-mile drive to St. Petersburg, Florida.  I had with me my camera and my collecting gear, but also my bike, some beach wear… and my family!  No, this was not a collecting trip, but a family vacation.  We would be staying at my sister-in-law’s condo with my niece and enjoying typical Florida vacation fare – beaches, Disney World, sightseeing.  I even brought my road bike along to enjoy some pancake-flat terrain (a rarity around St. Louis) for a nice change of pace.  Still, I can be rather single-minded when it comes to opportunities for bug collecting, and summer in Florida presents opportunities galore!  Virtually everything there is different, and while I have been to Florida a number of times, my visits have all been during spring and prior to my more recent interest in tiger beetles.  It would be a family vacation, but still I would find a way to sneak off a couple times and satisfy my compulsions, and while the girls talked about Disney World and the beach, visions of Cicindela abdominalis, C. highlandensis, C. scabrosa, Ellipsoptera gratiosa, E. hamata lacerata, E. hirtilabris, E. marginata, Habroscelimorpha dorsalis, H. severa, and H. striga danced through my head!

I wouldn’t have to go far to find my first Florida tiger beetles.  My sister-in-law’s condo is in Seminole (west side of St. Petersburg peninsula), and as my niece and her husband showed us around after our arrival, they pointed out the “wild area” off their back patio next to the intertidal waterway and suggested, innocently, that I could go bug collecting back there.  In such a developed urban/tourist area, I figured it must be highly disturbed, dominated by exotics, and offering little in the way of quality habitat for the serious bug collector.  However, that night, as a cacophony of nasal queenks from the area made it clear that a healthy population of what I presume to be green treefrogs were thriving in the area, I reconsidered my skepticism and decided to take a quick look a day later.  What I found was a small but high-quality strip of coastal scrub and saltwater marsh bordering the intracoastal waterway, with thickets of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) along the water’s edge, black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) “woodlands” in the high scrub areas, and moist, briney, barren ground in between (Photo 1).  The whole area couldn’t have been more than a hundred yards wide but extended along the length of the waterway, and a wooden sign as I entered the area indicated it was a bona fide, albeit private, nature preserve established as part of the condominium development.

Intertidal salt marsh, Tara Cay Sound Nature Preserve, Seminole, Florida

Intertidal salt marsh, Tara Cay Sound Nature Preserve, Seminole, Florida

Within minutes after entering the preserve I saw the first tiger beetle.  I didn’t know what it was, and my first stalking efforts were woefully inadequate.  I saw another one a few minutes later and got within net handle distance but muffed the swing.  A few feet further along the path and onto an exposure by the water revealed several individuals, one of which I was finally able to capture after several clumsy misses.  I hadn’t yet memorized key characters for all of the species I had the potential to encounter, but I could see in the hand that this individual almost certainly belonged to the genus Ellipsoptera (Ellipsed-winged Tiger Beetles) because of its resemblance to E. macra (Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle) and E. nevadica knausii (Knaus’ Tiger Beetle), which I had photographed earlier this year in Missouri and Oklahoma, respectively.  With one now in the hand as a studio backup, I began my efforts to obtain field photographs.  The beetles were extremely wary, with fast running and strong flight capabilities that made them very difficult to approach.  It was only their abundance and my dogged persistance that allowed me to finally get close enough to one (Photo 2) to fire off a sequence of frames.  I then spent some time collecting a voucher series – finally getting a beat on their behavior and able to capture them with a little more efficiency despite their ultra-wariness before concentrating on getting more photographs of different individuals (including those shown in Photos 3 and 4).

Ellipsoptera marginata - Margined Tiger Beetle

Ellipsoptera marginata - note "tooth" under right mandible of this male

Ellipsoptera marginata - Margined Tiger Beetle

Ellipsoptera marginata - another male, with a distinctly bronzed pronotum


Ellipsoptera hamata lacerata - Gulf Beach Tiger Beetle (mate guarding)

I returned to the condo after a couple of hours – completely drenched (remember, it was August in Florida!). When I had the chance to consult my “bible” (Pearson et al. 2006), I learned there there were two possibilities: Ellipsoptera marginata (Margined Tiger Beetle), occurring along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to the Gulf coast of Florida; and Ellipsoptera hamata lacerata (Gulf Beach Tiger Beetle), resembling and closely related to E. marginata and occurring along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.  Both species inhabit coastal beaches, mud flats and salt marshes, and their distributions overlap along Florida’s Gulf Coast. While they are easily distinguished from other species in the genus by the distinctively diffuse middle band of the elytra, distinguishing between the two requires examination of the male right mandible (marginata bears a distinct tooth on the underside, hamata does not) or female elytral apices (marginata curiously bent down at a 90º angle, hamata not).  At this point, I didn’t know if I had one species or two – and if I did have two, did I have photographs of both (and would I be able to identify them)?

Fortunately, closer examination of the voucher series I collected revealed both species present, and even more fortunately I had managed to get photographs of both.  The individual in Photo 2 is a male, and the angle of the photograph clearly reveals a distinct tooth on the underside of the right mandible, identifying it as E. marginata.  Photo 3 is another male, and although the angle doesn’t afford a view of the mandibles, what can be seen is a bronze cast to the pronotum – in my voucher series, all of the E. marginata specimens have a bronze cast to the pronotum, while the E. hamata lacerata specimens exhibit an olive cast. This suggests that this individual also represents E. marginata. In Photo 4, no tooth can be seen on the male mandible, but the angle of the photo doesn’t necessarily make it visible were it to exist.  The male does, however, exhibit an olive cast on the pronotum, and the female elytral apices show no indication of being bent down as would be expected for E. marginata (see Photo 5 below of E. marginata photographed a few days later at another locality).  As a result, the individuals in Photo 4 can be identified as E. hamata lacerata.

Ellipsoptera marginata - female elytral apices showing curiously "bent tips"

Ellipsoptera marginata - female elytral apices showing curiously "bent tips"

Of the 19 vouchers that I collected, 15 represent E. marginata and 4 represent E. hamata lacerata.  This exemplifies the challenges of field identification and photography of insect species in unfamiliar places.  Had I been satisfied with photographing only one or two individuals of what I thought were all the same species, I would have missed one of the species.  The experience further exemplifies the importance of adequate voucher series, as it was only a result of close examination of that series that I realized two species were present.  Based on the numbers of individuals that I collected, as well as the photographs that I took, it appears that E. hamata lacerata was much less common at that location than E. marginata. This difference in population density between two similar, co-occurring species emphasizes the importance of sampling an adequate number of individuals at a given location before concluding what species are – and are not – present.


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.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Cold and wet

Photo details: Canon 65mm 1-5X macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, manual mode, ISO-100, 1/250 sec, f/14, MT-24EX flash 1/8 power through diffuser caps.

Photo details: Canon 65mm 1-5X macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, manual mode, ISO-100, 1/250 sec, f/14, MT-24EX flash 1/8 power w/ diffuser caps

The annual fall tiger beetle collecting trip is over, and nothing could be more emblematic of the trip than this cold, wet Cicindela splendida (literally translating to its well-deserved common name “Splendid Tiger Beetle”), found in the waning light of the last day of the trip secreted under a rock in the dolomite glades at White River Balds Natural Area in southwestern Missouri.  Overcast skies and a cold, stiff breeze had already dashed my hopes of finding Cicindela pulchra (also translating to its equally well-deserved common name “Beautiful Tiger Beetle”) in the Red Hills of northwestern Oklahoma two days earlier, and these same unrelenting conditions thwarted my backup plans to find this species the next day in the Gypsym Hills of nearby Barber County, Kansas.  With one last day to spend in the field, I had worked my way back to the White River Hills in hopes of photographing Missouri’s disjunct population of the enormous Cicindela obsoleta vulturina (Prairie Tiger Beetle).  That would also not come to pass, as the sun’s efforts to burn through the thick cloud cover just weren’t quite enough.  By the end of the day, I had resorted to flipping rocks (and replacing them exactly, of course) in hopes of finding an individual or two still in their nighttime/cool weather roosts.  I had seen C. obsoleta on previous occasions at this very locality along this very trail, but this time none were found – my finds instead limited to the “smiling” scorpion that I featured a few days ago and this lone C. splendida – wet with condensation and torpid against the cold ground.  I hatched a last gasp plan to look for C. obsoleta again the following day before heading back to St. Louis, but I awoke the next morning to steady rain and knew the 2009 entomology field season was officially over.

Don’t let me leave you with the impression, however, that the trip was a failure.  While I didn’t find either of the two species that I had set as my top goals for the trip, I still saw enough new things to make the trip worthwhile (including one very significant find that I’ll discuss in an upcoming post).  In addition, I’ve barely made mention of my August trip to Florida – my Assasin ate post of a couple weeks ago was just one of many interesting finds encountered during that trip that remain to be shared.  The cold and rain that has settled over the middle of the country during the past week have brought an unwelcome end to my field work for the year, but that just leaves me with more time now to process and share photographs from the past season and reflect on the stories behind them.  It will be welcome diversion, as I also begin the arduous and seemingly endless task of mounting and labeling the specimens collected during the past season – success’ bitter reward!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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A face only a mother could love

Centruroides vittatus - striped bark scorpion

Centruroides vittatus - striped bark scorpion

I found this guy yesterday secreted under a rock in a limestone glade at White River Balds Natural Area in extreme southwest Missouri.  Centruroides vittatus¹ is the most common scorpion in the U.S., occurring naturally in southern Missouri, western Arkansas and western Louisiana, west through Texas, Oklahoma and much of Kansas to southeastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico, and south into northern Mexico (Shelley and Sissom 1985). The Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, respectively, seem to form natural northern and eastern distributional boundaries, with occurrences just to the north and east attributed to rafting or natural alterations of the river’s courses and those occurring far outside the natural range regarded as the result of human introductions. This includes not only states in the eastern U.S., but several countries in South America (Sissom and Lourenco 1987)!

¹ The generic name Centruroides is from the Greek words centr-, meaning “pointed,” ur, meaning “tail,” and –oides meaning “like” or “the form of” (the original genus name, Centrurus, was preoccupied by another animal, thus, Centruroides, or “like Centrurus“). Centruroides is often misspelled as “Centuroides” in non-primary literature.

If you squit your eyes, it looks like he’s “smiling”! Also, note the eight eyes (two dorsal and three each side laterally)! Also, I know I didn’t nail the focus on the dorsal ocelli – depth-of-field limitations prevented getting both the ocelli and the jaws. I should’ve gone f/16 but thought I’d nailed it. That’ll teach me not to bracket anyway!

Photo details: Canon 65mm 1-5X macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, manual mode, ISO-100, 1/250 sec, f/14, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power through diffuser caps. Photo slightly cropped and darkened.


Shelley, R. M. and W. D. Sissom. 1985. Distributions of the scorpions Centruroides vittatus (Say) and Centruroides hentzi (Banks) in the United States and Mexico (Scorpiones, Buthidae). The Journal of Arachnology 23:100–110.

Sissom, W. D. and W. R . Lourenço. 1987. The genus Centruroides in South America (Scorpiones, Buthidae). The Journal of Arachnology 15:11–28.


Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Do you know what time it is?

I’ll give you a few hints:

  • It’s fall.
  • I haven’t collected bugs for a few weeks.
  • A new crop of tiger beetles has emerged from their burrows.

What time is it?


 I don’t think there is any trip during the year that I look forward to more than this one. Hunting for insects is fun no matter what, but it is particularly enjoyable when the sweltering days of summer give way to the cool days of fall – crisp air, pungent, earthy aromas, shadows long and sharp, and skies so blue above a golden, tawny, morphing landscape. How I adore fall, and how I thrill at any chance to travel across the fall landscape chasing after gorgeous tiger beetles that have spent the spring and summer as larvae, hidden in their unseen burrows, growing fat on the few hapless insects that chanced too close to their burrow, until the rains of late summer and early fall trigger their transformation to adulthood – glittering jewels that emerge out into the autumn world for a brief session of dining and play before winter forces them back into their burrows for the long wait to spring.

This year’s edition is somewhat abbreviated – little more than a long weekend due to a combination of job and family responsibilities. Still, five days is a little better than four (and a lot better than none) and is long enough for me to play a hunch that I’ve had ever since I returned from the Red Hills of northwestern Oklahoma this past June. You’ll recall that I had some rather amazing luck on that trip, discovering a robust population of the very rare Cylindera celeripes (Swift Tiger Beetle) and a slight western range extension of the seldom seen Dromochorus pruinina (Frosted Dromo Tiger Beetle). While I was exploring that landscape, the habitat reminded me of another tiger beetle – Cicindela pulchra (Beautiful Tiger Beetle), a glorious species – brilliant purple with glassy wine-red elytra – that I had seen in 2005 in the nearby Gypsum Hills of south-central Kansas. I don’t know if that species occurs in the Red Hills of northwestern Oklahoma or not, but my impression is that the area has not been very well explored. If a species as rare as C. celeripes can be found there, perhaps C. pulchra will occur there as well. The enormous tiger beetle larvae that I saw in their burrows in the Gloss Mountains during June gives me further reason to believe there may now be some impressive adult activity in the area.

Should I not succeed in finding C. pulchra, it will nevertheless be a glorious, though frenetic trip. On Friday I’ll drive 525 miles from St. Louis to the Gloss Mountains, where I’ll explore during the early part of Saturday and then finish the day at Alabaster Caverns State Park. Sunday’s itinerary depends upon whether I succeed at finding C. pulchra in the Gloss Mountains – if I do, I’ll head on over to Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge to photograph some of the fall tiger beetles that were not out during my June trip (hopefully including Eunota togata globicollis, or Alkali Tiger Beetle). If I don’t find C. pulchra in the Gloss Mountains, I’ll explore the Red Hills of Barber Co. Kansas, where I’ve seen this insect in the past and attempt to find and photograph it there, then move on to Salt Plains on Monday. I’m really hoping my C. pulchra hunch plays out, because if it does that gives me an extra day to shoot back east to my beloved White River Hills in southwestern Missouri and photograph its small, disjunct population of Cicindela obsoleta vulturina (Prairie Tiger Beetle) – the largest member of the genus in North America. Regardless of how events play out, I’ll need to blast back to St. Louis on Tuesday, work a couple of days, then leave town again for my niece’s wedding in New York (congratulations Shannon and Tamer).

While I’m gone, you can click on the interactive map to see where I’m going, or you can catch up on several newly issued Blog Carnivals (I’ve been a busy submitter this past month):

  • Circus of the Spineless. With discussion that is restricted to the 95% of life forms that do NOT have vertebrae, CotS #42 is up at Quiche Moraine.  For my part, I have proposed a replacement name for a rather ‘ubiquitous’ species of tiger beetle.
  • Berry Go Round.  After a brief summer vacation, botanical discussions resume with BGR #20 at Further Thoughts.  My contributions cover zygomorphic flowers with oily rewards, a very ungentianlike gentian, and plant-insect relationships.
  • Carnival of Evolution.  From Darwin to Drift to Deleterious Mutation, find it all at CoE #16 hosted by Pleiotropy.  I’ve added a little ‘perspective’ to the discovery of new species.

No longer just a contributor, at the end of this month I will host my first Blog Carnival in the form of Berry Go Round #21.  I know,  it’s strange that a bug dude is jumping into the Carnival hosting pool with a botanical carnival, but duty calls!  Submissions are due to me by Oct. 27, with a scheduled issue date of Oct. 30.  If you’ve never contributed to a Blog Carnival before, it’s a great way to get exposure for your blog and possibly find other blogs of interest.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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