Euhagena nebraskae in Kansas

Gypsum Hills region of south-central Kansas (Barber Co.)

One of my favorite destinations for insect collecting is the Gypsum Hills region in Barber County of south-central Kansas.  I first went there in May 1986 after seeing a diverse selection of more typically Texan Buprestidae that J. Richard Heitzman, an iconic lepidopterist in the Kansas City area and author of Butterflies & Moths of Missouri, had collected there on soapberry (Sapindus saponaria).  I had my own success with Buprestidae as well during that trip, but in recent years I have returned to Barber County several times during the fall to look for one of North America’s most beautiful tiger beetles, Cicindela pulchra (Beautiful Tiger Beetle).  This species had been recorded in the area by the well-known cicindelophiles Ron Huber and Dave Brzoska, who suggested that I look in the red clay hills just west of Medicine Lodge.  My first trip to look for this beetle in 2004 was unsuccessful, and I suspect the early September timing of my trip may have been a tad too early.  I returned again in 2005, this time in early October and also enlisting the help of local entomologist “Beetle Bill” Smith, who knew of a population on private land near his home in Hardtner (south of Medicine Lodge).  Although at first it looked like success might again elude me, in the end I saw a robust population of these spectacular beetles and published an account of that marvelous experience (MacRae 2006).

As with so many of the things that I have seen over the years, they came before my interest in photography, and I now find myself wanting to re-find some of the more spectacular insects that I’ve previously found so that I can properly photograph them.  Such is the case with C. pulchra, so in October of last year I returned to Barber County in hopes of seeing this species armed not only with an aerial net, but also a Canon 50D.  Sadly, this would not come to pass – the same sudden cold snap that dashed my hopes of finding this species in nearby Woodward/Major Counties, Oklahoma would keep any tiger beetle activity to a bare minimum the following day in Barber County as well.  Despite bright sunny skies, I would see only two tiger beetles the entire day, both representing the dreadfully ubiquitous Cicindela punctulata (Punctured Tiger Beetle).  Not all insect activity, however, was squelched, and after scanning the red soils for an hour or so without seeing the object of my desire I began to notice some of these other not-so-temperature-finicky species.  One of the more magnificent of these is shown in the photo below — Euhagena nebraskae in the family Sesiidae (cess-EYE-id-ee) (formerly Aegeriidae).

Euhagena nebraskae

Euhagena nebraskae (Lepidoptera: Sesiidae)

Although I wasn’t sure of the species at first, I recognized it immediately as a clearwing moth.  I had an interest in this family of moths for a time in my early days as a field entomologist with the Missouri Department of Agriculture.  Many species are important pests of woody plants in orchard and ornamental landscapes, and it was during that time that synthetic pheromones became widely used for monitoring purposes.  I often walked around with a pheromone tag pinned to my bag to attract the male moths — it was fun watching people seeing these moths “buzzing” me and thinking I was under attack by the wasps that they so effectively mimic (despite my calmness in these situations, I still found it hard to actually grab one from the air with my hand – so convincing is their mimicry).

Euhagena nebraskae is one of two species in the genus in North America, both of which develop as larvae in the roots of plants in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae) (Eichlin and Duckworth 1988).  In fact, I had seen its congener — E. emphytiformis — many times in the 1980s in pheromone traps that I used to place in the glades of Jefferson County just south of St. Louis, where it presumably breeds in one or both of two Oenetherea species growing there (O. gaura and O. macrocarpa).  Euhagena nebraskae is a more western species that does not occur in Missouri, occurring instead across the Great Plains west to California and from southern Alberta and Saskatchewan south to Mexico.  It is likely that many entomologists never see this species, as adults are active only during late fall.  Thus, its perception as an uncommon species may be an artifact of its late seasonality. 

I thought it odd that nearly every individual that I saw was sitting on the ground rather than perched higher on a plant.  At first I wondered if the cold temperatures were a reason for this, perhaps causing the moths to seek out the ground as a source of radiant heat.  This seems doubtful, however, since females always seemed to be “calling” – their tufted abdominal tips raised in the air with the scales spread apart, apparently releasing pheromone.  I was fortunate to find this mating pair, which shows nicely the rather high degree of sexual dimorphism seen in these moths.  Note the much more highly bipectinate antennae of the male (pectinate = resembling a comb, bipectinate = ‘teeth’ on both sides of the main stem) versus the simple antennae of the female — males use their antennae for detecting female pheromones, and the bipectinate form presumably provides greater surface area for placement of sensory pores. Note also the male’s smaller size, “hairier” head and thorax, and greater amount of white coloration on the abdomen and wings.  Engelhardt (1946) supposed that the excessive hairiness of adult Euhagena species was an adaptation to their late-season emergence (principally during October and sometimes as late as November), a time when frosty nights prevail in their high-elevation haunts.    


Eichlin, T. D. and W. D. Duckworth. 1988. The Moths of America North of Mexico, Fascicle 5.1, Sesiodea: Sesiidae. Wedge Entomological Research Foundation, Washington, 176 pp.

Engelhardt, G. P. 1946.  The North American clear-wing moths of the family Aegeriidae. Bulletin of the United States National Museum 190:1-222.

MacRae, T. C. 2006. Beetle bits: The “beautiful tiger beetle”. Nature Notes, Journal of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society 78(4):9–12.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Monday Ménage – Brachyleptura rubrica

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/18, MT-24EX flash w/ Sto-Fen diffusers.

This mating pair of longhorned beetles represents Brachyleptura rubrica, one of several so-called “flower longhorns” (including the rare Typocerus deceptus) that I saw on flowers of Hydrangea arborescens last June at Trail of Tears State Park in southeastern Missouri.  Flower longhorns collectively represent the subfamily Lepturinae, which among the Cerambycidae are distinguished by their posteriorly tapering elytra and generally narrow pronotum that give them a rather broad-shouldered look.  Their conical coxae (basal segment of the leg) and eyes that usually do not surround the base of the antennae distinguish them from the subfamily Cerambycinae, and the prognathous (forward slanting) face distinguishes them from the Lamiinae (flat-faced longhorns).  Additionally, a great majority of Lepturinae are diurnal (active during the day) and visit flowers as adults, whereas most other Cerambycidae (with notable exceptions) are nocturnal and seldom active during the day (most often being encountered by their attraction to lights).  The subfamily is named for its type genus, Leptura — derived from the Greek word λεπτός (leptos), or narrow, which I presume to be a reference to their relatively more slender appearance compared to other Cerambycidae.  Species in the genus Brachyleptura are distinguished from other Lepturinae by their often abbreviated elytra (“brachy” derived from the Greek word βραχύς, or short), although this is only scarcely the case in B. rubrica.  I’m confident most of you can determine the derivation of the species name.

Although fairly widespread across the eastern U.S., I can remember being really excited the first time I saw this species back in the mid-1980s when I was beginning my faunal study of the Cerambycidae of Missouri (MacRae 1994).  It is by no means rare, but at the same time it is not so routinely encountered as other common flower longhorns in the state such as Strangalia famelica solitaria, S. luteicornis, S. sexnotata, Typocerus octonotatus, and T. velutinus.  Unlike those more commonly seen species, B. rubrica shows a distinct preference for plants with white, compound, flat-topped floral structures.  No plant in Missouri meets this description better than Hydrangea arborecens, and it is on flowers of this plant that I have most often seen the species.  Other flowers on which I have collected it include Ceanothus americanus, Cornus drummondiiDaucus carota, and Parthenium integrifolium — all white, compound, and (except Ceanothus) flat-topped.  Larvae have been recorded breeding in a variety of hardwood species such as beech, birch, elm, hickory, and maple; however, I have only reared this species once — a single individual that emerged from a rather punky dead branch of Carpinus caroliniana (blue beech, musclewood, hornbean) (MacRae and Rice 2007).  I suspect that the condition of the wood (slightly decayed rather than freshly dead) is more important than the actual tree species (although perhaps it is confined to hardwoods and does not utilize conifers).

There is a related species in Missouri, Brachyleptura vagans, which resembles B. rubrica in form and by its white-annulated antennae, but it is distinguished by the elytra being wholly black except for small (usually) red patches behind the humeri (shoulders).  I haven’t encountered this species quite as commonly in Missouri, mostly in shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) forests of the Ozark Highlands.  I’ve collected it on most of the same flowers as B. rubrica, but rather than H. arborescens it seems to be most fond of C. americanus.


MacRae, T. C. 1994. Annotated checklist of the longhorned beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae and Disteniidae) known to occur in Missouri. Insecta Mundi 7(4) (1993):223–252.

MacRae, T. C. and M. E. Rice. 2007. Distributional and biological observations on North American Cerambycidae (Coleoptera). The Coleopterists Bulletin 61(2):227–263.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Beetle Love

An Inordinate FondnessIt seems like it has been a long time coming, but the Inaugural Issue of An Inordinate Fondness, the monthly blog carnival for the world’s most diverse group of animals (um… beetles), has finally made its debut! I can’t tell you how much pondering, pleading, fretting, and tweaking went into bringing this newest of blog carnivals to fruition, but it was all worth it. My sincerest thanks to everyone who helped me along the way (especially Seabrooke, Amber, Jason, and Mike) and to all who contributed for this first issue. I hope you’ll take a moment to stop by and check out the many fine contributions. If you love beetles, you’ll love this issue. If beetles haven’t exactly turned you on before, maybe you’ll find a new appreciation for them after experiencing the collective passion of the contributors. If you’ve written a post about beetles, perhaps you’ll consider participating in AIF #2 to be hosted by Amber at Birder’s Lounge. I recommend this handy submission form, or contact Amber directly if you prefer. The submission deadline for issue #2 is March 15, 2010.

House of HerpsAlso, Jason over at xenogere has just released House of Herps #3- The Time Machine. Jason has shown himself to be a natural talent at blog carnival hosting, and this edition is no exception. In his unique, singular style, Jason guides you on a trip through time to visit reptiles and amphibians of the past, present, and future.

In celebration of the debut of An Inordinate Fondness, I close with this preview of a feature that CBS did on Christopher Marley for the program “Sunday Morning.” Here is a man who not only shows the same passion for these fascinating animals that many of us feel (though I’m not sure I would characterize Titanus giganteus as “dangerous”), but also has the talent to channel his passion into exquisite works of art (sorry about the commercials!).

Vodpod videos no longer available.
More about “Sunday Morning – Preview: Beetle Art“, posted with vodpod

Okay, after hosting three blog carnivals in the past 4 weeks, I think I’ll go hibernate for awhile!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Alkali Tiger Beetle

Eunota togata globicollis - Salt Plains NWR, Oklahoma

I haven’t written much about my early October trip to Oklahoma, where I had hoped to confirm a hunch that the gorgeous Cicindela pulchra (Beautiful Tiger Beetle) would be found in the red clay/gypsum hill habitats of Woodward and Major Counties (the same place where I had found the much rarer Cylindera celeripes the previous June).  Unfortunately, a sudden cold snap and overcast skies conspired against me for the duration of that short, 5-day trip, reducing tiger beetle activity to near zero and sending me back to Missouri with little to show for my efforts — save a scorpion, a torpid Cicindela splendida, and some very beautiful ladie’s-tresses orchids in peak bloom.  I did have one moderately successful day, however, when I returned to Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in north-central Oklahoma, a place where I observed seven species of tiger beetles during my June trip.  An eighth species that I did not see on that trip, but which I had observed in previous years, was my goal this time, and despite the cold temperatures and cloudy skies I was fortunate to find several individuals of Eunota togata globicollis.  Occurring primarily on saline flats in the central and southern Great Plain, this subspecies was called the Alkali Tiger Beetle¹ by Erwin and Pearson (2008), who reserved for the nominate form (found in salt marshes and tidal flats along the Gulf Coast) the more descriptive name White-cloaked Tiger Beetle².  A third subspecies, E. togata fascinans (Salt Flat Tiger Beetle) is restricted to salt flats in central New Mexico and west Texas (Pearson et al. 2006) (you may remember this subspecies from my habitat partitioning post last month).

¹ In reality, I have come to consider the term ‘alkali’ as a bit of a misnomer, as it is saline soils specifically — not just those with high pH (alkaline) — that the species is fond of. Moreover, there are many species of tiger beetles in addition to this one that are associated with saline soils.

² Okay, I might as well just get all this off my chest. Pearson et al. (2006) gave common names to each species of tiger beetle in the U.S., but not subspecies. I think most non-taxonomists probably consider this a good thing, although it is not without its problems (some species already had multiple common names applied to them, forcing choices that are sure not to please everyone). Erwin and Pearson (2008) took this further and came up with common names for all of the subspecies as well, and like any good taxonomist they steadfastly applied existing common names only to nominate forms. Eunota togata, however, is an example where the original common name would have been better applied to one of the non-nominate subspecies. The species epithet togata means “cloaked” (being derived from the Latin word toga — a reference to the broad white band running along the elytral margins). Each of the two non-nominate forms are distinguished by the white band being more broadly expanded (indeed, almost entirely covering the elytra in subspecies fascinans), yet it is the nominate subspecies — the least “cloaked” of the three — that retains the original common name. A silly argument I suppose, but if we start applying the “prinicple of priority” to common names in the same manner as scientific names, then what have we gained? Of course, I am of the opinion that most insect groups are too diverse and their taxonomy still too unstable to warrant a rigid system of “official” common names. Is it really any easier to learn White-cloaked Tiger Beetle than Eunota togata? How about Mount Ashland Night-stalking Tiger Beetle instead of Omus cazieri? And this is not even considering what happens when category-level shifts occur. For example, the genus Tetracha was formerly called the Big-headed Tiger Beetles; however, its former subgenera were recently elevated to genus level. Erwin and Pearson, accordingly, applied the common name to the entire subtribe containing Tetracha and its relatives and applied a new common name, Metallic Tiger Beetles, to the new, more limited concept of Tetracha. Thus, in an ironic case of common name instability despite no change in scientific name, the Virginia Big-headed Tiger beetle (Tetracha virginica) became the Virginia Metallic Tiger Beetle. Are your eyes bugging yet? Common names may be appropriate for higher vertebrates, but can they really be used effectively for beetles and other insect groups where the increasing use of molecular tools is sure to result in additional, perhaps radical, shifts in taxonomy? There — I said it, and I feel a lot better!

This species is restricted to saline flats in the central/southern Great Plains.

Of the eight tiger beetle species that I’ve now observed at Salt Plains NWR, half of them (Cicindela fulgida, C. nevadica knausii, E. togata globicollis, and Habroscelimorpha circumpicta johnsonii) are true saline habitat specialists.  One of the other four species (Cicindela tranquebarica kirbyi) is also fond of saline habitats but also occurs commonly on dry, sandy soils as well, and two show a high affiinity for nearly any moist (Cicindela repanda) or moist to dry (Cicindela punctulata) soils with little regard for salinity.  Only Cicindela formosa, a denizen of dry, deep sands seems a little out of its element on the moist, salty mud at Salt Plains NWR — perhaps the few individuals I’ve observed here are incidental visitors, mistaking the white, barren expanses of salt-encrusted soil for the dry sand the species prefers during disperal searches.  This again brings up the question of habitat partitioning for competition avoidance among tiger beetle species sharing the same habitat.  Eunota togata globicollis is active during the spring and fall and, thus, temporally isolated from C. nevadica knausii and H. circumpicta johnsonii (both summer-active species).  The other saline specialist at Salt Plains NWR (C. fulgida) is active during the same seasons as E. togata globicollis; however, in my observations that species prefers the sparsely-vegetated zone at the edge of the saline flats, while E. togata globicollis prefers to stay out in the more open areas.  These observations mirror those of Melius (2010) for E. togata fascinans and the other seven species he noted in the Laguna del Perro area of New Mexico, and of Willis (1967), who recorded as many as 11 sympatric tiger beetle species in saline habitats in the central U.S.

Saline flats at Salt Plains NWR are home to eight species of tiger beetles.

Microhabitat selection and seasonal occurrence are not the only isolating mechanisms that can minimize interspecific competition among the different tiger beetle species at Salt Plains NWR.  Cicindela tranquebarica kirbyi is also a spring/fall species and doesn’t appear to display a preference for open versus vegetated areas, potentially allowing it to compete directly with both E. togata globicollis and C. fulgida.  However, C. tranquebarica kirbyi is a decidely larger species, while the other two are smaller, and correlated with such differences in overall size is the size of their mandibles.  Mandibular size directly correlated to prey size in a number of tiger beetle species (Pearson and Mury 1979), thus providing another mechanism for avoiding competition between these three co-occurring species. 

Photo details:
Beetles: Canon 100mm macro lens w/ 68mm Kenco extension tubes on Canon EOS 50D (manual mode), ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/18-20, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power w/ Sto-Fen diffusers.
Landscapes: Canon 17-85mm zoom lens (22mm) on Canon EOS 50D (landscape mode), ISO 100, 1/100 sec, f/10, natural light.


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.

Melius, D. A. 2009. Post-monsoonal Cicindela of the Laguna del Perro region of New Mexico. CICINDELA 41(4):81-89.

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 E. J. Mury. 1979. Character divergence and convergence among tiger beetles (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae). Ecology 60:557–566.

Willis, H. L.  1967.  Bionomics and zoogeography of tiger beetles of saline habitats in the central United States (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae).  The University of Kansas Science Bulletin 47(5):145-313.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Hawn State Park – Winter Hiking at its Finest

Two weekends ago we received another wave in what has been an unusually frequent series of snow events. I’m sure my northern (and Patagonian) friends are not impressed, but at our middlin’ latitudes snow falls rather infrequently and rarely sticks around for long when it does. This winter has been different, with snowfall almost every week, it seems like, and temperatures that have remained cold enough to keep it around for awhile. While this latest snowfall measured only a modest 1-2 inches here in the St. Louis area, a 7-inch blanket (as measured by my hiking stick) fell in the Ozark Highlands just south of here. Coming as it did at the start of the weekend, I welcomed the opportunity to go for a hike — among my favorite wintertime activities — in a landscape that is rarely seen covered in deep, newly-fallen snow. My daughter Madison loves hiking as much as I do (even in deep snow), so the two of us headed off to perhaps my favorite of Missouri’s public areas, Hawn State Park.  I have long adored Hawn for its premier hiking, facinating geology, and unusual flora, and everytime I visit Hawn I find something new to love about it.  

Lamotte sandstone outcrops on the White Oaks Trail

Such was the case on this visit, when Madison and I decided to explore the White Oaks Trail, a newer trail that I had not yet hiked.  I was a little concered whether we would even be able to get to the park, as the road leading into it had only been partially plowed (and we had already seen one car off the road, causing me to reach down and switch on the 4-wheel drive).  Most of the park was snowed in, but we were able to reach the uppermost parking area, leaving our snow-covered trail-finding abilities as the last obstacle to overcome.  After studying the trail map and looking at different route options, I asked Madison if she wanted to hike 2 miles, 4 miles, or 6 miles.  She immediately blurted out “6 miles!”, so off we went.  I was disappointed to see that we were not the first persons to have the idea, as we entered the trail only to find two sets of footprints (one human, one canid) leading off in front of us.  It did, however, make following the trail easier, and in fact I’ve had enough experience finding trails through the Ozark Highlands that I never felt like I needed the footprints in front of us to point the direction.  

Madison next to the root wad of an 83-yr old wind-thrown oak tree.

The White Oaks Trail followed nicely up-and-down terrain through mature white oak (Querucs alba) (appropriately) upland forest dissected by small riparian valleys before settling into relatively mild terrain through monotonous black oak forest.  Just when I thought the trail wouldn’t match the splendor of Hawn’s Whispering Pines and Pickle Creek Trails, it wrapped around to the south at the far end and passed by a beautiful hoo-doo complex of Lamotte sandstone outcroppingss supporting majestic, widely-spaced, mature shortleaf pines (Pinus echinata).  The rock outcrops provided a perfect spot to break for lunch while looking out on the deep, snow-covered valley in front of us.  

More Lamotte sandstone exposures along Pickle Creek, Whispering Pines Trail.

After counting a cut, wind-thrown black oak (Quercus velutinus) and determining a lifespan of 83 years, we took a connector trail down to the Whispering Pines Trail where it ran alonside the incomparably beautiful Pickle Creek.  Our hope was to hike down to the igneous shut-ins, where hard, pink rhyolites channeled the creek’s clear, spring-fed waters through narrow chutes and miniature gorges.  Upstream from the shut-ins, Pickle Creek runs lazily through the softer Lamotte sandstones that overlay those ancient rhyolites, combining with the snow cover to create a scene as peaceful and serene as any I’ve ever witnessed.

Pickle Creek meanders lazily through Whispering Pines Wild Area.

Just above the shut-ins, Pickle Creek bends to the west, carving deeply into the soft sandstone.  The porous nature of the rock allows moisture to trickle through and between the strata from the hillside above, creating seep zones that weaken underlying layers and lead to their collapse.  The abundant moisture this winter and continuous cycles of daytime thawing and nighttime freezes have resulted in extraordinary ice formations along the bluff face and underneath the overhanging layers, the likes of which are rarely seen in our normally more open winters.  Compare the scene in the first photo below with that in the second, taken at almost exactly the same spot one year ago in February 2009.  

Icicle formations along Pickle Creek, Whispering Pines Trail.

Same place as above in February 2009.

Ice rarely forms over the small ponds and lakes that dot the Ozark Highlands, much less its creeks and other moving waters.   The scene below of Pickle Creek as it exits the sandstone gorge is a testament to the slowness of its movements and the unusually consistent cold temperatures experienced during the past several weeks.  Only a short distance downstream, however, these lazy waters reach the bottommost layers of the erodable sandstones and encounter the hard rhyolites below.  These half-a-billion year old layers of igneous rock are much more resistant to the wearing action of water, which rushes noisily through narrowly-carved chutes before fanning out in broad sheets over smooth, steep slopes below.  

Pickle Creek along Whispering Pines Trail.

Sadly, there would not be time to visit the shut-ins.  The short February day conspired with our snow-slowed pace to leave us with a too-low-sun by the time we reached the fork in the trail that led to the shut-ins, a mile in one direction, and our car, a mile in the other.  Although we (both) had thought to carry flashlights (just in case), the last thing I really wanted to do was find myself stumbling over snow-covered trails through the dark with my 10-yr old daughter. Even had we survived the nighttime winter woods, I might not have survived the inevitable maternal reaction to such an escapade.

Arriving back at White Oaks Trailhead with a few minutes to spare.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010  

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Warning: post contains hardcore, taxonomic, sciencey geekiness!

Just as there is seasonality in the lives of insects, there is seasonality in the work of those who study them.  For the collector/taxonomist, everything revolves around the collecting season — time spent on anything else is time not available for collecting. As a result, I spend a good deal of my time during the summer in the field and on its associated planning and organizing activities, leaving the winter months for processing and identifying collected specimens, incorporating them into the permanent collection, generating reports to fulfill permit requirements, and ultimately preparing manuscripts for publication — the raison d’être.  Winter is also the time when I identify specimens sent to me by other collectors.  I do this not only because I’m such a nice guy (at least I hope I am), but also because such material often contains species I haven’t seen before or that represent new distributions and host plant associations that I can use to augment the results of my own studies.  Such work has occupied much of my time during the past several weeks, and I now find myself close to finishing the last of the nearly dozen batches of beetles sent to me since the end of last winter.

Of the three groups of beetles that I actively study — jewel beetles, longhorned beetles, and tiger beetles — it is the jewel beetles that are taxonomically the most challenging.  Tiger beetles can often be indentified in the field (especially with the publication of Pearson et al. (2006), or “the Bible” among cicindelophiles), and North American longhorned beetles have been reasonably well worked by a strong contingent of both professional and amateur taxonomists over the past several decades.  Jewel beetles on the other hand, despite their dazzling colors and popularity with collectors, continue to befuddle even the most dedicated collectors due to their extreme variability and poorly-defined species limits.  Of the 822 species and subspecies known from North America, fully three-fifths of them belong to one of just three hyperdiverse genera — Acmaeodera, Agrilus, and Chrysobothris.  No recent taxonomic treatments are available for any of these genera, thus, identifying species belonging to them requires access to primary literature, a well-represented and authoritatively-identified reference collection, and extraordinary patience!  This is particularly true of the genus Acmaeodera, the North American members of which were last treated collectively more than a century ago (Fall 1899) (at which time less than half of the current 149 species/subspecies were known to science).  The recent explosion of web-based images has helped matters (a particularly useful site for those interested in North American Acmaeodera is Acmaeoderini Orbis, with its galleries of Harvard type specimens and BugGuide photos); however, images are still lacking for many species, and others are not easily distinguished from the images that do exist.

Acmaeodera robigo Knull (Val Verde Co., Texas)

It is precisely this taxonomic challenge, however, that makes the group so interesting to me.  Opportunities for discovery abound, as basic information is incomplete or totally lacking for many species regarding their geographical ranges and life histories.  One of the species I encountered in a batch of material sent to me by cerambycid-specialist Jeff Huether contained three specimens that I eventually determined to represent Acmaeodera robigo.  Josef Knull (1954) first described this species from specimens collected at Lake Corpus Christi in south Texas, and nothing more was recorded about the species until Nelson et al. (1996) reported a single specimen cut from its pupal cell in the base of Dalea formosa (Fabaceae) at White River Lake in far northern Texas — a range extension of almost 500 miles!  Obviously, I didn’t have this species in my collection, and it was only after a series of eliminations that led me to the original description (and confirmation of my ID by Nearctic Acmaeodera-guru Rick Westcott based on the photos shown here) did I know for sure what it was.  These specimens were collected at Seminole Canyon State Historic Park, thus, extending into west Texas the species’ known range, and they exhibit variability in the elytral markings and punctation that was not noted in the original description.  While only an incremental increase in our knowledge of this species, collectively such increases lead to greater understanding of the genus as a whole, and Jeff’s generosity in allowing me to retain examples of the species increases my U.S. representation of the genus to 130 species/subspecies (87%).

Acmaeodera n. sp. (Santa Cruz Co., Arizona)

The opportunity for discovery is not limited to range extensions and new host records, but includes new species as well.  A few years ago I received a small lot of specimens collected in Arizona by my hymenopterist-friend Mike Arduser (hymenopterists, especially those interested in apoid bees, are excellent “sources” of Acmaeodera, which they encounter frequently on blossoms while collecting bees).  Among the material he gave to me was the single specimen shown here that immediately brought to my mind Acmaeodera rubrovittata, recently described from Mexico (Nelson 1994) and for which I had collected part of the type series.  Comparison of the specimen with my paratypes, however, showed that it was not that species, and after much combing through the literature I decided that the specimen best fit Acmaeodera robigo (despite being collected in Arizona rather than Texas and not matching the original description exactly).  This was before I had true A. robigo with which to compare, so I sent the specimen to Rick Westcott for his opinion.  His reply was “good news, bad news” — the specimen did not represent A. robigo, but it didn’t represent any known species either!  While the prospect of adding a new species to the U.S. fauna is exciting, basing a description on this single specimen would be ill-advised.  Only through study of series of individuals can conclusions be made regarding the extent of the species’ intraspecific variability and its relation to known species.  Until such specimens are forthcoming, the specimen will have to sit in my cabinet bearing the label “Acmaeodera n. sp.”  For all of you collector-types who live in or plan to visit southeastern Arizona, consider this a general call for potential paratypes!  The specimen was collected in early August on flowers of Aloysia sp. near the Atascosa Lookout Trailhead on Ruby Road in Santa Cruz Co.


Fall, H. C.  1899.  Synonpsis of the species of Acmaeodera of America, north of Mexico.  Journal of the New York Entomological Society 7(1):1–37.
[scroll to “Journal of the New York Entomological Society”, “v. 7 1899”, “Seq 12”]

Knull, J. N. 1954. Five new North American species of Buprestidae (Coleoptera). Ohio Journal of Science 54:27–30.

Nelson, G. H. 1994. Six new species of Acmaeodera Eschscholtz from Mexico (Coleoptera: Buprestidae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 48:272–282.

Nelson, G. H., R. L. Westcott and T. C. MacRae. 1996. Miscellaneous notes on Buprestidae and Schizopodidae occurring in the United States and Canada, including descriptions of previously unknown sexes of six Agrilus Curtis (Coleoptera). The Coleopterists Bulletin 50(2):183–191.

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 2010

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My good friends Kent Fothergill and Kelly Tindall passed through St. Louis last week on their way back home from a visit to Columbia.  I was happy for the chance to get together with them – if only for a short visit, as I hadn’t seen them since the summer before last when Kent joined forces with Chris Brown and I to conduct a survey for Cylindera cursitans (ant-like tiger beetle) in southeast Missouri.  (You may recall that I orginally met Kent when he emailed me out of-the-blue after moving to southeast Missouri in 2007 to let me know he liked tiger beetles.  I responded by suggesting that he look for this long sought-after species, which he found the very next day!)  Kent had told me in arranging the visit that they had something they wanted to give me, and since I had some specimens of theirs to return it seemed a convenient way to make the exchange.  I had no idea what it was they wanted to give me, but I knew they’d been to the recent Entomological Society of America meetings in Indianapolis and figured they must have purchased a cool beetle specimen or something for me.

After arriving at my office, they told me that they’d had the chance to meet John Acorn, a rare celebrity in the world of natural history study.  Most people known John as the host and creative force behind Acorn the Nature Nut, an award-winning television series in which John’s inspiring personality and infectious love of nature introduce viewers to various aspects of Alberta’s natural history.  John is also, however, an accomplished entomologist, with one of his special interests being… you guessed it – tiger beetles!  In 2001, John published The Tiger Beetles of Alberta: Killers on the Clay, Stalkers on the Sand, one of the most accessible and highly entertaining treatments of the family (er… supertribe) to date (if I can ever get my act together and write The Tiger Beetles of Missouri, I want to model it after this book).  John was at the ESA meetings selling original artwork of the different tiger beetle species occurring in Alberta, and Kent and Kelly mentioned to him that they had a friend back in Missouri who would love one of his prints – selecting “Cicindela purpurea auduboni black morph”.  Somehow, my name and association with this blog came up, to which John replied, “Oh, I know about Beetles in the Bush” and then signed the print for me as shown below.  Wow!

I hope Kent and Kelly understand my stunned silence upon first seeing the print they had so generously given to me and the inscription it bore.  I felt a little silly afterwards returning their kind gesture by just giving them back specimens that were already theirs.  I’m honored by their friendship and will be reminded of it now everytime I look at the print on my office wall.


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

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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