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 drummondii, Daucus 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