Despite their hyperdiversity, leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae) as a group are for the most part among the most easily recognized of all beetle families, and within the family none are more recognizable than the tortoise beetles (subfamily Cassidinae). Named for their distinctively armoured elytra and prothorax and associated behavior of drawing the head and legs under them when threatened, they are worldwide in distribution and especially diverse in the New World tropics. Even though I know little about the group (chrysomelids as a whole are far too intimidatingly diverse a group for me to add to my already burgeoning list of interests), I can’t resist collecting them whenever I encounter them. Having traveled to Mexico and South America many times over the years, I’ve accumulated almost a full Schmidt box of these beauties – most of which remained unidentified, save for the well-known representatives from our relatively depauperate North American fauna.
Thus, when I encountered this striking example on a leaf in the Barão Geraldo District near Campinas, Brazil, I figured the photos I took would go into one of those “Brazil Bugs” posts featuring a variety of pleasing to look at but otherwise unidentified insects. Still, after having had success identifying some other Brazilian insects using Google, Flickr, and carefully selected search terms, I figured I should at least give this one a try. It didn’t take long – searching on nothing more than “Cassidinae” in Flickr yielded a very similar looking beetle on page 6 from Panama identified by Rob Westerduijn as Paraselenis tersa. While not likely the same species, it seemed almost certain to represent the same genus, so further searching on the genus name eventually led me to the cassidine mother lode: Cassidinae of the World: An Interactive Manual. This web page, authored by Lech Borowiec, features species lists, identification keys and images of a large number of specimens, including nearly all of the 29 species currently placed in this exclusively Neotropical genus (you can bet I’m bookmarking this site – perhaps my Schmidt box of specimens will finally get some attention!). A quick perusal through the images yielded an ID: Paraselenis (Spaethiechoma) flava, recorded broadly across South America. Everything fit – the black scutellar marking, the elytra broader than the prothorax, the bicolored antennae, the thin black anterior elytral marginal band, and – appropriate for the species name – the even yellow coloration. My ID was confirmed when I found a key to all the species of Paraselenis (Borowiec 2003). I surmise this is a female based on the more rounded humeral elytral projections, which seem to be more strongly and angularly produced in the males based on the photos I looked at.
Interestingly, this particular species is considered a pest of sweet potato and commonly referred to as “fusquinha”¹ (Montes and Raga 2010). Many species of tortoise beetles, in fact, utilize as host plants members of the sweet potato family (Convolvulaceae). This individual was not on a convolvulaceous plant, but a small tree. I looked for additional individuals but didn’t find any, nor did I find larvae or any evidence of feeding, so this must have been a wayward individual – probably searching for a suitable host on which to oviposit.
¹ “Fusquinha” is the Brazilian Portuguese word for “Volkswagon Beetle”!
Borowiec, L. 2003. Two new species of the genus Paraselenis Spaeth, 1913 (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Cassidinae). Genus 14 (3): 403-411.
Montes, S. M. N. M. and A. Raga. 2010. “Fusquinha” Paraselenis flava (L. 1758) praga da batata-doce. Instituto Biológico – APTA, Documento Técnico 004, 8 pp..
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011
23 thoughts on “Brazil Bugs #14 – Fusquinha”
Hi Ted, fascinating beetle – this is the first “tortoise” beetle I have seen. Congrats on the cicindela magazine gig!
You’ve got a few species in Texas – look for them on the leaves of convolvulaceous plants, and there is another species on nightshade (green to match the foliage). If you ever get down to south Texas, there’s a gorgeous one on anacua.
Really cool looking tortoise beetle. Not seen one like this before. Completely different from what we have here!
Yeah, well I’ve seen photos of some of the species you have in southeast Asia, and they are every bit as beautiful!
Beautiful critter…I love how the photographs capture the tips of her little tarsi poking out – she is quite adorable, actually. Funny thing about leaf beetles: despite their hyperdiversity, they were one group of beetles I didn’t encounter in the arctic (now, I haven’t gone through all my sweep samples yet, but still…nary a sign to date!)
Interesting – I’d be interested to know if this is still the case after you go through your sweep samples.
I’ve got a couple thousand different leaf beetles crammed into Schmidt boxes from my earlier, less fidel collecting days – just waiting for some serious researcher to make use of them…
Nice find, Ted. I’ll be looking for this one on future trips to Brazil (July is the next one). I like the third photo best.
Brazil in July, huh? Back to Minas Gerais?
Funny you should mention the 3rd pic as your pick – I almost didn’t include it because I didn’t like the out-of-focus antennae. Just goes to show you how different people see photos differently.
A very beautiful tortoise beetle! In the last picture, it’s eyes are saying, “spare me!”
I spared it! 🙂
An interesting one for sure and very colorful if compared to some others i saw on the ” Cassidinae of the World: An Interactive Manual” site. 8)
Most of the other species in this genus seem to be a little flatter in color, although sometimes constrastingly marked with brown. Other genera, however, can be quite brilliantly colored – almost like liquid gold!
great pictures. I had no idea of the cassidine website. It is indeed a great find.
Thanks, Sam. I’d never heard about it either, although now I see it linked to the Cassidinae info page on BugGuide. It certainly is a great resource – can’t wait to sit down with all my Mexican material and see what I can make of it.
p.s. Congratulations on leaving the 5,000th comment on BitB!
Bichinho legal – e adorável!
BTW, the VW beetle is “Fusca”, so fusquinha is a little one — Very appropriate.
When I lived in Brazil back in the 1980s, seems like half the cars were Fuscas, and I bought one, too. They had a reputation of being so reliable that people said, “Fusca é mãe.” – The Fusca is (like your)mother.
Thanks for the clarification – makes perfect sense. Is that pronounced “foo-skeen-ya”?
In English the car getsits name because of resemblance to a beetle, while in Brazilian Portuguese the beetle gets its name because of some resemblance to the car. Interesting the way sounds and meanings interact and change over time in the course of lingusitic evolution.
They are a favorite of mine, but I like the photos better than the dried specimen. You photos are striking, again.
Yes, it’s a shame many of them don’t preserve so well, especially the liquid metallic species. The sculptured species seem to preserve well, and those with darker colors like red and blue.
Fantastic shots, Ted! I’ve always thought these guys are totally cool. I notice that a lot of people don’t see them because they mistake them for a seed pod or some other detritus (as I’ve been told, though I don’t see it).
And for some reason that last shot tickles me, as though the beetle just noticed you were up there and leaned up to take a look at the voyeur with the camera.
I know I frequently don’t notice they’re there until I notice feeding damage on the leaves and start looking closer. You’d think beetles so colorful and oddly shaped would stand out, but I think there is actually some sort of crypsis function to their appearance.
She actually had just noticed me and was starting to get a little upset as I took that last shot.
biutiful beetle and your commentary – cheers frm india
cool and fasnating