Brazil Bugs #12 – Desafio de identificação #5

Here we go again – 2 pts each for any correct taxon name up to and including order and any supporting information you can provide.  Standard ID Challenge rules apply.  Hint: don’t take anything for granted – this one is going to separate the men/women from the boys/girls!

Edit 2/11/11, 8:32 a.m.: I should probably make points available for class as well (with the caveat that those with comments already in queue will get credit if due – no need to recomment unless you want to add something).  Also, we’ve had enough of these by now to know that common names and “taxon by implication” generally yield fewer points than correctly presented scientific names. 🙂

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Brazil Bugs #11 – Formigas cortadeiras

This week is Army Ant Week, and while Alex Wild’s stunning photographs of this diverse and charismatic group reign supreme, some of the cooler bug bloggers are nevertheless getting into the spirit of things with army ant posts of their own.  I have no such photos, but I’m hoping I can sneak onto the bandwagon with these images of leafcutting ants that I photographed last month in Campinas, Brazil.

These were among the first insects I saw during the trip once I got a bit of free time to walk the hotel grounds.  Watching them crawl along the lower edge of the hotel wall was a welcome sight, as nothing says “tropics” to me more than columns of these ants carrying their bits of leaves back to the nest for use in their hidden fungus farms.  While taxonomically they may be unrelated to army ants, their precise single file marches in dutiful service to the colony are as military as it gets.  Army ants may have the jaws, but leaf-cutters have spines – they don’t just carry weapons, they are the weapons!

The thing I like most about leaf-cutter ants is that they are one of the few ant groups that I feel confident enough to hazard an attempt at identification.  Several genera comprise the group, and most people who are at all familiar with them think of the genus Atta first.  However, I recalled reading something on Alex’s blog about spines as a diagnostic character for attine ant genera – sure enough, in this post Alex explains how species in the genus Atta have two pairs of spines on the promesonotum, while those in the genus Acromyrmex bear three pairs.  On this basis, I’ll go out on a limb and declare the individuals in these photos as Acromyrmex sp. (of course, which species is another story – James?  Alex?).  If I’m proved right, it will confirm the worthwhileness of all my blog trolling.  If I am wrong – well, there’s still nothing wrong with idle entertainment.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Brazil Bugs #10 – A mosca mais legal que eu já vi!

Nerius sp. (Diptera: Neriidae) - Campinas, São Paulo state, Brazil. ID by Fernando Carvalho-Filho.

I found this bizarre-looking fly outside of Campinas, Brazil (on the same tree as the Aetalion reticulatum that I showed earlier).  There were a few of them, and although they weren’t especially flighty they did have the annoying habit of constantly moving to the backside of whatever branch I tried to photograph them sitting on.  The tree (a small one with green, flexible wood and short, stout spines along the branches) was hanging on the edge of a hillside itself, so a period of careful branch-bending and precarious body-contortioning was required before I finally got one of the flies suitably placed within the viewfinder.  At the start and before all of my disturbance, they were perched head-downward and outward on the more vertically-oriented branches.

This fly is unlike any I’ve ever seen (or at least noticed), and I really had no clue to the family (or even superfamily).   I wish I could be happy just posting photos of interesting, though unidentified insects and be done with it, but something inside me doesn’t get much enjoyment out of that – I’m compelled to at least attempt an identification.  For my recent Brazilian exploits, I’ve found Flickr to be a useful tool in the identification arsenal – enter a search phrase such as “Brasil Diptera” and scan the results for any possible matches.  I don’t remember which particular phrase finally brought up a hit, but eventually I was clued into marsh flies of the family Sciomyzidae.  Another search for all Flickr photos tagged as such brought up several pages of more or less similar looking flies, including more than a few that were indeed very close matches.  My work seemed to be done.

Still, something about Sciomyzidae bothered me.  We’ve got sciomyzids here in the Midwest, and while there is certainly a resemblance, the overall gestalt of this and the similar appearing Flickr-ID’d flies just didn’t seem right.  So I opened up a broader search on Google images looking for more authoritative confirmation of the ID.  Eventually, I happened upon this photo by Brazilian photographer Enio Branco of a fly that, for all intents and purposes, looks exactly like mine.  The fly in that photo had been assigned to the family Neriidae (cactus flies), and further searching for information on the family in South America quickly turned up a recent faunal treatment of the family in the Brazilian Amazon (Carvalho-Filho and Esposito 2008).  According to that work, these distinctive flies can be distinguished from nearly all other acalyptrate flies by the antennal arista being situated apically on the postpedicel (third segment).  This character is readily visible on the fly in this photo and also on the similar appearing and apparently misidentified flies in the Flickr photos.¹  I figured I’d give the Amazonas key a go to see if an ID might be possible, but I immediately ran into trouble at the first couplet trying to decide if the antennal pedicel was elongate (Odontoloxozus peruanus), or if not whether the forecoxae were dark brown (Glyphidops spp.) or yellow (Nerius spp.) – they look light brown to me!  It’s entirely possible that this fly, photographed in southeastern Brazil, represents a species (or even genus) not included in the Amazonas key – hopefully one of the dipterophiles out there will be able to provide some insight.

¹ This could be an example of how one misidentified photo can create a growing pool of misidentified photos.  It serves to caution against accepting apparently solid IDs from open sources too quickly.

The most interesting feature of this fly (IMO) are the elongate head and legs with spinose forefemora.  Although appearing raptorial in design, apparently the males of this family engage in rather spectacular sexual combat, rearing up on their hind legs and striking each other with their forelegs or the ventral surfaces of their heads, even attempting to place each other in a head-lock.  I regret that I didn’t get the chance to witness such behavior.

Photo Details: Canon 50D w/ MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro lens (ISO 100, 1/200 sec, f/13), Canon MT-24EX flash w/ DIY oversized concave diffuser. Typical post-processing (levels, minor cropping, unsharp mask).

Update 02/07/11: I just received the following message from Fernando Carvalho-Filho, lead author of the Amazonas paper referenced above. Dr. Carvalho-Filho was kind enough to reply to my query regarding the identity of this fly as follows:

Dear Dr. Ted,

Thanks for the message. Congratulations, your photo is marvelous! Great macro. The best photo of a Neriidae that I have seen. Your webpage is very cool and has good pictures. In my opinion, the fly is a Nerius. It is difficult to determine the species, since they are separated based on the thorax color pattern.


My appreciation to Dr. Carhalho-Filho for his identification.


Carvalho-Filho, F. S. and M. C. Esposito.  2008.  Neriidae (Diptera: Schizophora) of the Brazilian Amazon: New records of genera and species, and key to species. Neotropical Entomology 37(1):58–62.

p.s. An early 2-pt lead in the new BitB Challenge series to whoever provides the most correct translation of the title – your prize for making it through the whole post!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Brazil Bugs #9 – Formiga hostil

I found this ant crawling over the blossoms of the Ixora shrubs on the grounds of my hotel in Campinas (São Paulo state). Normally I wouldn’t even try to identify a South American ant, but the individual quickly and easily keyed out in the recent revision of North American Formicidae to Formica nigra – apparently a very wide-ranging species!¹

¹ Seriously, I would welcome input from any myrmecophiles out there on the actual identity of this species.

As I started taking some photographs, she seemed to take note of my presence.
With each shot, she seemed to become increasingly more irritated.
Irritation soon gave way to outright hostility.
In short order, the meaning was all too clear – “Stay away from my flower!”
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Recent literature – The Coleopterists Bulletin

Volume 64, No. 4 - December 2010

I returned to the office this week after spending two weeks in Brazil to find the December 2010 of The Coleopterists Bulletin in my inbox.  I don’t think there is another journal that I look forward to more eagerly than this one (with the possible exception of CICINDELA) – with each issue, I know that regardless of whether it contains any papers in my priority groups of interest (jewel beetles, longhorned beetles, and tiger beetles), it will nevertheless contain well-written articles presenting results of high-quality research on nothing but beetles – pure elytral ecstasy!  This latest issue, however, is a real keeper.  Gracing the cover is a stunning image of the South African jewel beetle species Julodis viridipes, photographed by my good friend and world jewel beetle expert Chuck Bellamy, and inside are three tiger beetle papers and two longhorned beetle papers – it’s almost as if the issue were produced just for me.

Friend and colleague Mathew Brust takes credit for two of the three tiger beetle papers.  In the first (Brust et al. 2010), he compares the efficiency of the three main methods for collecting tiger beetle larvae: fishing, stab-and-grab, and excavation. They found fishing to be the most efficient and least damaging of the three methods, an important finding for tiger beetle conservation where the availability of efficient, non-lethal survey methods is critical.  (What are “fishing” and “stab-and-grab” you ask?  Read the paper.)  In the second paper (Brust and Hoback 2010), Matt teams up with University of Nebraska entomologist Wyatt Hoback to provide new distributional records and larval descriptions of Nebraska’s tiger beetle, Cicindela nebraskana.  Ironically, this species is quite rare in it’s namesake state, and their findings give clues about the habitats in which it is most likely to occur (I had the good fortune to contribute a small amount of data).  In the third tiger beetle paper, Robert Richardson (2010) notes an overwhelming preponderance of left-superior mandibles in two species of Omus and speculates on the selective pressures that might operate on different tiger beetle clades to produce such a finding – a truly interesting read.

As for longhorned beetles, Sánchez-Martínez et al. (2010) report the utilization of living oaks by an apparently disjunct population of the marvelously beautiful Crioprosopus magnificus in central Mexico, complete with photographs of the larval workings and detailed emergence data.  (I am also reminded that I have a post on this very species that I need to put up).  Closer to home, Terence Schiefer and Patricia Newell (2010) independently recognized the existence of an undescribed subspecies of the red-edged saperda, Saperda lateralis, in the lower Mississippi Delta Region of the southeastern U.S., which together they describe as S. lateralis rileyi (named for Edward Riley, indefatigable collector of beetles, and collector of much of the type material).  Okay, I know what you’re thinking – “A new subspecies of S. lateralis? No way!”  Well, I was skeptical also when I first saw the title – several untenable and no longer recognized subspecies have already been described for this broadly distributed and variable species.  However, after noting the nature of the diagnostic characters, seeing the photographs, and studying their partially allopatric distributions, I was convinced.

In addition to the above papers, there were also a number of interesting book reviews in the issue, including The Chiasognathinae of the Andes, reviewed by M. J. Paulsen, A Field Guide of the Dynastidae Family of the South of South Americano access, reviewed by Ronald M. Young, and three book reviews by our beloved Art Evans: Illustrated Identification Guide to Adults and Larvae of Northeastern North American Ground Beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) [including tiger beetles]; The African Dung Beetle Genera; and Weevils of South Carolina (Coleoptera: Nemonychidae, Attelabidae, Brentidae, Ithyceridae, Curculionidae)no access.


Brust, M. L. and W. W. Hoback. 2010. Larval description and new Nebraska distribution records for Nebraska’s tiger beetle, Cicindela nebraskana Casey (Coleoptera: Carabidae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 64(4):341-346.

Brust, M. L., W. W. Hoback, and J. J. Johnson. 2010. Fishing for tigers: A method for collecting tiger beetle larvae holds useful applications for biology and conservation. The Coleopterists Bulletin 64(4):313-318.

Richardson, R. K. 2010. Mandibular chirality in tiger beetles (Carabidae: Cicindelinae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 64(4):386-387.

Sánchez-Martínez, G., O. Moreno-Rico, and M. E. Siqueiros-Delgado. 2010. Crioprosopus magnificus Leconte (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) in Aguascalientes, Mexico: Biological observations and geographical distribution. The Coleopterists Bulletin 64(4):319-328.

Schiefer, T. L. and P. Newell. 2010. A distinctive new subspecies of Saperda lateralis F. (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) from the southeastern United States. The Coleopterists Bulletin 64(4):329-336.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Answer to ID Challenge #4 – Aetalion reticulatum

Aetalion reticulatum female guarding her egg mass - São Paulo state, Brazil.

ID Challenge #4 seems to have been a little more difficult than I anticipated – only a few people mustered the courage to even hazard a guess, of whom TGIQ emerged with maximum points to take the win.  Looking sort of like a cross between a leafhopper (family Cicadellidae) and a treehopper (family Membracidae), Aetalion reticulatum is one of a few species and the only genus comprising the family Aetalionidae.  While lacking the pronotal processes that characterize species in the much more diverse and better known Membracidae, aetalionids are nevertheless considered treehoppers as well, along with another little-known family Melizoderidae.  As a whole, the Aetalionidae + Melizoderidae + Membracidae form a sister group to the Cicadellidae (Deitz and Dietrich 1993), which combine to form the most diverse and successful lineage of sap-sucking phytophagous insects. 

Like many treehoppers, A. reticulatum exhibits ant-mutualistic and presocial behaviors; however, it remains unclear whether these behaviors were acquired separately by each treehopper lineage or if they represent retention of a more primitive condition (sorry, Alex – it’s just easier to say it that way than deal with terms such as ‘retained plesiomorphy’ and ‘phylogenetic conservatism’).  Aetalion reticulatum occurs broadly in the New World tropics, where females can often be found perched on top of their egg masses.  Some (but not all) guarding females make periodic sweeps of the hing legs down the sides of the egg mass, apparently to dislodge egg parasitoids and discourage further attack (Preston-Mafham & Preston-Mafham 1993).  Ant-mutualistic relationships and the tendency to form colonies provide additional protection from predators.

Now is a good opportunity to summarize the ‘1st BitB Challenge Series’ overall standings – Ben Coulter maintains his overall lead by gaining points in every challenge.  TGIQ climbs into 2nd place with this week’s win, and tceisele leap frogs over several contestants to tie Janet Creamer for the 3rd podium spot (and gets the nod for more frequent participation).  It’s no real surprise that the most frequent players took the top spots.  At this point, I’m going to call a close to the 1st series and declare Ben Coulter the overall series winner – contact me for your loot!  To the rest, thanks for playing, and now that you know how this game works maybe you’ll think about making a move for the 2nd series win!

Place Commenter IDC #1 SSC #3 IDC #2 IDC #3 IDC #4 Total
1 Ben Coulter 9 14 9 4 4 40
2 TGIQ 8 5 10 23
3 tceisele 3 8 3 14
4 Janet Creamer 14 14
5 James Trager  6 5 11
6 Dave 11 11
7 Christopher Taylor 7 3 10
8 Dave Hubble 6 2 8
  JasonC 5 3 8
10 Charley Eiseman 7 7
  Delbert La Rue 7 7
  jason 7 7
  Techuser 7 7
14 Richard Waldrep  6 6
15 Alex/Watcher 2 2
  dragonflywoman 2 2
  nellie 2 2
16 Brady Richards  1 1
  Francis 1 1
  macroinstantes 1 1
  Margarethe 1 1
  Mark Deering  1 1
  Andrew 1 1


Deitz, L. L. and C. H. Dietrich.  1993.  Superfamily Membracoidea (Homoptera: Auchenorrhyncha). I. Introduction and revised classification with new family-group taxa.  Systematic Entomology 18(4):287–296.

Preston-Mafham, R. and K. Preston-Mafham.  1993.  The Encyclopedia of Land Invertebrate Behaviour.  The MIT Press, 320 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011