“They’re baaaaack!”

The recent run of seemingly interminable rains and HF4 tornadoes may have delayed the Annual-Birthday-First-Bug-Collecting-Trip-of-the-Year™, but it could not cancel it.  On Thursday this week, for the first time since the same time last week, a strange ball of hot gas appeared in the sky, temperatures tickled the 70°F mark, and the only moisture we encountered was already on the ground.  The weatherman said several days ago it would happen, so I put my faith in his word and made plans with my dad to do what I had planned to do last week – officially open the 2011 bug collecting season.  It was a marvelous day in which many interesting stories unfolded, one of which I’ve heard (literally) a few times already.

One of our stops was Sam A. Baker State Park in southeastern Missouri.  My original reason for coming here involved dead wood retrieval (success) and rattlesnakes (failure, though with a consolation prize – more later).  As we were walking the trail in the bottomland forest along Big Creek, I noticed all these holes in ground.  At first I assumed a group of hikers wielding their fashionable trekking poles had gone before us and left their mark in the muddy, recently flooded soil, but the holes were just too numerous and not all perfectly round.  I had just commented to my dad, “What the heck caused all these holes?”, when I saw the culprit – a fully grown periodical cicada nymph crawling on the ground looking for a tree to climb and begin life as one of the noisiest insects on earth.  I looked around and saw another one, and another… they were everywhere!  Boy, are we gonna be in for it this year!

Missouri and several other Midwestern states will be hosting periodical cicada Brood XIX—the Great Southern Brood!  All four of the 13-year species (Magicidada tredecassini, M. tredecula, M. tredecim, and M. neotredecim) participate in this brood, the largest of the 13-year broods by geographical extent, and occur in Missouri in variously overlapping ranges.  Magicicada tredecim and M. neotredecim are the two most common species in the Ozark Highlands across the southern part of the state, so the nymphs shown here likely represent one or both of those species.

I remember well the previous two appearances of brood XIX in Missouri in 1998 and 1985, when beating for buprestids during May and June was an exercise in futility due to every tree branch literally dripping with these bumbling, screeching insects (too bad I never find buprestids dripping from tree branches like this).  Those that didn’t land flapping clumsily on the sheet ended up desperately clinging to my head or flying into my face.  If swatting at these flying bullets wasn’t maddening enough, the ceaseless, droning, omnipresent cacophony of their singing was almost enough to send me to the local psycho ward begging for admittance.

I think I’ll skip trying to use the beating sheet this year.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Bichos Argentinos #11 – Takes Two to Tango

Epilachna vigintioctopunctata (vaquita de las solanáceas) | Buenos Aires, Argentina

Another of the insects that I photographed at La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina during my early March visit.  I found quite a few of these beetles feeding on the newly sprouting growth from cut stumps of a small, multi-stemmed tree.  At first I thought they were leaf beetles of the family Chrysomelidae because of the way they were actively feeding on the fresh, succulent growth; however, a closer look quickly revealed them to be members of the family Coccinellidae (ladybird beetles).  Their phytophagous, gregarious behavior immediately identified them as members of the subfamily Epilachninae, and in fact they bear a remarkable resemblance to Epilachna varivestis (Mexican bean beetle) and E. borealis (squash lady beetle) – the best known examples of this subfamily in North America.

Armed with confidence in at least a subfamilial placement, I looked for references on the group and quickly found a reasonably recent revision of the subfamily for the entire Western Hemisphere (Gordon 1975) – jackpot!  I reasoned an abundant species seen in the heart of the 3rd largest city in South America would likely show up on page one, but after several increasingly careful passes through the entire revision, it became clear that whatever species this was, it was not among the nearly 300 species (2/3 of them in the genus Epilachna) treated in that work. 

Now, the exuberant, young, not-very-sage entomologist that I was 30 years ago would have immediately gotten all excited that I had found a new species, but the older, battle-tested, more cautious entomologist that I am now instead started suspecting I was dealing with an introduced species.  After all, some of the insects and plants I’ve already featured from this man-made nature reserve are introduced.  I figured as abundant as the beetles were, the species had to be featured on some website, so I started with the obvious and Googled “Coccinellidae Argentina,” clicked on the very first result (appropriately titled Coccinellidae of Argentina), and found a seemingly authoritative site with links to the different subfamilies.  Clicking on Epilachninae and scanning the photos, there it was – Epilachna vigintioctopunctata (28-spotted ladybird beetle).  Native to India and southeastern Asia, this species is well known for its attacks on numerous solanaeous and cucurbitaceous crops (Richards 1983).  It made its first appearance in the Western Hemisphere in southern Brazil (Schroder et al. 1993) and in 1994 was observed on experimental eggplant plots at the School of Agronomy, University of Buenos Aires (Folcia et al. 1996).  Poetically, those initial specimens were sent to Robert Gordon at the U.S. National Museum (and author of the Western Hemisphere revision), who confirmed their identity.  It seems that Argentinians are not the only ones that like to tango!


Folcia A. M., S. M. Rodriguéz and S. Russo. 1996. Aspectos morfológicos, biológicos y de preferencia de Epilachna vigintioctopunctata Fabr. (Coleoptera Coccinellidae). Boletin de Sanidad Vegetal Plagas 22:773–780.

Gordon, R. D. 1975. A revision of the Epilachninae of the Western Hemisphere (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae). U. S. Department of Agriculture, Technical Bulletin No. 1493, ii+409 pp.

Richards, A. M.  1983.  The Epilachna vigintioctopunctata complex (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae).  International Journal of Entomology 25(1):11–41.

Schroder, R. F. W., M. M. Athanas and C. Pavan. 1993. Henosepilachna vigintioctopuctata (Coleoptera-Coccinelidae), new record for Western Hemisphere, with a review of host plants. Entomological News 104(2):111–112.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Itty bitty tiny little flies

Saturday was my birthday, and for most of my adult life it has been tradition to take the day off for the Annual-Birthday-First-Bug-Collecting-Trip-of-the-Year™.  At Missouri’s middlin’ latitudes, late April is normally a tad early—at least for the groups that interest me, but it’s less about serious bug collecting and more about kicking off the season in a bit of a special way.  Normally if my birthday falls on a weekend, as it did this year, I’ll take off the adjacent weekday instead (it’s not special if you can’t take off any time from work).  However, this year that wasn’t possible due to events at work far beyond my little sphere of influence (conspiracy #1), thus Saturday itself became the planned day.  My family and I celebrated Friday evening so I could have the whole day on Saturday, and as we ate we watched news reports of suspected tornadoes ripping through St. Louis just to our north and a little further south (conspiracy #2).  Forecasts called for rain continuing well into the following week (conspiracy #3), and for the first time in… well… ever, I had the feeling the ABFBCTOTY might be cancelled due to weather.  Waking the next morning, I turned on the television to see precipitation forecasts across the state (1″ in northwest Missouri to 6″ in southeast Missouri) amidst stunning chopper video footage of neighborhoods destroyed and lives turned upside down.

I stopped counting conspiracies and hugged my girls!

That evening, I turned on the mercury vapor lamp over the garage door for the first time since last year to see if anything might show up.  We live in a heavily wooded area of western St. Louis Co. featuring relatively intact mesic upland forest dominated by several oaks, hickories, and sugar maples that harbor a nice diversity of woodboring beetles and treehoppers (though I didn’t expect to see these on this night).  The night was cool and clammy—nothing but a few moths and flies showing up.  Some of the flies were quite small, and some were extraordinarily small—not more than 1 or 2 mm in length.  Tiny little specks of life!  I thought it might be fun to get in some practice time with the 65mm lens, and the sampling shown below represents a few of those taken with the lens maxed out at 5X (resulting in a frame width of ~5mm):

Male non-biting midge (Chironomidae) | St. Louis Co., Missouri

Female non-biting midge (Chironomidae) | St. Louis Co., Missouri

Moth fly (Psychodidae) | St. Louis Co., Missouri

Same individual as above, chased onto a finished wooden table to highlight its dense pilosity

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Friday Flower – Hedychium coccineum

Distrito Joaquim Igidio is one of four “districts” surrounding Campinas, Brazil.  It is the most remote of the four, with farmsteads dating back more than a century interspersed amongst some of the most significant tracts of Atlantic forest still remaining in the area.  Many of the farmsteads have recently been converted to bars and restaurants featuring live music, making the area a popular weekend getaway for Campineros.  I joined my colleague and some of his friends on a visit to one of these—Bar do Cachoeira—over the weekend during my visit this past January.  After a sumputuous lunch of Brazilian cuisine (including tohesmo torresmo—my new favorite dish) and cerveja, I walked the grounds to look for insects to photograph.  Despite only having an hour or so to look around, the two species of treehoppers I found and photographed made it a successful little venture.  Coming back to rejoin my friends, I saw a few plants with these marvelously bizarre inflorescenses growing alongside a forested stream running through the grounds.  I could tell they were some type of monocot, but beyond that I had no idea.  Something inside me suspected, however, that this was likely not a native species—it just had that introduced, tropical ornamental look to it.  My suspicions were confirmed when I showed the photos to Dr. George Yatskievych, Curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden and Director of the Flora of Missouri Project.  George identified the plant as Hedychium in the Zingiberaceae (ginger family), likely one of the cultivars of Hedychium coccineum.  He added:

This species is native to tropical Asia, but is commonly cultivated in warm regions of the world. A number of cultivars and hybrids involving related species are sold, so it’s hard to be sure which one you photographed.  The most common cultivar seems to be cv. ‘Tara’ and that’s a possibility for your plant.

Known by a number of common names (red gingerlilly, orange gingerlily, scarlet gingerlily, orange bottlebrush ginger, etc.), H. coccineum hails from the eastern Himalyas, where it grows along forest edges and in mountain grasslands.  This herbaceous perennial can reach one to two metres in height and, in some places, has become somewhat invasive.  The existence of rhizomes and bulbs can make control particularly difficult.

An interesting feature of the plant is the long, exserted stamens and stigmas of the flowers.  This feature is suggestive of an interesting pollination mechanism that relies on pollen attachment to the wings rather than the main body of its moth and butterfly pollinators. Pollen transfer is effected as the lepidopterans move from flower to flower seeking nectar, brushing their wings against the floral parts in the process and thus pollinating the flowers (Zomlefer 1994).


Zomlefer, W. B. 1994. Guide to flowering plant families. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 430 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Bichos Argentinos #11 – I’m out’a here!

Neither of these photos are very good, but it’s the firefly’s fault.  I saw it last month in a soybean field in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina. I got off the first shot, but the flash disturbed it and it started walking around. I quickly set up for another shot, got it framed, fired the shot, and saw the second photo on the screen!

Everything about this firefly seems backwards – most fireflies are black with yellow, orange or red markings – this one is yellow with small black markings.  The terminal segments of the abdomen are dark while the rest are light – opposite of most other fireflies.  This one was out and about during the day, while most others are crepuscular or nocturnal.  Maybe it’s a result of being in the Southern Hemisphere – opposite of most other fireflies I’ve seen.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Rediscovery of Cicindela scabrosa floridana

ResearchBlogging.orgIn refreshing contrast to the more usually heard reports of declining and extinct species, a new paper by Dave Brzoska, Barry Knisley, and Jeffrey Slotten (Brzoska et al. 2011) announces the rediscovery of a tiger beetle previously regarded as probably extinct.  Cicindela scabrosa floridana was described from a series of unusually greenish specimens collected in Miami, Florida in 1934; however, no additional specimens turned up in the following 70+ years despite dedicated efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Brzoska, Knisley, and Ron Huber to locate and search areas around the presumed type locality.  This paucity of specimens and occurrence of the type locality in highly urbanized Miami had caused most contemporary tiger beetle researchers to presume that the population had fallen victim to the ceaseless sprawl of urbanization and its attendant habitat destruction.  However, in September of 2007, co-author Jeff Slotten, working with David Fine, rediscovered a population of individuals matching the type series while surveying butterflies in pine rockland habitat in the Richmond Heights area of Miami.  Subsequent surveys of pine rockland habitat in surrounding areas revealed populations of the beetle at three sites – all in the Richmond Heights area. 

Source: Brzoska et al. (2011)

Cicindela scabrosa floridana was originally described by Cartwright (1939) as a variety of the broadly distributed southeastern U.S. species C. abdominalis.  In describing the closely related C. highlandensis (endemic to the Lake Wales Ridge of central Florida), Choate (1984) also elevated the peninsular Florida-endemic C. scabrosa (previously considered a subspecies of C. abdominalis) to full species status and treated floridana as a subspecies of scabrosa, apparently due to the similarity of their elytral sculpturing, occurrence in both of dense flattened setae on the pronotum, and their allopatric distributions.  The new availability of additional specimens of floridana, however, has allowed more detail comparisons of this form with scabrosa.   In addition to the markedly greener elytra, the great majority of floridana lack post-median marginal spots – found consistently in scabrosa, and the apical lunule is generally thinner in floridana than in scabrosa.  Moreover, no floridana were found to exhibit the vestigial middle band that scabrosa often exhibits, and the leg color of floridana also is lighter and more yellow than most scabrosa specimens.  Differences in habitat, distribution and seasonality were also noted – scabrosa occurs in sand pine scrub habitat throughout most of peninsular Florida north of Miami from late spring to mid-summer, while floridana occurs only in pine rockland habitats in southern Florida with adults active well into October.  These consistent differences in morphology, distribution, habitat, and seasonality led Brzoska et al. to elevate floridana to full species status.  According to the most recent classifications of North American and Western Hemisphere tiger beetles (Pearson et al. 2006, Erwin and Pearson 2008), the new name would be Cicindela (Cicindelidia) floridana.  However, Brzoska et al. follow the classification initially proposed by Rivalier (1954) and followed by Weisner (1992) in regarding Cicindelidia as a full genus, resulting in the new combination Cicindelidia floridana.  The character differences identified by Brzoska et al. are illustrated with detailed photographs and presented in a key to allow recognition of the now four species in the abdominalis group.

The rediscovery of a rare species thought to be extinct is always cause for celebration.  However, there is much work still to be done before prospects for the long-term survival of C. floridana can be considered secure.  Many potential scrub and pine rockland sites throughout Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties were identified and surveyed after the initial discovery of C. floridana in the Richmond Heights area.  Unfortunately, to date the beetle has been found only at three sites in the Richmond Heights area.  This suggests that C. floridana populations are small, highly localized, and greatly restricted in distribution, making the species a likely candidate for listing as endangered by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   To their credit, the authors have not revealed the precise locations of these sites, which will hopefully reduce the temptation by those with more philatelic tendencies to undercut ongoing studies of the distribution, abundance, biology, and habitat of C. floridana.  These studies will be critical in the development of effective conservation strategies to ensure that this highly vulnerable representative of Florida’s natural heritage does not, once again, become regarded as extinct.


Brzoska, D., C. B. Knisley, and J. Slotten.  2011.  Rediscovery of Cicindela scabrosa floridana Cartwright (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) and its elevation to species level. Insecta Mundi 0162:1–7.

Cartwright, O. L. 1939. Eleven new American Coleoptera (Scarabaeidae, Cicindelidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 32: 353–364.

Choate, P. M. 1984. A new species of Cicindela Linnaeus (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) from Florida, and elevation of C. abdominalis scabrosa Schaupp to species level. Entomological News 95:73–82.

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.

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.

Rivalier, E. 1954. Démembrement du genre Cicindela Linne, II. Faune americaine. Revue Francaise d’Entomologie 21:249–268.

Wiesner, J. 1992. Checklist of the Tiger Beetles of the World. Verlag Erna Bauer; Keltern. 364 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Cylindera celeripes – Fig. 1

One of the plates from our recently submitted manuscript on Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle).¹  For the record, this is my first official attempt at assembling a plate in Photoshop for electronic submission – I sure hope I get quicker at this!

Fig. 1. Cylindera celeripes (LeConte) adults at: a) Hitchcock Nature Center, Pottawattamie Co., Iowa (13.vii.2008); b) Alabaster Caverns State Park, Woodward Co., Oklahoma (10.vi.2009); c) same locality as “b”, note parasite (possibly Hymenoptera: Dryinidae) protruding from abdomen and ant head attached to right antenna; d) Brickyard Hill Natural Area, Atchison Co., Missouri (27.vi.2009). Photos by C.R.Brown (a) and T.C.MacRae (b-d).

¹ “Historical and contemporary occurrence of Cylindera (s. str.) celeripes (LeConte) (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelitae) and implications for its conservation” – submitted to Journal of Insect Conservation.

Copyright Ted C. MacRae 2011

Bichos Argentinos #10 – Friday Formicine

One of the insects I saw abundantly during my visit last month to La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur (Buenos Aires, Argentina) was this species of black ant that looks well enough like one of our typical North American species. They were quite common, seen on virtually every plant that I examined closely. I made a few feeble attempts at photographs in the early part of the day, but desire faded quickly in the face of their frenetic behavior and occurrence in exclusively tough-to-photograph situations.  I mean, they’re just ants!¹ Around midday I noticed that many of the flower heads of the pampas grass clumps in the area had at least one ant perched in this interesting head-down, abdomen-curled forward position – I tried to capture the situation, but even this best of the bunch turned out, well… boring!

¹ Just kidding Alex and James!

Finally, late in the day, I saw one crawling on the trunk of a recently fire-killed tree that I was inspecting in (futile) hopes of encountering adult jewel beetles or longhorned beetles that would have been attracted to this newly available resource.  This was the easy-to-photograph situation I was waiting for, and the dark color of the charred bark brought out nicely the hairs on the body despite both ant and bark being nearly the same color.

I’m a beetle guy, and normally I would be happy to just call this Formica nigra and move on.  Whatever possessed me to even begin the process of trying to identify this particular ant is beyond me (maybe I’ve actually learned something after a couple of years of reading Myrmecos!).  It had the look of our North American Camponotus, so I entered “Camponotus Argentina” into Google Images and found this photo of Camponotus mus, taken by our friend Alex in nearby Santa Fe, Argentina, near the top of the very first page.  Now, I realize that closely (and even distantly) related species can look quite similar (especially to the untrained eye), but everything about this ant looks right – the bulbous-abdomen, the shape of the thorax, the matt black color, and the velvety yellowish pilosity of the abdomen. A little searching on the name reveals this species to be quite abundant in Argentina, where it goes by the common names “hormiga de madera” (wood ant) and, not surprisingly, “hormiga carpintera” (carpenter ant). Alex? James? Did I get it right?

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011