Bichos Argentinos #9 – Membracido

Enchenopa? sp. | Buenos Aires, Argentina

This treehopper that I photographed at La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur strongly resembles our North American species of Campylenchia due to the brown elytra and lack of any yellow markings on the pronotal crest.  However, the rounded lower margin of the frons (more apparent in the full-sized version of this photo) eliminates this genus as a possibility and suggests instead the closely related Enchenopa

I sent this and another photo to Andy Hamilton (Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes) for his opinion.  Andy claims to be a hack when it comes to Neotropical Membracidae (focusing more on world Cercopidae and Holarctic Cicadellidae), but he is a much better hack than I!  In his reply, he mentions that a lot of work is still needed on tropical species and genera, and in fact none of our North American species of Enchenopa actually resemble the type-species from Brazil (Membracis monoceros).  Most of what we now consider Enchenopa will likely be referable back to the genus Membracis (type genus of the family), but where the species in the above photo will eventually fall remains anyone’s guess.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

The Pan-Pacific Entomologist

It’s official – I am the new Managing Editor of The Pan-Pacific Entomologist (PPE).  Managing editor of a widely known entomology journal is a role that I have long thought I would like to do, and hopefully my five years as the journal’s Coleoptera Subject Editor have prepared me well for assuming this role and its attendant challenges. 

I can’t think of a better journal to start with.  Published by the Pacific Coast Entomological Society, PPE was formally adopted as its official journal at the Society’s 95th meeting on September 13, 1924.  Browsing through the minutes of those early meetings reads like a “Who’s Who?” of some of the early 20th century’s most recognized entomologists: E. C. Van Dyke, E. P. Van Duzee, V. M. Tanner, E. O. Essig, E. G. Linsley, R. Blackwelder, R. Usinger, and F. E. Blaisdell, Sr., just to name a few.  I am honored and excited to carry on a tradition begun so many years ago by such well-known pioneers of North American entomology.

I now face two orders of business.  First, we are looking for somebody to take on the now vacant role of Coleoptera Subject Editor.  If you have expertise in the Coleoptera and an interest in serving as Subject Editor for manuscripts dealing with this order, please contact me.  Second, please consider submitting your manuscript to The Pan-Pacific Entomologist for publication.   Manuscripts dealing with any aspect of the biosystematics of insects and their relatives  are desired.  Further details are given below from the Society website:

The Pan-Pacific Entomologist (ISSN 0031-0603) is published quarterly (January, April, July and October) by the Pacific Coast Entomological Society, in cooperation with the California Academy of Sciences. The journal serves as a refereed publication outlet and accepts manuscripts on all aspects of the biosystematics of insects and closely related arthropods, especially articles dealing with their taxonomy, biology, behavior, ecology, life history, biogeography and distribution. Membership in the Pacific Coast Entomological Society includes subscription to The Pan-Pacific Entomologist, and Society Proceedings typically appear in the October issue of each volume. The Contents of Recent Volumes are posted here on the Pacific Coast Entomological Society’s website, as is the journal’s Information for Contributors (PDF).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Agelia lordi (Walker)

Aegilia lordi (Walker) | Kenya

This pretty little beetle is Agelia lordi (Walker), a member of the jewel beetle family Buprestidae. I received this meticulously curated specimen – collected in Kenya – in a recent exchange with Stanislav Prepsl (Czech Republic). The species is found in Sub-Saharan east Africa and is the smallest of the nine recognized Agelia species. Two other species occur in eastern and southern Africa, including Agelia petalii (Gory) which I collected in South Africa (see Buppies in the bush(veld)), while the remaining six are found on the Indian subcontinent. The presence of two distinct and geographically isolated population centers, along with some seemingly common differences in the included species, begs the question of whether they may perhaps be subgenerically distinct. Gussmann (2002), however, regarded most of these differences to be simply a matter of degree and insufficient to warrant subgeneric separation.

Males of A. lordi are easily recognized by the orange-brown color of the last 2-3 sterna, in sharp contrast to the mostly strongly metallic integument of the rest of the ventral surface (females and both sexes of all other species have all sterna concolorous). The metallic reflections on the head, pronotal sides, and elytral apices – along with size – further distinguish A. lordi from other African species.

As is typical with so many tropical insects, little is known about the biology and lifestyle of species of Agelia. The bold, contrasting coloration of especially the African species would seem to make them conspicuous to predation, but this seems to be the result of a mimetic association with noxious species of blister beetles (family Meloidae) in the genus Mylabris. I saw one of these (see Mylabris oculatus in South Africa) in association with A. petalii during my 1999 visit to South Africa, and the resemblance was so strong that I had do a double-take every time I saw one to determine whether it was Agelia or Mylabris.


Gussmann, S. M. V. 2002. Revision of the genus Agelia Laporte and Gory (Coleoptera: Buprestidae). Annals of the Transvaal Museum 39:23–55.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Friday Flower – Ceibo

Erythrina crista-galli (''ceibo'') | Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of the major flowering spectacles in Argentina is Erythrina crista-galli, or “ceibo” (also spelled “seíbo”).  So great is this spectacle that both Argentina and Uruguay have declared it their national flower.  I’ve seen only hints of it myself, as all of my trips to Argentina have been either before the peak bloom period from November to February or just after.  These blossoms were seen during my most recent trip last month in Buenos Aires at La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, where for most of the day I saw only the occasional, single, straggling blossom before finally encountering the delightful trio near the end of the day.  The elegant simplicity of this photo contrasts starkly with the riotous quality that photographs of this tree in full bloom have (it may be one of the most photographed flowers on the web!).

Native also to Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil, E. crista-galli has also been planted widely in warmer regions of the world (where it is generally known as cockspur coral tree or cry-baby tree).  Not everyone, however, is so enamored with this tree. In New South Wales, Australia, E. crista-galli has become abundant along several watercourses and is regarded locally as a significant invasive weed (Smith 1996). As in its native South America, its seeds are dispersed by floodwaters and germinate progressively over a period of three years, forming thickets (called “seibales” in Argentina) that can displace native vegetation.

The flaming red color of the flowers would suggest hummingbirds are the primary pollinators, and species in the genus Erythrina are generally characterized as hummingbird/passerine pollinated (Galetto 2000).  However, the broad, undulating “explanade” formed by the lower lip apparently serves as a landing platform for bee pollinators (Haene and Aparicio 2007).  Galetto et al. (2000) note that E. crista-galli is placed basally within the genus and suggest that it may represent an intermediate step in the shift from insect pollination to the bird pollination more typical within the genus. 


Galetto, L., G. Bernardello, I. C. Isele, J. Vesprini, G. Speroni and A. Berduc.  2000.  Reproductive biology of Erythrina crista-galli (Fabaceae).  Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 87(2):127–145.

Haene, E. and G. Aparicio.  2007.  100 Trees of Argentina. Editorial Albatros, Buenos Aires, República Argentina, 128 pp. [una foto de las floras de E. crista-galli aparece en la portada de este libro, un regalo que me dio mi colega y buen amigo, Guillermo Videla – muchas grácias!]

Smith, J. M. B.  1996.  Notes on Coral-Trees (Erythrina) in Australia with particular reference to E. crista-galli L. in New South Wales.  Australian Geographical Studies 34(2):225–236.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Au Bon Marché

Earlier this week a colleague in my lab presented me with this delightful print featuring beetle imagery.  A mutual acquaintance had encountered it while going through some items that had been in storage for many years, thought of me, and asked her to give it to me.  She couldn’t tell me anything more about its origins, but its whimsical, turn-of-the-century look and apparent age immediately captivated me.

I had originally intended to simply post this scan, say “Isn’t this cute?”, and leave it at that.  However, my compulsive side took over and before long I found myself in full bore Google search mode.  My initial desire was simply to translate the French text – the beetles were easy enough (1 _ Giant Borer.  2 _ Blister Beetle.  3 _ Rhinocerus Griffin¹) – but the title “Au Bon Marché” gave me a bit of trouble.  The translators I was using continually turned up results related to “cheap” and “inexpensive”, which just didn’t make sense. Eventually I figured out that it was a store name – specifically the oldest department store in Paris (dating from 1852). A bit more searching revealed it to be one of many trade cards lithographed for the store during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, presumably for promotional purposes.  Nowadays these cards seem to be popular collector’s items, especially in France.  Alas, I was not able to find an image of this specific card among the several hundred other Au Bon Marché trade card images I perused across the web – if anyone knows anything more about the history and use of these cards or about this card in particular, please do let me know.

¹ Apparently the scarab beetle version of a griffin, the mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle – wise and powerful characters who spent a good deal of time seeking out and guarding gold and treasures.

Considering its century or more of age, the print is in remarkably good condition. There is just a small amount of staining and glue residue on the backside of the mounting board – perhaps it was part of a treasured scrap book in days long gone. A glass frame should do a nice job of preserving it for another several decades or so.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Bichos Argentinos #8 – “Mosca de la Carne”

Here is the full-sized photo from which the “super-crop” featured in Super Crop Challenge #4 was taken.  As many of you guessed, this is a higher fly (order Diptera, suborder Brachycera) in the family Sarcophagidae, with the photo crop showing frontal portion of the head and its associated structures.  While dubbed “flesh flies” due to the necrophagic habits of a few of its included species, sarcophagids actually display diverse life histories that include a wide variety of coprophagous and parasitic species (Mulieri et al. 2010).  The fly was one of the many insects I photographed in early March in Buenos Aires, Argentina at La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, where it was found perched on dead wood (I found several individuals of apparently the same species perched on dead wood as well – whether this is significant or chance I don’t know).

The presence of a ptilinal fissure and lunule and a dorsal seam on the antennal pedicel identify this as one of the calyptrate “muscoid” (schizopheran to be more correct) flies.  Within that group, my determination as a member of the family Sarcophagidae is based on its fairly large size, dull gray coloration with three longitudinal black strips on the mesonotum, notopleuron with two strong and two small setae (Calliphoridae have only two setae), and meron with a row of setae (lacking in Muscidae and related families).  Admittedly these characters aren’t visible in the cropped photo that I presented, so guessing the proper family was a bit of a crap shoot.  As noted by (de Carvalho and de Mello-Patiu 2008), species determination of sarcophagid flies is complicated by their fairly uniform chaetotaxy and lack of useful external characters, leaving male genitalia as the only reliable characters for identification.  No suitable key for identifying Neotropical genera yet exists and the elaboration of one will be very difficult without analysis of the male terminalia.  Dr. Luciano Patitucci (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Buenos Aires, Argentina) suggested this is perhaps a species of Sarcophaga; however, in a recent faunal study of Sarcophagidae at the reserve, two species – Tricharaea (Sarcophagula) occidua and Oxysarcodexia varia – comprised nearly 90% of the flesh flies encountered (Mariluis et al. 2007).

A single individual is shown in the first two photos, while this mating pair was seen a little later.  Although they seem to represent the same species, I can’t be certain of this, and the photo itself is not the greatest due to the female (bottom) being slightly off-focus.  Nevertheless, I had to show it, because – really – who can resist photographs of fly nookie?! 


de Carvalho, C. J. B. and C. A. de Mello-Patiu.  2008.  Key to the adults of the most common forensic species of Diptera in South America.  Revista Brasileiro de Entomologia 52(3):390–406.

Mariluis, J. C., J. A. Schnack, P. R. Mulieri and J. P. Torretta. 2007. The Sarcophagidae (Diptera) of the coastline of Buenos Aires City, Argentina. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 80(3):243–251.

Mulieri, P. B., J. C. Mariluis and L. D. Patitucci.  2010.  Review of the Sarcophaginae (Diptera: Sarcophagidae) of Buenos Aires Province (Argentina), with a key and description of a new species.  Zootaxa 2575:1–37.


This challenge concludes the 2nd BitB challenge session, with a record 17 participants in this final challenge.  For a while it looked like HBG Dave would become our newest champion, but Session #1 champ Ben Coulter swooped in, flogged us with terminology (all of it correct and undeniable), and won two of the last three challenges to edge out Dave and, once again, take the overall victory. Make no mistake – Ben knows how to play this game!  Morgan Jackson took second in this challenge and claimed the final spot on the overall podium, while Troy Barlett and newcomer Heath Blackmon tied for third.  Other strong contenders during Session #2 included JasonC and Tim Eisele.  Ben – contact me to claim your loot (and your loot from session #1 is in the mail).

Here is the final points tally for Session #2:

Place Commentor BB#10 IDC#5 Bonus
IDC#6 IDC#7 SCC#4 Total
1 Ben Coulter       10   41 51
2 HBG Dave   13 2 4 8 17 44
3 Morgan Jackson   2     4 29 35
4 Troy Bartlett 2 10 2     20 34
5 JasonC   8   4   18 30
6 Tim Eisele 1 8   6 6 8 29
7           20 20
8 TGIQ   2       17 19
9 Christopher Taylor   2       15 17
10 Dave Hubble   15         15
11 James Trager  1 1 2     9 13
12 Gunnar           12 12
        1 9 10
Dennis Haines 
          9 9
15 Max Barclay       3   5 8
            8 8
17 Charley Eiseman   6         6
18 biozcw           5 5
19 Brady Richards       4     4
  Henry         4   4
21 John Oliver     2       2
          2 2
23 Christy Bills       1     1
  Tucker Lancaster       1     1

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Enormous Unknown Bug!

The other day I found an enormous bug in my house.  I had no idea what it was when I saw it, so I grabbed my camera and put on the 65mm macro lens to make sure I got some detailed shots of what I figured might be the important characters.  I wouldn’t have even recognized it as an insect, since at first it seemed to have four rather than six legs.  However, I noted that the third pair of legs was actually present, but that one was atrophied to a long, flexible, backward-directed appendage incapable of locomotory or weight bearing function, and that the other leg was missing completely – perhaps aborted during embryogenesis due to some injury or genetic malfunction.

As I said, the bug was enormous and jet-black, although I can’t be sure that is its real color because it was covered so thickly with long, thin, semi-recumbant setae that the surface was completely obscured.  I know a lot of acalyptrate flies are thickly covered with setae, but I’ve never seen a fly with setae so densely packed as this.  The large eyes also pointed towards something in the Diptera, but since it was wingless that narrows the choices down to just a few flightless, ectoparasitic families.  However, most ectoparasitic dipterans have well developed compound eyes, while this one had only two (albeit very large) ocelli.  The above shot gives a decent view of one of them.

The bug was active and alert and quite difficult to photograph, but I managed to get this shot of its mandibles.  The numerous points remind me of the mandibles of certain predaceous coleopterans, which combined with the somber coloration made me think it might be some kind of ground beetle.  If so, it would be the largest ground beetle I had ever seen.  However, I noticed that the mandibles opposed each other in a vertical rather than horizontal plane – something I’ve never seen with ground beetles (or any kind of beetle), nor have I seen a black beetle with the teeth on the mandibles tipped with such a contrasting white coloration.

An even closer view of the white-tipped mandibular teeth shows that each point bears a median groove.  Whether these are wear patterns from mandibular occlusion or serve some feeding function is unknown.  If it is predaceous, as I suspect, they could form channels for directing liquids imbibed from their prey towards they hypostoma.

The frons was the only glabrous part on the entire body (besides the two ocelli and the undersides of the tarsal pads), and its bulbous form with a median groove reminded me of certain auchenorrhynchous hemipterans that have a similar frons containing a cybarial pump to provide suction for obtaining sap from plants.  However, again, the distinctly toothed mandibles suggest this is a predaceous insect, and as far as I have been able to tell all auchenorrhynchans are exclusively plant feeders.

Eventually the insect became quite agitated and began struggling to escape.  I tried to confine it so I could complete my examination and make sure I had enough photos to get an ID, but it began displaying its mandibles in a suggestively threatening manner.  I decided to let it go at that point and hoped that what I had photographed to that point would be sufficient.  Although I still haven’t figure out what insect this is, I don’t think it is a new species since I’ve found quite a few photos on Flickr that seem to show the ocellus of this or related species.  Puzzlingly, there is no indication on any of these photos which insect group they belong to, so I’ll have to keep searching in an effort to come up with an ID.  I’ll post an update here if/when I can find this out.  Until then, this site has some information that might prove useful.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011