Speaking of cover photos…

…here is my first—a tropical house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) that I photographed in Campinas, Brazil this past January. The photo (originally from my post Brazil Bugs #5 – Lagartixa) was selected for the cover of the October 2011 issue of Ecology and Evolution, having been used by Kristen H. Short and Kenneth Petren (with my permission) for their article, Multimodal dispersal during the range expansion of the tropical house gecko Hemidactylus mabouia.

Although it’s exciting to have that first cover photo under my belt, I find it mildly ironic that it’s not a beetle, insect, or even invertebrate!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Arriving now in a mailbox near you…

The latest issue of Cicindela (A quarterly journal devoted to Cicindelidae) has just been issued. My copy arrived yesterday and features on the cover a photograph that I took of Tetracha carolina in Florida this past August (original photo and more can be seen in my post ).

I’m also happy to report that I was lead author and co-author on the two papers included this issue. I’ll provide a more detailed summary of those papers in another post—look for it in the near future, or better yet contact Managing Editor Ron Huber to begin receiving your own copies of this fine journal (subscription and contact information here).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Zygogramma Desmogramma leaf beetles in Argentina

The east end of  in Buenos Aires offers a quiet contrast to the more populated central and western areas. Few people leave the levee-trail system that surrounds the famous wetlands and pampas grass stands in those latter areas; however, those that do find in the east a mosaic of pastures and young woodlands that offer a greater diversity of sights and invite a more leisurely pace. November is spring in Buenos Aires, and as such there were a number of plants beginning to bloom in the Reserve. One plant I found blooming in abundance in one small part of the east area was a member of the family Malvaceae that I take to be Abutilon pauciflorum, a few of which were being devoured by these leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae).

These beetles are clearly members of the subtribe Doryphorina within the nominate subfamily, looking very similar to the North American species Zygogramma suturalis (ragweed leaf beetle) or the vittate species of Calligrapha (subgenus Bidensomela), e.g. Calligrapha bidenticola. Both of these genera are represented in Argentina, and at first I was inclined to believe the beetles belonged to the latter genus since its Central and South American members are associated almost exclusively with malvaceous plants (North American species of Calligrapha have adapted to plants in several other families). However, a view of the tarsus in the last photo suggests that the claws are joined at the base, a character that immediately separates members of the genus Zygogramma from the genus Calligrapha (species of Doryphora also have fused tarsal claws but exhibit a completely different gestalt). Eight species of Zygogramma have been recorded from Argentina, but I wasn’t able to find photographs of any that look reasonably similar to the individuals in these photos.  The identification will have to remain, frustratingly, non-specific.

Update 12/6/11: I just received an email from Shawn Clark (Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah) saying that he suspects the beetles belong to the genus Desmogramma. This genus is distinguished from both Zygogramma and Calligrapha by having the prosternum sharply angled upward anterior to fore coxae or mesosternum with a distinct horn directed anteriorly (Flowers 2004) and the claws widely separated and unarmed. Unfortunately, neither character is visible in these photos. Three species of Desmogramma are recorded from Argentina, and the coloration of these individuals resembles that described by Stål (1862) for D. striatipennis (D. semifulva and D. nigripes have the 3rd, 5th and 9th elytral interstices light).

These photographs represent continued efforts with the so-called ‘blue sky background’ technique that I’ve been trying to perfect as an alternative to the black background one typically gets in insect macrophotography with full-flash illumination of the subject. All of these photos were taken at ISO 640 using an MP-E 65mm lens at f/13 with 1/160 sec (1st photo) or 1/125 sec (2nd and 3rd photos) exposure and F.E.C. -1. These are similar settings to those used in my previous and not as satisfactory attempt, but this time the results were much better. Not only is the color of the sky spot-on blue, but these photos have much better detail than the previous. In this case, I believe “locking'” the subject relative to the lens to prevent motion blur was the key—I used my left hand to hold the leaf with the beetle towards the bluest area of the sky, rested the camera lens on my left wrist, used my fingers to fine tune the leaf position as I looked through the viewfinder, and held my breath!


Flowers, R. W. 2004. The genera of Chrysomelinae (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) in Costa Rica. Revista de Biología Tropical 52(1):77–83.

Stål, C. 1862. Monographie des Chrysomélides l’Amérique. C. A. Leffler, Upsal, 365 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

A day of milestones and thanks!

Today we celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving—a day for stepping back from our trivial concerns, giving thanks for those who enrich our lives, and showing renewed compassion for those less fortunate. Coincidentally, I celebrate today as well two milestones here at ‘Beetles in the Bush’—its 4th anniversary and its 500th post! It seems appropriate that this should occur on a day of thanks, as I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the readers of this blog for keeping me motivated through your comments and words of support. Four years and 500 posts is by no means a record—there are plenty of bloggers who have been around longer (and some who generate 500 posts in a single year!). Nevertheless, I’m starting to feel a bit like an “old-timer” in this relatively young pursuit with no thoughts of stopping anytime soon. I suppose I’m in it for the long haul.

To mark today’s milestones, I offer here a collage of thumbnails (click here to see full post)—each using an image from and linked to one of BitB’s previous 499 posts (with apologies to those of you who access this blog through dial-up). In the few cases where a post had no image I have used the generic Agelia petalii buprestid image that is this blog’s icon. If nothing else, the collage represents an interesting visual distillation of BitB in its entirety, but I hope you’ll take the opportunity to browse through the images and perhaps find some interesting posts that you may have missed the first time around. Thumbnails are arranged in order of post chronology (first to last)—hold the cursor over a thumbnail to see the post title, and click on the thumbnail to go to that post. Due to the huge number of hyperlinks in this post (uhm… 499 to be exact!), you might encounter one that does not link properly—I hope you’ll let me know if you encounter any such so that I may fix them.

Now also seems like a good time to solicit feedback on the direction of this blog—what you like about it and what you don’t. This is not pining for compliments, but a call for objective, constructive feedback. Maybe you’re not fond of certain subjects or have suggestions for topics you’d like to see more of. What about the balance between technical and enthusiast? Too wordy or jargony, or not academic enough? More quizzes or less (and should they be harder or easier)? If you prefer not to give this feedback in public, send me an email. BitB will never be all things to all people, but for those who do find something of interest here I’d like to do my best to provide content that is fun to read and appealing to look at.

Once again, thank you for your readership and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011
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Return to La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur

Last March I discovered —a gem of natural beauty in the heart of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Though its origins are semi-artificial, its biota a mix of native and introduced species, and its pathways continually choked with pedestrians and cyclists, for me it is a refuge—a place where I can spend an entire day looking for insects without ever retracing my footsteps.  Last Sunday after arriving in Buenos Aires, I couldn’t check into my hotel and change into my “bug collecting clothes” fast enough before making a beeline to the Reserve just a few blocks away.  I “discovered” a huge area on the east side of the Preserve that I hadn’t found during my last visit that was devoid of paved paths—and thus people—and spent the next several hours rummaging through the brush looking for insects to photograph.  Early November is early spring in Buenos Aires, and insect activity was still just beginning.  I did find a number of insects to photograph, though not as many as I had found during my early March visit.

This butterfly, which I regard as Actinote carycina (Yellow Lazy), was common around stands of a purple-flowered plant.  I watched this particular individual flit endlessly back and forth in front of one particular stand, rarely pausing long enough to allow a shot or two before resuming its patrols.  Vigorous aerial battles ensued every time another individual approached the stand, and although I can’t say for sure that it was this individual that always won, the same patrolling flight pattern resumed as soon as one of the contestants flew away.

Beetles were scarce, but I saw this particular species of Melyridae (presumably in the genus Astylus, and thus a close relative of Astylus atromaculatus or “spotted maize beetle”).  I don’t normally do random “bug-on-a-flower” photos, but I’ve recently become enamored with the use of “blue sky technique” for insect macrophotography and thought the red and black color of the beetle against the yellow flower it was feeding on was well suited for a blue background.  The beetle was quite small (only ~6 mm in length), thus requiring the 65mm 1–5X lens and full-flash illumination.  Normally this would result in a black background unless something is placed behind the subject, and I suppose I could just carry around a colored cards for placing behind subjects to get whatever color background I want.  However, there is something appealing to me in having the ability to achieve a blue sky by actually using the sky, despite the trickiness of the technique.  In this case, I  played with ISO settings of 400–640 and shutter speeds of 1/100 to 1/125 sec (settling at the high end of each range for this photo) to get the color of the sky true, then used low F.E.C. settings (-1 2/3 in this case) to temper the illumination of the subject.  I’m still not completely happy with the results—there is more motion blur in the photo than I would like, and I burned the yellows a little too much as well.  I think ISO800 and F.E.C. -2 or even lower would have given better results.  At any rate, this photo was the best of the bunch, and it will have to do.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

“Puente de la Mujer”

One of my favorite sites in the heart of Buenos Aires, I’ve never actually seen Puente de la Mujer (“Womans Bridge”) lit up at night until this trip.  A short distance to the north lies Rio de la Plata and La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur (“South Coast Ecological Reserve), where I spent the majority of the day this past Sunday.  Yes, more photographs of “bichos Argentinos” forthcoming.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

“Sunflower looper” – Rachiplusia nu

Rachiplusia nu ''oruga medidora'' | Santa Fe Province, Argentina

With a planted area approaching 20 million hectares, soybean has become Argentina’s most important agricultural crop.  Most of the planted area is located within the so-called “Humid Pampas” region of central Argentina (Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Santa Fe and Entre Rios Provinces), but the crop continues to expand in the northestern part of the country as well (Chaco, Tucumán and Salta Provinces).  More than any other crop in Argentina (except perhaps cotton), soybean is attacked by a tremendous diversity of insects.  The most important of these are the defoliating Lepidoptera, primarily species in the family Noctuidae.  Anticarsia gemmatalis (velvetbean caterpillar) is the most consistent and widespread defoliator, but an increasingly important species in Argentina is Rachiplusia nu (“oruga medidora del girasol,” or sunflower looper).

Eggs are laid primarily on the undersides of leaves

Rachiplusia nu belongs to the noctuid subfamily Plusiinae, the larvae of which can be recognized by having three pairs of prolegs and the “looping” manner by which they walk.  Chrysodeixis includens¹ (soybean looper), much better known because of its status as a major pest of soybean in the southeastern United States (and of growing importance in Brazil as well), also belongs to this group, and in fact the larvae of the two species are quite similar in appearance.  While R. nu is the primary plusiine species affecting soybean in Argentina, C. includens has appeared with increased frequency on soybean in Argentina in recent years, primarily in the more northern, subtropical growing regions adjacent to those areas in Brazil where it is now a major pest of the crop.

¹ Although still widely referred to in the literature as Pseudoplusia includens, the genus Pseudoplusia was synonymized under Chrysodeixis some eight years ago by Goater et al. (2003).  More recently the synonymy was accepted and formally applied to the North American fauna by Lafontaine and Schmidt (2010). 

Neonate larva on soybean

Despite their similarity of appearance, larvae of the two species can be rather conclusively distinguished by the shape of their spinneret (Angulo and Weigert 1975).  This is not a very convenient character for use in the field, however, leading to misidentifications in areas where the two species co-occur.  This is not an insignificant problem, as the two species exhibit differing susceptibilities to pesticides labeled for their control (C. includens especially having become resistant to a number of pesticides).  The result is control failures and subsequent application of even more pesticides in an effort by farmers to protect their crops.  While not as conclusive as the shape of the spinneret, in my experience R. nu larvae (at least older larvae) tend to have a darker, smoky-blue cast to the color (compared to the bright yellow-green of C. includens) and rather distinct patches of tiny black asperites on the thoracic ventors that are not apparent in C. includens.

Younger larvae consume only the lower surface between veins, resulting in ''window paning''

As the common name implies, soybean is not the only crop attacked by R. nu.  Early season infestations tend to occur in alfalfa and flax, after which the populations spread to soybean and sunflower.  The latter crop especially is heavily attacked by this insect, primarily in the drier western regions in Córdoba Province.  Dry conditions seem to favor an increase in the populations of this species, while moist conditions promote increased incidence of pathogenic fungi that are very effective at suppressing R. nu larval populations.

Older larvae consume entire tissues but still avoid veins, resulting in a ''skeletonized'' appearance

Like many defoliating lepidopterans, eggs tend to be laid on the undersides of leaves, where the larvae begin feeding after they hatch.  Young larvae consume only the lower epidermal layer of the foliage between the veins, leading to an appearance in the foliage called “window paning”.  As they larvae grow they begin consuming the entire tissue layer but still preferentially avoid vascular tissue, resulting in a skeletonized appearance to the foliage.  A single larvae can consume more than 100 cm² of soybean foliage, which translates to several trifoliates.  As a result, it doesn’t take many larvae to cause significant loss of foliage on the plant.  Soybean has the ability to compensate for loss of foliage due to increased photosynthesis in lower foliage exposed by feeding in the upper part of the plant, but losses exceeding around 15% during the later reproductive stages of plant growth are enough to significantly reduce yields (and it is during these reproductive stages of growth that R. nu infestations tend to occur).

Rachiplusia nu adult | Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

Rachiplusia nu is the most widely distributed of three South American species in the genus, occurring in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chili, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, while a fourth species, R. ou, is widely distributed throughout North and Central America (Barbut 2008).  Unlike R. nu, its North American counterpart R. ou has not gained status as a pest of soybean or other crops.

In a BitB Challenge first, nobody was able to correctly ID the larva of this species beyond the level of subfamily.  This, despite the huge Argentina hint bomb that I dropped when I posted the challenge and my well-known vocation as a soybean entomologist.  I figured the answer would be forthcoming as quickly as one could Google the search phrase “Argentina soybean Plusiinae” (which, in fact, shows the following except for the very first result “Pseudoplusia includens is the most common soybean Plusiinae in the Americas (Herzog, 1980). Rachiplusia nu in southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, and…” [emphasis mine]). Most participants guessed, predictably, soybean looper, while only a few were fooled into guessing Geometridae (the true loopers, and distinguished by having only two pairs of prolegs).  As a result, I’m not declaring a winner for ID Challenge #14, although the appropriate points will still be awarded (when I get around to assigning them, that is.  Hey, I’m working in Argentina right now—it was enough for me just to get this post out!).


Angulo, A. O. and G. T. H. Wiegert. 1975. Estados inmaduros de lepidópteros noctuidos de importance economica en Chile y claves para su determinación. Sociedad Biologico Concepción, Publicación Especial 1:1–153.

Barbut, J. 2008. Révision du genre Rachiplusia Hampson, 1913 (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae, Plusiinae). Bulletin de la Société entomologique de France113(4):445–452.

Goater, B., L. Ronkay and M. Fibiger. 2003. Noctuidae Europaeae. Vol. 10, Catocalinae, Plusiinae. Entomological Press, Sorø, 452 pp.

Lafontaine, J. D. and B. C. Schmidt. 2010. Annotated check list of the Noctuoidea (Insecta, Lepidoptera) of North America north of Mexico. ZooKeys 40: 1–239.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

ID Challenge #14

I’ll be leaving soon for another trip to Argentina.  While the process of traveling to the Land of Gauchos (and back) is exhausting, I adore Argentina and look forward to my visits there with great anticipation.  In celebration of my pending return, I’m starting off a new BitB Challenge Session (#5) with a traditional ID challenge—for 2 pts each can you identify the order (a gimme), family, genus, and species of the critter in the photo below?  Say something about the situation for the possibility of bonus points.  Standard challenge rules apply, including moderated comments during the challenge period (you don’t have to be first to score points), early-bird points to those who do arrive at the correct answer before others, etc.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011