During my stay in Corrientes, Argentina last month, I was invited to spend the day with a colleague at his “camp” in Paso de la Patria. Located on the banks of the massive Rio Paraná at its junction with the Rio Paraguay, this small resort community boasts large tracts of relatively intact “Selva Paranaense,” which together with the Atlantic Forest in southeastern Brazil forms the second largest forest ecozone in South America outside of the Amazon. As my colleague skillfully prepared matambre, chorizo, and vacío (typical cuts of meat in Argentina) on the parilla (wood grill) at his camp, I explored the surrounding forest for insects. Early April is late in the season, and with generally droughty conditions in the area for the past several months there were few insects to be found. My luck improved, however, when I came upon a small area with stacks of fresh cut logs from recent wood cutting operations scattered through the area. Wood boring beetles (families Buprestidae and Cerambycidae) are often attracted to such wood piles, so approached each one slowly to look for day-active species of these beetles. After inspecting several piles without seeing anything on them, I began carefully turning over the logs to look for nocturnal species that tend to hide on the undersides during the day. Shortly I came across this highly cryptic species of cerambycid, and further searching revealed a fair number of these beetles hiding within the dozen or so log piles that I examined.
I instantly recognized the genus as Desmiphora, an exclusively New World genus characterized by the presence of fasciculate tufts (or “pencils”) of erect or suberect hairs. Most of its nearly 50 species occur in Brazil, but two species extend as far north as southern Texas (Giesbert 1998). One of these is Desmiphora hirticollis, a widespread species found as far north as Corpus Christi, Texas and as far south as Bolivia and Argentina. I thought these beetles looked an awful lot like that species, and I later confirmed its identity as such due to its piceous (glossy brownish black) integument and the presence of small black pencils just before the elytral apices.
The wood piles contained logs from several tree species, but all of the beetles that I encountered were on logs of guayaibi (Patagonula americana), a member of the family Boraginaceae and a characteristic component of Selva Paranaense (also an important timber species in Argentina). The number of individuals that I found and their occurrence only on guayaibi suggests it serves as a larval host for the beetle. Duffy (1960) described the larva from specimens collected out of Sapium sp. (family Euphorbiaceae), but in Texas this species is collected most often on Cordia spp. and Ehretia anacua (Rice et al. 1985)—both in the family Boraginaceae—with adults having been reared from Cordia eleagnoides (Chemsak & Noguera 1993).
It seems obvious that coloration of the beetle and its pencils of hair function in crypsis. From overhead the beetles are almost impossible to discern as they sit motionless on the similarly colored bark of their host trees. Even in profile or oblique views where the body becomes somewhat more visible, the pencils seem to break up and obscure the outline of the body. I wonder, however, if crypsis is the only function of the pencils—Belt (2004) described the strong resemblance of another species in the genus, D. fasciculata—a similarly penicillate species, to short, thick, hairy caterpillars (insectivorous birds often refuse to prey upon hairy species of caterpillars). That species can be seen sitting openly on foliage during the day, while D. hirticollis seems to be strictly nocturnal; however, cryptic and mimetic functions need not be mutually exclusive, so perhaps for this species the pencils function a little for both.
Belt, T. 2004. The Naturalist in Nicaragua. Project Guttenberg eBook.
Chemsak, J. A. & F. A. Noguera. 1993. Annotated checklist of the Cerambycidae of the Estacion de Biologia Chamela, Jalisco, Mexico (Coleoptera), with descriptions of new genera and species. Folia Entomológica Mexicana 89:55–102.
Duffy, E. A. J. 1960. A Monograph of the Immature Stages of Neotropical Timber Beetles (Cerambycidae). British Museum of Natural History, London. 327 p.
Giesbert, E. F. 1998. A review of the genus Desmiphora Audinet-Serville (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Lamiinae: Desmiphorini) in North America, Mexico and Central America. Occasional Papers of the Consortium Coleopterorum 2(1): 27–43.
Rice, M. E., R. H. Turnbow, Jr. & F. T. Hovore. 1985. Biological and distributional observations on Cerambycidae from the southwestern United States (Coleoptera). The Coleopterists Bulletin 39(1):18–24.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012