While Dicerca pugionata (family Buprestidae) is, for me, the most exciting beetle species that I’ve found in Missouri associated with ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius). it is not the only one. The beetles in these photographs represent Calligrapha spiraeae, the ninebark leaf beetle (family Chrysomelidae). Unlike D. pugionata, however, I almost never fail to find C. spiraeae on ninebark, no matter when or where I look, and whereas D. pugionata has been recorded in the literature associated with a few other host plants like alder (Alnus spp.) and witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), C. spiraeae is not known to utilize any other plant besides ninebark as its host.
Beetles in the genus Calligrapha are among the most host-specific of all phytophagous beetles, with most of the 38 species in this largely northeastern North American genus relying upon a single plant genus as hosts (Gómez-Zurita 2005). The genus as a whole is fairly recognizable by its dome-like shape and black and white or red coloration, with the black markings on the elytra varying from coalesced to completely broken into small spots. The species, however, are another matter, with several groups of species that are quite difficult to distinguish morphologically. Fortunately most of them can be easily distinguished by their host plant (although such information is rarely recorded on labels attached to museum specimens). Calligrapha spiraeae, for example, with its reddish coloration and small black spots, looks very much like two other species in the genus—C. rhoda and C. rowena. Those latter species, however, are restricted to hazel (Corylus spp.) and dogwood (Cornus spp.); as long as the host is known, the species can be readily identified in the field.
At this point you may be wondering why the species name refers to the plant genus Spiraea rather than Physocarpus. In fact, ninebark was already known as the host plant when Say (1826) described the species, but the name spiraeae was given because at the time ninebark was included in the genus Spiraea (Wheeler & Hoebeke 1979).
Gómez-Zurita, J. 2005. New distribution records and biogeography of Calligrapha species (leaf beetles), in North America (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae, Chrysomelinae). Canadian Field-Naturalist 119(1): 88–100.
Say, T. 1826. Descriptions of new species of coleopterous insects of North America. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 5:293–304.
Wheeler, A. G., & E. R. Hoebeke. 1979. Biology and seasonal history of Calligrapha spiraeae (Say) (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), with descriptions of the immature stages. The Coleopterists Bulletin 33:257–267.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012