Today I spent the day just south of Florida’s “arm pit” to look for the state’s near-endemic tiger beetle Cicindelidia scabrosa (Scabrous Tiger Beetle). I first found this species last August on a white-sand 2-track through sand pine scrub habitat near Cedar Key Scrub State Preserve (Levy Co.). Although I was happy enough with the photographs that I got that day, the small spot of habitat that I found them in had yielded only a few specimens. My goal this time was to find the species in additional localities to get a better idea of its precise habitat preferences and obtain a better series of specimens that more fully represents the range of variability exhibited by the species in its pubescence, color and elytral markings. By day’s end I would meet this goal, having found the species at four locations in Levy Co. and further north in Dixie Co. My first stop was actually in Dixie Co. near Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, where I found good numbers of individuals on a white-sand 2-track through pine scrub. A variety of robber flies (family Asilidae) were also seen along the 2-track, but I resisted the urge to photograph them because of the task at hand. Eventually, however, I came upon a female of this rather large species with her abdomen deeply inserted into the loose sand, surely in the act of oviposition. This was too much to pass up, so I set down the net, took off the backpack, and put the camera together. Unfortunately, in the time it took to do this, the fly had already withdrawn her abdomen and was rapidly “sweeping” the tip of the abdomen back and forth over the hole—I presume to cover and hide it. I snapped this first frame (the little bit of motion blur can be seen at the tip of the abdomen), but then I moved carelessly (not my usual habit) when scooting in for a closer shot. This spooked the fly and caused it to fly off, and I was left with this single image.
As much as I like robber flies, I can’t say that I’m well versed in their taxonomy. However, the large size (25–30 mm in length) and overall gestalt suggested to me that it belonged to the nominate subfamily, and cruising through online photographs eventually led me to Proctacanthus fulviventris. The individual seems to agree well with the description of this species provided by Hine (1911), including the bright yellow beard, black femora and red tibiae, and reddish abdominal terga. If my identification is correct, this species—like C. scabrosa—is also a Florida near-endemic whose distribution extends barely into southern Georgia. It’s dark coloration and light brown wings, combined with its large size, surely make it one of the more impressive-looking robber flies, and I’m sorry that I did not attempt to get more photographs of this species while I had the chance, as I did not see it at any of the other locations that I visited on the day.
Incidentally, by my interpretation the scientific name of this species translates to “yellow-bellied spiny-butt”!
Hine, J. S. 1911. Robberflies of the genera Promachus and Proctacanthus. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 4(2):153–172.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae