Beetle Collecting 101: How to pin a beetle

It has been a long time since I initiated my Beetle Collecting 101 series (more than two years!), and to date the first issue—Beetle Collecting 101: Dress for Success—remains the one and only lesson that I’ve posted. I really had intended to follow that up with nittier-grittier posts on the actual mechanics of collecting beetles and processing the specimens for long-term preservation, but I didn’t and don’t know why other than to say, well… life happens. It’s never too late to fix something, however, so as a long overdue follow up I thought I would give a short video lesson on how to pin a beetle—specifically a cerambycid (longhorned) beetle. Featured in this short (4:31) video is the lovely Megacyllene decora (amorpha borer), which I found back in early September at a site in Missouri’s southeastern lowlands. Click the image to be directed to the video.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

The hardest EASIEST ID Challenge in like ever!

This is not only the hardest ID Challenge I have ever posted, it is probably the hardest one anyone has EVER posted. I’m not going to ask for order or family because they’re so easy. I will ask for the genus, because maybe only a few of you will get that right, but the genus alone won’t be enough. I want the species! Don’t even think about searching the internet for a matching photo—it doesn’t exist! You’re going to have to utilize other resources to figure this one out.

Because of the difficulty of this challenge, all the normal rules are out the window—no points, no sessions, no moderated comments, no nothing. This is winner take all—first person to correctly guess the species gets loot! I’ll even provide all the collection data in the caption. Good luck!

Update 10/29/12 10:12 pm: Well, I goofed and didn’t think about somebody Googling the label data, which Ben Coulter did to quickly arrive at the correct answer. Stupid Google!

At any rate, and with great anticlimactic fanfare, say hello to Aneflomorpha cribellata, described by Bates more than a century ago (1892) and known only from that single type specimen until the collection of this one in southern Mexico in 2005 (MacRae et al. 2012). This is the first photograph of the species and will be added to Larry Bezark’s A Photographic Catalogue of the CERAMBYCIDAE of the World.

MacRae, T. C., L. G. Bezark & I. Swift. 2012. Notes on distribution and host plants of Cerambycidae (Coleoptera) from southern México.  The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 88(2):173–184.


MEXICO: Oaxaca, 4.8 km E La Ventosa, Hwy 190, 16°33’27″N, 94°54’27″W, elev. 76′, 28.vii.2005, beaten from unidentified dead branches, coll. T. C. MacRae.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Why are this beetle’s elytra outstretched?

Toposcopus wrightii on dead branch Juniperus virginiana | Major Co., Oklahoma

I’ve puzzled over the beetle in the above photo since I first saw it back in September on Day 2 of this year’s Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip. I encountered it on a dead branch of eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana) on top of the main mesa at Gloss Mountain State Park in northwestern Oklahoma. At about 8 mm in length, it immediately struck me as possibly something in the family Ripiphoridae (wedge-shaped beetles). Still, the full-length elytra covering the abdomen made me doubt that identification, so I collected the specimen to get a better look at it when I returned home. Later that same day, while scanning the base of another mesa across the highway from the park at night, I came upon another individual that seemed to represent the same species—this time on a dead branch of fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). That individual is seen in the photo below, and two things are immediately apparent: 1) the beetle is a female in the act of oviposition, and 2) it is holding its elytra outstretched in a most curious way.

Another female oviposits on a dead branch of Rhus aromatica.

A quick browse through BugGuide’s ripiphorid images quickly showed a likely match with the genus Toposcopus, and consulting the original description of both the genus and its only included species—T. wrightii (LeConte 1868) showed agreement with the key diagnostic character (eyes divided into two lobes connected by a slender line of smooth, non-faceted corneous membrane). These two females differ from the male by their much less flabellate antennae (presumably the male uses these organs to detect female-emitted pheromones). LeConte described this species from New Mexico, and Rivnay (1929) also saw specimens from Texas and Arizona when he reviewed the North and Central American species of the family. Although the species is listed on Don Arnold’s Checklist of the Coleoptera of Oklahoma, the listing seems to be based only on the presence of specimens in the Oklahoma State University insect collection, while published records of its occurrence in the state are, as far as I can tell, still lacking. This species, thus, seems to be, along with Acmaeodera macra and Chrysobothris octocola (both family Buprestidae), an example of a typically southwestern U.S. species whose distribution extends northeast into the Red Hills Region of northwestern Oklahoma. Considering that Cylindera celeripes (Swift Tiger Beetle) and Amblycheila cylindriformis (Great Plains Giant Tiger Beetle) also have only recently been discovered in this area, it would seem that this part of the state is still undersampled and has the potential to yield additional interesting southwestern U.S. species.

Why is this female holding her elytra outstretched while ovipositing?

Regarding the outstretched elytra, I’ve not seen this type of behavior before with a beetle in the act of oviposition. While several groups of insects in other orders may hold their forewings outstretched as part of threat displays, I’ve not seen a beetle hold its elytra outstretched for any reason at all other than flight and don’t recall seeing such behavior mentioned in the literature either. Thus, I’m at a loss to explain why the beetle is doing this. If you have any ideas I would love to hear them.

One thing that I enjoy immensely about 19th Century taxonomic literature is the rich, often effusive prose that frequently accompanies the descriptive portions of the text. (I also lament that such colorful writings are nearly universally frowned upon my modern editors. Perhaps as taxonomy advances more fully into electronic-only publishing the concerns about space will dissipate and taxonomic authors will no longer be constrained to such sterile, uniform, precisely formatted writings.) The naming of this species provides an especially colorful example of the embellishments permitted to 19th Century authors:

I desire in the name of this beautiful and interesting addition to our fauna, to commemorate the ability of Gen. W. W. Wright, the Chief Engineer and Commander of the Survey in which the species in the present memoir were collected. His attention to the comfort and safety of the party while traveling through a hostile Indian country will not soon be forgotten by any of his companions; while the skill with which the more difficult portions of the route were examined, and the labors of his assistants directed to the most easy methods of surmounting the difficulties, will commend itself to every admirer of correct engineering.

John L. LeConte is widely regarded as the father of North American coleopterology. I don’t think there is anybody from the 19th Century, save perhaps Charles Darwin, that I would have more liked to meet.


LeConte, J. L. 1868. New Coleoptera collected on the survey for the extension of the Union Pacific Railway, E. D. from Kansas to Fort Craig, New Mexico. Transactions of the American Entomological Society 2:49–59.

Rivnay, E. 1929. Revision of the Rhipiphoridae of North and Central America (Coleoptera). Memoirs of the American Entomological Society 6:1–67, 3 plates.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

PPE Call For Submissions

Over the past two years, we have made great progress in working through a backlog of manuscripts as we bring the journal closer to our eventual goal of on-schedule publishing. I thank the authors who contributed manuscripts, the Editorial Board for their efforts to work through this backlog, and especially the many reviewers who contributed their time and expertise to ensure that the manuscripts met our high standards of quality research.

With the backlog of manuscripts cleared and existing manuscripts moving quickly through the review process, we are in need of new submissions to maintain the momentum we have established as we finish out volume 88 and look forward to the publication of volume 89. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist is an international journal publishing manuscripts on taxonomy and biosystematics of insects and other closely related arthropods. Manuscripts from all world areas are welcome, with those from regions around the Pacific Rim especially desired.

For those of you conducting taxonomic or biosystematic research on insects and their relatives, I hope you’ll consider The Pan-Pacific Entomologist as an outlet for the publication of your research. Among the many journal choices that are available to you, we offer 60% reduced page charges for all members of The Pacific Coast Entomological Society, an additional 50% reduction of the first 5 pages for members that meet other qualifications, and a complete waiver of normal page charges for authors who follow our “pre-reviewed” process (up to 20 pages per volume). The Pan-Pacific Entomologist has long been and continues to be one of the lowest cost print journals for entomology with an international scope.

If you have a manuscript that you would like to consider publishing in The Pan-Pacific Entomologist, please don’t hesitate to contact me (Ted C. MacRae, Managing Editor) on this page or by direct message. I look forward to hearing from you!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Have you googled yourself lately?

I recently came upon a post titled, What will I find if I google you?, written last year by Scientopia blogger gerty-z at Balanced Instability. Although written from the perspective of a new, tenure-track academician giving advice to students with similar aspirations, the main point of the post is relevant to probably any profession: “SEARCH COMMITTEES WILL GOOGLE YOU.” That this is true for industry as well as academia is a fact—over the course of my now three-decades-long career, the past 22 in industry, I have been involved in many a search committee, and particularly over the past 3–4 years a Google search has become a standard part of my resume screening process as I try to whittle down the 10 or so resumes that have survived my initial screening to those 3 to 5 candidates that I will recommend for an interview.

For me, the post had it’s intended effect, as I started wondering what, really, I would find if I googled myself. Of course, I’ve done this in the past, primarily in the early days of my online and social media presence and more out of trivial curiosity than as part of an effort to critically assess what impression the results might give to a prospective employer. Not that I am actively looking for another job—I love what I do, have a reasonable amount of autonomy, and am fairly compensated. Nevertheless, one never knows what opportunity or circumstance might arise and the timing of such, and a favorable online reputation is much easier to maintain than to create or repair on short notice. In my case, that presence is extensive—I’ve blogged regularly for almost five years now and participated to greater or lesser degree in most of the other social media outlets frequented by entomologists—BugGuide, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Flickr, etc.—for much of that same period. This blog alone contains nearly 650 posts and averages somewhere between 500 to 1,000 words per post—that’s in the neighborhood of one-half million words tagged with my very searchable name. Add to that my 3,601 comments here, innumerable comments and mentions on other blogs (including 1,158 on BugGuide alone), and perhaps somewhat sillier musings over on FB and Twitter—well, whatever reputation I’ve accumulated by now I’m probably stuck with, good or bad!

I didn’t think I would find any problems, but gerty-z’s post did convince me that I should at least take the exercise. What if I did suddenly find myself on a candidate short list for that dream curatorship at the U.S. National Museum (right!)? Would Terry Erwin, Steve Lingafelter, and the other members of their search committee be impressed or concerned by what they found when they googled my name? I probably represent the best case scenario for a prospective employer wanting to search my online presence—my first and last names are both fairly uncommon, and add to that the fact that I always sign with my middle initial. Enclose all that in quotes and one has a very specific search term with little likelihood that the results will be diluted by other people. What did I find? 40,800 results! (I made sure to turn off “Personal” results so that I would see the same search results that somebody else googling my name would see). Nevertheless, the results were largely what I expected. The top 4 and 7 of the top 15 results (see below) linked directly to Beetles in the Bush or one of its posts, and all but one of the remaining top 15 results linked to my various online profiles—all but one of which are either professionally oriented or highlight my entomological expertise. That’s a good thing—I’m happy for anyone to see my list of publications, research interests, professional capabilities, etc. The one exception is Facebook, and that is the only social medium I use that might possibly contain content that someone, somewhere, might find objectionable (I generally stick to entomology and photos from travel or my family while avoiding contentious subjects, but sometimes my touch of irreverence sneaks through). Still, it’s not like one will find photos of drunken excess or poor choices on my FB page, so I think my relative FB risk is small. I doubt many prospective employers would look much past the top 15 results, especially with such a consistent picture of who I am (at least who I project myself to be) having already been painted by that point, but those who do choose to look further will find several dozen subsequent results largely linking to blogs on which I have left a comment or been mentioned by name (the latter usually referring back to Beetles in the Bush or thanking me for an insect identification). I also conducted the search on “Images”, and the result was largely the same—page after page of images from Beetles in the Bush or from other blogs on which I had left a comment or been mentioned by name.

gerty-z suggests that Google searches by potential employers have either neutral or negative impacts on their decisions but rarely have a positive impact since anything “awesome” about you that can be found online should also be in your application. I’m not sure I agree with this latter point. Awesome can include more than simply a long list of publications or multiple summaries of degrees earned and experience gained—things that are easy to include in a resume. Awesome can also include a well-practiced commitment to high quality writing, or consistent involvement in outreach activities, or demonstrated taxonomic expertise far beyond that implied by a list of publications, or even a solid foundation of knowledge in subjects beyond one’s immediate area of expertise but that nevertheless enhance perspective. These are concepts that are much more difficult to capture or highlight in a resume but that might tip the balance in a candidate’s favor if all other considerations are equal. The point is, don’t look at your online presence only as something to manage to prevent failure, but rather as a potential tool to help build a positive reputation and enhance the information provided in your application.

Top 15 results from search on “Ted C. MacRae”

  1. Beetles In The Bush
  2. About the Author « Beetles In The Bush
  3. A visit to the Dallas Arboretum « Beetles In The Bush
  4. Ted C. MacRae (tcmacrae) on Twitter
  5. Ted C. MacRae – The Coleopterists Society – An International …
  6. Ted C. MacRae – BugGuide
  7. Ted C Macrae | ResearchGate
  8. Ted MacRae | Facebook
  9. Ted C. MacRae – Gravatar Profile
  10. Ted C. MacRae – Wikispecies
  11. Program Announcment: 2012 ESA Annual Meeting « Beetles In The …
  12. MacRae, T. C. 2000. – Beetles In The Bush

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Frustrating Emerald

After years in the field looking for insects, one develops an eye not only for recognizing insects but also recognizing when something doesn’t look quite right. That happened to me early this past September at a spot along the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri where I had stopped during late afternoon to look for diurnal species of tiger beetles and then man a blacklight in the evening for nocturnal ones. It was still daylight as I walked along the edge of rank growth bordering the upper banks when a small, reddish “cluster” on a seed head in a stand of tall grasses caught my eye. I didn’t know what it was when I saw it, but I knew it was something ‘out of place.’ My first, cursory thought was that somehow the spent anthers of the now-seeding grass had gotten caught in a tangle, but I must have still had doubts because I looked closer anyway. Just then the “cluster” moved, and I then recognized what I was dealing with—an Emerald moth (Synchlora sp.) caterpillar. Caterpillars in this genus are remarkable for their habit of adorning their bodies with bits of the plants upon which they feed. I am, however, a beetle man and thus admit to being completely unaware of their existence until last summer when Alex Wild featured one of these as a Monday Night Mystery. I wondered then, “Why haven’t I seen one of these before?”, and now I know why—because they are extremely well camouflaged!

Synchlora sp. | Mississippi Co., Missouri

Realizing what I had, all efforts to look for tiger beetles were suspended (I hadn’t seen anything after ~30 minutes of looking anyway), and I broke out the 65mm lens to get the most of this small but remarkable looking insect. I took more than 50 shots, trying different backgrounds, angling the grass stem in different positions, and hoping with each shot that I had captured the larva in full profile, completely in focus, and in the midst of that magical loop. I was sure I had that “perfect” shot when I got home and anxiously fired up the computer to get a better look at the photos. My optimism began to drop, however, as I scanned through each successive photo and continued to not encounter that one photo that would cause me to say “Yes!” Exposure? Check. Composition? Check. Lighting? Check. Focus? Er… crap! The problem was pervasive throughout the entire set, and in the end, I have only this one photo that comes anywhere close to what I had envisioned while I was taking the photos. It’s a shame, because I love everything else about this photo. The cause of the problem is the very thing that makes the larva so remarkable—its adornments. The spent anthers project off the larva in all directions, adding considerable dimensionality to the subject and surpassing the depth-of-field capabilities of my lens. If the subject was in focus the forward projecting anthers were not, and if the anthers were in focus the subject was not. If I had realized in the field what was going on, I would have not gotten in so tight and cropped as appropriate during post-processing. Live and learn!

Although 12 species of Synchlora are found in North America, only one—Synchlora aerata (Wavy-lined Emerald)—is widespread in the eastern U.S. However, a number of other species are found in the southeastern U.S., and for all intents and purposes the Mississippi Lowlands of southeastern Missouri  are the south (culturally as well as biogeographically!). As a result, a generic ID is the best that can be done for this larva.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

How to deal with a crappy photo of a beautiful beetle

One thing I’ve discovered after trying my hand at insect macrophotography for the past three years is that I take a lot more photos than I can possibly post. As a result, I tend to focus my efforts on more recent photos, especially those that have some kind of interesting natural history story to tell. Photos that don’t get posted soon after I took them tend to accumulate in my virtual “not yet posted” files, and periodically I need to browse through them to re-acquaint myself with any that I may have since forgotten about. Not all of these “other” photos are bad or uninteresting—they just happened to be taken at a time when I had other photos that I was more interested in using. Admittedly, however, there truly are some rather ugly photos in these archives, and the older they are the more frequently I find myself asking, “Why in the heck did I even keep that photo?” (hopefully this indicates improvement in my standards of what constitutes a photo worth keeping).

Cicindela limbalis | nr. Laramie, Wyoming

There is, however, a lesson here to be learned, and that is don’t be too quick to send to the recycle bin a photo that at first sight appears not worth keeping. Take, for example, this photograph of Cicindela limbalis (Common Claybank Tiger Beetle). This pretty little species is broadly distributed in Canada and the northern U.S. from New England across the Great Plains to the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Different populations show differing degrees of maculation, and here in Missouri the species is nearly immaculate. I found the individual in the above photo in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest as an example of the more completely maculated forms. However, since it was the only individual I saw in that location I didn’t try to photograph it in the field. Instead, I captured it and photographed it later in the “studio” (my hotel room). Sadly, this was in September 2010 when I was still a rank beginner in terms of insect macrophotography, and as a result I was far less versed on such details as lighting and composition than I am now. I’m ashamed to say that I thought this photo was “good enough.”

Of course, by today’s standards that is one crappy photo! If it wasn’t the sole photo that I have from that population I wouldn’t hesitate to throw it away. However, since I’ve been putting some effort recently into honing my Photoshop skills, I thought I would see if I could “rescue” from this crappy photo a halfway decent one. I did this as follow:

  • I opened the “Levels” tool, clicked on the “Set White Point” button, and touched the cursor to an area of the upper background. This not only eliminated most of the gray tinge in the background but also brightened up the beetle quite a bit. I brightened the beetle even more by pulling the left slider button in the “Input Levels” box a little more to the right (12). In the case of this photo, such levels adjustments were sufficient, but in some cases I might also slightly reduce shadowing using the “Shadows/Highlights” tool (2–10% is usually enough) or adjust color using the “Adjust Hue/Saturation” tool (whether you increase or decrease saturation, a light touch is best).
  • With the background brightened up, the debris spots were even more visible and needed to be cleaned up. This was easily accomplished with the “Spot Healing Brush” tool. I keep the size setting as small as possible for each spot while still encompassing the entirety of the spot. Debris spots next to or on the surface of the beetle are better dealt with using the “Clone Stamp” tool—this tool is a little more involved than the Spot Healing Brush, since a source point needs to be selected for each spot. However, it is more effective than the Spot Healing Brush for spots that are in areas where the background is not uniform. Again, I use the smallest size possible and carefully consider the source point for each clone to achieve the best results.
  • The last major problem with this photo was its composition. If I were to take it again today, I would angle the front of the beetle higher in the photo and not clip the middle and hind tarsi or antennal tip as I did in this photo. There is not a lot (though there is a little) that can be done about the clipping, but I used the “Straighten” tool to change the angle of the beetle by clicking on the tip of the abdomen and dragging the cursor to somewhere between the lower front leg and antenna. This resulted in a more pleasing pose for the beetle, but of course it also created triangular areas of blank canvas on each side that had to be dealt with. To do this, I cropped the edges of the photo to remove as much of the blank canvas as I could without cropping off any more of the beetle (I did end up cropping a little bit of the left hind leg), then used the Clone Stamp tool to fill the remaining blank areas with white background (this is much more difficult when the background is not as uniform as in this photo). Careful cloning is required in areas that are close to the beetle to prevent unintended alterations, and in this case I even had to clone in a fake lower tarsus for the middle leg and antennal tip for the left antenna to fill gaps that I could not crop. Cloning in new body parts is not always possible, and even when it is possible it’s not easy; however, with care and practice reasonable results can be achieved. In the case of this beetle it was not too difficult since the body parts that needed to be cloned were just short extensions of already blurred parts.

Lastly, I used typical “Unsharp Mask” settings to sharpen the photo, and here is the final result:

This photo won’t win any awards, but it is a completely serviceable illustration of the species.

This is still not a great photo—in addition to the clipping, the focus is a tad too deep and the beetle has assumed that dreaded “ground hugging” pose that I so detest with confined subjects. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be ashamed to use this photo if none better were available.

What alternative techniques would you have used on reworking this photo?

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012