You would think that finding two new state records on the first day of my June collecting trip to northwestern Oklahoma would be fortune enough—it is rare to get two new state records on an entire trip even! As a result, I spent all morning and the early part of the afternoon working the mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) and red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana) that dotted the barren flats at Gloss Mountain State Park to ensure good voucher series of Plionoma suturalis and Chrysobothris quadrilineata. Around 2 pm I decided I’d worked the flats as well as I could and turned my attention to the park’s main attraction, a large, gypsum-capped, red clay mesa rising 150 to 200 feet above the flats below.
Red-cedar occurs on top of the mesa as well as the flats¹, but otherwise the mesa top supports a different assemblage of woody vegetation. Gone is the mesquite, a relatively “thirsty” plant that uses extraordinarily long taproots to reach subterranean water tables. In its place are western soapberry (Sapindus saponaria), hackberry (Celtis sp., poss. C. laevigata var. texana), and American elm (Ulmus americana). The soapberry was what I was most interested in, as this plant is a known host for several very uncommonly encountered species of jewel beetles in the genus Agrilus that are more commonly encountered in Texas. Hackberry also is a good host for a variety of jewel beetles, with somewhat different species occurring in Texas versus more eastern areas in the country. Perhaps, I thought, some of these Texas species could be found here as well.
¹ While native to Oklahoma, eastern red-cedar was restricted in pre-settlement times to areas not subject to fire. It is now considered an invasive species in many areas as a result of long-term fire suppression and the effects of intense cattle grazing. In the morning while I was collecting in the flats (and before I had started working the red-cedars to see what beetle was causing the branch dieback), a park ranger stopped by and asked if I knew of any way to “get rid of the cedars.” He didn’t seem very satisfied with my standard answer of mechanical removal and prescribed burning at regular intervals. He then asked about the branch dieback that was so common in the trees, and I told him I thought it was a beetle. With almost desperate optimism he said, “maybe the beetle can finish them off.” I didn’t share his optimism but didn’t say anything either.
I focused most of my early efforts on the soapberry, but nothing was landing on the beating sheet, so I then turned my attention to the hackberry. Most branches were yielding a few Agrilus spp. with each whack, but they seemed to be only commonly occurring species such as A. paracelti and A. lecontei (in this area the population should be assignable to subspecies lecontei). One can almost get “lulled to sleep” in such situations, eventually not expecting to see something different, but after working a number of trees I whacked a particularly “punky” dead branch of a tree and saw the unmistakable outline of a chunky little jewel beetle that I immediately recognized as Paratyndaris prosopis. Paratyndaris is a largely southwestern and Mexican genus of beetles that are often not well represented in collections. Paratyndaris prosopis is the only species known to venture north and east beyond Texas, but this is based on only three records: one in Red Oak, Oklahoma by the late Karl Stefan (an indefatigable collector of beetles in Latimer Co.), another at Magazine Mountain, Arkansas (a single specimen given to me by my friend Doug LeDoux), and a third from Oktibbeha Co., Mississippi (Nelson & Bellamy 2004). While not a new state record, I knew its occurrence in Major Co., Oklahoma represented a northward extension to its known range (and also opening the possibility that it might even occur as far north as Kansas). They were not common—I worked every hackberry tree I could find on the mesa and got just three specimens on the first day and a few more when I went back the next morning. However, at the end of the trip I returned to Gloss Mountain and managed to get a nicer series of close to a dozen specimens. While hackberry trees can be found in several patches on the mesa, the beetles seemed to be limited to one small area.
The occurrence of this species on hackberry and not mesquite is interesting. The type specimen was cut from a dead branch of mesquite (Skinner 1903)—hence, the species epithet, but all subsequently recorded host associations have been on oak (Quercus spp.) (Nelson 1987, Nelson & Westcott 1976), including a single specimen that I reared from a dead Q. vaseyana branch collected in the Davis Mountains, Texas. No oak occurs in the Gloss Mountains, but mesquite is common in the flats, yet it is clear from the number of specimens collected on hackberry and nothing else that the species, at least in this area, is utilizing that plant as a host. Also of interest is the date of collection—June 2, which is a full week earlier than the previous early record of June 9 (especially interesting when one considers that these are the northernmost specimens known).
Nelson, G. H. 1987. Additional notes on the biology and distribution of Buprestidae (Coleoptera) in North America, II. The Coleopterists Bulletin 41(1):57–65.
Nelson, G. H. & C. L. Bellamy. 2004. A revision of the genus Paratyndaris Fisher, 1919 (Coleoptera: Buprestidae: Polycestinae). Zootaxa 683:1–80.
Nelson, G. H. & R. L. Westcott. 1976. Notes on the distribution, synonymy, and biology of Buprestidae (Coleoptera) of North America. The Coleopterists Bulletin 30(3):273–284.
Skinner, H. 1903. Notes on Buprestidae (Coleoptera) with descriptions of new species. Entomological News 14:236–239.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013