Most of you know that I have spent a lot of time in Argentina over the years, and while most of my time there has been for work I have had a fair bit of opportunity to collect insects as well. This includes tiger beetles, and in fact I recall one trip some years ago during which I spent the better part of a week chasing tigers in northeastern Argentina around Corrientes and west into Chaco Province. I think I collected maybe a dozen species or so—some in great numbers and others not, and with the help of tiger beetle expert David Brzoska I’ve managed to put names on most of the material. Despite this, however, I’ve never actually posted any photos of tiger beetles from Argentina here on BitB. I guess the main reason for this is that my efforts to photograph tiger beetles is still a relatively new pursuit (compared to the time that I’ve been going to Argentina), and most of my luck with tiger beetles in Argentina has preceded my time with a camera. The other reason for the delay is that, while I have managed to photograph a few tiger beetles in Argentina, I’ve only recently been able to determine their identity (and you all know how I dislike posting photos of unidentified insects). Well, time to change that, and for this post I am featuring the very first tiger beetle that I was able to photograph in Argentina—the aptly named Brasiella argentata.
The individuals in this post were photographed on 1 April 2011 during the early part of a week-long visit to Corrientes and neighboring Chaco Province in northern Argentina. Remember, this is the southern hemisphere, so early April is way late in the season and, in this part of Argentina, typically on the back end of a very long dry period. Still, it is far enough north to be borderline subtropical climate, and with the stifling heat it could, for all intents and purposes, have been the middle of summer. I knew tiger beetles could be found along the banks of the Rio Paraná, as I had collected them there during my trip some 10 years previous, so in late morning of my first day after arrival in the city I kitted up and walked down to the river. Sand and mud beaches are not plentiful along the mostly rocky shoreline, and I was perturbed to see the area where I had collected during my last visit had since been “developed.” Nevertheless, I found promising-looking habitat a short distance further north and walked to its moister edges (photo above). I saw nothing at first, but eventually I came to a small, moist drainage where the sand was mixed with more mud, and there they were! It took a little bit of looking, as this species is quite small—adults average only ~7 mm in length, and despite the impression you may get from these photos they are well camouflaged to match the color of the wet, muddy sand and, thus, difficult to see before they take flight and again after they land.
Brasiella argentata is one of the most widely distributed Neotropical species of tiger beetles, occurring from Panama and the West Indies south to Peru and Argentina (Cassola & Pearson 2001). Numerous subspecies have been described from throughout its range, but in truth it seems to actually be a “species swarm” comprised of multiple species, many of which can only be determined by examination of characters contained within the male aedeagus (Sumlin 1979). The genus Brasiella itself, like many others, was until recently considered to be a subgenus of Cicindela, but the distinctiveness of these mostly small (Pearson et al. 2007 refer to them as “Little Tiger Beetles”), cursorial (running) beetles has been recognized in most of the more recent comprehensive treatises (e.g., Cassola & Pearson 2001, Erwin & Pearson 2008). Unlike most of its related genera (subtribe Cicindelina), Brasiella is almost exclusively Neotropical in distribution—only one of its 45 species, B. wickhami, reaches the U.S. in southern Arizona (Pearson et al. 2007).
If their smallness must be recognized, so must their running abilities. This was one of the most difficult species I’ve ever attempted to photograph, and with those difficulties added to the heat of the day and its “perfect storm” habitat it’s a wonder I got any photographs at all. It was a good half hour before I even got the first photo (top), and another hour and a half of effort was required before I managed to get a selection of photos that included a good, close lateral profile shot (middle). As is often the case with very wary tiger beetles, frontal portraits were almost impossible due to their persistent efforts to flee, so I feel fortunate to have managed the last photo. It’s not as close as I typically like to get, but I am pleased with the composition and also the fact that it shows the species’ truncate labrum—a key character.
Cassola, F. & D. L. Pearson. 2001. Neotropical tiger beetles (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae): Checklist and biogeography. Biota Colombiana 2:3–24 [pdf].
Erwin, T. L. & D. L. Pearson. 2008. A Treatise on the Western Hemisphere Caraboidea (Coleoptera). Their classification, distributions, and ways of life. Volume II (Carabidae-Nebriiformes 2-Cicindelitae). Pensoft Series Faunistica 84. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, 400 pp [Amazon description, book review].
Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley & C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York, 227 pp. [Oxford description].
Sumlin, W. D., III 1979. A brief review of the genus Cicindela of Argentina (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae). Journal of the New York Entomological Society 87(2):98–117 [JSTOR].
Copyright Ted C. MacRae 2013