Before driving up into the White Mountains to look for Crossidius hirtipes nubilus and see the grotesquely beautiful trees at Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, we made a short two-mile drive north of our hotel in Bishop, California to try our hand with a C. coralinus subspecies that I referred tangentially in my previous post—C. c. caeruleipennis. This has to be among the most beautiful subspecies that I’ve seen yet of what must be considered one of North America’s most attractive species of longhorned beetle. In contrast to the other “orange” subspecies, C. c. monoensis, which we had collected the previous day but that I did not even recognize as C. coralinus because of its color and very small size, I knew exactly what I was looking for on this day as we began to scan the gray rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) plants that stretched out across the Owens Valley sage grassland as far as the eye could see. At first we were worried that we might be a little late, as most of the plants appeared to be somewhat past peak bloom, but it wasn’t long before we found the first individual sitting atop a flower cluster, and then another, and another...
Crossidius c. caeruleipennis is immediately distinguishable from C. c. temprans (and most of the other C. coralinus ssp. that we collected on the trip further north in Nevada and east in Utah and Colorado) by its bright orange rather than dark red coloration. The subspecies is restricted to the Owens Valley of eastern California and greatly resembles another of the orange subspecies that we collected on the trip, C. c. monoensis. That subspecies is found just a short distance north in the Mono Basin, though at much higher elevations, and is easily distinguished from C. c. caeruleipennis by its smaller average size, by having the black markings of the elytra more expanded apically in females and at least present in males, and by the presence of black bands along the apical and basal margins of the pronotum (Linsley & Chemsak 1961).
As it turned out, the beetle was as abundant as any we had seen on the trip to that point. Not that it didn’t require some effort to collect them—they were still rather sparsely distributed among the plants and definitely showed preference for plants that were not as far past peak bloom. However, the habitat was extensive—we could have wandered freely for hours on end without looking at the same plant twice (although that did not stop me from re-checking a few plants that were in peak bloom and seemed to be especially favored). The males were simply gorgeous—a bright, creamy orange that sadly takes on a dull quality in preserved specimens and with long black legs and antennae. The females are no dogs either, less strikingly orange due to the blue-black apical markings on the elytra, but certainly more robust than the males in a subspecies that is already one of the larger of the species. Temperatures climbed rapidly at this relatively southern and lower elevation locality compared to most of the others that we visited during the trip, so the beetles became quite active very quickly after we began to see them. I had only a short window of time in which to attempt field photographs, and while I’m not completely satisfied with the ones that I show here, they were the best that I could manage and still get the blue sky background that I desire for “beetles on flowers” photographs.
Linsley, E. G. & J. A. Chemsak. 1961. A distributional and taxonomic study of the genus Crossidius (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae). Miscellaneous Publications of the Entomological Society of America 3(2):25–64 + 3 color plates.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014