Hitchin’ A Ride

One of the more common species of longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae) in Missouri, and throughout the eastern U.S., is Stenosphenus notatus.  Despite its commonness, however, it is a species that is easily overlooked because of its very early seasonality, emerging during the first warm days of spring (late March here in Missouri) and disappearing by the time the bulk of longhorned beetle species become active during late spring and early summer.  I found this individual on a recently fallen mockernut hickory (Carya alba) during the 2nd week of April, as Rich and I hiked the lower portion of the Wappapello Section of the Ozark Trail in southern Missouri (along with several other wood boring beetles species such as Dicerca lurida, Megacyllene caryae, and the woodboring beetle predator Enoclerus ichneumoneus).  Longhorned beetles display a variety of host fidelities, ranging from highly polyphagous to strictly monophagous – this species falls near though not quite at the latter end of the spectrum, being associated almost exclusively with the genus Carya (hickories and pecan).  I have reared adults from dead branches and trunk sections of not only C. alba, but also C. aquatica (water hickory), C. laciniosa (shellbark hickory), and C. ovata (shagbark hickory) (MacRae 1994, MacRae and Rice 2007).  Linsley (1963) also records Celtis (hackberry) as a host, but I have not seen the species myself in association with plants of that genus, nor have I seen other literature references to such – I suspect this may, in fact, be an incidental adult association rather than indicative of a true larval host (an all too common problem in interpreting literature on woodboring beetle host plants).

The very early spring occurrence of this insect can be traced to a peculiarity of its life cycle shared by few other cerambycid species in the eastern U.S. – overwintering in the adult stage.  Most eastern U.S. longhorned beetles overwinter within the host wood as either partially or completely grown larvae.  Warming temperatures in the spring trigger resumption of growth in the former and a transformation to the pupal stage in the latter, which emerge as adults a few weeks later during mid-late spring.  In contrast, S. notatus – which requires two seasons to complete its development – pupates in the latter part of the second season and transforms into the adult before the onset of winter.  When warm temperatures return in spring, the adults are ready to emerge and search out fresh hickory wood that has died within the past few months on which to lay their eggs and begin the cycle anew.

As I photographed this individual, I noticed an object attached to its left mesothoracic (middle) leg.  Zooming in on the object showed it to be a pseudoscorpion – a type of arachnid (relative of spiders, mites, and true scorpions) in the order Pseudoscorpiones.  I have not the resources nor the expertise to attempt a more specific ID, but its attachment to the beetle almost surely represents an example of phoresy – defined as a phenomenon in which “one animal seeks out and attaches to the outer surface of another animal for a limited time during which the attached animal (termed the phoretic) ceases feeding and ontogenesis, such attachment presumably resulting in dispersal from areas unsuitable for further development, either of the individual or its progeny” (Farish and Axtell 1971).  Pseudoscorpions have been reported attached to insects from several orders, primarily Diptera but also beetles and including longhorned beetles (Perry et al. 1974, Haack and Wilkinson 1987).  Many species of pseudoscorpions develop beneath the bark of dead trees and prey upon the many other small insects and mites found there, and it would be reasonable to presume that their most effective means of dispersal to new habitats (i.e., dead trees) would be by “hitching a ride” with adult woodboring beetles as they emerge and fly to these new sites.  As obvious as this explanation might seem, few data have actually been generated to demonstrate it is actually the case, and several competing hypotheses such as accidental boarding (hitching a ride by accident), obligate symbiosis (the pseudoscorpions live exclusively on the beetles), and phagophily (preying upon other beetle associates such as mites) have been offered as alternative explanations. However, at least one fairly recent investigation on the pseudoscorpion, Cordylochernes scorpioides, a frequent inhabitant under the elytra of the giant harlequin beetle, Acrocinus longimanus (family Cerambycidae), does seem to not only support the dispersal hypothesis, but also suggests that large male C. scorpioides even defend a beetle’s abdomen as a strategic site for intercepting and inseminating dispersing females (Zeh and Zeh 1992).


Farish, D. J. and R. C. Axtell. 1971. Phoresy redefined and examined in Macrocheles muscaedomesticae (Acarina: Macrochelidae). Acarologia 13:16–29.

Haack, R. A. and R. C. Wilkinson. 1987. Phoresy by Dendrochernes Pseudoscorpions on Cerambycidae (Coleoptera) and Aulacidae (Hymenoptera) in Florida. American Midland Naturalist 117(2):369–373.

Linsley, E. G. 1963. The Cerambycidae of North America. Part IV. Taxonomy and classification of the subfamily Cerambycinae, tribes Elaphidionini through Rhinotragini. University of California Publicatons in Entomology 21:1–165, 52 figs.

MacRae, T. C. 1994. Annotated checklist of the longhorned beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae and Disteniidae) known to occur in Missouri. Insecta Mundi 7(4) (1993):223–252.

MacRae, T. C. and M. E. Rice. 2007. Distributional and biological observations on North American Cerambycidae (Coleoptera). The Coleopterists Bulletin 61(2):227–263.

Perry, R. H., R. W. Surdick and D. M. Anderson. 1974. Observations on the biology, ecology, behavior, and larvae of Dryobius sexnotatus Linsley (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 28(4):169–176.

Zeh, D. W. and J. A. Zeh. 1992. On the function of harlequin beetle-riding in the pseudoscorpion, Cordylochernes scorpiones (Pseudoscorpionida: Chernetidae). Journal of Arachnology 20: 47––51.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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