I’ve been collecting insects for a long time. A really long time… like, almost my whole life! In the beginning, as a child and adolescent, I collected everything—a so-called “general collector.” Sadly, none of the collections I made during those formative years survived—lost to curious cats and benign neglect. I loved hunting for insects but hadn’t yet learned the importance of collection maintenance and preservation. This changed once I began taking entomology courses in college, and in fact the oldest personally-collected insects in my present collection are from my Entomology 201 “Introduction to Entomology” course taken during my junior year in 1978.
Entering graduate school in 1980 began my next phase as a collector—learning to specialize. With more than three-quarters of known life on earth being represented by insects (and perhaps, conservatively, 95% when considering all the not yet discovered species of insects), attempting to build a collection focused on all groups of insects is barely less ambitious—or feasible—than attempting to build a collection representing all life on earth!* If one wishes—as I did—to make meaningful contributions to insect taxonomy, they must specialize in a particular group—typically a family but sometimes even more restricted to certain subfamilies, tribes, or even genera. Although I was still not quite ready to narrow my focus to that degree, I was already leaning towards beetles, especially longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae) (this despite the fact that leafhoppers were my thesis subject).
* I am reminded at this point of the quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, when asked if he was an entomologist, replied “No man can be truly called an entomologist, sir; the subject is too vast for any single human intelligence to grasp.” In ‘The Poet at the Breakfast Table: II’, The Atlantic Monthly (Feb 1872), 29, 231.
My interest in longhorned beetles grew even stronger after I finished my degree and began working as a field entomologist for the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Part of my responsibilities included detecting, identifying, and providing recommendations for control of insect infestations in commercial nurseries. Woodboring beetles—primarily longhorned beetles but also jewel beetles (family Buprestidae)—were among the most difficult to control and, to me, interesting of the nursery pests that I encountered. These quickly gelled as my focus groups, and nearly 40 years later I still study them seriously, although for various reasons I eventually began focusing my primary efforts on jewel beetles while working on longhorned beetles as a secondary interest.
If, by now, you have the impression that I stopped collecting insects in other groups, you would be mistaken. While I may have been (somewhat) successful in focusing my studies on woodboring beetles (let’s forget for now my later diversions into tiger beetles—family Cicindelidae), I have been spectacularly unsuccessful in restricting my collecting activities just to those groups of insects. For years after I ‘supposedly’ specialized in woodboring beetles, I continued collecting insects in other groups—primarily but not exclusively beetles, and the farther afield I go from my home state of Missouri, the less discriminating I become when it comes to deciding what insects to place in the bottle. Of course, while I pin and label all the specimens I collect in these other groups, I cannot effectively work with them; with rare exceptions, I lack the knowledge, literature, and reference materials necessary to identify the specimens or, more importantly, synthesize and disseminate the findings to the broader scientific community. Thus, the specimens accumulate in my cabinet—waiting to be seen by somebody with the knowledge to determine their significance. Until that happens, the knowledge they represent is locked away; hidden.
In recent years, I have begun making an effort to change that. Four+ decades of being a serious insect collector has given me the opportunity to establish relationships with entomologists whose specializations run the gamut. Each of them could make far greater use of the specimens I have collected in these other groups than I ever will, and I have begun reaching out to them offering access. The photos shown here represent one such group—the leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae). It has been more than 30 years since anybody specializing in this group has looked at the specimens I’ve collected, and in that time I’ve not only collected numerous specimens from my home state of Missouri but also from extensive collecting trips across the U.S., Mexico, South America, and even Africa—enough to fill six Schmidt-sized boxes! Surely, within this amount of material, there are specimens representing significant records or possibly even new species and just waiting for a discerning eye to spot them. Shawn Clark at Brigham Young University graciously identified the specimens in these boxes, and in return for his efforts he was allowed to retain anything of interest to his research.
A similar situation exists for other groups of insects that I have accumulated a wealth of specimens over the past several decades: click beetles (family Elateridae), currently being examined by Paul Johnson at South Dakota State University; darkling beetles (family Tenebrionidae), currently being examined by Aaron Smith at Purdue University; and weevils (family Curculionidae), currently being examined by Robert Anderson at the Canadian National Collection.
It should be noted that, eventually, my entire collection will end up in a public research collection, where it will be accessible at any time to any researcher. Nevertheless, I still take satisfaction in knowing that I don’t have to die before significant specimens in my collection belonging to groups that I don’t study can come to light.
Chrysomelidae Box 1—Missouri 1.
Chrysomelidae Box #2—Missouri 2, Michigan, Connecticut, North Carolina, Georgia.
This is the fifth in a series of Collecting Trip “iReports”—so named because I’ve illustrated them exclusively with iPhone photographs (see previous articles for 2013 Oklahoma, 2013 Great Basin, 2014 Great Plains, and 2015 Texas). Note that I continue to use my “big” camera for specific insect targets—and these will be featured from time to time on this site. However, I use my iPhone camera much more during these trips for general photography to document habitats, landscapes, and miscellaneous subjects because it is so small and handy and because it is also capable of capturing reasonably good photographs (see this post for tips on making the most of the iPhone camera’s capabilities). This allows me to spend more time looking for and collecting insects—usually my primary objective on these trips! Collectively, these iPhone photos and the short narratives accompanying them form a nice trip synopsis when assembled into a single post.
This report covers a collecting trip I made with Jeff Huether from June 2–9, 2018 to southeastern New Mexico and west Texas. I’ve dabbled in this area before, primarily just a quick stop at Mescalero Sand Dunes many years ago, but not specifically targeted this area for any systematic collecting. Thus, most of the locations that we visited were new to me, which automatically means that I would find at least a few things of interest—and more probably a lot (as long as the insects are active). We had great success at many localities, having found areas where sufficient rain had occurred to trigger insect emergence despite the drought that was plaguing much of the area. Highlights were the areas along Hwy 380 between San Antonio and Bingham, the Mescalero Sand Dunes, and the dunes near Kermit, Texas. I haven’t yet tallied the number of species collected, as much of the material is still waiting to be mounted and identified. However, I estimate that it is in the neighborhood of about three dozen buprestids and maybe half that many cerambycids, including some quite charismatic species that I’d not collected previously (e.g., Prionus arenarius and Tragidion armatum).
Stay tuned, because I made a second insect collecting trip during 2018, this one with Art Evans to southeast Arizona during late July and early August.
Day 1 – Sandia Mountains, New Mexico We flew into Albuquerque this afternoon and, after getting the car, supplies, and something to eat we came up to Sandia Crest Recreation Area looking for Cicindela longilabris (long-lipped tiger beetle). This was the first place I stopped on the first day of the trip for the first species I wanted to look for, and I found it in the first five minutes I was here!
We stopped at the Capulin Picnic Ground on the way down the mountain. There were some oaks with fresh-looking foliage that I beat – no Buprestidae but a nice series of a treehopper (Telamonthe?) and a few odds and ends. There was also Robinia off which I beat a series of what is surely Agrilus egenus.
Day 2 – Walking Sands Rest Area, New Mexico Quick stop to check the lights – later in the season Jeff has collected Prionus palparis here, but this time we saw nothing. Also checked the nearby vegetation, there was Dalea in bloom but no beetles on the flowers.
Hwy 380 between San Antonio & Bingham, New Mexico We saw a few things in bloom at the Rio Grande bridge crossing so decided to stop. I took a fair series of what must be Acmaeodera mixta off of the Thelesperma flowers (along with a few mordellids for Enrico and one meloid for Jeff). Otherwise not much activity at the spot.
There were some cool looking red sand dunes on Hwy 380 east of San Antonio, so we stopped to see if there might be any tiger beetles. There weren’t any, but I found yucca stems infested with cerambycid larvae, likely Tragidion. I collected 6–8 stems to bring back and try to rear out the adults. Jeff also found a single Chrysobothris sp. on sage, otherwise we saw few beetles.
Going east on Hwy 380 we went into an area of higher elevation with junipers. We stopped to check the Thelosperma flowers, but there were no bups on them. I collected a few noisy cicadas and some Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides on Opuntia flowers. I then started beating the junipers, however, and got a fair series of a small green Gyascutus plus two tiny Chrysobothris. They were extremely difficult to collect – winds were very stiff and the beetles were very active. I probably lost as many as I collected. To finish off I found a mating pair of Moneilema sp. on cholla.
In addition the the Tragidion larvae that I collected two stops back, Jeff saw one adult at the previous stop. So, when we saw thick stands of yucca along the roadsides just a few miles down the road we stopped to take a look. They were out and not uncommon on the flower stalks and down in the basal rosettes. I collected about a dozen of them and also another Gyascutus.
At the last stop we noticed a lot of emergency vehicles rushing to the east. Just a couple of miles down the road we ran into an accident blockade. Since we were stopped I was tempted to look at the rock shop, but then I started looking at the cholla and found several Moneilema sp. adults on the plants.
Walking Sands Rest Area, New Mexico We came back up to the rest stop because of the dunes – there are Prionus spp. that live in the dunes, so we put out some pheromone to see if we could attract the males which fly at dusk and early nighttime. In the meantime we walked around looking for nocturnally active beetles – found a few skin beetles (Omorgus sp.) feeding in dried dog poop and a huge tenebrionid (Eleodes sp.) strangely perched up in a bush. Also photographed a cool little sun spider (Solifugida). When we went back to check the pheromone there was one male Prionus arenarius running around under the lure!
Day 3 – Valley of Fire National Recreation Area, New Mexico We came over the hill and saw a huge black area in the valley below. I thought it was just an area of thick woody vegetation, but it was actually a lava field! Very cool. There were tons of cicadas, I think also cactus dodgers (Cacama spp.) but look different from the one we saw yesterday. I beat a lot of Celtis and only got one Chrysobothris sp. (looks like analis), and there was nothing on the junipers. We also didn’t see any Moneilema on the abundant cholla. I did catch two Acmaeodera mixta on an unidentified white flower. I think yesterday’s rains must have missed this area!
I believe this is another species of cactus dodger cicada (Cacama sp.).
We drove a couple miles down the road and made just a quick stop to check flowers along the roadsides. No beetles seen – seems to be super dry, but I did photograph one of the tiniest butterflies (something in the family Lycaenidae) I’ve ever seen.
Sierra Blanca Mountains, New Mexico
Jeff wanted to look for an Epicauta up here, but the whole drive up the mountain we could only comment on how dry it was and how extensively the area had burned. I only found two wood borers – an Anthaxia (Melanthaxia) and a lepturine cerambycid, both on iris flowers. We did find the Epicauta though, also on iris flowers.
Vicinity Sunset, New Mexico There were some mallow in bloom along the roadsides, so we stopped to see if there were any Acmaeodera on them. There weren’t, just a few meloids that Jeff was interested in. I found a a single Euphoria kerni on a flower of Acacia greggii and, of course, large numbers of them on thistle flowers. The area seems to have gotten some rain, but not much activity to speak of yet.
Mescalero Sand Dunes, New Mexico This area got rain last night, so we suspected there would be a lot of insect activity, and we were right! The place was alive when we got here at ~6 pm. I walked the area while we waited for dusk to set out pheromone. I collected a series of Enoclerus zonatus off of yucca blooms, beat an Actenodes sp. (something new for me), a Chrysobothris octocola, and a nice series of treehoppers off of mesquite, and found three Batyle suturalisssp. on an unidentified yellow comp.
As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, I hiked around to the backside of the dunes and then bushwhacked across them to get the perfect perspective for photographs when the sun hit the horizon – spectacular sunset!
By the time I got back to the car, Jeff had already placed three lures out, so we started making the rounds and found at least one or two Prionus arenarius males running frantically in circles under each one. At the second lure, I started searching the area nearby and found a female walking on the ground! (Females are very rarely encountered, and it seems a little more than coincidental to me that for each species of Prionus, whenever we have collected good numbers of males with lures we have also found at least one or a few females in the same area – maybe cheaters [in the ecological sense]?).
As we made the rounds we picked up an amazing diversity of tenebrionids and a few carabids walking in the sand, and we finished off by picking up Jeff’s light trap, which had attracted one more Prionus male and a very light-colored Polyphylla sp. male.
Day 4—Mescalero Sand Dunes, New Mexico
We noticed a stand of soapberry (Sapindus drumondii) along the sides of the road just west of the entrance to Mescalero Sands Recreation Area last night, and I immediately thought of Agrilus sapindi, so this morning on our our way to the dunes we stopped by. I started beating the flowering branches of the larger soapberry trees but wasn’t really getting anything. Then I noticed an A. sapindi flying to a low non-flowering plant, so I caught it and resumed beating – now with more gusto knowing they were here. I still wasn’t getting anything and, again, saw another adult fly and land on a low non-flowering plant. Lesson learned – I started sweeping the low plants and started getting them. I worked all five stands in the area and got about 3 dozen adults, plus a few A. ornatulus, one A. limpiae, and spectacular Neoclytus.
After finishing with the soapberry, Jeff had noticed some tiny Acmaeodera on an unidentified white-flowered composite. We started searching in earnest and collected several dozen adults. I’m not sure what they are, but they are tiny and vittate (maybe A. quadrivittatoides). We also did a lot of sweeping of the short shrubby oak also and came up with a couple of Brachys. Overall a great morning/early afternoon in the field!
We next went into the Recreation Area proper to each lunch, after which we explored the rest of the area accessible by vehicle and saw a stand of cottonwood back in the dunes. We got out to see if there might be any Buprestidae on them (e.g., Poecilonota), but they were devoid of insects. The midday heat on the dunes was extreme! I did find, however, a single Prionus elytron lying on the sand beneath the cottonwoods, so we know they are further back in the dunes as well.
We worked the variety of blooming plants in the vicinity of the entrance. I collected ~22 of the small Acmaeodera that were on the white-flowered plant at the soapberry spot on two blossoms of a single yellow-flowered pad Opuntia sp., a couple of Acmaeodera spp. on Gaillardia sp. flowers, a few more Acmaeodera spp. on Prosopis, and several Acmaeodera mixta on another as-yet-unidentified white flower. It was hotter than bejesus we later learned 103°F!) – I had wanted to check out one more stand of soapberry at the entrance, but we were exhausted and dehydrated and had to quit!
Vicinity Hobbs, New Mexico
We got a hotel in Hobbs and grabbed a sandwich for dinner, then went out west of town to see if we could find some good habitat for evening collecting. We found a spot of open rangeland about 8–9 miles west of town, set out the pheromone lures, and began beating the mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa). We had high hopes because there was still standing water, meaning that the area had gotten good rains on Sunday night. Boy were we correct! Beating the mesquite was amazing. For buprestids I got 10 individuals of an Actenodes sp., 4 individuals of a Paratyndaris sp., 4 Chrysobothris spp., 4 Acmaeodera spp., and 1 Agrilus sp. I also got several tiny cicadas, a couple treehopper species, and a few clerids and other odds and ends. We setup a blacklight and the scarabs were quite diverse, but the only thing I took was a tiger beetle (Cylindera lemniscata). I also picked up a Phyllophaga cribrosa and a tenebrionid walking on the ground at night. No Prionus came to the lures, any my searches of the ground at night turned up no Amblycheila.
Day 5—Sand Dunes near Kermit, Texas
We stopped just outside the Kermit Sand Dunes to beat the mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) to see what might be out. I collected 8 species of Buprestidae: nice series of an Acmaeoderopsis (hoping A. prosopis), 1 sp. Actenodes, 2 spp. Chrysobothris, 1 sp. Paratyndaris, 1 sp. Agrilus, and 2 Acmaeodera spp. We eventually gave up – the heat had not only wilted us, but the Acmaeoderopsis were flying away immediately upon hitting the sheet.
We drove a little further towards the heart of the dunes and found a spot where there were some blowouts and classic sand flora. Immediately upon starting out we noticed Acmaeodera mixta adults flying around commonly, so I swept through the vegetation a bit and collected a representative series. On Oenethera sp. flowers I found a single A. immaculata and later several A. mixta and a very small Acmaeodera (looked like the one we collected yesterday at Mescalero). In one spot I found a few plants of an unidentified yellow composite with a few more A. mixta, and on Baccharis I found one A. obtusa(?) along with A. mixta. Coming back to the car Jeff and I noticed huge numbers of A. immaculata flying to an unidentified shrub, from which we each swept a nice series. Eventually the heat (103°F) again overwhelmed us, and we had to get in the car, eat, and cool down for a bit on the way to another spot.
We returned to an area with stands of soapberry (Sapindus drummondii) that we had seen when we first arrived in the area. I swept all of the small plants on the east side of the highway and got a single Agrilus sapindi – not nearly as abundant as we had seen at Mescalero Sands.
On the west side of the highway there were some larger mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa). I found one Chrysobothris octocola on the trunk, then Jeff and I noticed Acmaeoderopsis flying to the tips of the high branches. I got my aerial net and just started betting them as they flew in while we stood and watched. I caught them from several trees, but a majority from a single tree. That worked much better than beating this morning – I probably lost as many as I collected because they flew so quickly upon hitting the sheet.
Underneath one large mesquite I found several prionid elytra – couldn’t tell if they were Prionus or Derobrachus, but then I noticed burrows in the ground very similar to those we saw for Prionus integer in Colorado (see photo). We dug a few out but found nothing. Something to keep in mind.
We returned to the dunes for some evening collecting. I beat the two large mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) trees by the parking area and got an Actenodes and a few Chrysobothris octocola – no Acmaeoderopsis, I guess they hide elsewhere for the night. Once dusk fell we began checking the pheromones and light – only a single male Prionus arenarius came to the pheromone, but we got several individuals of two Polyphylla spp. (P. monahansensis – larger, and P. pottsorum – smaller) at the light. Walking around the dunes at night there were significantly fewer tenebrionids and other insects walking around, but I did pick up two cool “concave” tenebs and a Pasimachus ground beetle.
Day 6—I-10 Rest Area at mile marker 162, Texas
Just a quick stop to use the facilities, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to photograph these three Reakirts blues all on one flower (a fourth flew away before I could snap).
San Felipe Park, near Fabens, Texas We took a chance on going further west to the dunes near Fabens, since we’ve had such good luck with rains in the area. However, when we got here and started looking around it was apparent that nothing was happening here – dry, dry, dry with temps just over 100°F. I saw a few insects but only a single buprestid – Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides, and I missed it! We decided to cut bait and head back east and north towards Carlsbad – we should be able to get to the area in time for some late afternoon and evening collecting. You can’t win ‘em all!
Vicinity Carlsbad, New Mexico After getting lost in the Fabens Sand Dunes and then a whole lot of driving back east into New Mexico, we arrived in Carlsbad with just enough time to grab a sandwich and head out to some promising habitat we’d noticed on the way in for some evening/night collecting.
The area contained a ribbon of woodland with mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), black acacia (Acacia rigida), and catclaw acacia (A. greggii). I beat only one tiny Chrysobothris sp. off the mesquite, but off the black acacia I beat three individuals (four actually, one got away) of a large, chunky Chrysobothris sp. that I do not recognize, plus an undetermined cerambycid and a few clytrines. Actually, before I collected the Chrysobothris I had given up on the lack acacia until I was walking by one plant and saw the first one sitting on a branch. I popped it in the vial and started beating the other plants in the area with renewed enthusiasm the find the other two (three!).
We setup the lights and the pheromones, but not much came to the former and nothing to the latter (expected, since there was no sand habitat nearby). The sunset beforehand, however, was magnificent, and I did find a couple of miscellaneous beetles walking around at night.
Day 7—vicinity Loco Hills, New Mexico
We saw an area with stands of soapberry (Sapindus drummondii) alongside the road so stopped to sample it for Buprestidae. I got 3 Agrilus limpiae on trees right around the car but nothing on all the rest of the three stands nearest the car on either side of the road. I hope the south area of Mescalero Sands is not as dry as it still appears around here.
Mescalero Sand Dunes, New Mexico
We found the central dunes of the southern area and immediately found several Acmaeodera mixta adults on mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) flowers. I started beating the mesquite and picked up a nice series of Acmaeoderopsis, one Actenodes, and a few other miscellaneous Acmaeodera off the larger trees. There was some soapberry (Sapindus drummondii) in bloom around the dunes, but beating it produced no Buprestidae.
We stopped at a spot outside the dunes because it looked pretty green with a number of plants in bloom suggesting recent rain. I saw but did not take Acmaeodera mixta on white flowers of undetermined composite. I did collect a small series of bright red and black clerids on a small blue-green euphorbiaceous plant. Also saw a little horned lizard, who cooperated just enough to get a few snaps!
A young Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) tries to make himself look big!
Vicinity Carrizozo, New Mexico
We stopped at a thick stand of yucca that we’d noted on the way past here earlier in the week, the hope being that we would find Tragidion armatum on the stems. Sadly we did not see any, nor did we see more than just a couple of the pompilid wasps that the beetles mimic. Surely this is a result of the lack of rain in the area, which the hotel clerk confirmed during our earlier check in. Cicadas, on the other hand, were everywhere!
The low sun illuminates the yuccas, while the higher clouds shade the mountains behind.
For the final stop for the day we returned to Valley of Fire Recreation Area – not really to collect insects, but to look about this fascinating landscape. The Lava Beds are thought to be 5,000 years old, having formed over a 30-year period when lava poured from Black Peak to the north (not a volcano, but a volcanic vent) at a rate that would fill 15 bathtubs every second! It was a serene and otherworldly walk in the falling darkness – nice way to cap off an evening.
Day 8—vicinity Bingham, New Mexico and west on Hwy 380
We stopped at another yucca stand very near where we’d found the Tragidion armatum last weekend – no problem finding them here either. I got plenty of photographs of the beetles (despite having to go ‘au natural’ with the lighting – my flash unit had died!), as well as of cicadas, wasps, and other insects on the yucca stems and pods. Otherwise I only collected two Acmaeodera (looks like A. immaculata) on flowers of Sphaeralcea sp., what looks to be A. disjuncta/paradisjuncta on Ephedra sp., and a single Moneilema sp. on Opuntia imbricata. Nice stop!
We then stopped by “the juniper spot” again to see if I could get a better series of the Gyascutus (G. carolinensis?) that we found on the junipers (Juniperus monosperma). Boy, did I ever! I collected about 30 specimens this time, made easier by the fact that it was cooler and not nearly as windy! I also again collected two small Chrysobothris sp. on the juniper, a single Moneilema sp. on cholla (Opuntia imbricata), and a single Acmaeoderopsis sp. beating mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa).
We stopped at another spot further west on Hwy 380, where last weekend when we were here we saw few beetles but I did collect yucca stems infested with Tragidion armatum larvae. It rained here later that day, so we stopped by again on our way back to see if the rains had prompted more insect activity. It didn’t seem to, but I did find a Tragidionarmatum adult feeding on a yucca flower and photographed a big-as-heck katydid.
“The Box”, vicinity Socorro, New Mexico
Last stop of the trip – we just wanted to find some habitat to beat around in before finding a hotel in Socorro for the night. I beat a couple of small Chrysobothris sp. from the Juniperus monosperma – no Gyascutus – and a couple of treehoppers from Prosopis glandulosa – no Acmaeoderopsis, then turned my attention to the cholla (Opuntia imbricata), in what must have been the thickest stand of this plant I’ve ever seen. There were two species of cactus beetles on them – Moneilema sp. and Coenopoeus palmeri, the latter a first for the trip. After hiking up to the canyon overlook, I realized that the collecting and fun were finally over (until Arizona in August!).
Welcome to the 7th Annual “Best of BitB”, where I pick my favorite photographs from the past year. Before I do this, however, let me briefly recap the year 2014. The trend of increasing travel each year continued, with more days spent on the road than in any prior year. Travel for work over the past few years has settled into a familiar routine—touring soybean fields in Argentina in late February and early March, working in my own field trials at (previously three, now four) sites in Illinois and Tennessee from late May through late September, touring more soybean fields at sites across the southeastern U.S. during mid-September, returning to Argentina in October to finalize plans for field trials in the upcoming season, and—finally—attending/presenting at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) Meetings (this year in Portland, Oregon). This heavy travel load makes scheduling my own insect collecting trips a bit tricky, but I’m a persistent sort! In late May I traveled to Tennessee and Georgia with fellow buprestophile Joshua Basham and lab mate Nadeer Youseff to collect several rare jewel beetles, then in late June I collected prionids and jewel beetles in Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma with Jeff Huether. In addition to these longer trips, I also managed to take advantage of my work travel to check out interesting natural habitats along the way to and from my field sites. I continue to give the occasional entomology seminar as well, speaking in March at “Day of Insects” in Ames, Iowa and here in St. Louis to the Entomology Natural History Group of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society in April and the Missouri Master Naturalists Confluence Chapter in December. On top of all this, I still managed to vacation with my family in Lake Tahoe during March and in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico during late July.
I say all this to highlight the fact that after all these years I still consider myself an entomologist with a camera rather than a bona fide insect photographer. The reason for this is that the science of entomology itself remains my primary focus—photography is simply one of the tools that I have come to use in my pursuit of the discipline. I don’t mean to imply that I don’t continue to work on my photography style and technique—because I do. But my style and technique are not goals in of themselves; rather, they are means to an end—that end being my entomological studies. With that said, I present my favorite BitB photographs from 2014. As in previous years, my photos are largely hand-held, in situ field shots that are intended to tell a natural history story in a (hopefully) aesthetic manner. Links to original posts are provided for each photo selection, and I welcome any comments you may have regarding which (if any) is your favorite and why—such feedback will be helpful for me as I continue to hone my craft. If you’re interested, here are my previous years’ picks for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Once again, thank you for your readership, and I hope to see you in 2015!
Paraselenis tersa (Boheman, 1854) | Cordoba Prov., Argentina
From Tortoise beetles on the job (posted April 20). This photograph of a tortoise beetle female over her egg mass illustrates maternal guarding behavior—rare in insects. The perfect lateral profile shot and clean, blue sky background also give the photo a pleasing aesthetic quality.
From Who likes mole crickets? (posted June 6). This has to be the most comical expression ever on the face of an insect!
Chrysobothris orono Frost, 1920 | South Cumberland State Park, Grundy Co., Tennessee
From Chrysobothris orono in Tennessee (posted July 29). I found this rare jewel beetle for the first time this year with the help of Josh Basham and Nadeer Youseff. The beetle itself is beautiful enough, but photographing it on a pine root with a presumed adult emergence hole adds considerable natural history interest to the photo. Rock substrate behind the root adds a pleasingly blurred background.
Buprestis (Stereosa) salisburyensis Herbst, 1801 | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee.
From The Buprestis tree (posted August 10). This was another of several jewel beetles that I found for the first time after more than three decades of collecting this group. I like the value contrast in this photo from the striking, metallic colors of the beetle against the nicely blurred cinnamon-colored pine bark of the tree on which it is sitting.
A “super moon” watches over a parasitized hornworm caterpillar.
From A time of reckoning (posted August 13). I fully admit this is a composite photograph. Nevertheless, it is a faithful recreation of a true sight, and I don’t consider the use of composite techniques to overcome equipment shortcomings to be unethical. There is a haunting symmetry between the blood red moon—considered by some as a sign of the second coming—and the sad, parasitized caterpillar waiting for its inevitable demise.
From My, what busy palps you have! (posted September 2). I’ve become quite fond of insect photos with the subject “peering” at me, the photographer”, from some unusual vantage point. The “pupils” in the eyes of this red-headed bush cricket give the insect an almost quizzical look.
From Sunset beetles (posted September 30). Taking photos of insects at sunset is a challenging and ephemeral experience—one has only a few minutes to take advantage of the unusual and serene colors it offers, while at the same time trying to determine the best camera and flash settings to use in the rapidly fading light. Of the several that I’ve tried, this one is my favorite because of the softly complimentary colors of the beetle, the flower upon which it is sitting, and the dying orange sky behind it. If I had to choose, I would probably pick this one as my favorite of the year because of the unusual and serene colors.
From Amorpha borer on goldenrod (posted October 5). I featured this very same species in Best of BitB 2012 but can’t resist choosing this second attempt at photographing the spectacularly beautiful adult—this time on goldenrod. As with the previous version this is a true in situ field photograph, hand held and using the left-hand technique to achieve precise composition against a clear blue sky—difficult to do with an insect of this size and using a 100-mm lens, but well worth the effort.
From A Buprestis hat-trick! (posted October 14). I didn’t take near as many of the classic “frontal portraits” this year, but this one of a jewel beetle that had eluded me for more than 30 years until this past June is perhaps my favorite of them all.
From North America’s Most Beautiful Agrilus Jewel Beetle (posted October 19). There was a time when this beetle was considered one of North America’s rarest species of jewel beetle. Several years worth of hunting by me and others revealed this beetle’s association with mallow and its unusually late adult activity period—the two combining to make this beetle “seem” rare. This year I succeeded in photographing the spectacular adult beetle.
From Scorching plains, screaming cactus (posted December 5). Insect photos are always better when they also show some aspect of the subject’s natural history. I was lucky to find this female cactus dodger cicada in the act of ovipositing into the dry stem of cholla cactus—in a position where I could get a perfect lateral profile with a clean, blue sky background.
From Cactus beetle redux (posted December 20). Cactus beetles can be difficult to photograph, but sometimes they cooperate by nicely posing on a pleasing pink flower bud with a blue sky in the background and the cactus spines forming a nice, fuzzy “halo” around the jet black beetle. There were surprisingly few cactus spines impaled in the control unit of my flash after this photo session.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this 2014 version of “Best of BitB” and look forward to seeing everyone in 2015.
During my recent tour of soybean fields in Argentina, I traveled north to Tucumán Province and met with entomologists at the Estación Experimental Agroindustrial Obispo Columbre (“Obispo Columbre Agricultural Experiment Station”). This provincial station, established more than 100 years ago (1909), conducts research on agricultural and production technology for the Tucumán agricultural region. Focus crops include sugarcane, citrus, and grain—primarily soybean, corn, wheat, and dry beans, with research activities ranging from basic biological studies on emerging pests (such as Rhyssomatus subtilis, featured here) and Helicoverpa armigera (recently discovered in Brazil and now in northern Argentina) to resistance monitoring for transgenic crop target pests such as Spodoptera frugiperda, Helicoverpa zea, and Diatraea saccharalis.
Figure 1. Rhysommatus subtilis is a significant regional pest of soybean in Tucumán Province.
In recent years the laboratory has had a dedicated effort to characterize the biology and economic impact of R. subtilis on soybean (Fig. 1). Although practically limited to soybean growing regions in Tucumán Province, this insect has increased greatly in importance within that area in recent years along with two other weevils: Sternechus subsignatus (picudo grande, or “big weevil”) and Promecops carinicollis (picudo chico, or “little weevil”) (Casmús et al. 2010). Of the three species, S. subsignatus is perhaps the most serious because of its stem boring habit that can result in stand loss, while P. carinicollis is the least because its feeding is largely limited to leaves. Rhyssomatus subtilis is intermediate in importance, primarily due to larval feeding within developing pods.
Figure 2. Adults feed by clipping leaf petioles. The impact is minor but signals adult presence.
I have not yet seenS. subsignatus in soybean fields in the area, but I saw P. carinicollis during last year’s tour (see this post) and encountered R. subtilis at several locations during this year’s tour. Rhyssomatus subtilis presence in soybean can be detected even before the adults are noticed by the occurrence of clipped leaflets (Fig. 2), which is caused by adults feeding on leaf petioles.
Figure 3. Adult females chew small holes into developing pods, not to feed but for oviposition.
Leaf feeding has little if any impact on the crop; however, as the crop enters pod development stages of growth adult females begin chewing small holes in the pod walls (Fig. 3), not for feeding but for oviposition. Eggs are laid singly in the pod (Fig. 4), with larvae (Fig. 5) feeding on the developing seeds within.
Figure 4. Eggs are laid singly inside the pod.
This manner of feeding by the larva not only directly impacts yield but also hampers efforts to control active infestations by preventing contact with foliar-applied insecticides. Eventually the larvae mature, exit the pod, and drop to the soil where they burrow, pupate, and emerge as adults during the next cropping season while plants are still in early to mid-vegetative stages of growth.
Figure 5. This neonate larva has just hatched and will feed within the pod on developing seeds.
Management techniques include rotation with grass crops to reduce populations (the weevil is oligophagous on soybean and dry beans), use of insecticide seed treatments to control adults during early vegetative stages of growth, and subsequent use of foliar insecticide applications if adults remain after the effect of seed treatments begins to diminish.
Casmús, A., M. G. Socías, L. Cazado, G. Gastaminza, C. Prado, E. Escobar, A. Rovati, E. Willink, M. Devani & R. Avila. 2010. El picudo negro de la vaina de soja en el NOA. Estación Experimental Agroindustrial Obispo Columbre, Tucumán, Argentina, 8 pp.
Welcome to the 6th Annual “Best of BitB”, where I pick my favorite photographs from the past year. Like last year, 2013 was another year of heavy travel. For work I did my annual tour of soybean field sites throughout Argentina during late February and early March, then cranked it up for my own field season with frequent travel to sites in Illinois and Tennessee from May to October. In the meantime I spent a week at company meetings in Las Vegas in August, toured field sites across the southeastern U.S. for two weeks in September, visited Argentina again in October to finalize research plans for their upcoming season, and finished off the travel year by attending the Entomological Society of America (ESA) Meetings in Austin, Texas during November. On top of all this, I managed to slip in two of the best insect collecting trips I’ve had in years, with 10 days in northwestern Oklahoma in early June and another 10 days in California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado during late August, and I got to play “visiting scientist” during short trips to Montana State University in late July and the Illinois Natural History Survey in late October! Of course, during my brief interludes at home I wasn’t sitting still, giving entomology seminars to several local nature societies and hosting two ESA webinars on insect photography. Needless to say, come December I was more than ready to spend some quite time at home (well, except for hiking most weekends) and am happy to report that I’ve successfully become reacquainted with my family and office mates. It’s a peripatetic life—and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Okay, let’s get down to business. Here are my favorite BitB photographs from 2013. This year was less about learning new techniques as it was about refining the techniques I’ve found most useful for the style I’ve chosen as a photographer, i.e., hand-held, in situ field shots that (hopefully) excel at both natural history and aesthetic beauty. Links to original posts are provided for each photo selection, and I welcome any comments you may have regarding which (if any) is your favorite and why—such feedback will be helpful for me as I continue to hone my craft. If you’re interested, here are my previous years’ picks for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Once again, thank you for your readership, and I hope to see you in 2014!
Tremex columba female drilling for oviposition into hardwood trunk | Sam A. Baker State Park, Missouri
From Ovipositing Pigeon Horntail (posted 6 Jan). I like this photo for the combination of vibrant, contrasting colors between the wasp and moss-covered wood and the visualization it provides of the remarkable depth to which this wasp will insert its ovipositor into solid wood!
Eurhinus cf. adonis on Solidago chilensis flowers | Chaco Province, Argentina
From Giving me the weevil eye! (posted 28 Apr). While a little soft, the color combination is pleasing and the pose taken by the beetle almost comically inquisitive.
Helicoverpa gelotopeon feeding on soybean pod | Buenos Aires Prov., Argentina
From Bollworms rising! (posted 30 Mar). This is the first photo of an economic pest that has made one of my “Best of BitB” lists. The two holes in the soybean pod, one with the caterpillar and its head still completely inserted, visualizes how the feeding habits of these insects can so dramatically affect yield of the crop.
cf. Eremochrysa punctinervis | Gloss Mountains, Major Co., Oklahoma
From “Blue-sky” tips and tricks (posted 1 July). Insects with a lot of delicate detail and long, thin appendages are especially difficult to photograph against the sky due to wind movement. See how I dealt with the antennae of this delicate lacewing without resorting to the standard black background typical of full-flash macrophotography.
Cicindela scutellaris lecontei x s. unicolor intergrade | Holly Ridge Natural Area, Stoddard Co., Missouri
From The Festive Tiger Beetle in Southeast Missouri (posted 25 Oct). I like this photo a lot more now than I did when I first took it. Its shadowy feel and the beetle “peering” from behind a leaf edge give a sense of this beetle’s attempts to hide and then checking to see if the “coast is clear”
Batyle suturalis on Psilostrophe villosa flowers | Alabaster Caverns State Park, Woodward Co., Oklahoma
From Tips for photographing shiny beetles on yellow flowers (posted 10 Aug). “Bug on a flower” photos are a dime a dozen, but shiny beetles on yellow flowers with natural sky background can be quite difficult to take. All of the techniques for dealing with the problems posed by such a photo came together nicely in this photo.
Agrilus walsinghami | Davis Creek Regional Park, Washoe Co., Nevada
From Sunset for another great collecting trip (posted 1 Sep). This photo is not without its problems, with a little blurring of the backlit fuzz on the plant, but the placement of the sun behind the subject’s head and resulting color combination make it my favorite in my first attempts at achieving a “sun-in-the-sky” background with a true insect macrophotograph.
Pyrota bilineata on Chrysothamnus viscidflorus | San Juan Co., Utah
From Midget male meloid mates with mega mama (posted 8 Nov). Another blue-sky-background photograph with good color contrast, its real selling point is the natural history depicted. with some of the most extreme size dimorphism among mating insects that I’ve ever seen.
Phymata sp. on Croton eleagnifolium foliage | Austin, Texas
From ESA Insect Macrophotography Workshop (posted 13 Nov). The oddly sculpted and chiseled body parts of ambush bugs makes them look like they were assembled from robots. Contrasting the body against a blue sky gives a more unconventional view of these odd beasts than the typical top-down-while-sitting-on-a-flower view.
Moneilema armata on Opuntia phaecantha | Alabaster Caverns State Park, Woodward Co., Oklahoma
From Q: How do you photograph cactus beetles? (posted 24 Nov). Photographing cactus beetles requires patience, persistence, long forceps, and strong forearms. Natural sky provides a much more pleasing background than a clutter of cactus pads and jutting spines.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this 2013 version of “Best of BitB” and look forward to seeing everyone in 2014.
In April 2012 I spent some time in northern Argentina collecting insects, and while collecting was not that great (late in the season after a protracted drought) I saw enough of interest to make it a worthwhile effort. Among the insects that I saw were two species of weevil (family Curculionidae)—one being Eurhinus c.f. adonis (Giving me the weevil eye!) and the other this one, also kindly identified by Charles O’Brien as Erodiscus obidensis (Monte 1944). Both of them were found on flowers of Solidago chilensis growing along the roadside near La Escondida in Chaco Province; however, the two weevils are almost complete opposites in terms of coloration and body form—E. adonis brilliant metallic green and robust chunky, and E. obidensis chestnut-colored and elongate slender.
Erodiscus obidensis (Monte) | Chaco Province, Argentina | Apr 2012
An obvious feature of E. obidensis are its two stout spines located at the apices of the elytra. I presume that these serve a defensive purpose to protect them against potential avian or reptilian predators. However, if elytral spines are all that is needed for such then why are these structures not found widely across the order Coleoptera—certainly the potential is there, as many beetles exhibit very small spines at the elytral apices. With enough selection pressure one can easily imagine that larger spines would be selected for. Either the spines also/instead serve some other purpose, or development of spines is more energetically expensive than I am imagining.
What purpose those daggers?
Compared to most of the insects that I have featured on this blog, I wasn’t able to find much information on this species. It was originally described as Atenistes attenuatus var. obidensis from Óbidos in the Brazilian state of Pará (Monte 1944) and is listed as such in the Blackwelder (1947) catalogue. However, my weevil literature is sparse compared to the other beetle groups with which I am more familiar, and I found nothing else in searches on the web as well. It apparently is already known from Argentina, as it is listed at the website Curculionidae de Argentina (but without any photos). As far as I could tell, these are the first photos of the species to be posted to the web, at least with the associated name. Since so little seems to be known about this weevil, I take it upon myself to give it a common name, and I can’t think of a more amusing and fun-to-say name than the “dagger butt weevil” in reference to its distinctive apical spines.
Blackwelder, R. E. 1947. Checklist of the coleopterous insects of Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, and South America. Part 5. Bulletin of the U. S. National Museum 185:765–925 [pdf].
Monte, O. 1944. Sobre coleópteros Otidocephalinae. Revista Entomologia, Rio de Janeiro 15(3):318–320 [abstract].
Eurhinus cf. adonis on Solidago chilensis | Chaco Province, Argentina
Did anybody think that weevil photograph on the cover of the June 2013 issue of The Coleopterists Bulletin (vol. 67, no. 2) looked familiar? If so, it’s because you saw it first in my April 28, 2013 post, Giving me the weevil eye! This is Eurhinus cf. adonis (ID courtesy of Charles O’Brien), which I photographed near La Escondida inChaco Province, Argentina on flowers of Solidago chilensis. This photo reminds me that I need to pay more attention to portrait-style photographs, as landscape oriented photos don’t often fit very well on magazine and journal covers.
Beyond being my first cover for The Coleopterists Bulletin (and I hope not the last), the issue contains a number of papers that I will be studying with interest. These include a paper describing new species of Chrysobothris (Buprestidae) from the West Indies with notes on others, a checklist of longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae) from Montana, and the synonymization of Megacyllene comanchei under M. angulifera—all by Mike Ivie and colleagues (I did have the privilege of reviewing the Chrysobothris paper, and my Megacyllene “comanchei“—now M. angulifera—specimens were among those examined). Also of interest to me is a paper about wood-boring beetle emergence (including Buprestidae and Cerambycidae) from ponderosa pines killed by mountain pine beetle and fire in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Finally, Brett Ratcliffe has included a primer on best writing and curatorial practices for describing a new species of beetle—as a somewhat but not highly practiced alpha taxonomist, this should be an interesting read for me that will hopefully give me a chance to correct any nascent bad habits that I may be developing. Scarabaeologists and weevil specialists should be equally pleased with this issue, with a half-dozen or more papers in each group filling most of the remaining pages.
The order Coleoptera (beetles) is, of course, the largest single group of animals on earth, and by most accounts the Curculionidae (weevils) and their close relatives are the largest family-level group within the order. At 60,000 species and counting, weevils account for approximately one out of every 20 described life forms, and as a result their diversity of forms, colors and life histories are as staggering as their numbers. Among the small slice of the group that I have seen, Megabaris quadriguttatus is without question the most colorful, but species in the related genus Eurhinus (both genera belong to the curculionid subfamily Bardinae, which I point out here for reasons discussed below) must rank as among the shiniest of all weevils. Twenty-three species, all colored brilliant metallic green, blue, purple or red, are known from this exclusively Neotropical genus (Vaurie 1982), one of which has also recently established in southern Florida (Ulmer et al. 2007). The individual featured in this post was seen April 2012 in northern Argentina near La Escondida (Chaco Province) and compares well with Eurhinus adonis (ID courtesy Charles O’Brien, Green Valley, AZ). Vaurie (1982) records that species from southern Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina (although only from Missiones Province in the latter) and says that nothing is known of its biology.
Eurhinus cf. adonis on Solidago chilensis | Chaco Province, Argentina
This is certainly among the most challenging insects that I’ve ever photographed. Overblown specular highlights are a constant challenge in flash macrophotography of bright, shiny, metallic beetles, and yellow flowers are prone to blown highlights as well. Add on top of that my desire for a blue sky rather than the typical black background and the usual difficulties of hand-held, field photography of an actively moving subject, and you’ve got a quadruple challenge. Adequate diffusion of the flash is critical, and although the diffusers I was using at the time weren’t perfect, they were enough in combination with intentional underexposure of the photograph to further minimize the chance of blown highlights (underexposed photographs can be relatively easily “fixed” during post-processing, as all of the information is still there, while overexposed photographs can rarely be fixed because the information is gone). Bumping up the ISO (in this case 400) also helps—higher sensitivity to light by the sensor not only allows light from the sky to register and create a blue background, but also further reduces flash duration and the risk of blown highlights. No amount of camera settings, however, can address the final challenge—getting the subject well composed and in focus within the frame. For that, the three “P”s (patience, practice, and persistence) are the only advice I can offer.
What’s in a name? That which we call a Eurhinus by any other name would be as shiny!
This genus of weevils was involved in one of the more interesting nomenclatural problems that I’ve encountered. The genus was originally given the name Eurhin by Illiger in 1807, but Schönherr in 1824 changed it to Eurhinus—believing (incorrectly) that Eurhin was not a properly formed name. Unfortunately, the name Eurhinus had already been used by Kirby in 1819 for a different genus of weevils in the subfamily Apioninae. The rules of zoological nomenclature, of course, prohibit the same name being used for two different genera, and several attempts were made during the following years to provide a replacement name for Schönherr’s Eurhinus. None gained acceptance, however, and eventually Schönherr in 1833—still considering justified his correction of Eurhin to Eurhinus—proposed the name Eurhynchus for Kirby’s Eurhinus. Remarkably, the name Eurhynchus also had been used previously (for a genus of birds). Nevertheless, the change gained acceptance, and both of Schönherr’s names remained in use for the next century and a half—Eurhinus in the subfamily Baridinae and Eurhynchus in the subfamily Apioninae, with both credited to Schönherr. Strict application of the rules of nomenclature would require that the name Eurhinus be transferred back to the apionine genus and credited to Kirby and the name Eurhin resurrected for the baridine genus and credited to Illiger. However, as pointed out by Zimmerman & Thompson (1983) this would not only destroy more than a century’s worth of nomenclatural stability but also complicate the formation of family-group names such as tribes—since the two original names each have the same root (Eurhin-), tribal names based on them would be identical (Eurhinini). To resolve these issues, a formal application was submitted to the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) to preserve Schönherr’s long accepted usage of Eurhinus and Eurhynchus. To do this, the ICZN would not only have to declare Schönherr’s correction of Eurhin to Eurhinus justified, but also suppress the original use of the name Eurhynchus (as a genus of birds) in order to allow Schönherr’s subsequent use for the apionine genus to stand. Fortunately, suppressing the first use of Eurhynchus had no impact on stability, since an older name was already in use for the genus of birds and the younger name had not been used since its original description. The authors of the application also noted the support of several contemporary weevil specialists (including Charles O’Brien) and that Patricia Vaurie, in her revision of the genus one year earlier (Vaurie 1982), had used the original name Eurhin with reluctanceon the then-correct advice of her contemporaries. It was a classic case of priority versus stability, and while the ICZN typically is rather conservative in favoring priority, they were clearly swayed in this case by the interests of stability and impact on formation of family-group names.