Two glade goldenrods

Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) is now in full bloom at Victoria Glades Conservation Area in Jefferson. Co., and I took the chance to photograph it alongside its more common congener, Solidago nemoralis (old field goldenrod), to show the differences between the two species. Solidago ridiga has a flat-topped or shallowly rounded inflorescence (versus pyramidal for the latter), relatively larger individual flowers, and upper leaves wider at the base and often clasping the stem. It occurs throughout the central region of the continental U.S. and just began blooming in these glades (versus mid-August for S. nemoralis).

Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) inflorescence.
Solidago nemoralis (old field goldenrod) inflorescence.
Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) florets.
Solidago nemoralis (old field goldenrod) florets.
Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) leaves.
Solidago nemoralis (old field goldenrod) leaves.
Black-and-yellow lichen moth (Lycomorpha pholus) on inflorescence of old field goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).
Black-and-yellow lichen moth (Lycomorpha pholus) on inflorescence of old field goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

A new population of the federally-endangered decurrent false aster

The target for today’s WGNSS Botany Group field trip was Boltonia decurrens (decurrent false aster), a federally endangered species known only from isolated stations along the Illinois River and near its confluence with the Mississippi River. The present population was discovered recently, although it was first collected from here almost 100 years ago, and it represents the northernmost known station of the species along the Mississippi River. We would find the plants flowering in abundance at the expected location, but before that we found an incredible stand of Helianthus grosseserratus (sawtooth sunflower) at the first meetup parking lot. This distinctive sunflower is recognized by its large, serrate, opposite leaves and glabrous or even glaucus purple stems. Some of the plants were enormous—one stood an estimated 14 feet tall.

Helianthus grosseserratus (sawtooth sunflower) inflorescence.
Helianthus grosseserratus (sawtooth sunflower) involucre.
Helianthus grosseserratus (sawtooth sunflower) stem/leaves.
The author stands next to a Helianthus grosseserratus (sawtooth sunflower) estimated at 14 feet tall.

Caravanning to the south end of the conservation area, it was a short hike to a thick stand of the decurrent false asters. Along the way, Cirsium discolor (field thistle) was blooming in abundance, it’s flowers a magnet for bumble bees and butterflies, especially Phoebis sennae (cloudless sulphurs or cloudless giant sulphurs).

Phoebis sennae (cloudless sulphur or cloudless giant sulphur) on inflorescence of Cirsium discolor (field thistle).

The stand of B. decurrens was visible from afar, forming a cloud of dense white flowers in the distance. The species is easy to distinguish from the only other species of the genus in Missouri by way of the flanges, or “wings,” that extend along the stem on each side below the leaf attachment. In some plants, the wings were poorly developed, leading to some speculation that they could represent hybrids with the much more common B. asteroides (white doll’s daisy), which occurs nearby and with which decurrent false aster is known to hybridize.

Boltonia decurrens (decurrent false aster).
Boltonia decurrens (decurrent false aster) inflorescences.
Boltonia decurrens (decurrent false aster) Inflorescence.
Boltonia decurrens (decurrent false aster) floret.
Boltonia decurrens (decurrent false aster) stem/leaves.

In the same general area, the asteracous hits kept on rolling with three species of Bidens (beggarticks/bur-marigolds). First was B. cernua (nodding bur-marigold), recognized by its large yellow ray florets and simple, opposite, clasping leaves.

Bidens cernua (nodding bur-marigold) inflorescence.
Bidens cernua (nodding bur-marigold) inflorescence.
Bidens cernua (nodding bur-marigold) involucre.
Bidens cernua (nodding bur-marigold) stem/leaves.
Bidens cernua (nodding bur-marigold) stem/leaves.

Next was what may have been B. aristosa (tickseed beggarticks) due to its small flowers with ray florets present and highly dissected, pinnately compound leaves, although it’s identity was never confirmed. Finally, along a nearby trail, we encountered B. vulgata (tall beggarticks), recognized by the small flowers with ray florets absent, numerous (>10) long phyllaries, and pinnately compound leaves.

Bidens aristosa (tickseed beggarticks) inflorescences.
Bidens aristosa (tickseed beggarticks) inflorescence.
Bidens aristosa (tickseed beggarticks) inflorescence.

I haven’t paid as much attention to aquatic plants as I should, but on this trip I benefitted from the willingness of a boot-clad Bruce to wade into a shallow pond and retrieve a Sagittaria calycina (Mississippi arrowhead, sometimes treated as a subspecies of S. montevidensis, or hooded arrowhead) for our examination. The species can be recognized by the pendent fruit clusters with persistent sepals strongly appressed to the clusters.

Sagittaria calycina (Mississippi arrowhead) inflorescence.
Sagittaria calycina (Mississippi arrowhead) flowers.
Sagittaria calycina (Mississippi arrowhead) leaf.
Sagittaria calycina (Mississippi arrowhead) fruits.

While we were looking at the Sagittaria, a Libytheana carinenta (American snout or common snout) butterfly posed cooperatively on Kathy’s thumb for photos.

Libytheana carinenta (American snout butterfly).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Rough white lettuce

The glades at Victoria Glades Conservation Area in Jefferson County are in full late summer glory, with Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) and Liatris aspera (rough blazingstar) now joining their much more abundant congeners, S. nemoralis (old field goldenrod) and L. cylindracea (cylindrical blazingstar). Unlike the latter two, which are common across the open glades, the former two are restricted to spotty occurrences near the edge of the glade where it borders dry post oak woodland. Once again, however, I found a new (to me) plant on the glade—Nabalus asper (formerly Prenanthes aspera), commonly called rough rattlesnakeroot or rough white lettuce. I found just a single plant on the upper slopes of the glade near its interface with the dry post oak woodland that surrounds the glade. I’ve never seen this plant here or anywhere before, but the WGNSS Botany Group has recorded the species from this location. It is recognized by its pale ligulate flowering heads, rough, hairy stems and leaves, and relatively narrow, almost spike-like inflorescence.

Nabalus asper (rough white lettuce) inflorescence.
Nabalus asper (rough white lettuce) stem/leaves.

Also seen was the distinctive caterpillar of Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria (raspberry looper) on a flower of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum).

Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria (raspberry looper) on flower of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum).
Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria (raspberry looper) on flower of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Plant of the day—stiff sunflower

Silphium terebinthinaceum (prairie dock) blooms across the glade.

I’ve been coming to Victoria Glades Conservation Area regularly for nearly 40 years now, yet still I continue to find things that I’ve not seen before. It had continued hot and muggy the last couple of days until a cold front come through, bringing rain and the classic early fall cool-off. The pre-flowering plants of a different goldenrod and blazing star still haven’t bloomed, but I’m fairly certain they are Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) and Liatris aspera (rough blazingstar), respectively. They should definitely be in full bloom by the time I check the traps again in 10 days.

Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) pre-bloom inflorescence.
Liatris aspera (rough blazingstar) pre-bloom inflorescence.

The plant of the day today, however, is what I believe to be Helianthus pauciflorus (stiff sunflower), a few plants of which I saw at the top of the knoll on the west side. There are no iNaturalist records for this species either here or at nearby Valley View Glades, but the WGNSS Botany Group has it on their floral list for Victoria Glades. This is a first sighting for me, but I am confident in the identification due to the dark disc florets, stiff lanceolate opposite leaves with rough upper and lower surfaces, and generally only one flower head per stem.

Helianthus pauciflorus (stiff sunflower) inflorescence.
Helianthus pauciflorus (stiff sunflower) involucre.
Helianthus pauciflorus (stiff sunflower) stem/leaves.
Helianthus pauciflorus (stiff sunflower) leaf adaxial surface.
Helianthus pauciflorus (stiff sunflower) leaf abaxial surface.

Unfortunately, non-native species continue to pop up with regularity in this gem of a natural area. This includes not only plants, such as Centaurea stoebe (spotted knapweed), a single plant of which I found in bloom at the edge of the parking lot…

Centaurea stoebe (spotted knapweed).
Centaurea stoebe (spotted knapweed) inflorescence.

…but also insects, such as this Tenodera sinensis (Chinese mantis) found perched on the trunk of Quercus stellata (post oak).

Tenodera sinensis (Chinese mantis) on Quercus stellata (post oak).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Botanizing at Creve Coeur Lake

Mallard Lake at Creve Coeur Lake Park.

The forecast over the weekend called for possible rain, so the WGNSS Botany Group chose a location close to home in case we got rained out. I would have never thought of Creve Coeur Park as a place to botanize, but the environs surrounding the lakes, particularly Mallard Lake, get good moisture and have been allowed to revert to semi-native vegetation (with a few significant exotic invasives) for many years now. We first examined a few native garden plantings near the parking lot and saw several things not typically found in this part of the state, but the most interesting to me was Liatris scariosa (savanna blazingstar), one of our less common species, and it’s large fantastically showy blooms.

Liatris scariosa (savanna blazingstar) inflorescence.
Liatris scariosa (savanna blazingstar) floret.

Eupatorium serotinum (late boneset) was blooming profusely along the margins of the lake—I scanned the flowers for a while hoping to see some interesting beetles, with several Euphoria leucographa (a common flower chafer) being the only beetles seen. As I looked, I enjoyed Steve’s explanation of the common name of late boneset compared to another common Missouri species, Eupatorium altissimum (tall boneset)—the former actually blooms later than “late boneset,” and the latter is actually as tall as “tall boneset”!

Further along the lake margin we found a stand of “Helianthus” sunflowers, but these proved to be the lookalike Heliopsus helianthoides (false sunflower)—I’d been fooled by their straight yellow color versus the orange-yellow color that is more typical of the species. A good character to distinguish this species when the color is not diagnostic is the double-rank of phyllaries on the underside of the flower head, with the inner ones short and rounded and the outer ones long and pointed-recurved.

Heliopsus helianthoides (false sunflower).
Heliopsus helianthoides (false sunflower) inflorescence.
Heliopsus helianthoides (false sunflower) involucre.

There is also another easy way to distinguish false sunflower—by noting the presence of Lygaeus turcicus (false milkweed bug, also called the heliopsis bug), a close relative of L. kalmii (small milkweed bug) which looks very similar to the latter but, as indicated by the common name, feeds exclusively on false sunflower instead of milkweed. We eventually found several of the bugs (which, sadly, did not cooperate for photos), further confirming our identification of the plants.

We diverted to a dry, sandy spot under the bridge to check out some ant lion pits. Also called “doodlebugs,” these relatives to lacewings are surely the inspiration for the brain-eating “Ceti eels” in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan! In the area, a super-fresh Limenitis arthemis astyanax (red-spotted purple) probed for salts on the ground, posing beautifully for a few photos.

Limenitis arthemis astyanax (red-spotted purple).

Walking along the trail north of Mallard Lake, we saw two species of vining plants: Amphicarpaea bracteata (hog peanut), and Apios americana (groundnut). Both of these plants belong to the bean family (Fabaceae) and have underground edible portions—the former in the form of peanut-like fruits formed from self-fertilizing, “cleistogamous” flowers that bloom near the ground (or even underground), and the latter in the form of tubers that form like strings of beads along the underground rhizomes of the vine. Both were important food sources for indigenous cultures. I’ve never seen either of these species in bloom (the flowers of groundnut, in particular, were unlike any other I’ve seen), so it was nice to be able to compare them on plants growing nearly side-by-side.

Amphicarpaea bracteata (hog peanut) inflorescence and leaves.
Amphicarpaea bracteata (hog peanut) inflorescence.
Apios americana (groundnut).
Apios americana (groundnut) inflorescence.
Apios americana (groundnut) leaf.

Walking back towards the cars, we had one more “DYC” (damned yellow composite) to test our ID skills. Fortunately, Helenium spp. (sneezeweed) are easily distinguished from other DYCs by their wedge-shaped ray florets with lobed tips and protuberant, nearly spherical disks. Helenium autumnale (common sneezeweed) is identified to species by its combination of yellow disk florets and broad leaves attached to a conspicuously winged stem.

Helenium autumnale (common sneezeweed).
Helenium autumnale (common sneezeweed) inflorescences.
Helenium autumnale (common sneezeweed) stem/leaves.

By the time we reached our cars, I was as hungry, sweaty, and thirsty as I’ve ever been on one of these walks. My thirst and appetite for knowledge, however, were, for the moment, completely satiated.

A dragonfly perched on the branch above me.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

One of North America’s rarer longhorned beetles

Here are dorsal and lateral views of the only specimen I’ve ever collected of Neoclytus approximatus—one of North America’s most uncommonly encountered longhorned beetles. I collected it on dead Pinus echinata in southeastern Missouri (Carter Co.) way back on June 7, 1987 (just over 34 years ago!), but I believe that is only an incidental record and not a larval host for the species considering that the species has been recorded from primarily the U.S. Great Plains (North Dakota south to Texas, east to Iowa and Missouri, and west to Colorado)—a region mostly devoid of native pines.

Neoclytus approximatus (dorsal view).

What it does breed in remains a mystery. I’ve seen a number of specimens collected in the city of St. Louis, Missouri in the 1930s with U.S.D.A. eugenol-baited Japanese beetle trap, although my own efforts with Japanese beetle traps in St. Louis during the 1980s turned up no specimens. Another Missouri specimen bore a label saying “Monarda” (a genus of flowering plants called “bee balms”)—perhaps referring to the flower of the plant (MacRae 1994). This latter record may suggest the species breeds in herbaceous plants rather than woody plants—which some longhorned beetles are known to do, and its apparent distribution across the Great Plains makes this idea even more tenable.

Neoclytus approximatus (lateral view).

Van Pelt (2007) provides the only other clue to host for the species, citing it “on shrubs” in Big Bend National Park. Until somebody figures out the host for this species, it is liable to remain one of the most elusive species of North American Cerambycidae.

Literature Cited

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 [pdf].

Van Pelt, A. F. (ed.). 2007. Inventory of insects of Big Bend National ParkTexas. Report to Big Bend National Park, 204 pp.

© Ted C. MacRae 2021

Arkansas/Oklahoma Insect Collecting Trip “iReport”—Rich and Ted’s excellent adventure

This is the seventh “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a 5-day trip to Arkansas and Oklahoma from June 7–11, 2019 with my friend and local collecting buddy Richard Thoma. As with all previous “iReports” in this series, this one too is illustrated exclusively with iPhone photographs.

Previous iReports include the following
2013 Oklahoma
2013 Great Basin
2014 Great Plains
2015 Texas
2018 New Mexico/Texas
2018 Arizona

Image may contain: 2 people, including Ted MacRae, people smiling, people standing, beard, tree and outdoor
…and so it begins!

Day 1 – Ozark National Forest, vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas
It’s been many years since I’ve visited these sandstone glades overlooking the White River near Calico Rock. Conditions were partly sunny when we arrived, but water on the ground suggested rain earlier in the day. We had only a short time to start exploring before the wind started blowing up and the smell of rain filled the air. I did manage to beat one Amniscus sexguttata from a branch of living Pinus echinata and collect a couple of Strigoderma sp. from Coreopsis lanceolata flowers before steady rain forced us to retreat.

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White River near Calico Rock, Arkansas—before the rain.
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White River near Calico Rock, Arkansas—rain’s a comin’!

Day 2 – Ouachita National Forest, Winding Stair Campground & Ouachita Trail, Oklahoma
We walked the trail from the campground S about 2½ miles and back. I started off with Acmaeodera tubulus on Krigia sp. flowers, eventually finding a lot of them on this plant at higher elevations along with a single Acmaeodera ornata, and I beat a few Agrilus cepahlicus off of Cornus drummondii. This had me thinking it would be a good buprestid day, but it wasn’t, the only other species collected being some Chrysobothris cribraria off of small dead Pinus echinata saplings and Pachyschelus laevigatus on Desmodium sp. Also beat a few miscellaneous insects off of Cercis canadensis and Vaccineum arborea and swept some from grasses and other herbaceous plants. Back at the campground I collected Chrysobothris dentipes on the sunny trunks of large, live Pinus echinata trees.

Emerald Vista, along the Talihema Scenic Drive.
Acmaeodera tubulus on flower of Rosa carolina.
Acmaeodera tubulus on flower of Rosa carolina.
Canthon sp.
Apheloria virginiensis reducta (ID by Derek Hennen).
The biggest cairn I’ve ever seen.

Ouachita National Forest, Talimena Scenic Dr at Big Cedar Vista, Oklahoma
There were lots of native wildflowers like Coreopsis tinctoria and Ratibida columnifera in bloom, so we stopped to check them out. There were lots of butterflies, however, I found only a single Typocerus zebra on Coreopsis lanceolata.

View south from Talimena Scenic Drive at Big Cedar Vista.
Coreopsis tinctoria (plains coreopsis).
Ratibida columnifera (upright prairie coneflower).

Ouachita National Forest, Winding Stair Campground, Oklahoma
We returned to the campground in the evening to do some blacklighting. I had high hopes, but only five cerambycids came to the lights, all represented by a single individual: Monochamus carolinensis, Acanthocinus obsoletus, Amniscus sexguttatus, Eutrichillus biguttatus, and Leptostylus tranversus (the first four are pine-associates). I also picked up a few other miscellaneous insects.

Rich processes the day’s catch as the blacklight hums in the background.

Day 3 – Medicine Park Primitive Campground, Oklahoma
There wasn’t much insect activity going on in eastern Oklahoma, so we drove out west to the Wichita Mountains for hopefully better luck. We found a small park with a primitive campground in the city of Medicine Park—my first thought was to beat the post oaks dotting the campground, but when I went into the native prairie between the campground and the creek I never came out! Right away I found what must be Acmaeodera ornatoides on flowers of Opuntia sp., then I found more on flowers of Gallardia pulchella along with Acmaeodera mixta. The latter were also on flowers of Thelesperma filifolium along with Acmaeodera neglecta—took a nice series of each, and I also got a few of the latter on flowers of Coreopsis grandiflora. Strangalia sexnotata were on flowers of C. tinctoria and Torilis arvensis, and then on the latter plant I saw a male Strangalia virilis—a Texas/Oklahoma specialty that I’ve never collected before! I spent the next hour looking for these guys and ended up with 3 males and 2 females along with a few Trichiotinus texanus—another Texas/Oklahoma specialty—and a single Agrilaxia sp. nr. flavimana (could be A. texana). One single Typocerus octonotatus was on flowers of Achillea millefolium. I think we may come back here tomorrow—I’d like to look for more S. virilis and beat the post oaks (the reason we stopped here to begin with).

A cacophony of native wildflowers!
An orgy of Euphoria kernii (Kern’s flower scarab) in Opuntia sp. flower. Multiple color forms exist for this species.
At first I thought this was a type of hover fly (family Syrphidae), but eventually I determined it to be Esenbeckia incisuralis, a horse fly (family Tabanidae)—incredible emerald green eyes!
Papilio polyxenes asterius (black swallowtail) caterpillar.
Echinocereus reichenbachii baileyi (lace hedgehog cactus).

Lake Lawtonka nr. Ma Ballou Point, Oklahoma
We stumbled into this area while looking for stands of Sapindus drummondii (soapberry)—found a small stand along the road, but it was too inaccessible. The same diversity of blooms were present as at the previous spot, so I picked a few longhorns off flowers of Coreopsis grandiflora and Gaillardia pulchella. Super windy, so we didn’t stay long.

View across Lake Lawtonka from Ma Ballou Point.
Neochlamisus sp. (case-bearing leaf beetle) larvae inside their “casas de caca” on Monarda fistulosa (bee balm).
I believe this is Harrisina coracina, a leaf skeletonizer in the family Zygaenidae. Both BugGuide and the Moth Photographers Group show records only from Texas.

Day 4 – Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Before starting the day’s collecting, we wanted to go into the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge to have a look around. On the way into the refuge we some American bison near the road and had to stop, take photos, and simply admire these massive, majestic beasts. We then went to the Cedar Plantation, where I had visited before back in 2012 and photographed black individuals of Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina (prairie tiger beetle). No tiger beetles were out now (they come out in the fall), but I’d hoped to maybe see Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle) along the 2-tracks in the area. No such luck—nevertheless, we saw a myriad of interesting insects, including several more Esenbeckia incisuralis (green-eyed horse flies) and a beautiful Trichodes bibalteatus (checkered beetle), the latter of which I photographed on flowers of Ratibida columnifera and Achillea millefolium with the big camera. Afterwards we visited the “prairie dog town” and got marvelous views and photographs of black-tailed prairie dogs.

Native American wildlife on a native American landscape.
American bison (Bison bison bison).
Wichita Mountains from Cedar Plantation.
Acmaeodera mixta on flower of Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan).
Typocerus octonotatus on inflorescence of Achillea millefolium (yarrow).
Strangalia sexnotatus on flower of Ratibida pinnata (gray coneflower)
Trichodes bibalteatus on flower of Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan).
Trichodes bibalteatus on flower of Ratibida pinnata (gray coneflower)
The author walks a bison trail through the Cedar Plantation.
Black-tailed prairie dog at its burrow entrance.
“Watch you lookin’ at, Willis?!”
Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus).

Medicine Park, Jack Laughter Park, Oklahoma
We’d noticed this spot yesterday because of the old post oaks and wealth of wildflowers blooming up the mountainside. There wasn’t much going on today, however—just a few Acmaeodera mixta on flowers of Gaillardia pulchella. I did find an Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) sp. on my arm! Otherwise I spent some time photographing the landscape and some geometrid larvae on flowers of Gaillardia pulchella.

Opuntia sp. (prickly-pear cactus) amidst rocky exposures.
Small Oncoptus fasciatus (large milkweed bugs) nymphs colonize seed pods of Asclepias asperula (antelope-horns).

Medicine Park Primitive Campground, Oklahoma
We returned to this spot since we had so much luck yesterday. I was hoping to collect more Acmaeodera ornatoides and Strangalia virilis, but there was much less going on today than yesterday—basically didn’t see anything for the first hour and a half. I didn’t give up, however, and kept checking the area where we saw most of the S. virilis yesterday, and eventually I saw another male in the same area as yesterday on the same stand of Torilis arvensis. I found two more males in the same area over the next hour, so three males on the day was a good reward for the time spent looking for them. I also collected Trichodes apivorus and Trichiotinus texanus on flowers of Allium sp. Interestingly, beating the post oaks—the reason why I originally wanted to stop here—produced nothing. So, not very many specimens on the day, but happy with those I did get.

Thelesperma filifolium (stiff greenthread).
Coreopsis grandiflora (large-flowered tickseed).
Gaillardia pulchella (firewheel).
Coreopsis tinctoria (plains coreopsis).
Torilis arvensis (erect hedge parsley), introduced.
Opuntia sp. (prickly-pear cactus).
Opuntia sp. (prickly-pear cactus).
Allium sp. (wild onion).

Medicine Park, Jack Laughter Park, Oklahoma
I was pretty much done for the day after spending all morning at the refuge and most of the afternoon at the previous spot, but Rich wanted to take another look at Jack Laughter Park because he’d found some interesting grasshoppers there. As with earlier in the day there were few beetles of interest to me, but I did collect a couple of Trichiotinus texanus on flowers of Cirsium undulatum. I checked out some large post oaks with large dead branches thinking that might be what Strangalia virilis was breeding in but never saw any, and eventually I turned my attention to photographing a few interesting native plants that I found along the way.

Krameria lanceolata (trailing krameria).
Cirsium undulatum (wavyleaf thistle or gray thistle) inflorescence.

Cirsium undulatum (wavyleaf thistle or gray thistle) can be distinguished by its wavy leaves that are gray-green on both upper and lower surfaces.

Day 5 – Epilogue
We were tempted to do one last little bit of collecting on the way back to St. Louis, but since had pretty good luck during the last couple of days and the drive alone would take more than nine hours we decided to leave well enough alone and get home at a reasonable hour. A walk with Beauregard when I got home to stretch the post-drive legs was the perfect way to end the mini-vacation.


©️ Ted C. MacRae 2019

Phocus on Phyllobrotica

Beetles are often pretty good botanists, and when it comes beetle botanists there are none finer than species in the family Chrysomelidae. Members of this family are commonly called “leaf beetles” because… well, they are usually found on leaves, and with nearly 40,000 known species (and probably many more still unknown) it is one of the largest animal families on the planet! In fact, LeConte & Horn (1883)—the fathers of coleopterology in the United States—surmised that the function of leaf beetles “is to hold the vegetable world in check by destroying … the leaves”!

Here in Missouri we have 351 species and subspecies of leaf beetles (Riley & Enns 1979, 1982), the vast majority of which specialize on a limited range of host plants. Most restrict themselves to feeding on plants within the same family, and some to just a single plant genus or even species! Such specialization does not necessarily make a species rare—western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera) develops almost exclusively on corn (Zea mays), yet it is one of the most abundant leaf beetles in the state, and among non-pest species the dogbane leaf beetle feeds almost exclusively on common dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) yet is one of our most commonly encountered leaf beetles. There are, however, many other species of leaf beetles in the state that are rarely seen. Almost always they are also extreme host specialists, and there is no better example of this than species in the genus Phyllobrotica.

Eighteen species and one subspecies of Phyllobrotica are known to occur in North America (Riley et al. 2005, Gilbert 2009), of which five have been recorded in Missouri (Riley 1979, Riley & Enns 1979). With one glaring exception (see below), all of the species for which host plants are known restrict their feeding to one of two closely related genera in the mint family (Lamiaceae)—Stachys for most of the western U.S. species, and Scutellaria for most of the non-western U.S. species (Farrell & Mitter 1990). Of the five species in Missouri, only P. limbata has been encountered with any regularity; Riley & Enns (1979) recorded 61 specimens from six widely scattered counties in Missouri, many of them observed on S. ovata or S. lateriflora. A second Missouri species, P. physostegiae, now also is encountered reliably in southwestern Missouri; however, it wasn’t even described until 1979 due to earlier confusion with the enigmatic P. antennata (apparently still known only from the type collected in Tennessee) (Riley 1979). Prior to this, only a handful of specimens were known, three of which had been more recently collected by Rev James Sullivan of St. Louis on plants in the genus Physostegia (also in the mint family). Followup collections turned up large series of beetles on this plant at several locations in southwestern Missouri, and the species was formally described (Riley 1979). Farrell & Mitter (1990) suggest the unusual host is an example of isolated host transfer due to the unusual natural history of P. physostegiae, which along with its sister species is unique in the genus in that it inhabits dry prairie habitats rather than wet bottomlands. Species of Scutellaria inhabiting dry prairies are often annual and more unpredictably available than those inhabiting more mesic habitats, which could have favored broadened host range or shift by the ancestral P. physostegiae population to a related, chemically similar perennial host such as Physostegia (insects typically use volatile plant chemicals, in addition to vision, as informational cues for recognizing their host plants—Visser 1986).

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Phyllobrotica lengi Linell

The three remaining species of Phyllobrotica in Missouri—P. circumdata, P. lengi, and P. nigritarsis—all continue to be among the rarest beetles in the state. The first was never even collected in Missouri until Rev. Sullivan collected 8 specimens—all on S. incana—in a few eastern counties in Missouri in the late 1970s (recorded as “P. discoidea” in Riley & Enns 1979). As far as I can tell, no online images of this species exist, despite it being the most widely distributed species of the genus in North America (Farrell & Mitter 1990, Riley et al. 2003). The second species, P. lengi, was known from Missouri by just four specimens collected in the late 1800s (Riley & Enns 1979) until Rev. Sullivan collected a small series on S. parvula in east-central Missouri in 1988. Like P. circumdata, apparently no online image of this species exists as well—until now… the image above taken of one of the specimens in that small series, which Rev. Sullivan graciously gifted to me shortly after collecting them. The third species, P. nigritarsis, likewise was also known from Missouri by only four specimens—also collected in the late 1800s (Riley & Enns 1979)—until Rev. Sullivan collected a small series in association with S. parvula in east-central Missouri in 1987. Unlike the previous species, however, a single online image does already exist for this species at BugGuide, and the image below—again taken from a specimen in the small series kindly gifted to me by Rev. Sullivan—adds a second.

[Incidentally, both of these photos were taken for a new book by Rev. Sullivan that has just been published—more on that soon!]

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Phyllobrotica nigritarsis Blatchley

Are there additional species of Phyllobrotica in Missouri? Possibly! Phyllobrotica decorata has a known distribution almost as broad as P. circumdata, including several states surrounding Missouri (Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas), and two other eastern U.S. species—P. stenidea and P. vittata—have been collected as far west as Indiana (Riley et al. 2003). There is also the enigmatic P. antennata from Tennessee. Targeting plants in the genus Scutellaria wherever they may be found growing will likely turn up these species, if they occur here, or at least provide additional records for the other species already known from Missouri.

REFERENCES:

Farrell B. D. & C. Mitter. 1990. Phylogenesis of insect-plant interactions: Have Phyllobrotica leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae) and the Lamiales diversified in parallel? Evolution 44(6):1389–1403 [preview].

Gilbert , A. J. 2009. A new species of Phyllobrotica Chevrolat, 1836 (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) from California, USA, with notes on the western United States species. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 84(4) [2008]:269–279 [abstract].

LeConte, J. L. & G. H. Horn. 1883. Classification of the Coleoptera of North America. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 26(507):1–567.

Riley, E. G. 1979. A new species of Phyllobrotica Chevrolat (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) from the prairies of southwestern Missouri. The Coleopterists Bulletin 33(3):331–335.

Riley, E. G., S. M. Clark & T. N. Seeno. 2003. Catalogue of Leaf beetles of America North of Mexico. The Coleopterists Society Special Publication No. 1, 290 pp.

Riley, E. G. & W. R. Enns. 1979. An annotated checklist of Missouri leaf beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Transactions of the Missouri Academy of Science 13:53–83.

Riley, E. G. & W. R. Enns. 1982. Supplement to an annotated checklist of Missouri leaf beetles (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae): new state records and host plant associations. Entomological News 93(1):32–36 [full text].

Visser, J. H. 1986. Host odor perception in phytophagous insects. Annual Review of Entomology 31:121–144 [pdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2019