Hook-faced Conehead – Pyrgocorypha uncinata

Pyrgocorypha uncinata at UV lite | Lake Norfork, Arkansas

I had high hopes as I setup the blacklights in the pine/oak-hickory forest at Jordan Recreation Area on Lake Norfork in north-central Arkansas. The late June timing  and warm, humid conditions with no moon were perfect for wood boring beetles, and as dusk settled in I awaited their expected arrival.  But the beetles never came, and as dusk waned to full darkness I knew it was going to be one of those inexplicably mediocre nights.  If I’d had a hotel room waiting for me, I would’ve closed up shop as soon as this became apparent and headed on back.  This night, however, I was camping so there was really nothing else to do but see what else came to the lights anyway.  One of the more interesting was this conehead katydid, whose bizarre hook-shaped cone immediately identify it as the hook-faced conehead, Pyrgocorypha uncinata.  There are a number of coneheads in the eastern U.S., but I couldn’t recall ever seeing one with such a bizarre-shaped cone before.  There is good reason for this, as Singing Insects of North America shows this southeastern U.S. species to be at the limit of its distribution in northern Arkansas.

Looking at the above photo at home, I couldn’t help but notice the “face” formed by the eyes and cone, with the gap between the cone and the rest of the frons forming the “mouth” and the cone itself the “nose”—it looked to me like some weird, garrishly grinning fish!  Thus was born Super Crop Challenge #7, and since four participants correctly identified the individual in the photo down to species this challenge was decided on bonus points.  Max Barclay (Natural History Museum) earned the most (11) to win the challenge, while Patrick Coin and Sam Heads each earned 10 to round out the podium with a 2nd-place tie.  This was the last challenge of the BitB Challenge Session #3, so we can now crown a winner.  Today’s win vaults Max Barclay from 4th place in the overalls to the top spot with 29 pts—congratulations (and contact me for your loot).  Tim Eisele‘s 5 points in this challenge gave him a total of 24 pts, which was just enough to edge out former front-runner Troy Bartlett for 2nd place by a single point.  Troy keeps a foot on the final podium ahead of Dave with 23 points, also by a single point.

My thanks to the record 27 participants who took part in BitB Challenge Session #3.  The final overall standings are shown below, and look for the first challenge of BitB Challenge Session #4 coming up.

Place Participant IDC #8 SSC #5 SSC #6 IDC #9 Bonus 7/9 SSC #7 Total
1 Max Barclay 8     10   11 29
2 Tim Eisele 3 6 6 4   5 24
3 Troy Bartlett     11 12     23
4 Dave   11 3 8     22
5 Mr. Phidippus       11   4 15
6 Patrick Coin         2 10 12
7 Dennis Haines        11     11
8 Josh Basham       10     10
  Sam Heads           10 10
10 Alex Wild 9           9
  James Trager    4     9
  Brady Richards       9     9
13 Roy     5 3     8
  FlaPack           8 8
15 Traci       6     6
16 Johnson Sau       5     5
17 Annie Ray       4     4
  The Ozarkian       1   3 4
19 David Winter 3           3
  Ani       3     3
  Laurie Knight       2   1 3
22 Bob Cochran   2         2
  dragonflywoman     2       2
  Chris Grintter       2     2
25 David Rentz 1           1
  Anne McCormack   1         1
  Mike       1     1

IDC = ID Challenge; SCC = Super Crop Challenge.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Super Crop Challenge #7

Who is this smiling critter?  Usual challenge rules apply, including moderated comments (to give everyone a chance to take part) and possible bonus points for beating others with the first correct answers, additional relevant information, or any suitably humorous quips.  I’ll give 2 points each for order, family, genus and species.  This is the last challenge of the current BitB Challenge Session, so the current leaders are playing for all the marbles!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

T.G.I.Flyday – Triorla interrupta

Triorla interrupta (male) | Calico Rock, Arkansas

While I was visiting the glades near Calico Rock, Arkansas this past June, I went into town to look along the White River.  With the amount of sandstone bedrock in the area, I thought there I might find sandy loam deposits along the river of the type preferred by Cylindera cursitans (ant-like tiger beetle).  While I didn’t find any of the beetles, I did see this robber fly (managing only this single shot before it flew off), which I take to be the male of Triorla interrupta based on the pattern of abdominal coloration (the first two segments partially black, followed by two almost wholly black segments).  According to BugGuide, this is the only North American species of the genus (a second occurring from Panama to Argentina), and Herschel Raney considers it to be the most common robber fly in Arkansas.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Lined Jewel Beetle

Buprestis lineata mating pair on lower trunk of Pinus echinata | vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas

Here is another of the several wood-boring beetle species that I encountered during my June trips to the sandstone glade complex near Calico Rock in north-central Arkansas.  Shortleaf pines (Pinus echinata), the only native pine in this region, are common on and around the glades due to their acidic soils, and this mating pair of Buprestis lineata (family Buprestidae) was found near the base of the trunk of one of the larger trees.  These were actually the first of a number of different wood-boring beetles that I found on this particular tree, others being Xylotrechus sagittatus, Chalcophora virginiensis, and the sumptuously beautiful Acanthocinus nodosus.  All of these species are classic pine-associates in the southeastern U.S.  After photographing this couple, I observed numerous other individuals flying to the tree, landing on its trunk and searching nervously for mates, then fleeing if I approached too close (except the unfortunate early few that I conscripted as ‘vouchers’).  The tree was a veritable singles bar for wood-boring beetles!

Despite their abundance in the area, the pines do not grow well on the glades due to the thinness of the soils (that is, where there is soil!).  Not only do the trees grow slowly, but they suffer reduced longevity and high turnover, producing an abundance of stressed and dying trees that wood-boring beetles in the families Buprestidae and Cerambycidae are only too happy to utilize.  Most species in these families (with notable exceptions such as the emerald ash borer, Agrilus planipennis) prefer dead or dying trees for larval development, largely because healthy trees are quite capable of fending off attacks by bleeding and overwhelming newly hatched larvae as they attempt to bore into the tree.  Adults are able to detect these stressed trees through chemoreception of host plant volatiles, thus, the presence of numerous wood boring beetle adults on an otherwise healthy-looking tree is a clue that the tree’s days are numbered.  I don’t know what it was about the tree that caught my attention and made me go over to take a look at it—perhaps just its large size, but it proved to be a fruitful detour.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

More on ‘Conspicuous Crypsis’

Acanthocinus nodosus on trunk of Pinus echinata | vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas

In my previous post (), I used the term ‘conspicuous crypsis’ to describe the sumptuously beautiful lichen grasshopper, Trimerotropis saxatilis, as an example of an insect that, despite strikingly conspicuous colors/patterns, blends in perfectly with its native surroundings. I don’t think this is a formally recognized ecological concept (and a quick search of the web and my limited ecology literature didn’t turn up anything about it) with any real biological/ecological relevance, but rather just a little irony that personally I find interesting.

The same individual in the above photograph in its original resting spot.

The photographs in this post were also taken during one of my June trips to the sandstone glade complex around Calico Rock, Arkansas and show another insect that I would describe as conspicuously cryptic. This is Acanthocinus nodosus, in my opinion one of eastern North America’s most attractive longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae). This species occurs across the eastern U.S. (just sneaking up into southern Missouri), where the larvae mine the phloem beneath the bark of dead and dying pines (Linsley and Chemsak 1995). BugGuide describes it as “subtle, yet beautiful” with an antennal span in males reaching a spectacular 120 mm (that’s 5 inches, folks!). Perhaps others have encountered this beetle more commonly further south, but I have previously seen only single individuals on just three occasions—twice in the Ozark Highlands of southern Missouri (one at lights and another searching the trunk of a standing, decadent pine tree at night) and another at lights in Alabama. As a result, I was quite excited to find this individual clinging during the day to the trunk of a large shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata). The tree appeared healthy, but I found adults of several other wood boring beetles crawling on its trunk as well, suggesting that maybe the tree was stressed or in the initial stages of decline.

Subtle, yet beautiful!

I must confess that the first photograph above was staged—I had moved the beetle from its original resting spot and placed it on a part of the trunk where the bark color contrasted more strongly with the beetle to increase its visibility.  The second and third photos above and left show the beetle in its original resting spot and illustrate just how cryptic the beetle is when resting on older, more weathered pine bark.  Admittedly, the somber coloration of this species is not as extraordinary as the lichen-green of the lichen grasshopper, but I nevertheless find the slate gray with velvet black markings quite beautiful.  When mounted on pins and lined up neatly in a cabinet, individuals of this species are as attractive as any dead insect can be.  It was not until I saw this individual in Arkansas—and tried to photograph it during the day—that the cryptic function of its coloration and patterning became truly apparent to me.  Most species in the tribe Acanthocini (to which this species belongs) also exhibit somber coloration with variable black markings or mottling, although only a handful can be considered as ‘conspicuously cryptic’ as this one.


Linsley, E. G. and J. A. Chemsak.  1995. The Cerambycidae of North America. Part VII, No. 2: Taxonomy and classification of the subfamily Lamiinae, tribes Acanthocinini through Hemilophini. University of California Publications in Entomology 114:1–292.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Oedipodine Rex

Sandstone glade habitat for Trimerotropis saxatilis | vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas

Ever since my current fascination with band-winged grasshoppers (family Acrididae, subfamily Oedipodinae) began, I have been obsessed with photographing one species above all others—Trimerotropis saxatilis, the lichen grasshopper. Like most species in the group, lichen grasshoppers utilize an interesting survival strategy that I call “conspicuous crypsis”—the use of stunning colors and contrasting markings to help them blend into the mottled and variably-colored environments that they inhabit.  Lichen grasshoppers take this strategy to the extreme, culminating in some individuals with the most gorgeous shade of blue-green in perfect match to the crustose lichens that cover the rock outcroppings of their preferred glade habitats.  In my opinion, they are the kings of the oedipodines!  I have seen them before in past years in the igneous and sandstone glades that dot the Ozark Highlands of southern Missouri.  Crustose lichens abound in these acid environments, providing the perfect backdrop to make invisible these otherwise conspicuous grasshoppers. This past June during a couple of visits to a marvelous sandstone glade complex near Calico Rock in north-central Arkansas I got my wish, and shown here are some of my favorites from the many, many photographs I took during those sessions.

Trimerotropis saxatilis with classic lichen-green coloration.

Lichen grasshoppers are actually quite variably colored—not all individuals exhibit the green coloration for which they are so famous.  Despite this, they are the only member of the genus occurring in the eastern U.S. and, thus, are immediately recognizable.  While they are beautiful in all of their color variations, I cannot lie—it is the green individuals that I constantly find myself admiring the most.  While many other grasshoppers are green, only a handful (themselves members of the same subfamily) exhibit the same stunning shade of blue-green that this one does.  Add to that an abundance of black speckling and contrasting bands, and you’ve got one gorgeous grasshopper.  Yet, for all their overt beauty, they are absolutely impossible to see in their native habitat until they take flight when approached.  Fortunately, their escape flights are short and not terribly erratic—with a little practice it becomes rather easy to track them in flight (aided by their interrupted buzzing crepitation) and watch where they land.  They may not be immediately visible after landing, but with careful study of the landing area they are usually quickly relocated.  Once detected, slow deliberate movements are all that are needed to allow a close approach and a good look (and photographs if desired).

The stunning green contrasts starkly against a dark moss backdrop.

Of course, the problem with ‘conspicuous crypsis’ (or any form of crypsis, for that matter) is that it only works when in the right environment.  I chased the above lichen-colored individual onto this patch of dark moss while trying to photograph it, at which point it became overtly visible.

The mottling of the colors is almost as fascinating as the colors themselves.

As previously mentioned, lichen grasshoppers come in a variety of colors and shades.  While the green individuals may be the most stunning, I was captivated also by the below individual, darker brown and black, with the most beautiful, contrastingly colored orange eyes.  This individual may not blend in as well as the green individuals when sitting on lichen-encrusted rocks; however, its coloration and patterning seem perfectly adapted to the more barren, darkly colored rock exposures.  This helps explain why not all lichen grasshoppers are green—the rock exposures in the glades that they inhabit are not uniformly lichen-encrusted, but rather consist of both encrusted and barren expanses of rock, with diverse coloration being a result of multiple and sometimes conflicting selective pressures.

A darker brownish individual with spectacular orange eyes.

A third individual, shown in the photograph below, resembles the second in that it is more brown than green.  However, the base coloration is lighter with greater contrast to the dark bands.  Like the second individual the eyes are spectacular orange, but it also exhibits a green shading on the back of the head behind the eyes not seen in the second individual.

Another brownish individual, this one more contrastingly marked.

Not only did I find the adults, but I also found a rather young nymph that certainly represents this species (I’m guessing maybe 3rd instar based on the degree of wing pad development).  This nymph exhibits the same stunning green coloration that the first individual above shows, and its fortuitous occurrence on both lichen-encrusted and (relatively) barren rocks provide an excellent demonstration of the effectiveness of its coloration in achieving crypsis—now you see me…

The lichen-colored nymph is easily seen against barren rock...

…now you don’t!

...but blends in marvelously amongst the lichens.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Diminishing Stag Beetle

This past June I made a couple of trips to north-central Arkansas. They were my first real efforts to collect insects in Arkansas, despite hundreds (literally) of trips to various localities throughout the Ozark Highlands in adjacent southern Missouri. The similarities between the two areas were obvious, yet there was also the feeling of a brand new area just waiting for exploration. On the second trip, I found a campground that looked good for blacklighting to see what wood-boring beetles I might be able to attract amongst the surrounding pine/oak-hickory forest. The evening was warm (very warm!) and humid with no moon—typically ideal for blacklighting, but beetles were sparse at the sheets for some reason (perhaps deterred by the obnoxiously unrelenting yells of drunk Arkansans and their out-of-control offspring?!). The evening, however, was not a total loss—at one point an enormous stag beetle landed on the top of the sheet.  It was so big that I couldn’t even fit it into the viewfinder of my camera:

I fiddled with the camera and changed some settings.  I got a little more of the beetle in the viewfinder this time, but it was still just too big:

Additional fiddling with the camera allowed even more of the beetle to be seen:

As I took the photographs, I even began wondering if the beetle itself was actually shrinking:

Eventually, it turned out to be a normal-sized beetle after all:

This is a female of the common eastern North American species Lucanus capreolus.¹  I don’t seem to encounter female stag beetles as often as the males, so this was still a nice find on an otherwise frustrating night.

¹ Two bonus point in the current BitB Challenge session to the first person who correctly explains how I know this.  Overall contenders: here’s your chance to score an advantage as we enter the final stretch in the current Challenge session.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Four-humped Longhorned Beetle

Acanthoderes quadrigibba | Chalk Bluff Natural Area, Arkansas.

On a recent collecting trip, I went over to Chalk Bluffs Natural Area in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain of northeastern Arkansas.  My quarry was a population of Cylindera cursitans (ant-like tiger beetle) that has been reported from the site—one of the only known sites for the species in Arkansas.  While I was there, I noticed some movement on the trunk of a tree, and a closer look revealed that what appeared to be a piece of bark was actually a beetle—a longhorned beetle to be precise.  The elevated gibbosities of the pronotum and white, transverse fasciae of the elytra immediately identify it as Acanthoderes quadrigibba, a not uncommon species in the eastern U.S., but one that I still get excited about whenever I encounter it.

Note the four pronotal ''humps'' in this dorsolateral profile view.

Judging by the number and diversity of plant genera that have been recorded as larval hosts for this species—Linsley and Chemsak (1984) recorded Acer, Betula, Carya, Castanea, Celtis, Cercis, Fagus, Ficus, Quercus, Salix, Tilia, and Ulmus—you could be forgiven for thinking that this is one of the most common and abundant species of longhorned beetle in North America.  I have not found this to be the case, and I don’t think it is because I’m simply missing it due to its cryptic appearance.  Longhorned beetles in the tribe Acanthoderini are, like many species in the family, quite attracted to lights at night, and I’ve done plenty of lighting over the years.  What I have noticed is that nearly all of my encounters with this species have been in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain—an area rich with wet, bottomland forests that contrast markedly from the dry to dry-mesic upland forests that cover much of the southern two-thirds of Missouri.  I’ve also reared the species a few times from Salix, one of the host genera recorded by Linsley and Chemsak (1984).  In both cases, the wood was not freshly dead (as is commonly preferred by many other longhorned beetles), but a little past its prime and starting to get somewhat moist and punky.  In the case of this beetle, I suspect that the nature of the host wood may be more important than the species, the preference being for longer dead wood in moister environments.  Of course, observations by another collector in another state may completely obliterate my idea, but for now it sounds good.

A closeup photograph of the elytral markings of this beetle was the subject of ID Challenge #9, to which a record 18 participants responded (thanks to all who played!).  Troy Bartlett takes the win with 12 points (and attention to detail), while Dennis Haines, Max Barclay, Mr. Phidippus, and Josh Basham all score double-digit points.  Troy’s win moves him into the top spot in the overall standings of the current BitB Challenge Session with 23 pts, but Dave is breathing down his neck with a deficit of just a single point.  Tim Eisele and Max Barclay have also moved to within easy striking distance with 19 and 18 points, respectively, and several others could make a surprise move if the leaders falter.  I think I’ll have one more challenge in the current session before deciding the overall winner—look for it in the near future. 


Linsley, E. G. and J. A. Chemsak. 1984. The Cerambycidae of North America, Part VII, No. 1: Taxonomy and classification of the subfamily Lamiinae, tribes Parmenini through Acanthoderini. University of California Publications in Entomology 102:1–258.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011