Palmetto Tortoise Beetle, Hemisphaerota cyanea

Hemisphaerota cyanea (palmetto tortoise beetle) on saw palmetto (Serenoa repens)| Levy Co., Florida

While most leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae) are found associated with herbaceous plant species, many members of the subfamily Hispinae—which includes leaf mining beetles and tortoise beetles—are found on the foliage of woody plants. In North America the most distinctive of tortoise beetles found on trees is the palmetto tortoise beetle, Hemisphaerota cyanea. These distinctive dark blue, hemispherical-shaped (hence, the genus name) beetles with yellow antennae are found in the deep southeastern U.S. on the fronds of saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, and other native and introduced palms. I found the beetles in these photographs near Cedar Key Scrub State Preserve in Levy Co., Florida while searching white sand 2-tracks through sand scrub habitat for the Florida-endemic Cicindelidia scabrosa (Scabrous Tiger Beetle).

Beetles scarify the leaf epidermis, leaving trough-like feeding marks.

I first saw this species during my first insect collecting trip to Florida back in 1986. I didn’t know much then (other than that I really, really enjoyed traveling to different parts of the county to collect insects!). I was in Everglades National Park (with a permit) when I first noticed them dotting saw palmetto fronds. I think I had actually noticed them for some time but thought they were some type of scale insect before eventually realizing it was actually not only a beetle, but a tortoise beetle (one of the many groups of insects in which I was interested during those early, formative days).

Specially modified tarsi and a hemispherical shape allow the beetle to clamp itself tightly against the leaf to repel attack by ants and other insect predators.

I also remember being struck by how difficult it was to pry the adults off of the leaves on which they were sitting. It turns out that these leaf beetles have specially modified tarsi with thousands of bristles tipped with adhesive pads on the undersides. Normally only a few of the pads contact the leaf surface, but when the beetle is threatened it clamps all of them against the leaf and secretes an oil that strengthens the adhesive capabilities of the pads. Thus secured, the beetle clamps its hemispherical-shaped body down tightly against the leaf and is able to resist the efforts of ants and other predators to pry it from the leaf.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

One-Shot Wednesday—Proctacanthus fulviventris ovipositing

Proctacanthus fulviventris | Dixie Co., Florida

Today I spent the day just south of Florida’s “arm pit” to look for the state’s near-endemic tiger beetle Cicindelidia scabrosa (Scabrous Tiger Beetle). I first found this species last August on a white-sand 2-track through sand pine scrub habitat near Cedar Key Scrub State Preserve (Levy Co.). Although I was happy enough with the photographs that I got that day, the small spot of habitat that I found them in had yielded only a few specimens. My goal this time was to find the species in additional localities  to get a better idea of its precise habitat preferences and obtain a better series of specimens that more fully represents the range of variability exhibited by the species in its pubescence, color and elytral markings. By day’s end I would meet this goal, having found the species at four locations in Levy Co. and further north in Dixie Co. My first stop was actually in Dixie Co. near Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, where I found good numbers of individuals on a white-sand 2-track through pine scrub. A variety of robber flies (family Asilidae) were also seen along the 2-track, but I resisted the urge to photograph them because of the task at hand. Eventually, however, I came upon a female of this rather large species with her abdomen deeply inserted into the loose sand, surely in the act of oviposition. This was too much to pass up, so I set down the net, took off the backpack, and put the camera together. Unfortunately, in the time it took to do this, the fly had already withdrawn her abdomen and was rapidly “sweeping” the tip of the abdomen back and forth over the hole—I presume to cover and hide it. I snapped this first frame (the little bit of motion blur can be seen at the tip of the abdomen), but then I moved carelessly (not my usual habit) when scooting in for a closer shot. This spooked the fly and caused it to fly off, and I was left with this single image.

As much as I like robber flies, I can’t say that I’m well versed in their taxonomy. However, the large size (25–30 mm in length) and overall gestalt suggested to me that it belonged to the nominate subfamily, and cruising through online photographs eventually led me to Proctacanthus fulviventris. The individual seems to agree well with the description of this species provided by Hine (1911), including the bright yellow beard, black femora and red tibiae, and reddish abdominal terga. If my identification is correct, this species—like C. scabrosa—is also a Florida near-endemic whose distribution extends barely into southern Georgia. It’s dark coloration and light brown wings, combined with its large size, surely make it one of the more impressive-looking robber flies, and I’m sorry that I did not attempt to get more photographs of this species while I had the chance, as I did not see it at any of the other locations that I visited on the day.

Incidentally, by my interpretation the scientific name of this species translates to “yellow-bellied spiny-butt”!

REFERENCE:

Hine, J. S. 1911. Robberflies of the genera Promachus and Proctacanthus. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 4(2):153–172.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae

Another cover photo

Issue 43(4) of Cicindela (A quarterly journal devoted to Cicindelidae) is now hitting mailboxes (my copy arrived earlier this week), and for the second issue in a row the cover features one of my tiger beetle photos. Gracing the cover this time is the recently rediscovered Cicindelidia floridana, known only from a small area in the Miami metropolitan area of south Florida, and which I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see this past summer. Because the species is regarded as critically imperiled and a likely candidate for listing as an endangered species, the precise whereabouts of its habitat have not been disclosed. So far I am one of only a few people who have had the chance to photograph it in the field.

Now, some of you may think that because I serve as Layout Editor for the journal that I can horn in and put one of my own photographs on the cover whenever I want. This is not the case, and it was only because Managing Editor Ron Huber asked me if I had anything for the issue that I supplied the photo after having just done so for the previous issue. In actuality, we encourage others to submit their tiger beetle photographs for consideration, and since a majority of U.S. species have already been featured at some point over the years we especially encourage ex-U.S. photographers to submit their photos so that we can limit repetition. Obviously, C. floridana has never been featured on the cover before now, so it was a no-brainer choice for this issue.

The issue contains two delightful papers. The first is another by Mathew Brust on the stunningly gorgeous Cicindela pulchra that discusses not only additional northern range extensions in South Dakota and Wyoming, but also the rediscovery of the species in Nebraska far from the single previously known collection record in the state nearly 100 years ago! It is amazing to me that one of North America’s most conspicuously beautiful tiger beetle species has gone undetected for so long in such a large part of its range. The second paper by Dave Brzoska and Ron Huber is a long overdue biography of tiger beetle icon Norman Rumpp, who in his professional life was a rocket scientist (literally!) and as an avocation became one of North America’s leading authorities on tiger beetles (I am proud to claim ownership of Rumpp’s nearly complete set of The Coleopterists Bulletin). In addition to numerous publications and unpublished reports on tiger beetles in the western U.S., Rumpp described 12 species and subspecies of tiger beetles—including three of the western sand dune endemics that I have featured in recent weeks (Cicindela scutellaris yampae, C. arenicola, and C. albissima). What may not be appreciated is Rumpp’s sense of humor—well, just read the paper and see!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Arriving now in a mailbox near you…


The latest issue of Cicindela (A quarterly journal devoted to Cicindelidae) has just been issued. My copy arrived yesterday and features on the cover a photograph that I took of Tetracha carolina in Florida this past August (original photo and more can be seen in my post ).

I’m also happy to report that I was lead author and co-author on the two papers included this issue. I’ll provide a more detailed summary of those papers in another post—look for it in the near future, or better yet contact Managing Editor Ron Huber to begin receiving your own copies of this fine journal (subscription and contact information here).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Not all Florida tiger beetles are rare

Tetracha carolina (Carolina Metallic Tiger Beetle) | Dixie Co., Florida

I fear my recent series of posts from Florida might leave readers with the impression that all of that state’s tiger beetle species are rare endemics occurring in tiny remnants of relictual habitats and encountered only by the most intrepid collectors enduring the harshest of conditions.  While it’s true that Florida has its share of such species (perhaps more than any other state in the country), it is also home to numerous species that most cicindelophiles would consider rather common—even pedestrian.  “Common” is a relative term, however, depending on where you live, and featured here is a species that until recently would have been for me just as exciting a find as Cicindelidia scabra or Habroscelimorpha striga.

Purple reflections and expanded apical lunules on the elytra distinguish this species from T. floridana

Tetracha carolina (Carolina Metallic Tiger Beetle) is one of the most widely distributed tiger beetle species in the Western Hemisphere, occurring not only across the southern U.S. but also the West Indies and south through Mexico, Central America, and the west coast of South America to Chile.  It was only during the past 10 years, however, that I actually saw the species for myself in Missouri, as it is restricted to the Mississippi Alluvial Plain in the extreme southeastern corner of the state (the so-called “Bootheel”).  Not much was known about the status of this species in Missouri the first time I encountered it under building lights at the University of Missouri Delta Research Center in Portageville.  It was my first experience with “nocturnal tiger beetling,” and you can imagine my excitement at seeing these green and purple beauties glittering in the light of my headlamp.  We now know that the species, despite its restricted occurrence in Missouri, is actually quite common in a variety of habitats in that part of the state, including even agricultural fields where they hide during the day under irrigation pipes (Fothergill et al. 2011).

I simply can't resist these tiger beetle face shots!

The individual in the photographs shown here was seen at the famed “Road to Nowhere” site in a remote part of the Florida Gulf Coast—one of eight total species of tiger beetles that I’ve seen at this site during my two August visits (2009 and this year).  This site is actually one of a few places in Florida where this species co-occurs with T. floridana (Florida Metallic Tiger Beetle), an endemic species restricted to estuarian habitats in the southern half of the Florida peninsula, and until recently considered a subspecies of T. carolina (Naviaux 2007).  The brilliant purple reflections in the basal half of the elytra clearly distinguish this individual as T. carolina, as did its occurrence up on the drier sandy roadside rather than down in the salty mud flats preferred by T. floridana.  Also seen at this site up along the road were numerous adults of the broadly distributed T. virginica (Virginia Metallic Tiger Beetle), making this one of the few sites in the country where three of the four U.S. species of Tetracha can be found (the fourth, T. impressa—Upland Metallic Tiger Beetle, is a Neotropical species that reaches the U.S. only in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas).

REFERENCE:

Fothergill, K., C. B. Cross, K. V. Tindall, T. C. MacRae and C. R. Brown. 2011. Tetracha carolina L. (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelitae) associated with polypipe irrigation systems in southeastern Missouri agricultural lands. Cicindela 43(3): in press.

Naviaux R. 2007. Tetracha (Coleoptera, Cicindelidae, Megacephalina): Revision du genre et descriptions de nouveaus taxons. Mémoires de la Société entomologique de France 7:1–197.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Mini-review of the Cicindelidia abdominalis species-group

Now that I have seen and photographed in the field all four species of the Cicindelidia abdominalis species-group, I thought some might find it useful to have a summary of each species with comparisons, photographs and a key to distinguish the four species. The key presented below is based on that found in Brzoska et al. (2011), which itself is a modification of couplet 8 in the key to the species of Common Tiger Beetles (Cicindela) found in Pearson et al. (2006). Following the key are comparative notes for each species that discuss key characters and give specific information about their distribution, along with field photographs to illustrate the distinguishing characters.

Key to the Cicindelidia abdominalis species-group

1. Elytral surface covered with deep punctures, pronotum with dense decumbent setae (old specimens may have the setae rubbed off and the presence of setal punctures should be checked), usually with 6 labral setae . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

— Elytral surface (excluding presutural foveae) relatively smooth, with shallow punctures, pronotum glabrous or with fine pronotal setae, usually with 4 pronotal setae . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

2(1) Elytra black, with a post median marginal spot, usually with a vestige of a middle band, restricted to peninsular FL north of Miami-Dade County . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C. scabrosa (Schaupp)

— Elytra green or bronze-green, rarely with a post median marginal spot, and without evidence of a middle band, restricted to Miami-Dade County, FL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C. floridana (Cartwright)

3(1) Pronotum, and mes- and metepisternum glabrous, restricted to Polk and Highlands Counties, FL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C. highlandensis (Choate)

— Pronotum with fine decumbent setae, and mes- and metepisternum with decumbent setae, widespread across southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C . abdominalis (Fabricius)

Cicindelidia scabrosa—Scabrous Tiger Beetle

This species is largely limited to oak/pine scrub habitats in peninsular Florida north of Miami-Dade Co., although it does just sneak north of the border into souutheastern Georgia. From Cicindelidia abdominalis and C. highlandensis it can be distinguished by the distinctly punctured rather than smooth elytra and the presence of dense white setae along the lateral margins of the pronotum. From C. floridana it can be distinguished by the black rather than coppery-green coloration and the usual presence of a post-median spot along the lateral elytral margins. More information about this species can be found in my post, “The (almost) Florida-endemic Cicindelidia scabrosa.”

Cicindelidia scabrosa
Cicindelidia scabrosa | Levy Co., Florida

Cicindelidia floridana—Miami Tiger Beetle

Only recently rediscovered after being thought extinct for nearly a century, this species is most similar to C. scabrosa but is restricted to pine rockland habitat in Miami-Dade Co. where C. scabrosa does not occur. Like that species it exhibits the distinctly punctured rather than smooth elytra and dense white setae along the lateral margins of the pronotum that distinguish both species from C. abdominalis and C. highlandensis; however, its coloration is brilliant coppery green rather than black like C. scabrosa, especially in living individuals seen in the wild. More information about this species can be found in my posts, “Rediscovery of Cicindela scabrosa floridana” and “Photographing the Newly Rediscovered Cicindelidia floridana.”

Cicindelidia floridana
Cicindelidia floridana | Miami-Dade Co., Florida

Cicindelidia highlandensis—Highlands Tiger Beetle

This species is most similar to C. abdominalis, sharing with it the smooth elytra and glabrous pronotum that distinguish both species from C. scabrosa and C. floridana. Unlike that more widespread species, however, C. highlandensis is found only along a narrow band of sand scrub habitats on the Lake Wales Ridge in Polk and Highland Cos., central Florida, and it can be distinguished from it by the lack of white setae on the pronotum and mes- and metepisterna (lateral portions of the thorax above the middle and hind legs). More information about this species can be found in my post, “Highlands Tiger Beetle.”

Cicindelidia highlandensis
Cicindelidia highlandensis | Polk Co., Florida

Cicindelidia abdominalis—Eastern Pine Barrens Tiger Beetle

This is the only relatively broadly distributed species of the group, occurring in a variety of dry sand habitats along the southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain from New Jersey west to Louisiana and south into the northern half of Florida. Aside from its non-endemic distribution, this species can be distinguished from C. scabrosa and C. floridana by its smooth elytra and lack of dense white setae along the lateral pronotal margin, and from it’s most similar relative C. highlandensis by the presence of fine, decumbent (lying down) setae on the pronotum and on the mes- and metepisterna above the middle and hind legs. More information about this species can be found in my post, “Tiger Beetles Agree—It’s Hot in Florida!.”

Cicindelidia abdominalis
Cicindelidia abdominalis | Withlacoochee Co., Florida

REFERENCES:

Brzoska, D., C. B. Knisley, and J. Slotten. 2011. Rediscovery of Cicindela scabrosa floridana Cartwright (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) and its elevation to species level. Insecta Mundi 0162:1–7.

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley and C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York, 227 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Return to Nowhere

Back to some hard-core, field natural history.  Two years ago, on my virgin experience at collecting tiger beetles in Florida, I visited a spot called “Road to Nowhere”¹ at the suggestion of North American Tiger Beetle Master Dave Brzoska.  He said as many as 6–10 species can be seen there if the season is right, although my early August timing might be a tad late.  Despite having only a few hours from late afternoon to dusk to explore the area, I came close with the following five species: Cicindela trifasciata ascendens (Ascendent Tiger Beetle), Habroscelimorpha severa (Saltmarsh Tiger Beetle), Eunota togata togata (White-cloaked Tiger Beetle), Ellipsoptera marginata (Margined Tiger Beetle) and E. hamata lacerata (Gulf Beach Tiger Beetle) (see Tiger Beetles at Florida’s “Road to Nowhere”).

¹ For those of you who haven’t heard of the “Road to Nowhere,” it ranks as one of the top tiger beetle “hot spots” in the country (perhaps second only to Arizona’s famous Wilcox Playa).  According to Doug Taron at Gossamer Tapestry, the site—an expansive coastal salt marsh and mud flat along the isolated central Gulf Coast of Florida—was built some decades ago at the behest of corrupt state officials as a landing strip for small airplanes running drugs into this country.


One species I did not see on that trip is Habroscelimorpha striga (Elusive Tiger Beetle).  The common name is well deserved—the species is restricted to salt marshes, mud flats, and openings in coastal pine forest along the west and northeast coasts of Florida and South Carolina, and apparently nobody has ever seen it during the day (Pearson et al. 2006)!  Despite this, the Road to Nowhere is one place where the species can be seen somewhat reliably through its attraction to ultraviolet “blacklights.”  With this in mind, I began my 48-hour tiger beetle blitz during last August’s family vacation to Florida by timing my departure from St. Petersburg so that I arrived at the Road to Nowhere as dusk was falling—just in time to setup the lights, sit back with a beer, and wait for H. striga to cover the sheet!  The plan had a few kinks—I got a little bit of a late start, so by the time I got to Steinhatchee it was already getting dark.  Because of this, I missed one of the turns (my memory isn’t as good as it used to be) and got lost.  By the time I finally got my bearings, it was pitch black as I drove the 11-mile length of that lonely road through sand scrub and coastal marsh to a point where the road just simply stops.  Although the area is no longer used much for drug running, I still felt somewhat vulnerable as I setup the blacklight at the edge of the expansive salt mud flat.  There was one additional kink—I had forgotten to bring my copy of Pearson et al. (2006), any North American tiger beetle aficionado’s “Bible.”  Having only my memory of reading about the species to draw on, I hoped that I would recognize it if I saw it, or least recognize it as something different from the other species I expected to see there.


I’ve heard stories about the area being filled with tiger beetle collectors from all over the country with their blacklights and bucket traps, with someone yelling “striga!” every hour or so. However, I was the only person there that night. I hoped I wasn’t too late, as August is at the back end of the known adult activity period. Very quickly three other species, E. hamata lacerata, E. marginata and H. severa (the latter similar to H. striga, but much more abundant) began literally swarming all over the sheet and ground beneath. It was exciting at first, as I’d never encountered these (or any other tiger beetles) so abundantly at blacklights. In time, however, I satisfied my appetite for specimens and actually started becoming rather annoyed at their abundance—as if they might be “chasing away” the rare H. striga that was attracted to the light before I had a chance to see it.


Eventually, however, it happened. I spotted a somewhat different looking tiger beetle, but instead of yelling “striga!” my reaction was “What is that?” It was dark(ish), and I noted a subsutural row of green punctures on each elytron—”Is that punctulata?” I picked it up and looked at it closely, still thinking maybe punctulata but not sure. It was shinier, and a little bigger, and I noted the presence of marginal white spots at the middle and rear of the elytra. “No, that’s not punctulata… Is it striga? It must be striga! Yeah, it’s striga!” I dug down into the deep recesses of my memory and recalled that H. striga, indeed, was a darkish species, although I could not recall anything about the row of punctures. I finally decided that it really couldn’t be anything else but H. striga, an ID arrived at by process of elimination rather than recognition. Looking back, I feel a little cheated—I never got my “striga!” moment, that instant of sudden jubilation.  Instead, it was just a slow, creeping realization of what I had (listen to me—complaining about finding H. striga!).

I would actually find about a half dozen individuals of H. striga that night. The first one, per standard procedure, went live into a vial as a backup for studio photos if I didn’t manage to get any in the field.  That proved unnecessary, however, as I was able to photograph the two subsequent individuals shown in this post. It was not just H. striga that kept me busy with the camera, but feeding, perching, and trophy-bearing individuals of E. hamata lacerata and some other species that I have still to discuss as well. It was non-stop action from the time I setup the lights, interrupted only briefly at one point as I nervously watched a set of car headlights approach from the distance, stop a few hundred yards up the road, and then slowly turn around and disappear. By the time I finally took a moment to look at my watch it was already 1 a.m.! Soaking wet from the nighttime humidity, dirty from laying on the salty, muddy ground, and exhausted from the 4 hour drive and non-stop action after my arrival, I finally packed up the lights and began the drive back to civilization—praying that I would be able to find a motel without too much delay!

REFERENCE:

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley and C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York, 227 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Another account of the recently rediscovered Cicindelidia floridana

Back in August I had the chance to see with my own eyes wild individuals of Cicindelidia floridana, a tiger beetle that had been recently rediscovered after being thought extinct for nearly a century.  Accompanying me during that trip were Chris Wirth (author of the tiger beetle blog Cicindela) and Dave Brzoska (tiger beetle collector extraordinaire, and lead author of the paper announcing the beetle’s rediscovery).  I recounted that experience in my post Photographing the Newly Rediscovered Cicindelidia floridana, and now Chris has done the same in his post Revisiting the recently rediscovered C. floridana.  Chris has perhaps the most perfect field photograph of one of these beetles—go check it out (and while you’re there read about his first trip to see the beetle in his post Presumed extinct, Floridian tiger beetle rediscovered after 73 years).  And so that you don’t leave here empty-handed, here is another photograph of the beetle that didn’t quite make the cut in my earlier post:

Cicindelidia floridana | Miami-Dade Co., Florida

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011