Brazilian Bike Adventure

Atlantic Forest

Atlantic Forest in Serra do Mar.

Yesterday I joined my Brazilian colleagues on a bicycling tour from the outskirts of São Paulo to the beaches of the Atlantic Coast. To say that the tour was an ‘adventure’ is an understatement—it was epic! For those not familiar with São Paulo, its 20 million inhabitants make it not only the largest city in Brazil, but also one of the five largest cities in the world. Yet, despite the explosive growth it has seen during the past century, it remains isolated from the Atlantic Coast of southeastern Brazil by the Serra do Mar, a 40-kilometer wide swath of rugged, mountainous terrain and part of the Great Escarpment that runs along much of the eastern coast of Brazil. It is here where some of the last tracts of Atlantic Forest, the second largest forest ecotype in South America after the Amazon, remain. Atlantic Forest once stretched along much of Brazil’s Atlantic coast, turning inland in its southern reaches to Paraguay and the northern tip of Argentina. However, much of the forest, especially in populous southeastern Brazil, has fallen victim to the axe. Only the ruggedness of the Serra do Mar has allowed the Atlantic Forest to survive in such close proximity to one of the world’s most populous cities. Understandably, travel between São Paulo and the coast has been difficult. In former years, vehicles had to snake their way through the mountains along a treacherous 2-lane highway with steep grades and hairpin turns. That highway has since been circumvented by an elevated, double, 4-lane highway of alternating spans and tunnels, and the old highway, now closed to vehicles, is instead used by maintenance crews for the new highway and cyclists who yearn to experience the Atlantic Forest up close and personal.

Our van dropped us off in the outskirts of São Paulo, from where we rode along the main highway a short bit before accessing the old highway. Dropping into the Atlantic Forest was like being magically transported into virgin wilderness. The pavement was so encroached by the forest, steep and slippery in places, that it was hard to imagine it ever served as a link between Brazil’s largest city and its largest port. Heavy rains the previous night made the forest moist and gave it an earthy aroma, and moisture-laden air hung heavy with fog and intermittent drizzle. For a time it seemed we would have an uninterrupted, 40-km downhill freeride; however, just a few kilometers into the ride we encountered the first of what would be many landslides blocking the route. I can honestly say that I’ve never portaged a bike through as rough and tumble a pile of trees, rocks, and mud as I did on this day. Still, perhaps encouraged by the fresh bike tracks that lay before us, we soldiered on. After picking our way through a half-dozen such landslides we came upon a work crew who said there were another 30–40 landslides further down along the route. We were at a tunnel that connected with the main highway, so we decided to play it safe and take the main highway the rest of the way down. That, too, was an adventure, made feasible only by the fact that traffic was crawling at a snail’s pace due to the popularity of the Atlantic beaches with the citizenry of São Paulo. It was enjoyable to swish past the cars as they idled their engines, but we had to navigate about seven kilometers worth of shoulderless tunnels. That would have been impossible in normal traffic, but the congestion made finding room to squeeze by large trucks and buses the biggest problem (and I guess breathing exhaust!). Eventually we made it down into Santos, the largest port city in Brazil, and after picking our way through the center of the city, took a ferry to the beach city of Guarujá. Rain, landslides and traffic had thrown everything they had at us, but we persevered the 53-km trek and watched the sun break through while enjoying our just rewards in a beachside restaurant.

Following are a few more of my favorite photos from the day, and you can see all of them in my Facebook album Brazilian Bike Adventure.

Descending into the forest.

Descending into the forest.

Magical vistas such as this were around every turn of the road.

Magical vistas such as this awaited us around every turn of the road.

Manacá da Serra (Tibouchina mutabilis) was abundant in the forest.

Manacá da Serra (Tibouchina mutabilis) flowered in abundance in the forest.

Elevated roadways bypass the beauty of the forest below them.

Why did the ‘hellgramite’ (order Megaloptera, family Corydalidae) cross the road? (Thanks to dragonflywoman for the ID.)

The first of many landslides that blocked our path.

The first of many landslides that blocked our path.

The new elevated highway snakes through the Serra do Mar. This portion was closed due to landslides.

The new elevated highway snakes through the Serra do Mar. This portion was closed due to landslides.

Outside of the cicada killer, this digger wasp (family Crabronidae) on the  beach at Guarujá is the largest that I have ever seen.

A large digger wasp (family Crabronidae) greets us on the beach at Guarujá.

My Brazilian colleagues and I enjoy some well-deserved refreshments after our 53-km trek!

My Brazilian colleagues and I enjoy some well-deserved refreshments after our 53-km trek!

I may have looked like a nerd still in my cycling clothes, but the wave experience was unforgettable.

I may have looked like a nerd still in my cycling clothes, but the wave experience was unforgettable.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Backyard gems

I’ve been fortunate to have the chance to travel far and wide in my searches for insects—from the Gypsum Hills of the Great Plains and Sky Islands of the desert southwest to the subtropical riparian woodlands of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, tropical thorn forests of southern Mexico and veld of southern Africa. No matter how far I travel, however, I’m always happy to return to the Missouri Ozarks. It is here where I cut my entomological teeth so many years ago, and though I’ve now scrabbled around these ancient hills for more than three decades it continues to satisfy my thirst for natural history. Though not nearly as expansive as the Great Plains, there are nevertheless innumerable nooks and crannies nestled in the Ozarks, and I find myself constantly torn between looking for new spots (it would take several lifetimes to find them all) and going back to old favorites. Living in the northeastern “foothills” in the outskirts of St. Louis provides an ideal vantage for exploration; however, sometimes I am truly amazed at the natural history gems that can be found within a stone’s throw from my house. Some examples I’ve featured previously include Shaw Nature Reserve, home to a hotspot of the one-spotted tiger beetle, Castlewood State Park, where I found a gorgeously reddish population of the eastern big sand tiger beetle, and Victoria Glades Natural Area, site of the very first new species (and perhaps also the most beautiful) that I ever collected.

Englemann Woods Natural Area | Franklin Co., Missouri

Today I found another such area—Englemann Woods Natural Area, and at only 5 miles from my doorstep it is the closest natural gem that I have yet encountered. One of the last old-growth forests in the state, its deep loess deposits on dolomite bedrock overlooking the Missouri River valley support rich, mesic forests on the moister north and east facing slopes and dry-mesic forests on the drier west-facing slopes dissected by rich, wet-mesic forests with their hundreds-of-years-old trees. A remarkable forest of white oak, ash, basswood and maple in an area dominated by monotonous second-growth oak/hickory forests.

Englemann Woods Natural Area

Steep north-facing slopes border the Missouri River valley.

It is not, however, the 200-year-old trees that will bring me back to this spot, but rather the understory on the north and east-facing slopes. Here occur some of the richest stands of eastern hornbean (Ostrya virginiana) that I have ever seen. This diminutive forest understory inhabitant is not particularly rare in Missouri, but as it prefers rather moist upland situations it is not commonly encountered in the dry-mesic forests that dominate much of the Ozarks. Stands of this tree, a member of the birch family (Betulaceae) are easy to spot in winter due to their habit of holding onto their dried canopy of tawny-brown leaves (see photo below).

Englemann Woods Natural Area

Rich stands of eastern hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) dominate the north- and east-slope understory.

Why am I so interested in this plant? It is the primary host of the jewel beetle species Agrilus champlaini. Unlike most other members of the genus, this species breeds in living trees rather than dead wood, their larvae creating characteristic swellings (galls, if you will) on the twigs and stems as they spiral around under the bark feeding on the cambium tissues before entering the wood to pupate and emerge as adults in spring. This species is known in Missouri from just two specimens, both collected by me way back in the 1980s as they emerged from galls that I had collected during the winter at two locations much further away from St. Louis. The presence of this rich stand of hornbeam just 5 miles from my home gives me the opportunity to not only search the area more thoroughly to look for the presence of galls from which I might rear additional specimens, but also to look for adults on their hosts during spring and (possibly, hopefully) succeed in photographing them alive.

Englemann Woods Natural Area

Inside the “hornbeam forest.”

Another “draw” for me is the restoration work that has begun on some of the west-facing slopes in the areas. Pre-settlement Missouri was a far less wooded place than it is today, as evidenced by the richly descriptive writings penned by Henry Schoolcraft during his horseback journey through the Ozarks in the early 1800’s. At the interface between the great deciduous forests to the east and the expansive grasslands to the west, the forests of Missouri were historically a shifting mosaic of savanna and woodland mediated by fire. Relatively drier west-facing slopes were more prone to the occurrence of these fires, resulting in open woodlands with more diverse herbaceous and shrub layers. At the far extreme these habitats are most properly called “xeric dolomite/limestone prairie” but nearly universally referred to by Missourians as “glades”—islands of prairie in a sea of forest! I have sampled glades extensively in Missouri over the years, and they are perhaps my favorite of all Missouri habitats. However, it is not future glades or savannas that have me excited about Englemann Woods but rather the availability of freshly dead wood for jewel beetles and longhorned beetles resulting from the selective logging that has taken place as a first step towards restoration of such habitats on these west-slopes. The downed trees on these slopes and subsequent mortality of some still standing trees that is likely to result from the sudden exposure of their shade adapted trunks to full sun are likely to serve as a sink for these beetles for several years to come. I will want to use all the tools at my disposal for sampling them while I have this opportunity—beating, attraction to ultraviolet lights, and fermenting bait traps being the primary ones. It looks like I’d better stock up on molasses and cheap beer!

Englemann Woods Natural Area

Restoration efforts on the west-facing slopes begins with selective logging.

Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is native to Missouri, but in our time it has become a major, invasive pest tree. The suppression of fire that came with settlement also freed this tree from a major constraining influence on its establishment in various habitats around the state, primarily dolomite/limestone glades. Nowadays most former glade habitats, unless actively managed to prevent it, have become choked with stands of this tree, resulting in shading out of the sun-loving plants that historically occurred much more commonly in the state. Untold dollars are spent each year by landscape managers on mechanical removal and controlled burns to remove red-cedar and prevent its reestablishment in these habitats. There is one habitat in Missouri, however, in which eastern red-cedar has reigned supreme for centuries or possibly millenia—dolomite/limestone bluff faces.

Juniperus virginiana

Craggly, old Eastern red-cedars (Juniperus virginiana) cling tenaciously to the towering dolomite bluffs.

With little more than a crack in the rock to serve as a toehold, red-cedars thrive where no other tree can, growing slowly, their gnarled trunks contorted and branches twisted by exposure to sun and wind and chronic lack of moisture. Some of the oldest trees in Missouri are red-cedars living on bluffs, with the oldest example reported coming from Missouri at an incredible 750–800 years old. There is something awe-inspiring about seeing a living organism that existed in my home state before there were roads and cars and guns. These ancient trees are now an easy drive from my house (though a rather strenuous 300-ft bushwhacking ascent to reach the bluff tops)—they seem ironically vulnerable now after having endured for so long against the forces of nature. For me, they will serve as a spiritual draw—a reason to return to this place again regardless of what success I might have at finding insects in the coming months.

Juniperus virginiana

This tree may pre-date Eurpoean settlement.

Aplectrum hyemale

Adam-and-Eve orchid (Aplectrum hyemale).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Friday Flower: Red Buckeye

Beetles, spiders, and snakes were not the only delights that Rich and I saw as we hiked the lower stretch of the Ozark Trail’s Wappapello Section in early April.  Entering the rich, moist, east-facing slopes overlooking the Black River valley, the oaks and hickories were still in the early stages of bud break. A lush, green understory, however, spread out before us, punctuated by the striking inflorescences of red buckeye, Aesculus pavia (family Hippocastanaceae). Among the first trees to bloom in spring, red buckeye is unmistakable in the field due to its red flowers and palmately divided leaves.

Red buckeye is native to the southeastern U.S., just reaching Missouri in the southeastern Ozarks (though cultivated further north). This makes it less well-known than the more widely distributed Ohio buckeye, Aesculus glabra (absent only from the southeastern lowlands and northwestern corner of the state, and easily distinguished by its white inflorescences, larger size, and spreading growth habit).  Like that species, the seeds and young foliage especially are poisonous if eaten due to glycosidic alkaloids and saponins.  Native Americans roasted, peeled and mashed the nuts into a meal called “Hetuck.”

I first encountered this species in 2001 along Fox Creek in the White River Hills of extreme southwestern Missouri.  It was one of several species that I had selectively “cut” and left in situ for a season to allow infestation by wood boring beetles.  I retrieved the wood the following spring and reared five species of longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae) from the dead branches, including Astyleiopus variegatus, Hyperplatys maculata, Leptostylus transversus, Lepturges angulatus, and the prize – the very uncommonly encountered Lepturges regularis. All of these represented new larval host records; however, it was not until after I published those records (MacRae and Rice 2007) that I realized the plant itself was not known by Steyermark (1963) to occur naturally outside of the southeastern Ozark Highlands.

Speaking of early spring flowers, many such delights can be found at Berry Go Round #27 which is now up at Mary Farmer’s A Neotropical Savanna. It’s not just spring ephemerals, however, as another Missouri blogger and I show that winter has it’s own botanical charms. Stop by and enjoy the feast!


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

Steyermark, J. A. 1963. Flora of Missouri.  The Iowa State University Press, Ames, 1728 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Lake Tahoe – 2010 Preview

How does an entomologist/wannabe botanist-ecologist-geologist-cyclist-nature photographer spend his time on a family vacation?

  • Thursday evening to Saturday late afternoon:
    – Drive from St. Louis to Lake Tahoe.  In between driving shifts:
    – Complete manuscript on Cylindera cursitans surveys
    – Complete manuscript on Dromochorus pruinina surveys.
    – Arrive late afternoon, quick 1-hr bike ride before dark.
  • Sunday:
    – Cross-country skiing with the family: Spooner Lake (~6 miles).
    – Sight-seeing: Sand Harbor Overlook on the east shore.
    – Hang out at the hot tub with the family and a glass of wine.
  • Monday:
    – Drive to Sacramento with the family.
    – Visit buprestid-colleagues Chuck Bellamy (CDFA) and Mark Volkovitsh (Russian Academy of Science).
    – Private lesson from Mark on how to dissect buprestid larvae for taxonomic description.
    – Dinner with my favorite brothers-in-law.
    – Drive back to Lake Tahoe.
  • Tuesday:
    – Snowshoe hike with the family: Emerald Bay to Eagle Lake and back (2 miles, 1,900′ of climbing).
    – Bike ride: South Lake Tahoe to Bliss State Park and back (33 miles, 1,100′ of climbing).
  • Wednesday:
    – Bike ride: all the way around Lake Tahoe (72 miles, 3,500′ of climbing).
    – Hang out at the hot tub with the family and a glass of wine.
  • Thursday:
    – Botanizing and hiking with daughter Madison at Mt. Rose (4 miles, 1,300′ feet of climbing).
    – Hang out at the hot tub with the family and a glass of wine.
  • Friday:
    – Alpine skiing with the family at Heavenly Ski Resort.
    – Join a 2-hour ski tour with US Forest Service rangers discussing natural and cultural history of Lake Tahoe.
    – Hang out at the hot tub with the family and a glass of wine.
  • Saturday morning to Sunday night:
    – Drive from Lake Tahoe back to St. Louis.  In between driving shifts:
    – Process/file photographs from trip (~250).
    – Complete reports for 2009 collecting permits.
    – Complete new applications for 2010 permits.
    – Begin manuscript on Cylindera celeripes conservation status.
  • Monday:
    – Return to work mentally refreshed!

I’ve already shared a bit of the trip with a view of Mt. Rose from 7,000′ and ensuing pismire quagmire.  Today I share some views of one of the most scenic of lakeside spots on the east shore – Sand Harbor Overlook.  I featured this spot in this post from last year’s trip due to its stunning beauty, and this year I was no less impressed.  I still had that same, annoying, afternoon sun to deal with (next year I’ve resolved to get here during the morning) but managed to get some passable photographs.  The one above is my favorite, and I hope you enjoy the following as well. (p.s. if someone knows how to fix a sun-blown sky in Photoshop Elements, please let me know).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Hawn State Park – Winter Hiking at its Finest

Two weekends ago we received another wave in what has been an unusually frequent series of snow events. I’m sure my northern (and Patagonian) friends are not impressed, but at our middlin’ latitudes snow falls rather infrequently and rarely sticks around for long when it does. This winter has been different, with snowfall almost every week, it seems like, and temperatures that have remained cold enough to keep it around for awhile. While this latest snowfall measured only a modest 1-2 inches here in the St. Louis area, a 7-inch blanket (as measured by my hiking stick) fell in the Ozark Highlands just south of here. Coming as it did at the start of the weekend, I welcomed the opportunity to go for a hike — among my favorite wintertime activities — in a landscape that is rarely seen covered in deep, newly-fallen snow. My daughter Madison loves hiking as much as I do (even in deep snow), so the two of us headed off to perhaps my favorite of Missouri’s public areas, Hawn State Park.  I have long adored Hawn for its premier hiking, facinating geology, and unusual flora, and everytime I visit Hawn I find something new to love about it.  

Lamotte sandstone outcrops on the White Oaks Trail

Such was the case on this visit, when Madison and I decided to explore the White Oaks Trail, a newer trail that I had not yet hiked.  I was a little concered whether we would even be able to get to the park, as the road leading into it had only been partially plowed (and we had already seen one car off the road, causing me to reach down and switch on the 4-wheel drive).  Most of the park was snowed in, but we were able to reach the uppermost parking area, leaving our snow-covered trail-finding abilities as the last obstacle to overcome.  After studying the trail map and looking at different route options, I asked Madison if she wanted to hike 2 miles, 4 miles, or 6 miles.  She immediately blurted out “6 miles!”, so off we went.  I was disappointed to see that we were not the first persons to have the idea, as we entered the trail only to find two sets of footprints (one human, one canid) leading off in front of us.  It did, however, make following the trail easier, and in fact I’ve had enough experience finding trails through the Ozark Highlands that I never felt like I needed the footprints in front of us to point the direction.  

Madison next to the root wad of an 83-yr old wind-thrown oak tree.

The White Oaks Trail followed nicely up-and-down terrain through mature white oak (Querucs alba) (appropriately) upland forest dissected by small riparian valleys before settling into relatively mild terrain through monotonous black oak forest.  Just when I thought the trail wouldn’t match the splendor of Hawn’s Whispering Pines and Pickle Creek Trails, it wrapped around to the south at the far end and passed by a beautiful hoo-doo complex of Lamotte sandstone outcroppingss supporting majestic, widely-spaced, mature shortleaf pines (Pinus echinata).  The rock outcrops provided a perfect spot to break for lunch while looking out on the deep, snow-covered valley in front of us.  

More Lamotte sandstone exposures along Pickle Creek, Whispering Pines Trail.

After counting a cut, wind-thrown black oak (Quercus velutinus) and determining a lifespan of 83 years, we took a connector trail down to the Whispering Pines Trail where it ran alonside the incomparably beautiful Pickle Creek.  Our hope was to hike down to the igneous shut-ins, where hard, pink rhyolites channeled the creek’s clear, spring-fed waters through narrow chutes and miniature gorges.  Upstream from the shut-ins, Pickle Creek runs lazily through the softer Lamotte sandstones that overlay those ancient rhyolites, combining with the snow cover to create a scene as peaceful and serene as any I’ve ever witnessed.

Pickle Creek meanders lazily through Whispering Pines Wild Area.

Just above the shut-ins, Pickle Creek bends to the west, carving deeply into the soft sandstone.  The porous nature of the rock allows moisture to trickle through and between the strata from the hillside above, creating seep zones that weaken underlying layers and lead to their collapse.  The abundant moisture this winter and continuous cycles of daytime thawing and nighttime freezes have resulted in extraordinary ice formations along the bluff face and underneath the overhanging layers, the likes of which are rarely seen in our normally more open winters.  Compare the scene in the first photo below with that in the second, taken at almost exactly the same spot one year ago in February 2009.  

Icicle formations along Pickle Creek, Whispering Pines Trail.

Same place as above in February 2009.

Ice rarely forms over the small ponds and lakes that dot the Ozark Highlands, much less its creeks and other moving waters.   The scene below of Pickle Creek as it exits the sandstone gorge is a testament to the slowness of its movements and the unusually consistent cold temperatures experienced during the past several weeks.  Only a short distance downstream, however, these lazy waters reach the bottommost layers of the erodable sandstones and encounter the hard rhyolites below.  These half-a-billion year old layers of igneous rock are much more resistant to the wearing action of water, which rushes noisily through narrowly-carved chutes before fanning out in broad sheets over smooth, steep slopes below.  

Pickle Creek along Whispering Pines Trail.

Sadly, there would not be time to visit the shut-ins.  The short February day conspired with our snow-slowed pace to leave us with a too-low-sun by the time we reached the fork in the trail that led to the shut-ins, a mile in one direction, and our car, a mile in the other.  Although we (both) had thought to carry flashlights (just in case), the last thing I really wanted to do was find myself stumbling over snow-covered trails through the dark with my 10-yr old daughter. Even had we survived the nighttime winter woods, I might not have survived the inevitable maternal reaction to such an escapade.

Arriving back at White Oaks Trailhead with a few minutes to spare.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010  

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Tiger Beetles Agree—It’s Hot in Florida!

Florida is known for its rich assemblage of tiger beetles—27 species in all, including four endemics (Choate 2003).  However, late summer is generally considered not the best time of year for seeing this diversity, since adult populations of most species begin to wane as the intensity of the summer heat reaches its peak.  I knew the timing of my family vacation in early August might be a bit off; however, considering I had never looked for tiger beetles in Florida before, I remained optimistic that I still might encounter some interesting species.  My optimism was quickly rewarded—in one afternoon of exploring the small coastal preserve just outside the back door of my sister-in-law’s condo, I found Ellipsoptera marginata (Margined Tiger Beetle), its sibling species E. hamata lacerata (Gulf Beach Tiger Beetle), and several 3rd-instar larvae in their burrows that proved to be the Florida endemic Tetracha floridana (Florida Metallic Tiger Beetle).  Good fortune would continue when I made a one-day trip to the interior highlands in a successful bid to find Florida’s rarest endemic, Cicindela highlandensis (Highlands Tiger Beetle), finding also as a bonus the splendidly camouflaged and also endemic Ellipsoptera hirtilabris (Moustached Tiger Beetle).  Five species, including three endemics, in just over a day of searching!  I had one more day to sneak off and do what I love most, and I wanted to make the most of it. 

Pine sandhill habitat, Withlachoochee State Forest—Citrus Tract

Among the suggestions given to me by my colleagues, the most promising-sounding was the “end of the road,” a Gulf Coast salt marsh near Steinhatchee in Dixie County where I was told as many as 6-10 species of tiger beetles could be seen at once.  I didn’t know it at the time, but this particular location has achieved legendary status among tiger beetle enthusiasts (Doug Taron recently wrote about his experience, calling it the Road to Nowhere).  A 200+ mile drive from my base near St. Petersburg, it would take the better part of 5 hours to drive there, and not wanting to put all of my eggs in one basket, I looked for potential stops along the way.  About midway along the drive was Withlacoochee State Forest, where one of my colleagues had told me I might still find the fairly widespread Cicindela abdominalis (Eastern Pinebarrens Tiger Beetle) and its close relative, C. scabrosa (Scabrous Tiger Beetle)—the fourth Florida endemic.  My plan was to leave early in the morning and spend a few hours at Withlacoochee before driving the rest of the way to finish out the day at Steinhatchee. 

"Stilting" by Cicindela abdominalis (Eastern Pinebarrens Tiger Beetle)

It took some time to find my bearings upon arriving, but after some discussion with the decidedly forestry-oriented staff at the headquarters, it seemed that the Citrus Tract was where I wanted to be.  I was looking for the sand barren and pine sandhill habitats that these species require, and the staff’s description of the northern edge of the tract as having lots of sand and “not very good for growing trees” suggested this might be the place.  Pine sandhill (also called “high pine”) is a pyrophytic (fire-dependent) plant community characterized by sandy, well-drained soils, a widely-spaced longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and turkey oak (Quercus laevis) canopy, and an herbaceous layer dominated by wiregrass (Aristida stricta).  I quickly found such habitat in the area suggested, and it wasn’t long before I found the first of the two species—C. abdominalis—rather commonly along a sandy 2-track leading through the area.  For those of you who see a distinct resemblance of this species to the rare C. highlandensis that I highlighted from my trip to the central highlands, this is no coincidence.  Cicindela abdominalis is very closely related to that species, the latter distinquished by an absence of flattened, white setae on the sides of the prothorax and the abdomen and by the highly reduced or absent elytral maculations (Choate 1984).  Dense white setae and distinct apical elytral maculations are clearly visible in the individuals shown in these photographs. 

Stilting is often accompanied by "sun-facing" for additional thermoregulation

It was a blistering hot day (just as every other day on the trip had been so far), and it wasn’t only me who felt that way.  Tiger beetles, of course, are ectothermic and rely upon their environment for their body temperature.  Despite this, they are able to regulate body temperatures to some degree by using a range of behavioral adaptations intended to mitigate the effects of high surface temperatures and intense sunlight.  The photos above show one of these behaviors, known as stilting.  In this behavior, the adult stands tall on its long legs to elevate its body above the thin layer of hotter air right next to the soil surface and as far off the sand as possible (Pearson et al. 2006).  As the heat of the day intensifies and the zone of hot air at the soil surface broadens, stilting alone may be insufficient to prevent overheating. When this happens, the beetles combine stilting with sun-facing, a behavior in which the front part of the body is elevated with the head oriented towards the sun. This position exposes only the front of the head to the sun’s direct rays, thus minimizing the body surface area exposed to incident radiation.

Stilting and sun-facing by Ellipsoptera hirtilabris (Moustached Tiger Beetle)

I was also fortunate to have another chance at photographing the beautiful and marvelously-camouflaged Ellipsoptera hirtilabris (Moustached Tiger Beetle), which, in similar fashion to C. highlandensis, I found co-occurring with C. abdominalis in rather low numbers. As before, they were extremely wary and difficult to approach, especially in the extreme heat of the day, and all of my best efforts to get a good shot of the species in its “classic” pose were frustrated. The photo above was about as close as I could get to any of these beetles when they were out in the open before they would flee; however, it nicely demonstrates the use of stilting combined with sun-facing during the hottest part of the day.

"Shade seeking" is another behavioral response to intense heat.

Another behavioral response to extreme heat is shade-seeking—adults may either remain active, shuttling in and out of shaded areas, or avoid exposed areas altogether and become inactive.  One thermoregulatory behavior for extreme heat that I did not observe was daytime-burrowing, in which adults construct temporary shallow burrows during the hottest hours of the day. Although I did not observe this behavior by either species at Withlacoochee, I have seen it commonly among several species in sandy habitats here in Missouri and in the Sandhills of Nebraska (e.g., Cicindela formosa, Cicindela limbata, Cicindela repanda, Cicindela scutellaris, Cicindela tranquebarica, Ellipsoptera lepida).

There was one disappointment on the day—I did not see C. scabrosa.  However, I still had the “end of the road” to explore, so I remained happy with the now six species I had encountered and optimistic about finding additional species later in the day… 

Photo Details: Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100.
Habitat: Canon 17-85mm zoom lens (landscape, 17mm), 1/100 sec, f/10, natural light.
Insects: Canon 100mm macro lens (manual), 1/250 sec, f/16–18 (C. abdominalis) or f/20–22 (E. hirtilabris), MT-24EX flash w/ Sto-Fen diffusers.


Choate, P. M., Jr.  1984.  A new species of Cicindela Linnaeus (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) from Florida, and elevation of C. abdominalis scabrosa Shaupp to species level.  Entomological News 95:73–82.

Choate, P. M., Jr. 2003. A Field Guide and Identification Manual for Florida and Eastern U.S. Tiger Beetles.  University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 224 pp.

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 2009

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Ant-like Tiger Beetle

Fig. 1.  Adult female Cylindera cursitans

Fig. 1. Adult female Cylindera cursitans

One of the more recent of the 24 species of tiger beetles that we’ve collected in Missouri is Cylindera cursitans (Ant-like Tiger Beetle).  Although not yet formally recorded from the state, we’ve known about its occurrence here for some time now based on a single specimen deposited in the Enns Entomology Museum (University of Missouri).  With no more locality information to go on than the frustratingly vague “nr. Portageville,” my colleague Chris Brown and I made several attempts over the years to look for this species – eventually deciding that one particular spot where the highway stretched east of Portageville and dead-ended at the Mississippi River was the most likely collection site.  This locality, which we would come to call the “end of the hiway” spot (I suspect that every state with at least one tiger beetle aficionado has one or more so-named spots), proved to be a true tiger beetle “hot-spot,” with no less than 8 species of tiger beetles found along its sandy banks in our first few surveys.  However, C. cursitans was not among them, and success would only come with a little bit of serendipity when I received an email in 2007 from Kent Fothergill.  Kent explained that he had learned of me from my Missouri Tigers article (MacRae and Brown 2001), offered some comments about the tiger beetles that he had been finding since his recent move to southeast Missouri, and included full label data from the tiger beetles in the small collection of the Delta Research Center where his then-fianceé had secured a position as a research entomologist.  I wrote Kent back, thanked him for the data, and added this plea for assistance:

There is a single specimen of Cicindela cursitans in the UMC collection, it was collected in “nr. Portageville” on July 7, 1991.  We have tried several times without success to locate this species in Missouri – it’s the only species that we have not relocated.  If you have any interest in looking for it that would be great.  Attached is a pdf of recent paper describing its habits and biology in Nebraska.

Fig. 2.  Adult female Cylindera cursitans ovipositing into substrate.

Fig. 2. Adult female Cylindera cursitans ovipositing in moist sand/loam substrate.

Little did I know how catalytic that comment would be – the very next day I received an email from Kent not only stating that he found it, but that he found it at the “end of the hiway” spot where we thought it might be.  A digital photo confirmed its identity, and the that weekend I blasted down to meet Kent and see the beetle for myself.  I would see just two beetles that day, but both were at a new locality about one mile south of where Kent had originally spotted them.  Kent would later find them at yet another locality further north along the Mississippi River, and in 2008 the three of us (Kent, Chris, and myself) conducted an intensive survey of potential habitats in southeastern Missouri that identified additional populations both north and south of the original localities.  We concluded that populations of C. cursitans, were restricted in southeast Missouri to the ribbons of wet bottomland forest that occupy the narrow corridor between the Mississippi River and the levees that confine it. However, the populations appeared secure and likely did not require any immediate conservation measures to ensure their long-term survival within the state. 

Fig. 3.  Adult male Cylindera cursitans.

Fig. 3. Adult male Cylindera cursitans.

The bottomland forests that harbor C. cursitans in southeast Missouri (Fig. 3) contrast sharply with the wet meadow habitats reported for populations in Nebraska (Brust et al. 2005a). Within these habitats, the beetles themselves are very easily overlooked because of their small size and rapid running capabilities.  In addition, adult activity peaks in June and begin to wane in July.  The combination of these factors explains our initial difficulty in finding the beetle; however, with a proper search image and better understanding of its temporal occurrence and habitat preference, we have since found the beetles to be rather easily located.  A lingering question from last year’s survey is, how far north along the Mississippi River does C. cursitans occur? Furthermore, might the species also occur in northeast Missouri due to its proximity to the Nebraska populations?  Most of Missouri straddles a curious distributional gap that separates the bottomland forest dwelling populations in the southeast from the wet meadow dwelling populations in the upper Great Plains (Hoback and Riggins 2001). This has led some authors to suggest that the observed distribution represents two disjunct forms and potentially two species (Ron Huber, pers. comm.). Additional surveys of potential habitat further north along the Mississippi River and in northwest Missouri along the Missouri River could prove useful in confirming or refuting that suggestion. 

Fig. 3.  Habitat for Cylindera cursitans, along Mississippi River, vic. Donaldson Point Conservation Area, New Madrid Co., Missouri.

Fig. 4. Habitat for Cylindera cursitans, along Mississippi River, vic. Donaldson Point Conservation Area, New Madrid Co., Missouri.

While such surveys were not possible this year, long-time fieldmate Rich Thoma and I were able to visit the Southeastern Lowlands in June to examine a few habitats along the Mississippi River found a little further north of the northernmost extent of our 2008 survey area. We succeeded in finding another population at one of these sites near the northern limit of the Southeastern Lowlands.  The individuals shown here (Figs. 1-3) were collected from that location (extreme northeastern Mississippi Co.), confined on local sand/loam substrate, and photographed a few days later.  In one of the photos (Fig. 2), a female can be seen in the act of ovipositing into a hole dug into the substrate with her ovipositor.  The more observant readers might notice a strong resemblance between this species and another species to which I have devoted several posts, Cylindera celeripes (Swift Tiger Beetle).  These two species are, in fact, quite closely related and can be distinguished by characters of the elytra (posterior portion not or only slightly expanded and lateral white maculations complete in cursitans, distinctly expanded and maculations reduced in celeripes) (Pearson et al. 2006), habitat (cursitans in moist lowland sites, celeripes in dry upland sites), and distribution (southeast Nebraska/southwest Iowa is the only area where the distributions of these two species overlap, although C. celeripes has not been seen in Nebraska for nearly 100 years! (Brust et al. 2005b)).

Photo details:
Figs. 1-3: Canon 100mm macro lens with Kenco extension tubes (68mm) on Canon EOS 50D (manual mode), ISO-100, 1/250 sec, f/18, MT-24EX flash 1/2 power through diffuser caps.
Fig. 4: Panasonic DMC-FX3 (landscape mode), ISO-100, 1/25 sec, f/2.8, natural light.


Brust, M., W. Hoback and C. B. Knisley.  2005a.  Biology, habitat preference, and larval description of Cicindela cursitans LeConte (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelinae).  The Coleopterists Bulletin 59(3):379-390.

Brust, M. L., S. M. Spomer and W. W. Hoback.  2005b.  Tiger Beetles of Nebraska.  University of Nebraska at Kearney. (Version 5APR2005).


Hoback, W. W. and J. L. Riggins.  2001.  Tiger beetles of the United States.  Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online. (Version 12DEC2003).

MacRae, T. C., and C. R. Brown. 2001. Missouri Tigers. Missouri Conservationist 62(6):14–19.

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 2009

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Typocerus deceptus in Missouri

It has been fifteen years now since I published an annotated checklist of the longhorned beetles (families Cerambycidae and Disteniidae) of Missouri (MacRae 1994).  That publication (and a similar one on Buprestidae) was the product of eight years of collecting – of specimens in the field and of data in any other public or private collection I could find that contained Missouri specimens – during my stint as a field entomologist with the Missouri Department of Agriculture.  I collected during the week while on my rounds.  I collected on weekends as well.  I visited every college and university in the state that had an insect collection of any size, and a few in neighboring states as well.  I made the acquaintance of private collectors with significant Missouri material – most notably Richard Heitzman, Marlin Rice, and the late Gayle Nelson.  By the time I left Missouri for a new position in Sacramento, I had documented 219 species and subspecies of longhorned beetles from the state – 66 of which were new state records.

Typocerus deceptus on flower of Hydrangea arborescens

Typocerus deceptus on flower of Hydrangea arborescens

Despite my best efforts, however, I knew the list was not complete – they never are.  In the years since returning to Missouri, I’ve documented an additional 10 species and subspecies in the state (MacRae and Rice 2007), and in a newly published paper (McDowell and MacRae 2009) the rare species, Typocerus deceptus, is documented from Missouri for the first time.  I cannot take credit for this discovery – that honor goes to the paper’s lead author, Tom McDowell of Carbondale, Illinois.  Tom first encountered this species in 2005 at Trail of Tears State Park in southeastern Missouri near Cape Girardeau while conducting routine insect surveys.  After seeing additional individuals on a subsequent visit to the park the following year, Tom contacted me to tell me of his find and graciously invited me to join him on further studies of this rarely encountered species.  I readily agreed, and in July of last year I met up with Tom at Trail of Tears to see the beetle for myself.

Typocerus deceptus on flower of Hydrangea arborescens

Typocerus deceptus on flower of Hydrangea arborescens

Typocerus deceptus has been recorded sporadically from across the eastern U.S.  Nothing is known of its biology other than adult flower hosts and activity periods, and the larva and larval host(s) remain completely unknown.  The species is aptly named, as its appearance is deceptively similar to the common and widespread species, T. velutinus.  Both of these species belong to the so-called “flower longhorn” group (subfamily Lepturinae), characterized by adults that are largely diurnal (active during the day) and attracted to a great variety of flowers upon which they feed.  Tom had found T. deceptus feeding on flowers of wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) in the company of several other flower longhorns, including T. velutinus.  The similarity of T. deceptus to T. velutinus makes distinguishing individuals amongst the vastly more abundant T. velutinus quite difficult.  However, Tom was able to recognize the species during his surveys as a result of prior experience with it in Illinois.  As Tom and I searched the wild hydrangea plants growing along an intermittent drainage between the road and the park’s unique mesic forest, we succeeded in picking out a total of four individuals of this species amongst the dozens of T. velutinus and other lepturines also feeding on the flowers.

Typocerus velutinus on flower of Hydrangea arborescens

Typocerus velutinus on flower of Hydrangea arborescens

I gradually developed a sense of the subtle differences that distinguish this species from T. velutinus and that allow its recognition in the field.  Typocerus deceptus is slightly more robust than T. velutinus, and whereas the transverse yellow elytral bands of the latter are distinct and well delimited, they are weaker and often interrupted at the middle in T. deceptus, giving the beetle a slightly darker brownish appearance.  The lateral margins of the elytra are also more strongly emarginated near the apices, giving the beetle a more distinctly tapered appearance.  Finally, while both species possess a distinct band of dense, yellow pubescence along the basal margin of the pronotum, this band is interrupted at the middle in T. deceptus. My ability to recognize this species in the field was confirmed a few weeks ago when I returned to Trail of Tears (with longtime field companion Rich Thoma) to attempt what seemed to be an impossible task – photograph these active and flighty insects in the field on their host plants.  Conditions were brutally humid, and I only saw two individuals that day – the first I immediately captured and kept alive as a backup for studio photographs should I fail to achieve my goal in the field, but the second individual (not seen until almost two hours later!) posed just long enough for me to whip off a series of frames, two of which turned out well enough to share with you here.  The first photo clearly shows the interrupted basal pubescent band, and both photos show the distinctly emarginate lateral elytral margins and weak transverse yellow bands (compare to the uninterrupted pronotal pubescent band and well developed transverse elytral bands of T. velutinus in the third photo).

Me with the discoverer of Typocerus deceptus in Missouri Trail of Tears State Park, July 2008

TCM with the discoverer of Typocerus deceptus in Missouri at Trail of Tears State Park, July 2008

It is possible that T. deceptus is not as rare as it appears and is simply overlooked due to its great resemblance to another much more abundant species. However, I believe this is unlikely given its rarity in collections of eastern U.S. Cerambycidae by casual and expert collectors alike.  Moreover, T. deceptus is not the only “rare” longhorned beetle to have been documented at Trail of Tears State Park – a number of other species have also been found there but not or only rarely elsewhere in Missouri (e.g., Enaphalodes cortiphagus, Hesperandra polita, Metacmaeops vittata, and Trigonarthris minnesotana).  This may be due to the unique, mesic forest found at Trail of Tears, being one of only a few sites in southeastern Missouri that support more typically eastern tree species such as American beech (Fagus grandifolia), tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), and cucumbertree (Magnolia acuminata).  Whether one of these trees serves as a larval host for T. deceptus is unknown.  Nevertheless, I will be returning to Trail of Tears in the future to see what other treasures remain hidden within its unique forests.

Photo details (insects): Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/18-20, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power through diffuser caps.


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

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

McDowell, W. T. and T. C. MacRae. 2008. First record of Typocerus deceptus Knull, 1929 (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) in Missouri, with notes on additional species from the state. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 84(4):341-343 DOI: 10.3956/2008-23.1

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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