ID Challenge #21

Time for another installment of BitB Challenge Session #7. This one is going to be a bit different from previous versions—can you identify the tree in the photo? Not the scientific name, not the common name, but the actual name of this particular tree. Include its location and any cultural significance it may have (both historical and current) and you’ll be well on your way towards winning this challenge. Points structure will be decided after I see what kind of response I get (this is also a test to see if anyone still reads this blog).

Good luck!


Copyright © Ted. C. MacRae 2013

Mr. Phidippus gets his loot

Synoptic collection of tiger beetles

Synoptic collection of tiger beetles for Mr. Phidippus.

I’m sure by now Mr. Phidippus is wondering where his loot is. You see, some months ago Mr. Phidippus won BitB Challenge Session #5 with a solid string of 1st and 2nd place finishes in that session’s five ID and super crop challenges. The top three points earners at the end of each session are offered a variety of prizes, and among the choices offered Mr. Phidippus chose to receive a small collection of beetles from my collection. However, I’ve been remiss in my follow up, with only a heavy travel schedule and seemingly endless string of commitments when I am at home to offer as excuses for such.

At long last, however, I am making things right and have put together this small synoptic collection of tiger beetles that I hope Mr. Phidippus will find useful. Some of the species selected might be common in some areas, while others are certainly found very seldomly—and even then only by those who know what they are looking for. Nevertheless, one of the most fascinating features of tiger beetles is their extreme polytopism, so even commonly encountered species can look very different depending on what part of their range they come from. A perfect example of this is Cicindela scutellaris, represented in the box above by three individuals: one from Kansas (subspecies scutellaris), one from northeast Missouri (subspecies lecontei) and one from southeast Missouri (an unusual population representing an intergrade of subspecies lecontei and subspecies unicolor). Ranging from wine-red to blue-green to brilliant red and green, they are perhaps the best example of tiger beetle polytopism gone wild!

So, Mr. Phidippus this one is for you. Congratulations again on your win, and thank you for your patience!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

The hardest EASIEST ID Challenge in like ever!

This is not only the hardest ID Challenge I have ever posted, it is probably the hardest one anyone has EVER posted. I’m not going to ask for order or family because they’re so easy. I will ask for the genus, because maybe only a few of you will get that right, but the genus alone won’t be enough. I want the species! Don’t even think about searching the internet for a matching photo—it doesn’t exist! You’re going to have to utilize other resources to figure this one out.

Because of the difficulty of this challenge, all the normal rules are out the window—no points, no sessions, no moderated comments, no nothing. This is winner take all—first person to correctly guess the species gets loot! I’ll even provide all the collection data in the caption. Good luck!

Update 10/29/12 10:12 pm: Well, I goofed and didn’t think about somebody Googling the label data, which Ben Coulter did to quickly arrive at the correct answer. Stupid Google!

At any rate, and with great anticlimactic fanfare, say hello to Aneflomorpha cribellata, described by Bates more than a century ago (1892) and known only from that single type specimen until the collection of this one in southern Mexico in 2005 (MacRae et al. 2012). This is the first photograph of the species and will be added to Larry Bezark’s A Photographic Catalogue of the CERAMBYCIDAE of the World.

MacRae, T. C., L. G. Bezark & I. Swift. 2012. Notes on distribution and host plants of Cerambycidae (Coleoptera) from southern México.  The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 88(2):173–184.


MEXICO: Oaxaca, 4.8 km E La Ventosa, Hwy 190, 16°33’27″N, 94°54’27″W, elev. 76′, 28.vii.2005, beaten from unidentified dead branches, coll. T. C. MacRae.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Ghosts in the night

This summer I’ve spent quite a few nights hanging out along the Mississippi River—lamp on my head, vials in my pocket, and an ultraviolet (UV) light setup on the sandy banks. UV light collecting for insects (also called “blacklighting”) is a popular method among us beetlers, but for a number of reasons it’s been a while since I’ve done a lot of heavy blacklighting myself. That all changed this year when I decided I needed to get a better handle on the Missouri distribution of two species of tiger beetles, Ellipsoptera cuprascens and E. macra, found only in sandy habitats along the shores of the state’s two big rivers—the Missouri and Mississippi—and, fortuitously, attracted to blacklights at night. Blacklighting alongside these big rivers is a relatively new experience for me, as my previous experiences have been mostly in forests—either here in the Midwest or out in the desert southwest. Along the big rivers, as soon as the sun dips below the horizon hordes of hungry mosquitos descend upon me and choking swarms of caddisflies quickly envelop the blacklight. Liberal application of Deet keeps the mosquitoes at bay, but checking the sheet behind the blacklight to see if anything of interest has landed requires a bit of a mad dash and a quick retreat, all the while holding my breath and clamping the shirt cuff around my neck to prevent the swarming bugs from flying into spaces where I don’t want them.

Arctosa littoralis (beach wolf spider) | Lewis Co., Missouri

Wandering away from the blacklight and exploring along the beach in the black of night is also a relatively new experience. While I’ve done a fair bit of night collecting away from the light, again this has tended to be in forests and woodlands with a beating sheet in hand looking for jewel beetles, which still hang out on the same host plants they can be found on during the day but are far less inclined to zip away as soon as they hit the sheet like they do when the sun is high overhead. I haven’t spent much time shining a lamp on the sand of a big river beach, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect (other than hopefully a tiger beetle!). As I walked along the beach, I occasionally saw blue-green glowing dots on the sand—I recognized these fairly quickly as the eyes of spiders reflecting the light from my headlamp. However, at first when looked closer at the spot where I thought a spider should be sitting I didn’t see anything. It took a few tries before finally I saw ghost-like movement on the sand, and when I moved cautiously and got down close to the sand I finally saw a magnificent, white wolf spider sitting motionless—perfectly colored to blend into the sand on which it was sitting.

The mottled, white coloration is conspicuous on wet sand…

I quickly hurried back to the car and got my camera, set it up with a 100mm macro lens and extension tubes (hoping I could get real close), and went back to the spot where I’d seen the spider to see if I could find it again. I didn’t, but not too much searching was required before I found another one. Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed in photographing that one either. It was apparent to me that I was going to have to use the same ultra-cautious and slow movements that I use with tiger beetles if I was going to succeed in photographing one or more of these spiders. I quickly figured out that they were easier to see if I looked right along the water’s edge, as in that situation the white coloration of the spider actually stood out against the darkened, wet sand. (Of course, photographing them on the wet sand was a tad dirtier for me, but I’m not afraid to get filthy dirty when it comes to photographing arthropods.) I also figured out that I could more easily find the spiders on the wet sand and then follow them up to the drier sand for photos that better showed just how marvelously cryptic their coloration was.

…but provides perfect camouflage on the dry sand further away from the water’s edge.

Those of you familiar with my work know that I love frontal portraits, but I found this to be almost impossible during my first attempts. It was hard enough approaching the spider from the front without it bolting before I could get set behind the camera, but in the few cases where I did actually manage this then it would bolt as soon as I made any microadjustment in the position of the camera to compose the shot. It occurred to me that the spider was sensing vibration from moving the camera on the ground (ground-resting the camera is a technique that I use commonly to get the lowest possible angle on my subjects)—makes sense, as spiders are intensely tuned into vibrations for  prey capture. Once I began keeping my hand flat under the camera as sort of a makeshift “beanbag” I was able to make the final adjustments necessary to get shots like the one shown below and in ID Challenge #20.

Active primarily at night, the spider’s eyes glow blue-green when hit by light.

According to Dondale & Redner (1983) this should be Arctosa littoralis—widespread in littoral habitats across North America but, at least at the time of their revision, not recorded from Missouri [in fact, it seems no species of Arctosa was known from Missouri until A. virgo was recorded from oak-hickory forests in the southern part of the state by Bultman (1992)]. I’ll leave it to the spiderphiles to determine if this actually represents a new state record or (more likely) if I just haven’t dug deep enough into the literature.

Congratulations to 3-time champ Ben Coulter, who swooped in from his hiding place with 30 pts to win ID Challenge #20—the final challenge of BitB Challenge Session #6. It wasn’t enough, however, to disturb the overall standings, and Brady Richards maintained his overall lead with 28 pts to win Session #6. Sam Heads was just one point away from the win in this challenge, but his 29 pts were enough to earn a tie for 2nd place in the overall standings with Mr. Phidippus, who finished a respectable 4th place in this challenge. Nobody else came close to these three gentlemen in the overalls, so they deserve their accolades and loot (please contact me for details on the available choices). In case you haven’t been following along, here is a summary of the BitB Challenge champions to this point, listed by session:

  1. Ben Coulter
  2. Ben Coulter
  3. Max Barclay
  4. Ben Coulter
  5. Mr. Phidippus
  6. Brady Richards


Bultman, T. L. 1992. Abundance and association of cursorial spiders from calcareous fens in southern Missouri. Journal of Arachnology 20:165–172.

Dondale, C. D. & J. H. Redner. 1983. Revision of the wolf spiders of the genus Arctosa C . L. Koch in North and Central America (Araneae: Lycosidae). Journal of Arachnology 11:1–30.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

ID Challenge #20

Has it really been seven weeks since the last ID Challenge? BitB Challenge session #6 overall leaders Brady Richards (66 pts), Mr. Phidippus (58 pts), and Sam Heads (54 pts) must think I’m trying to duck the final standings so I don’t have to doll out any loot. Let’s finish this session with a straight up ID Challenge—3 pts for order (der!), 4 pts for family, 5 pts for genus, and (to separate the imagos from the neonates) 6 pts for species. Bonus question worth 5 pts—what is the best way to search for this species? That’s a whopping total of 23 pts up for grabs in this one challenge (not including any discretionary bonus pts that might be awarded), so not only are the leaders not safe from each other, but from any number of other participants lurking just below them in the standings.  Please read the full rules if you are not already familiar with them—good luck!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

ID Challenge #19

We all have something in common…

Here is a bit of a different ID Challenge—can you identify the beetles represented in the photo, but more importantly can you deduce what all of these beetles have in common (other than the fact that they belong to the same family)? Obviously these are all jewel beetles (family Buprestidae), so we won’t worry about higher classification. Instead, I’ll give 1 pt for each correctly named genus (don’t bother trying to identify species) and a whopping 5 pts for figuring out what it is they have in common. Early bird pts will be given for the latter question only. Please read the full rules if you are not already familiar with them—good luck!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

ID Challenge #18

It’s time for another identification challenge. Currently we are in Challenge Session #6, with two challenges down (SSC#12 and IDC#17) and probably four more to go (including this one). Can you identify the critter in this photo? I’ll give 2 pts each for class, order, family and genus.

I think it would be good to restate the ground rules that I use in these challenges, as they have evolved somewhat since I first began these challenges and don’t seem to be easily accessible in their entirety to those who have begun participating more recently. They are:

  1. Points will be awarded for correctly named taxa—usually 2 pts each for order, family, genus and species.
  2. Points will only be awarded for the taxa requested.
  3. Taxa must be correctly spelled to receive full credit (this includes italicization for genus and species—and yes, italicization is easy in HTML, just look it up). Misspelled or non-italicized names may receive partial credit.
  4. Taxa must be explicitly stated to receive full credit. For example, if I request order, family, genus and species for Buprestis rufipes, but only genus and species are given in the answer, then “Coleoptera” and “Buprestidae” are “implied” taxa. I can’t give full credit for implied taxa but may give partial credit.
  5. In the case of outdated nomenclature, I won’t judge too harshly if the taxon is obscure or there is still disagreement about rank. However, obvious or easily referenced obsolescences (e.g. “Homoptera”) will get dinged.
  6. Bonus points may be given (at my discretion) for providing additional relevant information (e.g., diagnostic characters, biological/ecological uniquities, clever jokes, etc.). I’m more inclined to give bonus points for unusual features of biology/morphology/ecology, etc. that are not readily found in easily-found, Wikipedia-type summaries of the subject.
  7. Be sure to examine each post carefully in its entirety for the possible presence of clues 🙂
  8. Comments will be moderated during the 1- to 2-day open challenge period to allow all a chance to participate (i.e., you don’t have to be first to win!).
  9. In the case of multiple correct answers, “early-bird” tie-breaker points will be awarded to those that answered correctly first. The more people you beat to the punch with the correct answer, the more early-bird points you get.
  10. Submitted answers will be revealed at the end of the challenge period along with the number of points earned. This is generally followed closely by a new post discussing the subject in greater detail. Also, because I’m such a big Survivor and Jeff Probst fan, I’ll also say that “once the points are read the decision is final!”
  11. Winners of individual challenges get nothing more than my accolades; however, session winners get real loot! Thus, it pays to play consistently and try even when you don’t think you know the answer. Top three points earners at the end of each session (usually 5 to 6 individual challenges) get to choose from selection of gifts that will be communicated to the winners by email.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

“Cochinilla australiana” in Argentina

Icerya purchasi (''cochinilla australiana'') on citrus twig | western Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

After traveling through the northern provinces during late March and early April, I returned to my home base in western Buenos Aires Province for the last two weeks of my stay in Argentina. As soon as I could, I returned to the small grove of planted citrus trees on the station grounds where I had found a rather large, beautifully cryptic fulgorid nymph (see ““). Lois O’Brien had mentioned in her response to my query about the identity of the nymph that some species of Fulgoridae tend to live on the same tree for years and years—if I could go back to the tree on which I found the nymph perhaps I could find the adult. Sadly, no adults or additional nymphs were found, either on the original tree or any in its vicinity. What I did find, however, was this strange, cocoon-like structure on one of the branches of the tree. I had no idea what it was, having never seen anything quite like it, but I figured something—pupa, eggs, parasitoid, etc.—must be inside. I cut the piece of branch with the structure and tucked it inside a vial for later.

Egg case opened to reveal eggs and newly hatched nymphs

A little bit of searching online would have quickly told me what I was dealing with, but for some reason I felt the need to go ahead and start dissecting to see what was inside. It became obvious I was dealing with an egg mass when I peeled back the outer layers to reveal the cluster of red eggs inside, and very quickly I noticed that a few of the eggs had already hatched. The red nymphs had a decidedly “homopterous” look to them, and not much effort was required to figure out that I was looking at my very first “cottony cushion scale” insect.

Closer view of eggs - newly hatched nymph can be seen at bottom.

Icerya purchasi (Hemiptera: Monophlebidae) originally hails from Australia, but its preference for citrus and the realities of global commerce have resulted in its inevitable spread across the globe wherever citrus is grown (maybe I can be forgiven for having never before seen such a widespread insect—living most of my life in Missouri and northern California, I’ve not had much opportunity to visit citrus groves). The English common name clearly references the appearance the adult female, recognizable by the white, fluted egg sac shown here, while in Argentina it is called “cochinilla australiana”—literally meaning “Australian scale insect.”

Newly hatched nymphs are bright red with dark antennae and thin brown legs.

As I dissected the egg sac, a few of the newly hatched nymphs crawled out of the sac an onto the branch. Nymphs of this stage are referred to as “crawlers” because they are the dispersal stage. It’s a good name for these tiny little bugs, as the several that I tried to photograph never stopped moving. With the lens fully extended to 5X, it was difficult enough to just find them in the viewfinder, much less compose and focus with all the movement. It became a numbers game and test of patience—how many shots could I get fired off in the amount of time that I was willing to persist? Shown here are the few shots that I was the least displeased with.

First instar nymphs are the primary dispersal stage.

Crawlers disperse not only by crawling, but also by wind. One can imagine that such tiny insects could easily be picked up by the wind and carried long distances. However, I couldn’t help but notice the very long setae on the body and outer antennal segments (visible to greater or lesser degree in these photos) and think that perhaps they have some function in aiding wind dispersal. At the very least, aerial dispersal must be as important as crawling (if not more so) for colonization by this species—only adult males have wings (but they are rare), while egg-laying females (actually hermaphrodites) are completely sessile.

Do the long setae on the body and antennae of the nymph aid in wind dispersal?

The adult female and egg case may have confused me initially, but a ton of readers had no problem figuring out what it was. A record 24 people participated in this challenge, with all but five correctly guessing the species. Winning this challenge came down to bonus points for speed and uniqueness of additional information, and Christopher Taylor did this best to earn 17 pts and the win. Three others—Brady Richards, Mr. Phidippus and bicyclebug—each finished just 1 pt back of the win, but Sam Heads’ 15 pts keeps the overall lead in his possession. BitB Challenge Session #6 is young, but already a lot of people have a lot of points in the bank. It will be interesting to see how this session develops.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012