Friday Flower: Phacelia purshii

Phacelia purshii (Miami mist) | Sam A. Baker State Park, Wayne Co., Missouri

It’s been rather a long time since I’ve featured a botanical subject here, so it seems a good time to resurrect my “Friday Flower” meme with this delightful little wildflower seen on my birthday field trip a few weeks ago. Phacelia purshii (family Hydrophyllaceae), also known as Miami mist, is one of only four species in this rather large genus (159 species in North America according to the USDA Plants Database) found in Missouri. Though the flowers are small, their deeply fringed petals are quite striking. The late Dan Tenaglia¹ notes at his website that the species is limited in Missouri to the extreme eastern portions of the state—the plant shown here was one of several I saw in rich, bottomland forest along Big Creek at Sam A. Baker State Park in Missouri’s southeastern Ozark Highlands.

¹ Dan Tenaglia was not only an expert botanist but a enthusiastic cyclist. He died in February 2007 after being struck by a car while riding his bicycle. Dan’s wife has kept up and running since then in honor of his passion for plants. You can help support its maintenance by making a donation to the “Dan Tenaglia Foundation”: 1416 Victoria Avenue, Opelika, Alabama 36801.

This particular woods is one of the richest I’ve seen in the state, and in the past two years I’ve featured a number of interesting plants (Phlox bifida and Tradescantia longipes), invertebrates (Drosphila sp., Magicicada sp.Calosoma scrutator, Pleuroloma flavipes, Graphisurus trianguliferG. fasciatus, Arrhenodes minutus, Neoclytus scutellaris, Corydalus cornutus and Panorpus helena) and even snakes (Crotalus horridus and Agkistrodon contortrix phaeogaster) from there. This year marks the third consecutive birthday that I’ve visited these woods, and since I’ve found something I’ve never seen before each time (hint: just wait till you see what I still have coming from there!), I have a feeling the trend will continue next year as well.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Inaugural “One-Shot Wednesday”

On many occasions I have considered making my own contributions to the “Wordless Wednesday” meme. Unfortunately, I find it impossible to post photos of insects and not be allowed to say anything about them. I suppose I could follow Dragonfly Woman‘s “Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday” example, but that seems like horning in on somebody’s trademark. At last it finally occurred to me a meme that I could use for Wednesday’s that gets around these issues—”One-Shot Wednesday”! Ever photograph an insect and only get off a single shot? Not just one keeper from a series of photos, but only one single photo of the insect, like it or lump it! That’s what I’m talking about here. The subtext, of course, is that there was only that one chance to get everything right—exposure, focus, composition, lighting, etc. Obviously, it’s not my plan to show crappy photos as part of this meme, but rather that occasional instance where I only got off a single shot, and for the most part everything worked pretty well to produce a decent photograph. I would, of course, be more than happy to see this meme take off and spread throughout the insect blogging community, but if it doesn’t and it remains a BitB exclusive then that’s fine also.

Leptoglossus sp. | nr. Corrientes, Argentina

Here is contribution #1 in the meme: a leaf-footed bug (family Coreidae) feeding on flowers of Solidago chilensis  that I photographed a couple of weeks ago near Corrientes, Argentina. According to coreid-specialist Harry Brailovsky (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), the expanded hind tibiae place it in the large, mostly New World genus Leptoglossus. Which one, however, is a good question—according to Coreoidea Species File Online, ten species in the genus have been recorded in Argentina, but browsing through available images didn’t immediately turn up a good match for the individual shown in this photo.

I’ve often wondered about the purpose of the leaf-like expansions of the hind tibiae of coreids—which reach truly gargantuan proportions in some tropical species—and their adaptive significance. One can imagine they might serve as a “false target” for potential avian predators, and supporting this idea is the fact that the hind legs seem to break off rather easily when handled. It’s not rare to find individuals in the field missing one or even both hind legs.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Trilogy of Terror

Last week, Alex at myrmecos tagged me with a fun new meme called These are a few of my favorite stings…. It’s simple – list the things which have stung you (biting doesn’t count), and tag three others for their tales of envenomization. Of course, being the dedicated myrmecologist that he is, Alex leads off with a most impressive list of venomous arthropods, and he selected worthy competition in buzzybeegirl and bugeric.  But me?  I have, for the most part, succeeded in avoiding stings by focusing on a group of insects (beetles) that never evolved such structures.  My domestic list is short and mundane – honey bees, paper wasps, sweat bees, fire ants – and even those not very often.  Alex, however, suspected I might have some tales from exotic lands – thus, I offer the following trilogy and tag Art, Doug, and Kolby.

Tale 1
When I made my first Neotropical collecting excursion some 20 years ago to Ecuador, I was warned by my guide about large, black ants that he called “Congas.” I later learned the species to be what many people call the bullet ant (Paraponera clavata). Now, I’m not an expert on which arthropod truly has the most painful sting, but many people knowledgeable about such matters say it is this species – and I believe them! We were camped out in Sucumbios Province east of Nueva Loja (also called “Lago Agrio”) at an Amazon forest site where recent construction had left rows of month-old slash lining both sides of a 2-km stretch of new road through the forest – can you say woodboring beetles? I roamed up and down that stretch of road, picking a wonderful diversity of longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae) and jewel beetles (Buprestidae) off the slash. At one point, I encountered a whole tree crown laying by the side of the road that required some clambering to get at the beetles crawling on its inner branches. At one point, I braced myself with my arm against a branch and immediately felt an excruciating pain. I looked at my arm and saw one of these large ants clamped onto my arm and quickly slapped it off. I really don’t think words can describe how painful that sting was, and not only did it throb for the rest of the day, but I actually felt sick for the next several days (though I still managed to keep roaming the slash rows). I don’t know if the bullet ant I captured right afterwards was the one that stung me, but I still took great delight in impaling a #2 insect pin through its thorax after I returned home.

Tale 2
Alex mentioned one plant – stinging nettle (Urtica dioica, which also lines one of my favorite mountain bike trails), but I’ve also had a run-in with a much more formidable plant in Mexico. Mala mujer (Cnidoscolus angustidens), which translates as “bad woman” in Spanish, deserves all the respect you can give it. Reported to be one of the most painful stinging nettle-type plants known, it grows commonly from the arid southwest down into the dry, tropical thorn forests of southern Mexico where my colleague Chuck Bellamy and I have made several trips in recent years to search for jewel beetles. One quickly learns to recognize this distinctive euphorbiaceous plant by its green palmate leaves with white veins and thick covering of yellow, stinging trichomes. Unfortunately, in my zeal for beating buprestids from Leucaena diversifolia (netting several of the rare Pelycothorax tylauchenioides and a now paratypical series of what was then an undescribed species of Agrilus), I forgot to maintain my lookout for this common understory plant and got a swipe across the knuckles. Not only did the extreme pain last for hours, but my ring finger began swelling so worrysomely that we stopped in a hospital looking for somebody to cut the ring off. My poor Spanish brought me no sympathy (or service), but fortunately the swelling began subsiding that evening and I didn’t lose my finger. I did, however, live with a rash for the next several days that developed into a hard, purple skin discoloration for the next several weeks.  Bad woman, indeed!

Tale 3
I debated whether to include this experience, but the terror was real so here it is. I wrote about it recently in an article called “Dungers and Chafers – a Trip to South Africa” that appeared in the December 2008 issue of SCARABS Newsletter. Enjoy this excerpt:

After arriving at the park [Borakalalo National Park, North West Province], I could hardly contain myself – I was so anxious to start collecting… We drove through the park for a little bit looking for a good spot to pull over and begin the hunt. After finding such a spot, I grabbed my trusty beating sheet and began doing what I have done so many times before – walking up to a tree, giving a branch a whack with the handle of my net, and hoping to see some prized buprestid laying on the beating sheet. The habitat was ideal for this – dominated by low, spreading acacias such as Acacia tortilis and A. karoo. Buprestids love acacias! I had already learned this in my travels through the American desert southwest and down into Mexico and South America – surely it was the same in South Africa. The first whack yielded nothing – typical. Even when collecting is good, buprestids are never “dripping from the trees,” and often one must literally beat dozens and dozens of trees to really get a good idea of the diversity and abundance of buprestid species that are active in a given area. I whacked a few more trees, with similar results. I then spotted one particularly large acacia tree – something about it said, “beat me!” I walked over to it and gave a branch a whack. All at once, it seemed as though the world was exploding! The air was suddenly abuzz with dozens of large, flying insects, whirring and swirling all around me. My first thought in that initial moment of terror was that I had whacked a hornet’s nest – who knew what kinds of deadly, venomous wasps one might encounter in Africa? Instinctively I ducked and started running, but within a few moments I realized that I was not being chased. Cautiously, I sneaked back towards the tree (after stuffing my heart back down my throat) and realized that they were not hornets after all, but instead beetles. I looked more closely and saw that the tree was literally alive with dozens and dozens of large, green cetoniines resembling our own green June beetle, Cotinis nitida (L.), which seemed to be attracted to the small, white blooms that covered the tree in profusion. I netted a few of the beetles, which I would later determine to represent the common savannah species Dischista cincta (de Geer) (Photo 2). Such was my welcome to Africa, where it seemed the trees literally are ‘dripping’ with beetles!

Disticha cincta (de Geer)

Photo 2. Disticha cincta (de Geer)

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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The Five Things Meme

Adrian Thysse has tagged me with The Five Things Meme:

5 things I was doing 10 years ago:

  • Enjoying my second year of fatherhood
  • Revising the North American species of the cerambycid beetle genus Purpuricenus
  • Collecting beetles in Arizona with Chuck Bellamy and Art Evans
  • Learning to speak Spanish
  • Worrying a lot more about career advancement than I do now

5 things on my to do-list today:

  • Take kids to the dentist – check
  • Put up kids tether ball pole – abort (pole sections don’t fit, need to exchange)
  • Vacuum carpets throughout the house – check
  • Hang pictures I took of wildflowers this spring (chosen, nicely framed, and given to me by my wife for my birthday) – check
  • Short 20-mile bike ride – CHECK!

5 snacks I love:

  • Spudmaster CollosalChips, handmade in the heart of Missouri
  • GK Select Gourmet Blend nuts (collosal cashews, almonds, macadamias & pecans)
  • Raspberry or blueberry scone and coffee
  • Pemmican Premium beef jerky, peppered
  • Chocolate covered almonds/raisins/strawberries/etc.

5 things I would do if I was a millionaire:

  • Help my dad retire
  • Enroll kids in private school
  • Substantial contributions to The Nature Conservancy
  • Buy a few acres on the west shore of Lake Tahoe

5 places I’ve lived:

  • Kansas City, Missouri (childhood)
  • Columbia, Missouri (university)
  • St. Louis, Missouri (1st job)
  • Sacramento, California (2nd job)
  • St. Louis, Missouri (3rd job)

5 jobs I’ve had:

  • Injection Mold Operator (3 mos)
  • Pizza Cook (9 mos)
  • Research Assistant (2 yrs)
  • Agricultural Inspector (8 yrs)
  • Research Entomologist (18 yrs)

And I tag Allison Vaughn, Doug Taron, Hugh, cedrorum and Huckleberry.