Mexican Siesta

Summertime is go time for most entomologists, especially those who conduct field work both as a profession and as a hobby. Far flung field sites and the need to travel between them eats up most of each week, while on weekends clipboard and spreadsheets are exchanged for beating sheet and hatchet before traveling to other sites with the promise of some cool species of beetles. Even the most peripatetic entomologist, however, needs a break, and in late July I packed up my swim trunks, rounded up the girls, and headed off for a week of rest and relaxation on the beaches of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Of course, you’re not a real entomologist if you don’t sneak off once or twice for a peak at the local flora and fauna with a vial that just happens to be in your pocket. Despite the rampant development in the area, reasonably extensive parcels of the original San Lucan xeric scrub habitat are accessible to those willing to hike a few miles up the beach. This unique, dry shrubland occurs only at the southern tip of the peninsula, extending from the coast up to about 250 meters in elevation. About ten percent of San Lucan scrub biota is endemic as a result of separation from more northern parts of the peninsula until the Miocene (23–5 mya). Xeric scrub is normally dry, brown, and dusty, but rains prior to my visit had created a verdant landscape with (relatively) lush foliage and an abundance of flowers. Insects were strangely scarce, however, save for a nice diversity of heavily sculptured darkling beetles (family Tenebrionidae), which I encountered along 2-tracks running through the habitat, and a few wood-boring beetles that were found on recently wind-thrown branches of palo verde (Cercidium floridum).

Chrysobothris octocola | Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Chrysobothris octocola on Cercidium floridum ssp. peninsulare | Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Adults were numerous on fresh wind-thrown branches of Cercidium floridum ssp. peninuslare

Adults ran rapidly on the fresh wind-thrown branches

Given the level of endemism in the area, I was hoping the beetles would prove to be examples of such, or at least species restricted to Baja California that I had not encountered before. Alas, both proved to be not only more widespread in Mexico but species occurring commonly in the southwestern U.S. as well. I suppose finding endemic species right off the bat after a quick jaunt up the beach while on a family vacation is a bit much to expect, although I suspect the palo verde trees on which I found the beetles represents the endemic subspecies Cercidium floridum ssp. peninsulare. And I got some nice photos.

Stenosphenus sobrius | Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Stenosphenus sobrius on Cercidium floridum ssp. peninsulare | Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico

This species was not as abundant on Cercidium branches as Chrysobothris octocola

Adults were found resting on the undersides of fresh wind-thrown branches

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

Arizona collectors: Have you seen this beetle?

Placoschema dimorpha (male) | lower Madera Canyon, Arizona

Placoschema dimorpha (male) | lower Madera Canyon, Arizona

If you are a collector of beetles in Arizona, you should be on the lookout for longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae) resembling the specimen in the above photos. Determined as Placoschema dimorpha Chemsak & Hovore, in Eya 2010 by Jeff Huether, the specimen was collected by Jeff’s son Mark Huether on 15 July 2013 as they roadside collected longhorned beetles and scarabs in lower Madera Canyon (Pima Co.). They were searching mainly on Baccharis, although there were very few flowers open at the time. It is not known what plant the specimen was collected from, but Jeff notes that it was collected around 2 pm in the heat of the day.

Placoschema dimorpha was described from just a handful of specimens (3 males and 4 females), all in Mexico, and is the only member of the genus. As a result, the above collection represents the first record of both the genus and the species in the U.S. New U.S. records for popularly collected groups like longhorned beetles are always noteworthy, and in this case its occurrence in southeast Arizona—well scrutinized for decades by legions of beetle collectors—is all the more remarkable. Perhaps its tiny size (the above specimen measures only ~10 mm) and somber coloration—unusual for the tribe Trachyderini with its mostly large and colorful members—have somehow contributed to it being overlooked until now. Others might be quick to cite climate change and recent expansion of its range northward into the U.S. as a possible explanation; however, it should be noted that the type specimens, despite being few in number, were collected from a rather large area across central and northern Mexico in the states of Chihuahua, Durango, Hidalgo, and Mexico.

While this specimen agrees very well with the original description of P. dimorpha, it does differ from the male paratype figured in that work in that the lateral margins of the elytra are red only in the basal half rather than completely to the apex. As the species name implies, females are colored differently, with the elytra entirely reddish or at most a darker fascia (may be incomplete) across the apical three-fourths.

My sincere thanks to Jeffrey Huether for allowing me to photograph this specimen and present these notes in advance of more formal documentation in peer-reviewed literature.


Eya, B. K. 2010. New Mexican and Central American genera and species of Trachyderini (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae, Cerambycinae). Les cahiers Magellanes 108:1–21.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Mexico 1992—Gang of Ten

As a young collector attracted to woodboring beetles, my interests were split evenly between the families Buprestidae and Cerambycidae. In those early days, I actively sought the counsel of experts in both families, looking for help with identifications. Most were more than gracious with their help, and receiving their letters and return shipments of beetles I had sent for their examination was a highlight of each winter season. There was one man, however, whose letters and parcels I looked forward to receiving more than any other—the late, great Gayle Nelson. More than just a report of identifications, Gayle’s letters were also rich with advice, suggestions and encouragement—he became my first mentor. I coauthored my first published paper on Buprestidae with Gayle (Nelson & MacRae 1990), and when I moved to California in 1990 I had the chance to meet him in person and accompany him on a collecting trip to the great southern Californian deserts. Talk about learning from the master! In the meantime I had also struck up correspondence with long-time buprestophiles Rick Westcott and Chuck Bellamy. I guess between the three of them they saw some potential in me, as shortly after my move to California they invited me to join the upcoming World Buprestid Workers Gathering—a 2-week collecting trip in southern Mexico scheduled for July 1992. While not all of the world’s buprestid workers were able to make this trip, a majority of the heaviest hitters from the U.S. and Europe were there. The photo below is the only one I’m aware of in which all ten participants are present, and while I felt like a midget amongst giants at the time, I’ve enjoyed more or less regular correspondence with most of the participants of that trip over the many years that have since passed.

Huahuapan de Leon, Oaxaca, Mexico - July 1992 (L to R): Ted MacRae, Rick Westcott, Hans Mühle, Chuck Bellamy, Gayle Nelson, Byrd Dozier, Dave Verity, Kim Pullen, Svata Bílý, Mark Volkovitsh (photographer unknown).

Huahuapan de Leon, Oaxaca, Mexico—July 1992 (left to right): Ted MacRae, Rick Westcott, Hans Mühle, Chuck Bellamy, Gayle Nelson, Byrd Dozier, Dave Verity, Kim Pullen, Svata Bílý, Mark Volkovitsh.

That trip remains one of the best insect collecting trips I’ve ever experienced (although there are many others now that also bear that distinction). Gayle, Dave Verity and I started in the state of Guerrero and worked our way down into Oaxaca, where we met up with the others and collected together as one large group before Chuck, Rick and I split off and returned for more collecting in Guerrero. I don’t remember how many species I collected—somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 or so, but I’ll never forget finding the first specimens of what would eventually be described as Oaxacanthaxia nigroaenea Nelson & MacRae 1994. We found it at the type locality (near Tehuantepec) of what was then the only known species in the genus, O. viridis Bellamy 1990, that represented an apparently relictual line of buprestids with affinities to certain Old World genera. While that was the only new species that I described from the trip, several described by others are based at least in part on material that I collected. Another highlight of the trip was the “big, dead tree” in Cañón del Zopilote, Guerrero (literally, a big, dead tree), the high branches of which yielded several specimens of Polycesta cortezii Thomson 1878 and one Jelinekia barri (Nelson 1975). Sadly, I wasn’t much of a journal-keeper in those days, so most of the memories that remain from that trip are just snippets in time. Nevertheless, whenever I look at specimens collected on that trip I am usually able to recall the circumstances of its collection, and I recently had the chance to go through much of this material in detail again, as many of the specimens collected represented newly documented state occurrences and adult host plants. These records can now be found in a newly published paper by me and Chuck in which two new species of Actenodes collected during subsequent trips are described (MacRae & Bellamy 2013).


MacRae, T. C. & C. L. Bellamy. 2013. Two new species of Actenodes Dejean (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) from southern Mexico, with distributional and biological notes on Buprestidae from Mexico and Central America. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 89(2):102–119.

Nelson, G. H. & T. C. MacRae. 1990. Additional notes on the biology and distribution of Buprestidae (Coleoptera) in North America, III. The Coleopterists Bulletin 44(3):349–354.

Nelson, G. H. & T. C. MacRae. 1994. Oaxacanthaxia nigroaenea Nelson and MacRae, a new species from Mexico (Coleoptera: Buprestidae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 48(2):149–152.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

“Rare jewel beetles discovered in Mexico by team of scientists!”

I hope you’ll excuse the hyperbolic title, but such has been my impression with some of the headlines I’ve seen recently in the popular media regarding newly described insect taxa in various parts of the world. The “discovery” of new species in far away, tropical lands sounds exciting and ground-breaking to many people, who envision teams of scientists wearing pith helmets and cargo shorts machete-slashing their way through miles of virgin forest before stumbling into a secret biodiversity hot-spot, their weeks of toil and sweat finally paying off by becoming the first white men to lay eyes upon a bounty of strange, exotic, never-before-seen creatures. In reality, new species of insects are not at all hard to find—in fact, depending on where you go it can be downright easy. Admittedly the chances are greater in the tropics, where many areas remain little explored, but even in well-studied North America new species turn up regularly. This includes popularly collected beetles in the very well-studied eastern U.S., where I’ve already described one new jewel beetle (family Buprestidae) and one new longhorned beetle (family Cerambycidae) from right here in my home state of Missouri (MacRae 2000, 2003) and am in the process of describing another new jewel beetle. No, finding new species is easy—recognizing them as such is the hard part. That’s not to say that new species cannot be recognized when first encountered, but I suspect that a majority of new insect species aren’t actually “discovered” until they’ve been brought back from the field, curated, and sat in a cabinet for years or decades—unrecognized for what they really are due to resemblance to known species until somebody comes along and examines them more critically.

Such is the case with two jewel beetle species that Chuck Bellamy and I describe in a paper just published in The Pan-Pacific Entomologist (MacRae & Bellamy 2013). I joined Chuck on several trips to Mexico in 1992 and again from 2004–2006 to explore the tropical thorn woodlands in the southern states of Oaxaca, Puebla, Guerrero and Michoacán. Jewel beetle diversity is high in these still relatively intact woodlands, with a number of new species already having been described from the area in recent years, and all-told we collected well over 100 species. At least a dozen or more of these look to be new, and considering that the Mexican jewel beetle fauna as a whole includes more than 800 known species the actual number could greatly exceed 1,000. The two described in this most recent paper resemble the common, widespread species Actenodes calcaratus. This big, beautiful jewel occurs from the southwestern U.S. through Mexico and Central America to northern South America, developing as larvae in dead wood of a variety of fabaceous hosts. We collected several of what we thought was this species during our trips, but a number of subtle but consistent differences in punctation and surface sculpturing emerged as we began comparing them more critically against A. calcaratus from other locations. The coup de grâce, however, was the coloration of the male face—normal bronze in A. calcaratus (Fig. 5) and similar to the female (Fig. 6), but flash-green in male A. scabrosus (Fig. 2) and green-violaceous in male A. michoacanus (Fig. 8). It’s quite remarkable that both of these species differ from their more widespread relative by subtle morphological characters but such striking sexually dimorphic facial coloration, and we subsequently found a similar situation with another species in the genus (A. undulatus) that otherwise bears little resemblance to A. calcaratus.

Figs. 1–9. Actenodes spp. 1–3. Actenodes scabrosus. 1–2. Male holotype. 1. Dorsal habitus. 2. Frontal view. 3. Female paratype (Guerrero). 4–6. A. calcaratus. 4–5. Male (MEXICO, Guerrero, Hwy 95, 5 km S Milpillas, 7.vii.1992, "big dead tree", G. H. Nelson [FSCA]). 4. Dorsal habitus. 5. Frontal view. 6. Female (MEXICO, Hwy 95, 2 km S Milpillas, 6.vii.1992, on Acacia farnesiana, G. H. Nelson [FSCA]), frontal view. 7–9. A. michoacanus. 7–8. Male holotype. 7. Dorsal view. 8. Frontal view. 9. Female paratype, frontal view. All scale bars = 5 mm.

Figs. 1–9. Actenodes spp. 1–3. Actenodes scabrosus. 1–2. Male holotype. 1. Dorsal habitus. 2. Frontal view. 3. Female paratype (Guerrero). 4–6. A. calcaratus. 4–5. Male (MEXICO, Guerrero, Hwy 95, 5 km S Milpillas, 7.vii.1992, “big dead tree”, G. H. Nelson [FSCA]). 4. Dorsal habitus. 5. Frontal view. 6. Female (MEXICO, Hwy 95, 2 km S Milpillas, 6.vii.1992, on Acacia farnesiana, G. H. Nelson [FSCA]), frontal view. 7–9. A. michoacanus. 7–8. Male holotype. 7. Dorsal view. 8. Frontal view. 9. Female paratype, frontal view. All scale bars = 5 mm.

In the case of both of these new species, the first specimens were actually collected more than 40 years ago but remained “hidden” among specimens of A. calcaratus until we examined the collections containing them more closely. While it might seem that the striking male facial coloration both of these species exhibit should have resulted in their quick recognition as undescribed species, even seemingly obvious characters such as this can be overlooked when an otherwise great resemblance to a common, widespread species prevents their critical examination.


MacRae, T. C. 2000. Review of the genus Purpuricenus Dejean (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) in North America. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 76(3):137–169.

MacRae, T. C. 2003. Agrilus (s. str.) betulanigrae MacRae (Coleoptera: Buprestidae: Agrilini), a new species from North America, with comments on subgeneric placement and a key to the otiosus species-group in North America. Zootaxa 380:1–9.

MacRae, T. C. & C. L. Bellamy. 2013. Two new species of Actenodes Dejean (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) from southern Mexico, with distributional and biological notes on Buprestidae from Mexico and Central America. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 89(2):102–119.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

A jewel of a beetle

I really wish I had a photomicrography setup like the one that Sam Heads has at the University of Illinois for imaging preserved specimens. Alas, insect taxonomy is “just a hobby” for me, and any specimen photography I wish to do must be done with my field camera equipment. Of course, poverty prompts creativity (not that I consider a Canon 50D with an MP-E 65mm macro lens and MT-24EX twin flash unit a sign of poverty), and after a bit of tinkering and fiddling I’ve figured out a way to setup the specimen and flash units to create images of pinned specimens that I think are more than adequate for publication in taxonomic papers.

Here is one I did recently of the jewel beetle Actenodes calcaratus (family Buprestidae). This species is broadly distributed from the southwestern U.S. through Mexico and into Central America, where it breeds in dead branches of a variety of mostly fabaceous trees such as Acacia and Prosopis. During several trips to southern Mexico in recent years, Chuck Bellamy and I collected two new species of Actenodes that look very similar to A. calcaratus but differ in several important characters, primarily surface sculpture, the form and male coloration of the face, and male genitalia. A manuscript describing these two species and containing this and similar images of the new species was recently submitted for publication. Though not quite as razor-sharp as images created through focus-stacking processes, it still shows good detail and even lighting. What do you think?¹

¹ For those who find the pin head distracting, I am not a proponent of cloning out pin heads, debris, or other imperfections on images of preserved specimens in taxonomic papers. Other enhancements such as levels, sharpness, contrast, etc. are fine since these are all influenced greatly by lighting, but otherwise I believe the specimen needs to be presented exactly as it appears. A possible alternative is to remove the pin for imaging, but this presents a risk of damage to the specimen that is of questionable benefit in the case of non-type specimens—and downright irresponsible for primary types. Another alternative is to thoroughly clean and image the specimen prior to mounting, but this is rarely feasible as in most cases it is only after the specimen is mounted and studied further that its status as a new species is realized.

Actenodes calcaratus | MEXICO: Guerrero, Hwy 95, 5 km S Milpillas, 7.vii.1992, "big dead tree", G. H. Nelson [FSCA]. Male plesiotype.

Actenodes calcaratus | MEXICO: Guerrero, Hwy 95, 5 km S Milpillas, 7.vii.1992, “big dead tree”, G. H. Nelson [FSCA]. Male plesiotype.

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

Some recent publications

I’ve had a few papers published in recent months that may be of interest to some. After a string of papers in 2011 focused exclusively on tiger beetles (five in all), these latest three represent sort a return to my “roots”: taxonomy and biosystematics of woodboring beetles (Buprestidae and Cerambycidae). Summaries are provided below, and hyperlinks in the citations lead to downloadable PDFs for those wishing to see the gory details.

  • MacRae, T. C. & R. L. Westcott. 2012. Nomenclatural history of Melanophila drummondi ab. nicolayi Obenberger, 1944 (Coleoptera: Buprestidae), a change of authorship and synonymy under Phaenops drummondi (Kirby 1837), and a new distribution record and summary of larval hosts for the species. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 88(1):87–91.
    This paper can be considered of the “taxonomic housekeeping” sort. It concerns an “aberration” of the common, widespread jewel beetle species Phaenops drummondi. The current version of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN 1999) considers aberrations and other infrasubspecific (rank lower than subspecies) taxa as unavailable names with no taxonomic standing. However, they may be considered valid depending on date of publication and how they were treated by subsequent authors. In the majority of cases the guidance is clear on whether a given aberration, variety, form, etc. is considered unavailable or valid. However, there are times when multiple, conflicting interpretations are possible. The case described in this paper is one example, and even though the taxon clearly falls within the range of variability exhibited by the parent species, careful study of multiple provisions of The Code were required to determine its proper status. In the end, a change of authorship followed by formal synonymy were deemed the best course of action. Updated information on the distribution of P. drummondi and a summary of known larval hosts are also provided.
  • 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.
    From 2004–2006 I made three collecting trips to México with my friend and colleague, Chuck Bellamy. Our main focus was the rich diversity of jewel beetles that occur in the relatively intact, dry, tropical thorn forests that stretch across the southern states of Guerrero, Michoacan, Oaxaca, and Puebla, and in this respect we were quite successful. I also have an interest in longhorned beetles, but I try to limit my scope in this family to the Nearctic fauna and didn’t specifically target these beetles during those trips. Still, many species were encountered during the course of beating potential jewel beetle host plants. As with jewel beetles, the longhorned beetle fauna of México is rich but very incompletely known, with distributional data below the country level and knowledge of host plants lacking or inadequate for most species. This paper presents specific distributional and host plant information for 78 species in 50 genera of longhorned beetles collected during those trips. Included within the data presented are 47 new state records, 47 new adult host records, and 60 new flower records.
  • Steury, B. W., T. C. MacRae & E. T. Oberg. 2012. Annotated list of the metallic wood-boring beetles (Insecta: Coleoptera: Buprestidae) of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Fairfax County, Virginia.  Banisteria 39:71–75.
    Lead author Brent Steury of the U.S. National Park Service contacted me last year about identifying jewel beetles that had been collected at a number of units in the George Washington Memorial Parkway during recent BioBlitz surveys and as by-catch from studies targeting other arthropods. The surveys were worthy of reporting on, as 23 species in nine jewel beetle genera were represented in the material collected—including two species reported for the first time from Virginia: Paragrilus tenuis (LeConte) and Pachyschelus purpureus purpureus (Say). Information is also provided on the collecting methods used during the surveys, with Malaise traps, hand netting, and pan traps being the only ones successful in capturing jewel beetles (Lindgren funnel and pitfall traps did not capture any).


International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature [ICZN]. 1999. International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, 4th Edition. The International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, c/o Natural History Museum, London. xxix + 306 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Bizarre, beautiful extremes

No niche, it seems goes unfilled. Specialization is likely to be pushed to bizarre, beautiful extremes.–E. O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life

Wilson didn’t mention treehoppers specifically when he made the above quote, referring to the exuberance of extreme behavioral and morphological adaptations seen in the biota of the tropics, but he could have just as easily led off with them.  Treehoppers (order Hemiptera, family Membracidae) are well-known for their variety of oddly grotesque shapes resulting from a curiously inflated pronotum – presumably having evolved to resemble thorns and buds on their host plants, or the ants that vigorously defend numerous treehopper species in exchange for their sweet honeydew, or perhaps to aid in the dispersal of volatile sex pheromones (an attractive hypothesis but lacking experimental support). Despite inordinate attention in relation to their low economic importance, it remains that the pronotal modifications of many treehoppers are so bizarre that they continue to defy any logical explanation.

I must admit that, despite my passion for beetles, treehoppers were my first love.  (Well, actually anything that I could bring home from my solo wanderings in the urban woodlands and vacant lots near my childhood home and keep alive in a terrarium was my first true love, but from an academic standpoint, treehoppers were the first group to arouse my taxonomic interest as I began my transformation from child collector to serious student.) I had just begun graduate school in the Enns Entomology Museum under the late hemipterist Tom Yonke to conduct leafhopper host preference and life history studies, and although far more Cornell drawers in the museum contained Cicadellidae, it was the treehopper drawers that I found myself rifling through each afternoon after completing the day’s thesis duties. Despite their lesser number, the treehopper drawers had recently benefited from the attentions of a previous student, Dennis Kopp, whose efforts during his time at the museum concentrated on collecting treehoppers from throughout Missouri and culminated in the four-part publication, The Treehoppers of Missouri (1973-1974). I was enamored by these little beasts – specifically by their exaggerated pronotum – and started collecting them whenever I could on my forays around the state surveying for leafhoppers. They were closely enough related to leafhoppers to make them relevant to my work, only cooler – like leafhoppers on steroids! With The Treehoppers of Missouri as my bible and my desk located a half dozen footsteps from the largest treehopper collection within a several hundred mile radius, I delved into their taxonomy and, for a time, considered a career as a professional membracid taxonomist.

Fast forward nearly 30 years, and my involvement as a taxonomist is neither professional nor deals with membracids. Beetles have taken over as my focal taxon, and I conduct these studies strictly as an avocation. Still, I continue to collect treehoppers as I encounter them, and although such efforts have been largely opportunistic, I’ve managed to assemble a fairly diverse little collection of these insects as a result of my broad travels. Much of this has occurred in the New World tropics, and it is this region that is the center of diversity for the family Membracidae (fossil evidence suggests that subfamily diversification and subsequent New World radiation began during Tertiary isolation about 65 million years ago after South America separated from Africa, since only the primitive subfamily Centrotinae occurs in both the Old and the New Worlds – all other subfamilies are restricted the New World (Wood 1993)).  Every now and then, as I accumulate enough material to fill a Schmidt box, I sit down and study what I’ve collected, comparing it to my meager literature to attempt identifications.  For material I collect in eastern North America, this works fairly well, as there have been a number of publications covering different parts of this area.  Outside of this area, however, my only hope is to entice one of the few existing membracid specialists into agreeing to look at what I’ve accumulated and ask for their help in providing names, in exchange for which they will be granted retention privileges to benefit their research.

idd-treehoppersMost recently, I was able to convince Illinois Natural History Survey entomologist Chris Dietrich to take a look at the material I had accumulated during the past ten years or so, which included many specimens from Mexico and a smattering from other world areas, including South Africa. Chris did his doctoral work at North Carolina State University under “Mr. Membracid” himself, Lewis Deitz, and has since been conducting evolutionary and phylogenetic studies on Membracidae and the related Cicadomorpha. I recently received this material back from Chris (photo above), the majority of which he had been able to identify to species – only a few specimens in the more problematic genera were left with a generic ID.


Campylocentrus sp. (Mexico: Oaxaca)


Hyphinoe obliqua (Mexico: Oaxaca)


Poppea setosa (Mexico: Puebla)


Umbonia reclinata (Mexico: Oaxaca)


Umbonia crassicornis male (Mexico: Puebla)


Umbonia crassicornis female (Mexico: Puebla)

The selection of photos here show a sampling of some of the more interesting forms contained within this batch of newly identified material – all of which hail from southern Mexico. Campylocentrus sp. is an example of the primitive subfamily Centrotinae, distinguished among most membracid subfamilies by the exposed scutellum (not covered by the expanded pronotum).  Hyphinoe obliqua is an example of the largely Neotropical subfamily Darninae, while Poppea setosa represents one of the more bizarre ant-mimicking species of the subfamily Smiliinae.  Umbonia is a diverse genus in the subfamily Membracinae, occurring from the southern U.S. south into South America. Umbonia crassicornis is one of the most commonly encountered species in this genus, with the photos here showing the high degree of sexual dimorphism it exhibits.  As membracids go, these species are quite large (10 mm in length from frons to wing apex for Campylocentrus sp. and P. setosa, a slightly larger 11-13 mm for the others); however, the many smaller species in this family are no less extraordinarily ornamented.  I’ve also included a photo (below) of one of the drawers from the main collection after incorporating the newly identified material – this drawer represents about half of my treehopper collection, with the largely Nearctic tribe Smiliini and the primitive family Aetalionidae contained in another drawer. In all, the material contained one new subfamily, six new tribes, 13 new genera¹, and 30 new species for my collection. For those with an appetite for brutally technical text, a checklist of the species identified, arranged in my best attempt at their current higher classification, is appended below (any treehopper specialist who happens upon this should feel free to set the record straight on any errors). For each species, the country of origin (and state for U.S. specimens) is indicated along with the number of specimens, and higher taxa new to my collection are indicated with an asterisk(*). Don’t worry, I didn’t type this up just to post it here – it’s a cut/paste job from my newly updated collection inventory for Membracoidea. Happy reading!

¹Wildly off topic, and perhaps of interest only to me, but two of the genera represented in the material are homonyms of plant genera: Oxyrhachis is also a Madagascan genus of Poaceae, and Campylocentrus is a Neotropical genus of Orchidaceae. Scientific names of plants and animals are governed by separate ruling bodies (ICBN and ICZN, respectively), neither of which specifically prohibit (but do recommend against) creating inter-code homonyms. The number of such homonyms is surprisingly high – almost 9,000 generic names have been used in both zoology and botany (13% of the total in botany) (source).  Fortunately, there is only one known case of plant/animal homonymy fr BOTH genus- and species-level names – Pieris napi japonica for a subspecies of the gray-veined white butterfly (Pieridae) and Pieris japonica for the popular ornamental plant Japanese andromeda (Ericaceae).


Kopp, D. D. and T. R. Yonke. 1973-1974. The treehoppers of Missouri: Parts 1-4. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 46(1):42-64; 46(3):375-421; 46(3):375-421; 47(1):80-130.

Wood, T. K. 1999. Diversity in the New World Membracidae. Annual Review of Entomology 38:409-435.


*Campylocentrus curvidens (Fairmaire) [Mexico] – 4
Campylocentrus sp. [Mexico] – 1

*Umfilianus declivus Distant [South Africa] – 3

*Oxyrhachis latipes (Buckton) [South Africa] – 1

Platycentrus acuticornis Stål [Mexico] – 11
Platycentrus obtusicornis Stål [Mexico] – 3
Platycentrus brevicornis Van Duzee [USA: California] – 7
Tylocentrus reticulatus Van Duzee [Mexico] – 4

*Stalobelus sp. [South Africa] – 1


*Dysyncritus sp. [Argentina] – 1


Aconophora sp. female [Mexico] – 1
*Guayaquila xiphias (Fabricius) [Argentina] – 7

Platycotis vittata (Fabricius) [USA: Arizona, California] – 3
Umbonia crassicornis (Amyot & Serville) [Mexico] – 73
Umbonia reclinata (Germar) [Mexico] – 8

Enchenopa binotata complex [Mexico] – 1
Enchenopa sp. [Argentina] – 6

Subfamily DARNINAE

Stictopelta nova Goding [Mexico] – 9
Stictopelta marmorata Goding [USA: Texas] – 1
Stictopelta pulchella Ball [Mexico] – 11
Stictopelta varians Fowler [Mexico] – 3
Stictopelta sp. [USA: Arizona, California] – 5
Stictopelta sp. [Mexico] – 5
Stictopelta spp. [Argentina] – 6
*Sundarion apicalis (Germar) [Argentina] – 2

*Hyphenoe obliqua (Walker) [Mexico] – 1


Vanduzeea triguttata (Burmeister) [USA: Arizona] – 2

Ceresa nigripectus Remes-Lenicov [Argentina] – 3
Ceresa piramidatis Remes-Lenicov [Argentina] – 4
Ceresa ustulata Fairmaire [Argentina] – 1
Ceresa sp. female [Argentina] – 1
Poppea setosa Fowler [Mexico] – 11
Tortistilus sp. [USA: California] – 1

*Bilimekia styliformis Fowler [Mexico] – 3
Polyglypta costata Burmeister [Mexico] – 18

Cyrtolobus acutus Van Duzee [USA: New Mexico] – 1
Cyrtolobus fuscipennis Van Duzee [USA: North Carolina] – 1
Cyrtolobus pallidifrontis Emmons [USA: North Carolina] – 1
Cyrtolobus vanduzei Goding [USA: California] – 4
Cyrtolobus sp. [USA: Arizona] – 2
*Evashmeadea carinata Stål [USA: Arizona] – 4
*Grandolobus grandis (Van Duzee) [USA: Arizona] – 1
Ophiderma sp. [Mexico] – 1
Palonica portola Ball [USA: California] – 4
Telamona decora Ball [USA: Missouri] – 4
Telamona sp. [USA: Texas] – 1
*Telamonanthe rileyi Goding [USA: Texas] – 2
*Telonaca alta Funkhouser [USA: Texas] – 1
Xantholobus sp. [Mexico] – 1


Microcentrus perditus (Amyot & Serville) [USA: Texas] – 1
Microcentrus proximus (Fowler) [Mexico] – 1


Aetalion nervosopunctatum nervosopunctatum Signoret [Mexico] – 9
Aetalion nervosopunctatum minor Fowler [USA: Arizona] – 2
Aetalion reticulatum (Linnaeus) [Argentina, Uruguay] – 26

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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