One-shot Wednesday: swamp milkweed leaf beetle

Labidomera clivicollis on Asclepias incarnata | Hickman Co., Kentucky

Labidomera clivicollis on Asclepias incarnata | Hickman Co., Kentucky

Technically this photograph of Labidomera clivicollis (swamp milkweed leaf beetle) doesn’t qualify as a “one-shot”, as I did take a few other shots as well. However, this was the only shot out of the handful that I didn’t throw away. It’s not perfect—the right front and left rear legs are raised awkwardly, and the lighting is a bit harsh. However, the important parts of the beetle are in focus, the composition is acceptable (with all parts of the beetle within the frame), and there is pleasing value contrast between the orange and black body of the beetle, the green plant on which it sits, and the clear blue sky in the background. The plant’s flowers have even added a smidgen of pink. All of the other photos lacked either focus or composition, neither of which are easily “fixable” in post-processing. The difficulty in getting a better photo is a result of the beetle’s refusal to settle down and stop walking and my lack of desire to spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for this to happen as opposed to finding the insect I was really looking for (more on that in a future post).

I found this beetle on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in Hickman Co., Kentucky. As the common name suggests, swamp milkweed is one of the main hosts for this rather large beetle (at least, by leaf beetle standards). However, they can and do feed and develop on other milkweeds, especially common milkweed (A. syriaca), and even related genera such as swallow-wort (Cynanchum) and twinevine (Funastrum) (all belonging the family Asclepiadaceae).

Labidomera clivicollis is part of the orange and black milkweed mimicry complex, which includes monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes spp.), large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus), small milkweed bug (Lygaeus kalmii), milkweed assassin bug (Zelus longipes), and others. Most of these insects have evolved mechanisms for avoiding or detoxifying cardenolides (produced by milkweed as a defense against herbivores) and sequestering them within their bodies for their own defense against predators. This represents a classic example of a Müllerian mimicry ring, in which multiple insect species—sometimes from different families and even different orders—share a common warning color. Predators learn to avoid these colors and, thus, avoid all of the species within the mimicry ring.

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

My, what busy palps you have!

In mid- to late summer, the swamps of southeast Missouri and adjacent areas along the Mississippi River become awash in color as stands of hairy rose mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus) put forth their conspicuous, white and pink blooms. I’ve been waiting for the mallows to bloom this year, as there is one particular beetle associated with plants in this genus that I have been keen to photograph since I first picked up a real camera a few years ago, to this point without success. My first attempt this year came in early August as I noted the tell-tale blooms while passing through extreme western Kentucky. I was foiled again (but would succeed the next day—more on this in a future post), but as I tiptoed over the soggy ground searching through the lush foliage, I saw a small, brightly colored cricket with curiously enlarged mouthparts. Even more interesting was the constant, almost frenetic manner in which the insect was moving these mouthparts. My first attempts to detach the leaf on which it was moving spooked it, and it jumped to another leaf, but I persisted and finally succeeded in detaching the leaf with the critter still upon it and maneuvering it up towards the sky for a few photographs.

Phyllopalpus pulchellus (red-headed bush cricket) | Hickman Co., Kentucky

Phyllopalpus pulchellus (red-headed bush cricket or “handsome trig”) | Hickman Co., Kentucky

It didn’t take long to identify the cricket as Phyllopalpus pulchellus, or “red-headed bush cricket” (family Gryllidae). This species, also known as the “handsome trig” on account of its stunning appearance and membership in the subfamily Trigonidiinae, is distinctive among all North American orthopterans by its red head and thorax, pale legs, dark wings, and—as already noted—highly modified maxillary palpi with the greatly expanded and paddle-like terminal segment. According to Capinera et al. (2004), adults appear during mid- to late summer near streams and marshes on vegetation about one meter above the ground—precisely as this individual was found. Surely it represents one of our most photographed cricket species (208 BugGuide photos and counting).

The greatly expanded palps are thought to mimic beetle mandibles or spider pedipalps.

The greatly expanded palps are said to mimic beetle mandibles or spider pedipalps.

The obvious question to anyone who sees this species is, “Why the curiously enlarged palps?” Both males and females exhibit this character (even as juveniles), so it seems clear that there is no special sexual or hypersensory function. One idea mentioned on BugGuide (perhaps originating from this EOL post by Patrick Coin) suggests that the crickets are Batesian mimics of chemically-defended ground beetles (family Carabidae) such as bombardier beetles (genus Brachinus). This thought is based on their similar coloration, the convex and shiny (and, thus, beetle-like) forewings of the females, and some resemblance of the enlarged palpi to the mandibles of the beetles. I am not completely satisfied with this idea, since bombardier beetles are generally found on the ground rather than foliage. Moreover, males lack the convex, shiny forewings exhibited by females, and resemblance of the palps to beetle mandibles doesn’t explain their curiously constant movement (ground beetles don’t constantly move their mandibles). Another idea suggested by orthopterist (and insect macrophotographer extraordinaire!) Piotr Naskrecki is a mimetic association with another group of arthropods, noting that the busy movements of the palps is very similar to the way jumping spiders (family Salticidae) move their pedipalps. This suggestion also is not completely satisfying, as it leaves one wondering why the crickets are so boldly and conspicuously colored. While some jumping spiders are brightly colored, I’m not aware of any in eastern North America with similar coloration (indeed, many jumping spiders can be considered ‘drab’). Perhaps the crickets have adopted mimetic strategies using multiple models in their efforts to avoid predation?

The brown wings and long, sickle-shaped ovipositor identify this individual as a female.

The brown wings and sickle-shaped ovipositor identify this individual as a female.

The individual in these photos can be identified as a female due to the presence of the sickle-shaped ovipositor and, as mentioned above, the convex, shiny forewings. Males possess more typically cricket-like forewings, perhaps constrained to such shape by the sound producing function they must serve. The males do, however, exhibit an interesting dimorphism of the forewings, with one wing being clear and the other one black. Fellow St. Louisan and singing insect enthusiast James C. Trager notes this dimorphism has been mentioned in the literature but not explained and suggests it may have something to do with the adaptive physics of sound production.

Congratulations to Ben Coulter, who wins Super Crop Challenge #16, which featured a cropped close-up of the enlarged maxillary palpi of this insect. His 12 pts increase his lead in the overall standings for BitB Challenge Session #7 to an almost insurmountable 59 pts. Morgan Jackson and Troy Bartlett round out the podium with 10 and 9 pts, respectively—Troy’s points being enough to move him into 2nd place in the overalls with 23 pts. Third place in the overalls is still up for grabs, since none of the people occupying the 3rd through 6th places has played for awhile—realistically any number of people behind them could jump onto the podium (or even grab 2nd place!) in the next (and probably last) Session #7 challenge.

REFERENCE:

Capinera, J. L., R. D. Scott & T. J. Walker. 2004. Field Guide To Grasshoppers, Katydids, And Crickets Of The United States. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 249 pp. [Amazon].

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

One-shot Wednesday: pale green assassin bug

Zelus luridus (pale green assassin bug) | Howell Co., Missouri.

Zelus luridus (pale green assassin bug) | Howell Co., Missouri.

As my friend Rich and I set out a week ago Sunday on the final stretch in our quest to hike the 350-mile Ozark Trail in its entirety, I saw this slender, green assassin bug (family Reduviidae) sitting on a tender young leaf of an oak sapling. I already had my camera out but had outfitted with the 65-mm, 1–5× macro lens in anticipation of small beetles that I wanted to photograph on dogwood flowers. Nevertheless, it was still a bit on the cool side, making me think I might yet succeed in getting off some super-closeup shots of this delicate predator. I managed to carefully snip the leaf from the sapling and move the bug up close to the camera for a nice, blue-sky background shot, but one shot is all I got—as soon as the shutter clicked the bug took flight and left me with this single photo. As I have observed to usually be the case, the body of this individual is thickly covered with debris, which I take to be pollen from the abundant oaks at the height of their flowering period.

I’ve seen this species regularly over the years during my springtime forays in upland, oak-hickory Ozark forests. I presume the species is Zelus luridus, based on an online synopsis of the genus Zelus in eastern North America. As true bugs go, assassin bugs are undeniably cool—sometimes large, often colorful, and pure predators! Interestingly, these bugs have adopted a rather diverse array of strategies to assist their predaceous habits, mostly involving modifications of the front legs. Some involve a more typical raptorial design (similar to mantids) with chelate surfaces or even spines on the femora and tibiae, while others have developed flexible, cushion-like structures on the tips of the tibiae to aid in prey handling (Weirauch 2006). Gross morphological modifications, however, are not the only strategy employed by assassin bugs—some groups use secretions either to paralyze or immobilize their prey. Species in the genus Zelus employ the latter strategy—essentially using their front legs as “sticky traps”. The sticky substance is derived from glands on the front legs and is used to coat numerous, microscopically branched setae on the legs called “sundew setae” in reference to the similarity of appearance and function with insectivorous sundew plants. Interestingly, sundew setae have also been found on other parts of the body, at least in first-instar Z. luridus nymphs, leading to speculation that they may also serve some other function besides prey capture. Perhaps these setae explain why most individuals I see are so debris-covered, as with the pollen-laden individual above.

REFERENCE:

Weirauch, C. 2006. Observations on the sticky trap predator Zelus luridus Stål (Heteroptera, Reduviidae, Harpactorinae), with the description of a novel gland associated with the female genitalia. Denisia 19, zugleich Kataloge der OÖ. Landesmuseen
Neue Serie 50:1169–1180 [pdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Not all soybean caterpillars are ‘ugly’!

Although photographs of beetles dominate this site (they are my true love, after all), I am nevertheless an agricultural entomologist by day and, as such, find occasion to post photos of the insects I encounter in my area of expertise—soybean. I think by and large those soybean insects—especially the caterpillars—don’t generate as much interest as the beetles that I feature. I guess this is understandable—caterpillars of the agricultural pest variety seem generally unable to compete with the visual and behavioral charisma exhibited by jewel beetles, tiger beetles, tortoise beetles, etc. Here, however, is an example of a soybean caterpillar that is as beautiful as any beetle you will find—the larva of the silver-spotted skipper, Epargyreus clarus (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae). Not only are the colors to die for, but that comically big head makes for a truly laughable frontal portrait!

Epargyreus clarus (silver-spotted skipper) late-instar larva on soybean | Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Epargyreus clarus (silver-spotted skipper) late-instar larva on soybean | Baton Rouge, Louisiana

This particular individual was found last September in a soybean field near Baton Rouge, Louisiana (amazingly, this is the first insect I have featured from Louisiana). Silver-spotted skippers feed on a wide variety of plants in the family Fabaceae (of which soybean is a member), but their occurrence on soybean rarely reaches levels that cause any economic impact. Normally the caterpillars hide during the day in a silken nest constructed by folding over a leaflet or tying adjacent leaflets together, emerging only at night to feed.

What a pretty face!

What a pretty face!

I suppose the orange spots on the head are intended to serve as false eye spots—for some reason the larger the eyes the more a potential predator seems to take pause before deciding to eat something. The actual eyes can be seen along the outer edge of the orange spot as a row of simple ocelli—incapable of forming sharp images and serving as little more than light and motion detectors. I can’t even begin to speculate on the function of the curious asperate/rugose texture of the head!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

Pop! goes the beetle

Alaus oculatus (eyed elater) | Beaver Dunes State Park, Oklahoma

Alaus oculatus (eyed elater) | Beaver Dunes State Park, Oklahoma

Last June while collecting beetles from cottonwood trees at Beaver Dunes State Park, Oklahoma, I came across one of my favorite beetles—Alaus oculatus, or eyed elater (family Elateridae, or click beetles). Large by click beetle standards, the most striking feature of eyed elaters is, of course, their false eye spots, which are not eyes at all but patches of pubescence—black surrounded by a narrow ring of white—intended to look like eyes and located prominently on the prothorax rather than the head. A handful of related species are also found in various parts of the U.S., all of which exhibit variations on this same eye spot theme. Undoubtedly these spots serve to frighten would-be predators, much like the false eye spots on the thorax of many lepidopteran caterpillars. The true eyes, of course, are much smaller and are located on the head in front of the “false eyes.” In contrast to the prominently visible eye spots, pubescence on the rest of the body seems to function in cryptic coloration. The mottled patterning blends in with the bark of trees where these beetles usually hang out for effective concealment.

Look into my eye(spot)s!

Look into my eye(spot)s!

If either of those first two lines of defense don’t work, the beetles exhibit “thanatosis” by lying still with legs and antennae appressed to the body to fool the would-be predator into thinking that they are already dead.

A ventral look at the clicking mechanism between the pro- and mesosterna.

Adults exhibit “thanatosis” (play dead)  when disturbed.

Their most remarkable defensive behavior, however, is their ability to snap or “click” their bodies with enough force to free themselves from the grasp of a novice predator (or careless entomologist). The click is produced by a large prosternal spine and mesosternal notch on the beetle’s underside. To click, the beetle arches back its head and pronotum to retract the spine from the notch cavity, the tip of which is then pressed against the edge of the notch. Muscles within the thorax contract, storing elastic energy, and as the flexible hinge between the pro- and mesothoraces moves, the spine slides until its tip passes over the edge of the notch, releasing the elastic energy stored in the thoracic musculature and snapping the spine back into the notch cavity with enough force to produce an audible click.

A large spine on the prosternum fits into a groove on the mesosternum.

A large spine on the prosternum fits into a groove on the mesosternum.

This clicking ability also comes in handy if the beetle frees itself from the grasp of a predator and lands on its back. While the beetle’s legs are too short to right itself, its click is capable of launching the beetle high into the air. By tumbling while in the air, the beetle has a 50% chance of landing on its feet (thus, several attempts may be required). When jumping from a hard surface, the beetle is actually capable of launching itself to a height that is several times its body length and can tumble several times while in the air. This raises an interesting question, since theoretically an elevation of only one body length and half of a body revolution are all that is needed for an upside-down beetle to right itself. The power of the click, thus, grossly exceeds the minimal requirement for righting, yet the beetles seem incapable of moderating the force of the click. Furthermore, the 50% probability of landing suggests that they are also incapable of controlling the orientation of their body during the jump and landing. Did the clicking mechanism initially evolve to combat the grasp of predators and was then co-opted for use in jumping, or was the ability to jump the selective pressure that drove its evolution?

Locked and loaded—the mechanism is primed for the click.

Locked and loaded—the mechanism is primed for the click.

Ribak & Weihs (2011) used biomechanical analyses with Lanelater judaicus to support the idea that the click evolved primarily as a mechanism for vertical jumping. They reason that the excessive vertical distance of the jumps ensures sufficient height when jumping from soft substrates such as foliage or loose soil. A followup study evaluating the effect of natural substrates (Ribak et al. 2012) found that jump height was dramatically reduced (by ~75%) when the beetles jumped from leaves that covered approximately half of the study site and that the reduction in jump height was directly correlated with the amount of work absorbed by the substrate. This provides further evidence that the beetles do not moderate their jumping force and instead simply aim to jump “as high as possible” and rely on random chance for landing back on their feet.

After clicking, the spine returns to its resting position out of the groove.

After clicking, the spine returns to its resting position within the groove.

REFERENCE:

Ribak, G., S. Reingold & D. Weihs. 2012. The effect of natural substrates on jump height in click-beetles. Functional Ecology 26(2):493–499 [abstract].

Ribak, G. & D. Weihs. 2011. Jumping without using legs: The jump of the click-beetles (Elateridae) is morphologically constrained. PLoS ONE 6(6):e20871. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020871 [full text].

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

Hairy milkweed beetle

Across the Great Plains of North America, sand dune fields dot the landscape along rivers flowing east out of the Rocky Mountains. Formed by repeated periods of drought and the action of prevailing south/southwest winds on alluvium exposed by uplifting over the past several million years, many of these dunes boast unique assemblages of plants and animals adapted to their harsh, xeric conditions. Some are no longer active, while others remain active to this day. Among the latter is Beaver Dunes in the panhandle of northwestern Oklahoma.

Beaver Dunes, Oklahoma

Beaver Dunes State Park, Beaver Co., Oklahoma

As I explored the more vegetated areas around the perimeter of the dunes, I spotted the characteristically hairy, fleshy, opposite leaves of Ascelpias arenaria. Known also as “sand milkweed,” this plant is associated with sand dunes and other dry sandy soil sites throughout the central and southern Great Plains. I always give milkweeds a second look whenever I encounter them due to the association with them by longhorned beetles in the genus Tetraopes. It wasn’t long before I spotted the black antennae and red head of one of these beetles peering over one of the upper leaves from the other side.

Tetraopes pilosus on Asclepias arenaria

Tetraopes pilosus on Asclepias arenaria | Beaver Dunes State Park, Oklahoma

This was no ordinary Tetraopes, however. Its large size, dense covering of white pubescence, and association with sand milkweed told me immediately that this must be T. pilosus (the specific epithet meaning “hairy”). Like its host, this particular milkweed beetle is restricted to Quaternary sandhills in the central and southern Great Plains (Chemsak 1963), and also like its host the dense clothing of white pubescence is presumably an adaptation to prevent moisture loss and overheating in their xeric dune habitats (Farrell & Mitter 1998).

Tetraopes pilosus

Species of Tetraopes have the eyes completely divided by the antennal insertions—thus, “four eyes.”

Tetraopes is a highly specialized lineage distributed from Guatemala to Canada that feed as both larvae and adults exclusively on milkweed (Chemsak 1963). Larval feeding occurs in and around the roots of living plants, a habit exhibited by only a few other genera of Cerambycidae but unique in the subfamily Lamiinae (Linsley 1961). Milkweed plants are protected from most vertebrate and invertebrate herbivores by paralytic toxins, commonly termed cardiac glycosides or cardenolides. However, a few insects, Tetraopes being the most common and diverse, have not only evolved cardenolide insensitivity but also the ability to sequester these toxins for their own defense. Virtually all insects that feed on milkweed and their relatives have evolved aposematic coloration to advertise their unpalatability, and the bright red and black color schemes exhibited by milkweed beetles are no exception.

Species of the genus Tetraopes are characterized by the completely divided eyes.

Adult beetles, like the leaves of their hosts, are clothed in white pubescence.

As  noted by Mittler & Farrel (1998), variation in coloration among the different species of Tetraopes may be correlated with host chemistry. Milkweed species vary in toxicity, with more basal species expressing simpler cardenolides of lower toxicity and derived species possessing more complex and toxic analogs. Most species of Tetraopes are associated with a single species of milkweed, and it has been noted that adults of those affiliated with less toxic milkweeds on average are smaller, have less of their body surface brightly colored, and are quicker to take flight (Chemsak 1963, Farrell & Mitter 1998). Thus, there seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of protection afforded by their host plant and the degree to which the adults advertise their unpalatability and exhibit escape behaviors. Asclepias arenaria and related species are the most derived in the genus and contain the highest concentrations of cardenolides. In fact, they seem to be fed upon only by Tetraopes and monarchs while being generally free from other more oligophagous insect herbivores such as ctenuchine arctiid moths and chrysomelid beetles that feed on less derived species of milkweed (Farrell & Mitter 1998). Accordingly, T. pilosus is among the largest species in the genus and has the majority of its body surface red. Also, consistent with it being more highly protected than others in the genus, I noted virtually no attempted escape behavior as I photographed this lone adult.

Asclepias arenaria

Asclepias arenaria (sand milkweed) growing at the base of a dune.

In addition to metabolic insensitivity to cardenolides, adult Tetraopes also exhibit behavioral adaptations to avoid milkweed defenses (Doussard & Eisner 1987). The milky sap of milkweed is thick with latex that quickly dries to a sticky glue that can incapacitate the mouthparts of chewing insects that feed upon the sap-filled tissues. Adult Tetraopes, however, use their mandibles to cut through the leaf midrib about a quarter of the way back from the tip. This allows much of the sticky latex-filled sap to drain from the more distal tissues, on which the beetle then begins feeding at the tip. Leaves with chewed tips and cut midribs are telltale signs of feeding by adult Tetraopes.

REFERENCES:

Chemsak, J. A. 1963. Taxonomy and bionomics of the genus Tetraopes (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae). University of California Publications in Entomology 30(1):1–90, 9 plates.

Doussard, D. E. & T. Eisner. 1987. Vein-cutting behavior: insect counterploy to the latex defense of plants. Science 237:898–901 [abstract].

Farrell, B. D. & C. Mitter. 1998. The timing of insect/plant diversification: might Tetraopes (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) and Asclepias (Asclepiadaceae) have co-evolved? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 63: 553–577 [pdf].

Linsley, E.G. 1961. The Cerambycidae of North America. Part 1. Introduction. University of California Publications in Entomology 18:1–97, 35 plates.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Red-eyed poop!

I was looking at some of my older files and ran across these photographs taken in early 2011 in Campinas (São Paulo state), Brazil. They’re not my best photos from a compositional and technical perspective, as I was still on the steep part of the learning curve with the Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens. This lens is no doubt powerful and allows amazingly close-up photographs, but it is rather a beast to learn in the field, especially hand-held. I could quibble endlessly about missed focus and suboptimal composition with these shots, and that is probably why they never made it to the front of the line for being posted. Nevertheless, they still depict some interesting natural history by one of nature’s most famous natural history poster children—the treehoppers (order Hemiptera; family Membracidae).

An adult next to a cast nymphal exuvia.

Bolbonota sp. (Hemiptera: Membracidae), upper right | Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil. Note cast exuvia.

The treehoppers shown in these photos were found on a low shrub in a municipal park and are all that I could manage before my clumsy, unpracticed molestations caused the few adults and nymphs present in the aggregation to disperse. The dark coloration of the adult and its globular form, corrugated pronotal surface, and lack of any horns identify the species as a member of the genus Bolbonota in the New World tribe Membracini (another similar genus, Bolbonotoides, occurs as a single species in Mexico). Species identification, however, is much more difficult, as there are at least a dozen species recorded from Brazil and perhaps many more awaiting description. We have a similar though slightly more elongate species here in eastern North America, Tylopelta americana. I don’t know if this is a specific character or not, but I don’t recall seeing any members of this genus with smoldering red eyes—it gives them an almost devilish appearance, especially the blackish adults (see last photo)!

Bolbonota sp. late-instar nymphs clustered together.

Bolbonota and similar genera are often cited by evolutionists as examples of insects that mimic seeds. I can see such a resemblance if I force myself, but honestly I don’t really buy it. To me they seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to the chlamisine leaf beetles which are thought to mimic caterpillar frass. As with the beetles they resemble, frass-mimicry seems to make much more sense than seed-mimicry, especially given their preference for positioning themselves along the stems of the plants on which they feed (when was the last time you saw seeds of a plant randomly distributed along its stems?). Another thought I’ve had is that this is not an example of mimicry at all, but merely an accidental consequence of the heavy, corrugated body form they have adopted, which likely also affords them a reasonable amount of protection from predation. Confounding both of these theories, however, are the radically different appearance and form of the adults versus the nymphs, and indeed even between the different nymphal instars (see early- and late-instar nymphs in photo below). The later instars seem perfectly colored for mimicking unopened leaf buds, but why they would start out dark in early instars before turning mottled/streaked-white as they mature, only to revert back to dark when reaching adulthood, is a mystery to me. If my thoughts are anywhere close to the truth, it would be a remarkable case of different life stages mimicking the products of two different taxonomic kingdoms (plant parts as nymphs, animal poop as adults)!

Bolbonota sp. nymphs tended by Camponotus sp. | Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil.

An ant (presumably Camponotus sp.) tends a first-instar nymph alongside a later instar.

Of course, if either/both of these lines of defense fail then there are the ant associates that often protect treehoppers and other sap-sucking, aggregating insect species in exchange for the sweet, sugary honeydew that such insects exude as a result of their sap-feeding habits. I presume this ant belongs to the genus Camponotus, perhaps C. rufipes or C. crassus which are both commonly encountered treehopper associates in southern Brazil. I have written previously about ant-treehopper mutualism in the stunningly-marked nymphs of another treehopper, Guayaquila xiphias, and its ant-associate C. crassus in Brazil Bugs #15 – Formiga-membracídeos mutualismo (a post that has become one of this blog’s most popular all-time). Maybe this post will never match that one in popularity, but I do find the third photo shown here remarkable in that is shows no less than five elements of this treehopper’s natural history (early-instar nymph, late-instar nymph, cast nymphal exuvia, partial adult, and an ant-associate) within a single frame (shot by a person still on the steep portion of the MP-E 65mm learning curve!).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

The “Dagger Butt Weevil”

In April 2012 I spent some time in northern Argentina collecting insects, and while collecting was not that great (late in the season after a protracted drought) I saw enough of interest to make it a worthwhile effort. Among the insects that I saw were two species of weevil (family Curculionidae)—one being Eurhinus c.f. adonis () and the other this one, also kindly identified by Charles O’Brien as Erodiscus obidensis (Monte 1944). Both of them were found on flowers of Solidago chilensis growing along the roadside near La Escondida in Chaco Province; however, the two weevils are almost complete opposites in terms of coloration and body form—E. adonis brilliant metallic green and robust chunky, and E. obidensis chestnut-colored and elongate slender.

Erodiscus obidensis (Monte) | Chaco Province, Argentina | Apr 2012

Erodiscus obidensis (Monte) | Chaco Province, Argentina | Apr 2012

An obvious feature of E. obidensis are its two stout spines located at the apices of the elytra. I presume that these serve a defensive purpose to protect them against potential avian or reptilian predators. However, if elytral spines are all that is needed for such then why are these structures not found widely across the order Coleoptera—certainly the potential is there, as many beetles exhibit very small spines at the elytral apices. With enough selection pressure one can easily imagine that larger spines would be selected for. Either the spines also/instead serve some other purpose, or development of spines is more energetically expensive than I am imagining.

What purpose those daggers?

What purpose those daggers?

Compared to most of the insects that I have featured on this blog, I wasn’t able to find much information on this species. It was originally described as Atenistes attenuatus var. obidensis from Óbidos in the Brazilian state of Pará (Monte 1944) and is listed as such in the Blackwelder (1947) catalogue. However, my weevil literature is sparse compared to the other beetle groups with which I am more familiar, and I found nothing else in searches on the web as well. It apparently is already known from Argentina, as it is listed at the website Curculionidae de Argentina (but without any photos). As far as I could tell, these are the first photos of the species to be posted to the web, at least with the associated name. Since so little seems to be known about this weevil, I take it upon myself to give it a common name, and I can’t think of a more amusing and fun-to-say name than the “dagger butt weevil” in reference to its distinctive apical spines.

REFERENCES:

Blackwelder, R. E. 1947. Checklist of the coleopterous insects of Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, and South America. Part 5. Bulletin of the U. S. National Museum 185:765–925 [pdf].

Monte, O. 1944. Sobre coleópteros Otidocephalinae. Revista Entomologia, Rio de Janeiro 15(3):318–320 [abstract].

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013