Beetles by Chuck

A few months before his passing last August, Chuck Bellamy asked me if I was would like to have his photographic slide collection. I was, of course, deeply honored by this request, for in addition to becoming one of the most prolific students ever of jewel beetles, Chuck had for years photographed live adult beetles in the field and major type specimen holdings such as those at The Natural History Museum in London and the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris. As uncomfortable as it was discussing with him matters related to his impending mortality, I also knew that it was important to him that his slides end up in the hands of someone who would appreciate their great scientific value and, hopefully, make them available to the larger community of jewel beetle enthusiasts. A few weeks after he passed, three large, white, cardboard boxes showed up at my office—each one containing six or seven portfolio box binders with several hundred slides.

Chuck will be honored in an upcoming issue of The Coleopterists Bulletin. In addition to personal remembrances and a suite of papers describing new species of beetles named after him, the issue will feature some of Chuck’s best live adult images scanned from slides in the collection that I received. Choosing the photos was not easy, but I eventually narrowed down to 15 that I thought best represented the taxonomic diversity of jewel beetles, ranked them from most to least favorite, sent scanned images to fellow buprestophile Rick Westcott for him to do likewise, and tallied the combined rankings to determine the final selections. Six of the photos will appear on a plate within the issue, and a seventh will appear on the cover. I won’t spoil the surprise here by revealing what species were selected. Rather, I’ll just whet appetites by posting the photos that were not selected (despite which I think you’ll agree that they are still good photos).

Julodis chevrolati Laporte | Sep 2000, W. Springbok, Schaaprivier, Northern Cape Prov., RSA.

Julodis chevrolati Laporte | Sep 2000, W. Springbok, Schaaprivier, Northern Cape Prov., RSA.

Acmaeodera (s. str.) griffithi Fall | Apr 2001, Mohawk Valley, Yuma Co., Arizona, USA.

Acmaeodera (s. str.) griffithi Fall | Apr 2001, Mohawk Valley, Yuma Co., Arizona, USA.

Polycesta (Arizonica) aruensis Obenberger | Apr 2001, Frink Springs, Imperial Co., California, USA.

Polycesta (Arizonica) aruensis Obenberger | Apr 2001, Frink Springs, Imperial Co., California, USA.

Evides pubiventris  (Laporte & Gory) | Jan 1999, Geelhoutbosch, Northern [Limpopo] Prov., RSA.

Evides pubiventris (Laporte & Gory) | Jan 1999, Geelhoutbosch, Northern [Limpopo] Prov., RSA.

Castiarina klugii (Gory & Laporte) | Australia.

Castiarina klugii (Gory & Laporte) | Australia.

Temognatha chalcodera (Thomson) | Western Australia.

Temognatha chalcodera (Thomson) | Western Australia.

Sphaerobothris (s. str.) platti (Cazier) | 1998,  E. Jacumba, San Diego Co., California, USA.

Sphaerobothris (s. str.) platti (Cazier) | 1998, E. Jacumba, San Diego Co., California, USA.

Dystaxia elegans Fall | 1998, Warner Springs, San Diego Co., California, USA.

Dystaxia elegans Fall | 1998, Warner Springs, San Diego Co., California, USA.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014, photos by Charles L. Bellamy

Post processing—then and now

I recently happened upon one of my first attempts at post processing a photograph of a pinned insect specimen. The subject was Anomalipus elephas (large armoured darkling beetle), a tank of an insect (this example measuring 32 mm in length) belonging to the family Tenebrionidae. At the time, I was quite pleased with the results of my crude post processing efforts and proudly posted the “enhanced” photo in full-sized glory for all to behold. Since then, I’ve gained some experience with post processing of photos, and when I saw the processed photo this time I knew that there was considerable room for improvement. I thought it might be interesting to give the photo another PP whack and compare the two efforts from then and now.

Here is the original photo—keep in mind that the photo was taken with a small (though fairly decent) point-and-shoot camera (Panasonic DMC-FX3) a few months before I made the move to my current dSLR setup. I pinned the specimen to a styrofoam board, illuminated it with two 23w compact fluorescent light bulbs, and took the photo with the camera set on its “macro” setting. For the original post processed version (using Adobe Photoshop Elements version 6.0), I rotated and cropped the photo, then increased brightness and contrast (I don’t remember the values for each), used the clone tool to remove the pinhead (I’d just figured out how to do this), and increased sharpness using unsharp mask. This is all well and good (although I think the added contrast was a little excessive); however, I did make two big mistakes. The first was using the eraser tool to create a white background—a tedious process, especially around the perimeter of the subject to avoid “clipping” any of the subject’s body. The second was leaving the numerous small pieces of debris clinging to the subject. Debris on pinned (and even live) specimens is now a pet peeve of mine—I find it detracts greatly from the appearance of the photo, yet it is remarkably easy to remove in all but the most extreme of cases. At any rate, here is the result of that original attempt:

For the latest attempt, I rotated and cropped the original photo as before. Next, I created a white background, not with the “Eraser Tool” but rather by opening “Levels”, clicking on “Set White Point”, and touching the darkest part of the background. Voilá—a beautiful white background with no clipped subject edges! The subject still needed to be brightened up (two 23w fluorescent bulbs don’t put out that much light); however, instead of directly adjusting brightness I set “Lighten Shadows” to a value of +30% (a rather heavy handed setting) to also reduce shadows around the subject’s legs. Then I used the “Clone Stamp Tool” to clone out the pinhead, but this time I didn’t stop there—I continued using the tool to clone out all of the tiny little pieces of debris on the subject surface. Using the clone stamp tool effectively requires some practice, but eventually one learns to adjust the size and define the source set point to achieve almost perfect results. Lastly, I increased sharpness with “Unsharp Mask” (118%, 1.0 pixels, 8 levels). That’s it—took me all of about 3 or 4 minutes to post process the original photo to achieve the following result:

To compare the two post-processed images directly click here. Of course, my current camera setup is capable of much higher quality photographs than the point-and-shoot used for the subject of this post; however, the sequence of post processing  steps that I use is essentially the same (if less heavy handed). One final note—I am not a Photoshop expert, and perhaps some of the processes I have described can be done even more effectively or easily than in the manner I have described. I would welcome any comments or tips that you think might offer a better way to post process photos of pinned specimens.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

The World’s Largest Tiger Beetle

Manticora scabra - male (L) and female (R) | Republic of South Africa

Some of the first residents of my new insect cabinets (see ) are also among the newest specimens in my collection. Not long ago I received a box from world tiger beetle expert David Brzoska, who had carefully chosen male/female pairs of a number of tiger beetle species from his impressive world collection and sent them to me as a surprise gift. Now, us North America-bound collectors are limited to just a few genera, e.g. Cicindela (although increasingly recognized as a cluster of several closely related genera), Tetracha, and if we’re really lucky Amblycheila and Omus (the last being one I still have not seen in the field). In the rest of the world (especially the tropics and subtropics), however, generic diversity is much higher, and coming as they did from South America, Africa, Australia, and southeast Asia most of the specimens in the sending represented new genera for my collection. While I was grateful for them all, the specimens that had me leaping for joy was this fine pair of Manticora scabra, one of the so-called “African Giant Tiger Beetles.”

Males of all Manticora spp. have asymmetrically enlarged mandibles

In the case of these beetles, the term “giant” is no exaggeration. The male specimen (above and left) measures a full 54 mm (that’s more than 2 inches, folks!) from the tip of its grossly enlarged mandible to the tip of its abdomen, and even the female at 47 mm length is substantially larger than my 38-mm long male specimen of North America’s largest tiger beetle, Amblycheila cylindriformis. While enlarged male mandibles are a common feature among many beetle groups, Manticora males feature an unusual asymmetry in the mandibles, with the right mandible always much larger than the left (itself enlarged compared to the female mandibles, and even the latter cannot be considered small).  Apparently the asymmetry represents a trade-off in natural selection—males use their mandibles not only to hunt prey but also hold onto the female pronotum during mating and subsequent mate guarding. There is positive selection pressure for larger mandible size, as males with smaller mandibles are more likely to be dislodged from the female by competing males. However, because of the large size of the species, larger male mandibles are less effective for securing normal prey items that tend to be smaller in size. If both mandibles were enlarged to the point needed to securely grip the female pronotum, the male would be unable to feed adequately, but having only one mandible fully enlarged provides sufficient grip while maintaining an ability by the somewhat smaller left mandible to grip regular prey items. A consequence of the mandibular asymmetry is that males ride “to the left” when coupled with females.

The right mandible is larger than the left mandible.

David identified these individuals as the species M. scabra, occurring throughout much of southern Africa (Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Republic of South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe—according to Carabidae of the World). I presume the species epithet refers to the roughened surface of the elytra. There are at least two recent treatments of the genus (Werner 2000, Mares 2003); however, I have access to neither because of the exorbitant cost of these books—$247 and $433, respectively (I find it rather ironic that the recent explosion of book-sized treatments of “large” beetles has resulted in publications priced so high that they are inaccessible to most professional entomologists).

Female mandibles are nonetheless impressive despite their smaller size.

I made a trip to South Africa in 1999 and had hoped to see these beetles for myself, but unfortunately this did not happen. Perhaps part of the problem was my impression of these beetles as nocturnal hunters—the prevailing ‘wisdom’ at the time. My field partners and I made several nighttime forays in the semi-arid bushveldt where we were camping, using flashlights to scan the ground for any large black beetles we could find moving about. We found numerous tyrant ground beetles (family Carabidae, genus Anthia) and a diversity of tok-tokkies (family Tenebrionidae), but no Manticora tiger beetles. Shortly after that trip, Oberprieler & Arndt (2000) published an informative summary of the biology of several Manticora populations in South Africa, their most notable finding being that adults are opportunistic diurnal predators that hunt by smell rather than nocturnal visual hunters. Perhaps someday I’ll have another opportunity to visit South Africa and see Manticora adults in the field, but until that time I’m happy to have these two specimens residing in my cabinet.

My sincerest thanks to David Brzoska for these sending me these fine specimens and for the many additional kindnesses he has extended to me during the past few years.


Mares, J. 2003. A Monograph of the Genus Manticora. Taita Publishers, 205 pp.

Oberprieler, R. G. & E. Arndt. 2000. On the biology of Manticora Fabricius (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelinae), with a description of the larva and taxonomic notes. Tijdschrift voor Entomologie 143:71–89.

Werner, K. 2000. The Tiger Beetles of Africa (Coleoptera, Cicindelidae) Volume I. Taita Publishers, 191 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

‘Beetles in the Bush’ T-Shirts now available!

I’ve mentioned before my preference for simple cotton t-shirts over fancy pocketed nylon shirts while I’m out in the field (see Beetle Collecting 101: Dress for Success). Lightweight and comfortable under even the most extreme conditions, they do the job cheaply and effectively. While most any t-shirt will do, I am especially fond of the set I purchased from CafePress, each artfully emblazoned with a stylized image of Cicindela ancosisconensis by Kirk Betts at The Wild Edge. In addition to their lightweight comfort, these shirts leave curious onlookers with little doubt about what I am up to (and of course, I also clearly be stylin’!).

Of course, variety is the spice of life, and I’m happy to now announce a new design created specifically for ‘Beetles in the Bush’. My deepest appreciation to Kirk, who has once again worked his PhotoShop filters magic to create a stylized image of this blog’s icon, the jewel beetle Agelia petalii (see Buppies in the bush(veld) for the original photo of this species that I took in South Africa back in 1999). Men’s, women’s and children’s t-shirts and other apparel bearing this design are now available at the new Beetles in the Bush CafePress online store. Two versions of each item are offered—one with the image and ‘Beetles in the Bush’ logo, and another with the image only, as shown below:

Image w/ logo

Image only

A variety of t-shirt and sweatshirt styles are available, as are coffee mugs for those who (like me) prefer to start their collecting day with a jolt of java! I hope you’ll browse the product selection and find something that you like.

Show your support for ‘Beetles in the Bush’! I don’t expect to get rich off of this, but whatever proceeds from sales that I do get will go a long way towards helping fund future insect collecting and photography expeditions. If you have any feedback on the design/organization of the online store, the products offered, or future designs that you would like to see made available please let me know, either by comment or by contacting me directly.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Featured Guest Photo – Dromica kolbei

Dromica kolbei? - Kruger National Park, South Africa. Copyright © Joe Warfel 2011.

Shortly after I returned from Brazil, this stunning photo was sent to me by Joe Warfel, who himself had just returned from a trip to South Africa.  Joe had seen the beetle at Punda Maria camp in the northern part of Kruger National Park, had deduced that it represented a species in the genus Dromica, and included the following notes about its behavior:

It did not fly, only ran, ran, ran, ran…. you get the picture.  But stopped briefly now and then to deposit eggs in the  soil.  My best guess from my limited tiger beetle references is Dromica sp.  Any help for identification you may give would be appreciated.

Although I have not collected this genus myself, I recognized it instantly as a member of such based on specimens and images I have seen.  Carabidae of the World contains fine images of a number of species in this genus, of which Dromica kolbei (W. Horn, 1897) seems to be a pretty good match.  However, more than 170 species are currently included in the genus, and while a modern revision is in progress (Schüle and Werner 2001; Schüle 2004, 2007), the bulk of the genus still remains to be treated.  As a result, this really should be considered as just a provisional ID.

Dromica is a strictly sub-Saharan African genus of tiger beetles whose included species are denizens of dry lands – savannahs, grasslands, open woodlands, and semideserts, and are generally absent in the moister, more heavily forested areas of western Africa.  Like a number of other tiger beetle genera, they have given up the power of flight to capitalize on their fast running capabilities.  This flightlessness and the strict association of adults with often short rainy seasons has led to both spatial and temporal isolation of numerous, localized populations of restricted geographical range.  This has no doubt contributed to the diversification of the genus across the mosaic of suitable habitats covering central, eastern, and southern Africa.  Schüle and Werner (2001) suggest that a good number of new species may still await discovery in the more remote or yet inaccessible areas of the countries of occurrence.  I had hoped to encounter these beetles (and also Manticora, or the giant African tiger beetles) during my visit to South Africa in 1999, but luck was not with me in this regard (although I did collect several fine specimens of the handsome Ophryodera rufomarginata (Boheman) and also a few species in the genera Cicindina and Lophyra).

My sincere thanks to Joe Warfel for allowing me to post his excellent photograph.  I featured photographs by Joe in an earlier post (A Tiger Beetle Aggregation), and his other photos can be seen at EighthEyePhotography (you must see this striking harvestman from Trinidad!).


Schüle, P. 2004. Revision of the genus Dromica. Part II.  The “elegantula-group” (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae). Folia Heyrovskana 12(1):1–60.

Schüle, P. 2007. Revision of the genus Dromica. Part IV.  Species closely related to Dromica albivittis (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae). African Invertebrates 48(2):233–244.

Schüle, P. and K. Werner. 2001. Revision of the genus Dromica Dejean, 1826. Part I: the stutzeri-group (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae). Entomologia Africana 6(2):21–45.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011 (text)

Monday Moth – Trichaeta pterophorina

 Trichaeta pterophorina – Borakalalo National Park, South Africa

Another photo from the South Africa files, and one that continues the mimicry theme that has been featured in several recent posts. It’s not a great photograph – the focus is off – but the colors these moths sport are dazzling, and there is a nice symmetry to their tail-to-tail mating position.

Roy Goff, author of the website African Moths, tells me this species is the Simple Maiden (Amata simplex) in the family Arctiidae (whose ~2,000 species worldwide are increasingly considered a subfamily of the already enormous Noctuidae) [update 6/20/2012—Martin in a comment considers these moths to actually represent Trichaeta pterophorina in the same subfamily].  Its gestalt – greatly resembling a stinging wasp – brings to mind the so-called “wasp moths” of North America (subtribe Euchromiina); however, maidens belong to the exclusively Old World Syntomina.  Like the wasp moths, most maidens are exceptionally colorful and exhibit clearly aposematic patterns.  While these might seem to be textbook examples of Batesian mimicry, most species in this group are also protected by distasteful secondary plant compounds that they sequester through feeding, making them Mullerian rather than Batesian mimics.  These compounds are not only acquired by larvae from their food plants, but also by adult moths who imbibe them from fluid regurgitated through their proboscis onto dried parts of plants containing the compounds and into which they dissolve.

Their aposematism is not limited to strictly visual cues.  An Australian species, Amata annulata, is known to regularly emit ultrasonic clicks when flying, thought to be aposematic behavior to warn bats of its distastefulness in the same way that that its coloration warns daytime predators. Additional defensive characters that have been described for species in the group include frothing and extrusion of defensive processes. Clearly, maidens are leaders in the arms race among the insects!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Email to a friend

Mylabris oculatus in South Africa

Mylabris oculata, the CMR bean beetle, is a large, conspicuously-colored beetle in the family Meloidae (blister beetles) that I saw quite commonly during my stay in South Africa.  “CMR” refers to the Cape Mounted Rifle Corps, a police force in the old Cape Colony whose uniforms sported black and yellow bands that resemble the colors of this beetle.

Blister beetles as a whole are, of course, well known for their chemical defenses, primarily cantharidin (the active ingredient in ‘Spanish Fly’, an extract of a European species of blister beetle).  This terpenoid compound is a painful irritant, especially when coming into contact with mucous-lined membranes such as those of the gatrointestinal and urinary tracts.  Blister beetles emit body fluids containing cantharidin from joints on the legs when disturbed, giving any would-be predators a foul-tasting appetizer. As we have so often seen, insects containing such effective defenses are often aposematically colored to advertise the fact, allowing them to brazenly lumber about fully exposed during the day with little to fear.  If there ever was an insect that screamed aposematic, it is M. oculatus with its boldy contrasting black and yellow elytra and hot-orange antennae.

These beetles, however, are more than just a frustration for hungry birds, but also a serious pest of numerous ornamental, fruit and vegetable crops (Picker et al. 2002).  Large numbers of adults congregate on plants and preferentially feed on the flowers.  In the more natural settings where I was encountering these beetles, they were most often seen on flowers of Acacia spp. or (as in the above photo) Dichrostachys cinerea in the family Fabaceae.  To be honest, they became quite a source of frustration for me as well – not because of their distastefulness or pestiferous habits, but because of their role as the model in a mimicry complex.  It was the mimic that I was after, and since mimics tend to be much less common than their models, I had to look at a lot of M. oculatus to find the few specimens of the species I was after. 

Pop quiz: Can anybody name the mimic?

Back to their chemical defenses – I’ve often wondered just how poisonous blister beetles really are, especially to humans.  Here in the U.S., their main importance is as contaminants in alfalfa hay fed to cattle and horses.  Deaths from severely contaminated forage do occur, but this is dependent upon the cantharidin content of the species and their abundance within the hay.  The highest reported cantharidin content for a blister beetle is 5.4% dry weight in Epicauta vittata.  Calculations based on this figure and the lethal dose for a 1000-lb horse indicate that around 100 such beetles would need to be eaten to receive a fatal dose.  This seems to make the claim that a single beetle can kill a human a little far-fetched.  However, M. oculatus are big beetles – more than a full inch in length and bulky.  In this regard, I found an interesting tidbit at the TrekNature website.  Clarke Scholtz is an entomologist at the University of Pretoria, and when asked, “Is it true that their poison can kill a human being?”, he responded:

Yes; they are poisonous enough to kill people – especially a big beetle… The poison is very toxic and actually causes collapsed tissue. It would also depend on the weight of the person, as with any other toxin. The poison of a CMR beetle, that is dried and powdered, is sufficient to kill a 70kg human.


Picker, M., C. Griffiths and A. Weaving. 2002. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 444 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Email to a friend

Monday Moth: Arniocera erythropyga

Arniocera erythropyga (Zygaenidae), Geelhoutbosch, South Africa

Last week’s king cricket quiz (Tuesday Teaser) reminded me that I still have quite a few photographs from my trip to South Africa, now 10 years ago, that I still haven’t shared. This pretty little moth is Arniocera erythropyga, which I photographed at Geelhoutbosch farm in South Africa’s Northern (now Limpopo) Province while clambering up the magnificent north-facing escarpment of the Waterberg Mountains. 

I saw this moth as it sat on the foliage of Grewia sp. (family Malvaceae) – fully exposed for all the world to see.  If we’ve learned anything by now, we know that brightly colored insects that expose themselves conspicuously during the day are probably protected by chemical defences (or perhaps mimicking something that is). Such was the case for Bromophila caffra, an equally strikingly-colored fly that I saw on the same hike, and it is also the case for this moth as well. Arniocera erythropgya is a member of the family Zygaenidae, or burnet moths – many members of which are known to release hydrogen cyanide (Scholtz and Holm 1985). This is the same family to which another toxic species I featured last spring belongs (Pyromorpha dimidiata).  A number of moths and butterflies in other families are also known to release HCN (produced by the breakdown of cyanoglucosides sequestered from the plants on which they feed); however, all life stages of zygaenid moths, including the egg, contain these compounds.  This suggests that zygaenid species are capable of synthesizing these compounds themselves rather than needing to sequester them from their host plants (Scoble 1992). While some zygaenid larvae do feed on plants that contain cyanoglucosides, they apparently do so simply because of their tolerance to the compounds but without the need to sequester them from the plant.

Thus, when I saw and approached this little moth, it didn’t flinch or flee.  Protected by toxicity, it continued sitting brazenly atop its exposed perch – welcoming me to see it, daring me to do anything more than take its photo.

My thanks to Roy Goff at African Moths for confirming the identity of the individual in this photograph.


Scholtz, C. H. and E. Holm (eds.). 1985. Insects of Southern Africa. Butterworths, Durbin, South Africa, 502 pp.

Scoble, M. J. 1992. The Lepidoptera. Form, Function and Diversity. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 404 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Email to a friend