Answers to ID Challenge #5 – Artrópodes em casca de árvore morta

Dead tree in Campinas, Brazil

After checking into my hotel in Campinas, Brazil I couldn’t wait to start exploring the grounds to see what insect life I might be able to find.  Almost immediately, I encountered this dead tree in back of the hotel.  To a beetle collector, a dead tree is an irresistible draw – especially one that is still standing and with loosely hanging bark, as in this one.  I approached the tree, gave it a look up and down the trunk to see if any beetles or other insects might be found on the outer surface of the bark, and when none were seen began carefully peeling sections of the bark away from the trunk.  Out from beneath the first section darted a small, black lizard – it reminded me in general form of our North American fence lizards (genus Sceloporus), but honestly it darted so fast up the trunk that I didn’t get a good look at it (much less even the chance to attempt a photograph).  Peeling the bark further away from the wood revealed a goodly number of what I took to be beetle larvae, although they were unlike anything I’d ever seen before.  They were fairly good-sized – about 25mm in length, and although there are a number of beetle families whose larvae may be encountered under the bark of dead trees, there aren’t many with larvae of this size.

Coleopteran larva (Tenebrionidae?) under bark of dead tree.

Despite their odd appearance, their basic gestalt suggested to me that they might be something in the family Tenebrionidae (darkling beetles).  Sadly, the state of beetle larval taxonomy is far from complete, especially in the tropics, and given the extraordinary diversity of the order as a whole I knew it could be difficult to impossible to identify them.  This task was further complicated by the fact that I did not collect any voucher specimens.¹

¹ Insect collecting permits are required in Brazil and are exceedingly difficult to obtain.  Although enforcement is lax, a few unlucky foreigners have been caught and suffered tremendous inconvenience at the hands of notoriously unsympathetic authorities.  This being a business trip, I had no desire to tempt fate for the sake of a few larvae in a group I don’t even study.

Despite a millipede-like appearance, six legs and loose cluster of ocelli indicate its true identity.

After consulting all of the print and online resources at my disposal and failing to find a convincing match at even the family level, I began to second guess not only whether these were tenebrionids, but larvae or even beetles.  I’m not aware of any tenebrionids with larviform adult females, but such are common in the Lampyroidea.  That didn’t seem to fit, however, as the latter tend to be much more flattened and armored in appearance, and the round head is really unlike the elongate and narrow head so often seen in that group.  The actually began to wonder if it was even a beetle – most xylophagous beetle larvae are light-colored and rarely so heavily sclerotized, and the antennae are unlike the typical 3-segmented antennae seen with most xylophagous beetle larvae.  In fact, the antennae and the shape of the head actually reminded me of a millipede, but the obvious presence of six legs (and no more) made this untenable (even though 1st instar millipedes are hexapod, the large size of these individuals precludes them from being 1st instar anything).  Eventually, I could only conclude that they were coleopteran – possibly a larviform adult, but more likely larval.  As a last resort I sent photos to Antonio Santos-Silva, a coleopterist at the University of São Paulo.  Although he specializes in Cerambycidae, I reasoned this might be a fairly common species since I had found good numbers on a single tree in an urban area near São Paulo, and as such it might be something he would recognize.  Antonio quickly replied saying that he agreed it was the larva of a species of Tenebrionidae, with an appearance similar to the larvae of Goniodera ampliata (a member of the Lagriinae, formerly considered a separate family).  I’ve not been able to find photos of the larva of Goniadera or related genera, but these do bear a striking (if more glabrous) resemblance to these presumed tenebrionid larvae from Australia.  Until a more convincing opinion is forthcoming, Tenebrionidae seems to be the consensus.

Polyxenid millipedes and two types of Collembola (several Poduromorpha and one Entomobryomorpha)

Three tiny adult coleopterans (family?) surround a large larval coleopteran

Although nobody zeroed in on Tenebrionidae for this challenge (#5 in the ID Challenge series), I must say that I enjoyed the diversity of opinion about what it might represent.  Moreover, congratulations to those who ‘took nothing for granted’ and noted the presence of several other organisms in the photo – this is where the big points were to be earned, and several participants successfully ID’d what I take to be a number of poduromorph collembolans, a single entomobryomorph collembolan, a central cluster of polyxenid millipedes, and several indistinct but clearly coleopteran adults (see super crops above).  David Hubble got the most correct answers to earn 15 points and the win in this inaugural post of BitB Challenge Season #2, while Dave and Troy Bartlett earned 13 and 10 points, respectively, to complete the podium.  Seven other participants got in on the fun and earned some points – I hope you’ll join the fun next time, too!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Circus of the Spineless #47

When I started participating in blog carnivals last year, Circus of the Spineless was – for me – the pinnacle of blog carnivals.  I wanted to take my shot at hosting this venerable celebration of creepy crawlies, and even though the waiting list for hosting was almost a year long, I offered my services and settled in for the long wait until February 2010.  Ten months have passed and the time has come.  In the meantime, I did my blog carnival host début with Berry Go Round #21 and snatched the sophomore slot for nature blogging’s newest carnival with House of Herps #2.  Through those efforts, I learned that blog carnival hosting is an incredible amount of work/fun, and while plants and herps are fascinating, inverts are my true love.  It is, thus, with great pride that I join the ranks of previous hosts in presenting this, the 47th edition of CotS.  Featured below are 16 submissions by 14 contributors that cover representatives from 5 classes in 3 invertebrate phyla.  A humorous look at some of the personalities behind invertebrate study is presented as a bonus for those who make it to the end.

If you missed last month’s issue, you can find Circus of the Spineless #46 at Kate’s Adventures of a Free Range Urban Primate, and next month’s edition will be hosted by Matt Sarver at The Modern Naturalist.

Phylum CNIDARIA
–Class ANTHOZOA

Coral Reefs
The Voltage GateJeremy at The Voltage Gate reports on peer-reviewed research on the impact of herbivorous fish on the recovery of coral reefs in his post, Protecting herbivorous fishes significantly increases rate of coral recovery.  Coral reefs have been hard hit by the challenges of bleaching and disease, pressures likely linked to climate change, and macroalgae, when given the opportunity to dominate, provide even further challenges.  This can happen when populations of herbivorous fish, major grazers of macroalgae, are reduced through commercial harvest.  The study authors evaluated ten sites over a two-and-a-half year period in and around the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP), which was established as a no-take marine reserve in 1986, finding an increase of coral cover during the study period from 7 percent to 19 percent.  However, ECLSP reefs were responsible for all of this increase, with no net recovery occurring outside the ECLSP.  These results illustrate the importance of reserves as a refuge for biodiversity and the service they provide in keeping marine systems intact.

Phylum MOLLUSCA
–Class GASTROPODA¹
—-“Informal Group” OPISTHOBRANCHIA

Sea slug (Glaucus atlanticus)
Deep-Sea NewsThis gorgeous nudibranch species got a foul slandering when they started washing up on Gold Coast beaches in Australia.  Miriam Goldstein debunks this unfair treatment in her post, Sea slugs have self esteem too, at Deep-Sea News, noting its absolutely stunning iridescent blue and silver color with gorgeous feathery tentacles.  Further exception is taken with such descriptors as “slimy”, “venomous”, “blue-bottle eating”, and “cannibals” – with the truth behind each of these terms far more fascinating than the visceral reaction their use was intended to elicit.  Good news as well – you don’t have to travel to Australia to see these things – they live throughout the world’s open oceans (but you will have to get far from shore, where the pelagic jellys upon which they feed can be found).

—-“Informal Group” PULMONATA

Iron-clad snail (Cyrsomallon squamiferum)
Deep-Sea NewsI’ve known about iron-clad beetles, species of Zopheridae whose exoskeleton is so hard and thick it is almost impossible to impale them with an insect pin.  I’d never heard of an iron-clad snail, however, until I read Dr. M’s post, The Evolution of Iron-Clad Samurai Snails With Gold Feet, at Deep-Sea News.  Unlike the seemingly iron-impregnated beetles, these snails actually utilize iron sulfide in a series of armor plates covering the “foot.”  Just described in 2003 from a hydrothermal vent in the Indian Ocean, it is the only known animal known to use iron sulfide as skeletal material.  Only time will tell if these snails achieve the same popularity as living jewelry as the beetles.

¹ The taxonomy of the Gastropoda is under constant revision, as the results of DNA studies increasingly reveal as possibly polyphyletic many of the former orders (including the Opisthobranchia and Pulmonata, now known as “informal groups”).

Phylum ARTHROPODA
–Class CRUSTACEA
—-Order DECAPODA

Samurai crab (Heikea japonica)
ArthropodaMike Bok at Arthopoda shares two stories about this crab – one an ancient Japanese legend, the other a modern piece of scientific folklore – in his post, Samurai Crabs: Transmogrified Japanese warriors, the product of artificial selection, or pareidolia?  In the first, popular legend alleges that these crabs were transformed from drowned samurai warriors, each one identifiable by the face of the fallen samurai that it bears on its backs and for whom the crab searches in the depths of the oceans around Japan.  This ancient legend has led to a modern scientific quibble about whether the stylized face that can be seen on the crab’s carapace is the result of artificial selection by generations of superstitious Japanese fishermen, who have selectively released crabs bearing any resemblance to a human face.  This may make for compelling scientific debate, but Mike counters even the considerable eloquence of Carl Sagan in providing his own thoughts on why this likely is not true.

—-Order AMPHIPODA

Amphipod (Phronima spp.)
ArthropodaIn another example of the intermixture of science and culture, Mike Bok (Arthopoda) asks, Did Phronima inspire the design of the Alien Queen?  Mike agrees with the claim that the original “soldier” alien morph seen in “Alien” (1979) was based on a painting by artist H. R. Giger, but he thinks that Phronima more likely influenced the design of the queen alien morph in “Aliens” (1986).  The truth may remain hidden at Stan Winston Studios, but the broad crest atop the head of Phronima, bearing tubular, upward-pointing eyes, its “necro-parasitic” tendencies, and a chillingly suggestive photograph of the beast from a 1981 paper lend an air of plausibility to Mike’s hypothesis.

–Class ARACHNIDA
—-Order PHALANGIDA

Harvestmen, daddy-long-legs
Kind of CuriousJohn at Kind of Curious follows up on David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth Episode 1 with his post, Daddy Long Legs Daddies (aka Harvestman).  Looking like spiders but lacking their venomous and silk-spinning abilities, it seems that nobody can agree on the proper name for these spider relatives.  Brits call them “harvestmen”, but Americans call them “daddy-long-legs”, a term that in the UK refers rather to crane flies (which less informed Americans simply call “giant mosquitoes”).  Let’s not even mention the daddy-long-legs spider (Pholcus phalangioides), which actually is a spider.

—-Order ARANEA

Neoscona crucifera (barn spider)
XenogereAnyone who hikes along woodland trails in the eastern U.S. during autumn knows what a “spider stick” is – i.e., any handy stick that can be waved probingly in front of one as they hike, lest they run smack into the web of any number of orb weavers that are fond of stretching their large webs across such natural insect flyways. Jason, at Xenogere, has some biggun’s in his neck of the woods, which he describes in intriguing detail in his post, Walking with spiders – Part 3. Barn spiders are some of the biggest, allowing one to fully appreciate their polychroism and polymorphism. I challenge even the most arachnophic of readers to look at Jason’s photographs and not be mesmerized by their beauty.

–Class INSECTA
—-Order ODONATA

Autumn meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum)
Rambling Woods~The Road Less TraveledMichelle at Rambling Woods~The Road Less Traveled presents a stunning series of photographs of this gorgeous red dragonfly in her post, Circus of The Spineless~Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.~James Stephens.  Perching on her hanging basket of pink-flowered begonias, colors matching perfectly, it was almost as if the dragonfly has staked a claim on the hanging basket as it own personal territory.  Where there is one, there are others, and her neighbor’s deck had both a red male and a blue female doing… well, see Michelle’s diagram.

—-Order COLEOPTERA

Horned passalus (Odontotaenius disjunctus)
Anybody Seen My Focus?Joan Knapp at Anybody Seen My Focus?  shows photographs of this beetle in her post, Bess Beetle: Horned Passalus (Odontotaenius disjunctus), as it lumbered slowly and gracefully over a fallen tree branch.  Perhaps the cool temperatures were the reason for its sloth.  Or perhaps the missing antenna indicated a feeble, old individual on its last (six) legs.  A brief interruption for photographs seemed not to deter the beetle from its destination, somewhere in the leaf litter beyond the log…

—-Order LEPIDOPTERA

Skipper butterflies (family Hesperiidae)
Nature of a ManRandomtruth at Nature of a Man loves skippers (are they butterflies, or aren’t they?), and you’ll love his photographs of these delightful little half-butterflies in his post, Day Skippers.  While there is some slight doubt about the identity of individuals he sees in his backyard (skippers are notoriously difficult to identify in the field), there is no doubt that these little guys are loaded with personality.  You won’t believe the “natural history” moment he caught on film (er… pixels?) and presented in the final photo sequence.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
GrrlscientistGrrlscientist summarizes a recent peer-reviewed paper in her post, Migratory Monarch Butterflies ‘See’ Earth’s GeoMagnetic Field.  The paper reports on photoreceptor proteins in monarch butterflies known as “cryptochromes” that not only allow the butterflies to see ultraviolet light, but also allows them to sense the Earth’s geomagnetic field.  These highly conserved proteins evolved from the light-activated bacterial enzyme phytolase, which functions in DNA damage repair.  Most animals have one of two types of cryptochromes, but monarchs have both – providing the first genetic evidence that the vertebrate-version of cryptochrome is responsible for the magnetoreception capabilities in migratory birds.  Further research may provide insight on the workings of the circadian clock, which could lead to better understanding of sleep disorders and mental illnesses such as depression and seasonal affective disorder, as well as development of new treatments for jet lag and shift-work ailments.

—-Order HYMENOPTERA

Ants (family Formicidae)
Wild About AntsKatydids, grasshoppers, cicadas – what do ants have on these singers of the insect world?  Plenty, as Roberta at Wild About Ants points out in her post, Ants: No Longer the Strong Silent Types.  It turns out that ants have patches of ridge-like structures on their gaster, which they rub against a curved ridge (called a “scraper”) on the petiole to communicate with each other via stridulation.  While lacking the decibel level of a cicada, these sounds are nevertheless in the audible range for human ears and are thought to have alarm, mating, and recruitment functions.  Even more fascinating, stridulation is not the only tool in the ant music chest – drumming and rattling have also been documented.  Curiously, however, ants do not possess ears, rather likely sensing sounds through their legs or by specialized hairs on their antennae.  Check out the provided links to SEM photographs and a sound recording.

Bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata)
Hill-Stead's Nature BlogDiane Tucker, Estate Naturalist at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut, writes at Hill-Stead’s Nature Blog. In her post, Be it ever so humble, she takes a look at some of the different animal nests that become revealed during autumn’s leaf drop – particularly those made by the bald-faced hornet (and also birds such as oriole’s).  From its start as simple cluster of chambers, to its growth over the course of the summer – growing fatter until the summer’s apex of warmth and light, then tapering off with the approach of fall, these insect homes are a marvel of nature – intricately constructed homes made entirely of paper.

—-Order DIPTERA

Common green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata)
Bug Girl's BlogBug Girl discusses the resurging use of bottle fly larvae in her post, Maggot therapy.  The academic among us will appreciate her discussion of the mechanisms that allow these seemingly disgusting vermin to function as incredibly delicate microsurge0ns in cleaning and disinfecting open wounds.  The morbid among us will appreciate the links to the most entertainingly disgusting medical photos one can imagine.  Check it out – but not over your lunch hour!

BUGS IN FIR

Wanderin' Weeta (With Waterfowl and Weeds)Wanderin’ Weeta (With Waterfowl and Weeds) was going to make an owl out of Douglas fir cones, but instead she found globular springtails, a crab spider, and a ladybug in a sprig of fir.  We’re glad she has an interest in little hitchhikers such as these, even if the kids at school when she was growing up didn’t.

ENTOMOLOGY HUMOR

Bug Girl shows that entomologists have a sense of humor with her post, Monday Morning bug jokes – a video compilation of jokesters from the recent Entomological Society of America Annual Meeting in Indianapolis.  My favorites were the best dung beetle pickup line (“Is this stool taken?”) and Marvin Harris’ rendition of the minimum number of insects needed to elicit control (1 pubic louse, or 1/2 codling moth larva :)).  J. McPherson was equally, if unwittingly, hilarious due to his Christopher Lloyd-esque mannerisms.  My favorite entomological joke of all, however, was not featured, so I offer the following addendum to Bug Girl’s post:

Copyright Ted C. MacRae 2010

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