Best of BitB 2014

Welcome to the 7th Annual “Best of BitB”, where I pick my favorite photographs from the past year. Before I do this, however, let me briefly recap the year 2014. The trend of increasing travel each year continued, with more days spent on the road than in any prior year. Travel for work over the past few years has settled into a familiar routine—touring soybean fields in Argentina in late February and early March, working in my own field trials at (previously three, now four) sites in Illinois and Tennessee from late May through late September, touring more soybean fields at sites across the southeastern U.S. during mid-September, returning to Argentina in October to finalize plans for field trials in the upcoming season, and—finally—attending/presenting at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) Meetings (this year in Portland, Oregon). This heavy travel load makes scheduling my own insect collecting trips a bit tricky, but I’m a persistent sort! In late May I traveled to Tennessee and Georgia with fellow buprestophile Joshua Basham and lab mate Nadeer Youseff to collect several rare jewel beetles, then in late June I collected prionids and jewel beetles in Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma with Jeff Huether. In addition to these longer trips, I also managed to take advantage of my work travel to check out interesting natural habitats along the way to and from my field sites. I continue to give the occasional entomology seminar as well, speaking in March at “Day of Insects” in Ames, Iowa and here in St. Louis to the Entomology Natural History Group of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society in April and the Missouri Master Naturalists Confluence Chapter in December. On top of all this, I still managed to vacation with my family in Lake Tahoe during March and in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico during late July.

I say all this to highlight the fact that after all these years I still consider myself an entomologist with a camera rather than a bona fide insect photographer. The reason for this is that the science of entomology itself remains my primary focus—photography is simply one of the tools that I have come to use in my pursuit of the discipline. I don’t mean to imply that I don’t continue to work on my photography style and technique—because I do. But my style and technique are not goals in of themselves; rather, they are means to an end—that end being my entomological studies. With that said, I present my favorite BitB photographs from 2014. As in previous years, my photos are largely hand-held, in situ field shots that are intended to tell a natural history story in a (hopefully) aesthetic manner. Links to original posts are provided for each photo selection, and I welcome any comments you may have regarding which (if any) is your favorite and why—such feedback will be helpful for me as I continue to hone my craft. If you’re interested, here are my previous years’ picks for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Once again, thank you for your readership, and I hope to see you in 2015!

Paraselenis tersa? female guarding her eggs | Cordoba Prov., Argentina

Paraselenis tersa (Boheman, 1854) | Cordoba Prov., Argentina

From Tortoise beetles on the job (posted April 20). This photograph of a tortoise beetle female over her egg mass illustrates maternal guarding behavior—rare in insects. The perfect lateral profile shot and clean, blue sky background also give the photo a pleasing aesthetic quality.

Who likes mole crickets?

Scapteriscus borellii Giglio-Tos, 1894 | Emanuel Co., Georgia

From Who likes mole crickets? (posted June 6). This has to be the most comical expression ever on the face of an insect!

Chrysobothris orono Frost, 1920 | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee

Chrysobothris orono Frost, 1920 | South Cumberland State Park, Grundy Co., Tennessee

From Chrysobothris orono in Tennessee (posted July 29). I found this rare jewel beetle for the first time this year with the help of Josh Basham and Nadeer Youseff. The beetle itself is beautiful enough, but photographing it on a pine root with a presumed adult emergence hole adds considerable natural history interest to the photo. Rock substrate behind the root adds a pleasingly blurred background.

Buprestis (Stereosa) salisburyensis Herbst, 1801 | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee.

Buprestis (Stereosa) salisburyensis Herbst, 1801 | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee.

From The Buprestis tree (posted August 10). This was another of several jewel beetles that I found for the first time after more than three decades of collecting this group. I like the value contrast in this photo from the striking, metallic colors of the beetle against the nicely blurred cinnamon-colored pine bark of the tree on which it is sitting.

A "super moon" watches over a parasitized hornworm caterpillar.

A “super moon” watches over a parasitized hornworm caterpillar.

From A time of reckoning (posted August 13). I fully admit this is a composite photograph. Nevertheless, it is a faithful recreation of a true sight, and I don’t consider the use of composite techniques to overcome equipment shortcomings to be unethical. There is a haunting symmetry between the blood red moon—considered by some as a sign of the second coming—and the sad, parasitized caterpillar waiting for its inevitable demise.

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

Phyllopalpus pulchellus Uhler, 1864 | Hickman Co., Kentucky

From My, what busy palps you have! (posted September 2). I’ve become quite fond of insect photos with the subject “peering” at me, the photographer”, from some unusual vantage point. The “pupils” in the eyes of this red-headed bush cricket give the insect an almost quizzical look.

Acmaeodera immaculata Horn, 1881 | vic. Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado.

Acmaeodera immaculata Horn, 1878 | vic. Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado.

From Sunset beetles (posted September 30). Taking photos of insects at sunset is a challenging and ephemeral experience—one has only a few minutes to take advantage of the unusual and serene colors it offers, while at the same time trying to determine the best camera and flash settings to use in the rapidly fading light. Of the several that I’ve tried, this one is my favorite because of the softly complimentary colors of the beetle, the flower upon which it is sitting, and the dying orange sky behind it. If I had to choose, I would probably pick this one as my favorite of the year because of the unusual and serene colors.

Megacyllene decora (Olivier, 1795) | Stoddard Co., Missouri

Megacyllene decora (Olivier, 1795) | Stoddard Co., Missouri

From Amorpha borer on goldenrod (posted October 5). I featured this very same species in Best of BitB 2012 but can’t resist choosing this second attempt at photographing the spectacularly beautiful adult—this time on goldenrod. As with the previous version this is a true in situ field photograph, hand held and using the left-hand technique to achieve precise composition against a clear blue sky—difficult to do with an insect of this size and using a 100-mm lens, but well worth the effort.

Buprestis (Knulliobuprestis) confluenta Say, 1823 | Woods Co., Oklahoma

Buprestis (Knulliobuprestis) confluenta Say, 1823 | Woods Co., Oklahoma

From A Buprestis hat-trick! (posted October 14). I didn’t take near as many of the classic “frontal portraits” this year, but this one of a jewel beetle that had eluded me for more than 30 years until this past June is perhaps my favorite of them all.

Agrilus concinnus  Horn, 1891 | Stoddard Co., Missouri

Agrilus concinnus Horn, 1891 | Stoddard Co., Missouri

From North America’s Most Beautiful Agrilus Jewel Beetle (posted October 19). There was a time when this beetle was considered one of North America’s rarest species of jewel beetle. Several years worth of hunting by me and others revealed this beetle’s association with mallow and its unusually late adult activity period—the two combining to make this beetle “seem” rare. This year I succeeded in photographing the spectacular adult beetle.

Cacama valvata female ovipositing

Cacama valvata (Uhler, 1888) | Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado

From Scorching plains, screaming cactus (posted December 5). Insect photos are always better when they also show some aspect of the subject’s natural history. I was lucky to find this female cactus dodger cicada in the act of ovipositing into the dry stem of cholla cactus—in a position where I could get a perfect lateral profile with a clean, blue sky background.

Moneilema armatum LeConte, 1853 | Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado

Moneilema armatum LeConte, 1853 | Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado

From Cactus beetle redux (posted December 20). Cactus beetles can be difficult to photograph, but sometimes they cooperate by nicely posing on a pleasing pink flower bud with a blue sky in the background and the cactus spines forming a nice, fuzzy “halo” around the jet black beetle. There were surprisingly few cactus spines impaled in the control unit of my flash after this photo session.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this 2014 version of “Best of BitB” and look forward to seeing everyone in 2015.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2015

Tortoise beetles on the job

Back in late February and early March I did my annual tour through the soybean growing regions of central and northern Argentina to look at insect efficacy trials (pretty amazing to me still when I think about it—I actually get paid to spend time in Argentina looking for insects!). Normally on such trips there is no shortage of soybean insects to occupy my attentions—of all the large-acre row crops, soybean probably has the greatest diversity of insect associates, and in South America it is rare for any soybean field to not experience pressure from at least one of them. Soybeans, however, are not the only plants that occur in soybean fields—there are also weeds, many of which also have their own suite of insect associates. Sometimes these weed-associated insects can be even more interesting than the soybean insects I’m look for.

Botanochara angulata?

Botanochara angulata? mating pair | Córdoba Prov., Argentina

On this particular day, as I walked through a soybean field in central Córdoba Province I noticed distinctive red and black tortoise beetles (family Chrysomelidae, subfamily Cassidinae) on some of the plants. I thought it odd that tortoise beetles would be on soybean, as I’m not aware of any soybean associates in the group. A closer look, however, quickly revealed that the beetles were not on the soybean plants themselves, but rather on vines that were weaving their way through the plants. The plant was akin to bindweed and obviously a member of the same plant family (Convolvulaceae), but none of my field mates knew which of the many weedy species of the family that occur in Argentina that this particular plant represented. Species of Convolvulaceae are, of course, fed upon by a great diversity of tortoise beetles—always a treat for this coleopterist to see, and it was all I could do to concentrate on the task at hand and finish doing what I needed to do so I could turn my attention to finding and photographing some of these beetles. Once I began photographing them I found them surprisingly uncooperative (not my normal experience with tortoise beetles), but I soon found a mating pair that was a little more cooperative (probably because they were mating), with the above photo being my favorite of the bunch.

Paraselenis tersa?

Paraselenis tersa? female guarding her eggs | Córdoba Prov., Argentina

As I was searching for beetles to photograph, I encountered some yellow tortoise beetles associated with the same plant but that I had not noticed earlier. Unlike the conspicuously red and black colored species (which seems to best match Botanochara angulata according to Cassidinae of the World), the yellow species (which I presume represents Paraselenis tersa, also ID’d using the same site) seemed almost cryptically colored. When I finished taking photographs of B. angulata, I began searching for a P. tersa to photograph and encountered the female in the above photograph guarding her eggs—score!

Undetermined cassidine larvae.

A single tortoise beetle larva was encountered.

Tortoise beetle larvae are always a delight to see as well—their dinosaurian armature and fecal adornments, both obviously designed to dissuade potential predators, form one of the most ironic defensive combinations one can find. If additional tactics become necessary, they are among the few insects that are known to actually “circle the wagons” (the technical term for this being “cycloalexy“). While I only found a single larvae (of which species I don’t know), its presence seems to further suggest that at least one of the species represented an actively developing population and that the adults I found were not just hangers-on putzing around until winter (such as it is in central Argentina) forced them to shut down for the season.

Undetermined cassidine larva.

Spiky spines and a pile of poop make formidable defenses.

My impression is that tortoise beetles are by-and-large noxious to predators, thus explaining why so many species in the group exhibit aposematic coloration. However, the apparent cryptic coloration of Paraselenis makes me wonder if this is not universally true. It seems especially odd for two species to feed on the exact same species of plant but only one of the species to be noxious, which leads me to even more questions about how two species feeding on the same plant at the same time avoid direct competition with each other. I wondered if perhaps one species was on the wax while the other was on the wane (late February is well along into the latter part of the season in central Argentina), but the fact that both species were involved in reproductive activities (mating in Botanochara and egg guarding in Paraselenis) suggests this was not the case.

Ted MacRae photographing tortoise beetles.

A candid photo of me photographing tortoise beetles (and revealing my technique for getting “blue sky” background photographs).

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

ESA Insect Macrophotography Workshop

Today is the last day of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, and it has been an action packed week for me. Annual meetings such as this serve several purposes. In addition to seeing talks on a variety of subjects—in my case covering subjects ranging from insect resistance management to scientific outreach to beetle systematics—they also offer the chance to establish new connections with other entomologists that share common interests and reinforce existing ones. Of course, a major part of my interest in entomology revolves around insect macrophotography, and in recent years ESA has begun to cater to the entomological photographer contingent within the society. Last year’s meetings featured a macrophotography symposium titled, “Entomologists Beyond Borders” (for which I was one of the invited speakers), and this year featured an Insect Macrophotography Workshop led by Austin-based entomologist/photographer Ian Wright. Having done this for a few years now I figured a lot of the workshop might be review for me, but I still have much to learn and am willing to accept new ideas from any source. Besides, the workshop involved a field trip to a local habitat to try out our insect photography skills, and for a field junkie like me time in the field at an otherwise all-indoor event spanning close to a week is always welcome. The location of the meetings in Austin this year made this possible, as even in mid-November there still remain insects out and about that can be photographed if the weather cooperates (and it did).

This will be a somewhat different post than what I usually post here. Rather than featuring photos of a certain species and using them as a backdrop for a more detailed look at their taxonomy or natural history, I’m just going to post all the photos that I ended up keeping from the field trip portion of the workshop with just a comment or two about each. We went to the city’s nearby waste-water treatment facility, the grounds of which are wild and woolly enough to provide habitat for insects, and spent about an hour and a half seeing what we could find. For myself, it was a chance to photograph some insects I’ve not normally tried to photograph (i.e., dragonflies, ambush bugs) and get more practice on my blue sky technique. I did appreciate the chance to spend some time talking to Ian during while we traveled to the site and back, and I also ended up helping other participants with their camera equipment questions and technique suggestions. With that, here are the photos I took—I’ll be curious to see what readers think of this post format versus my more typical style.

Micrutalis calva

Micrutalis calva (Hemiptera: Membracidae) on silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium).

Micrutalis calva

This species of treehopper is restricted to herbaceous plant hosts.

Anax junius

Anax junius (Odonata: Aeshnidae), one of the darner species of dragonfly.

Anax junius

This adult was perched on a dead twig tip and seemed to be “asleep.”

Anax junius

I clipped the perch and held it up for these “in-your-face” shots – it then awoke with a start and flew off.

Phymata sp.

Phymata sp. (Hemiptera: Reduviidae), one of the so-called “jagged ambush bugs.”

Phymata sp.

Formerly a separate family, ambush bugs are now combined with assassin bugs (family Reduviidae).

Acmaeodera flavomarginata

Acmaeodera flavomarginata (Coleoptera: Buprestidae).

Acmaeodera flavomarginata

This is one of a few species of jewel beetle in the southcentral US that are active during the fall.

Mecaphesa sp.

Mecaphesa sp. (Araneae: Thomisidae), one of the crab spiders

Mecaphesa sp.

Cryptic coloration allows the spider to lurk unseen by potential insect prey visiting the flower.

Gratiana pallidula

Gratiana pallidula (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) on silverleaf nightshade (Solanum eleagnifolium).

Gratiana pallidula

A type of tortoise beetle, adults “clamp” down against the leaf as a defense against predators.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Palmetto Tortoise Beetle, Hemisphaerota cyanea

Hemisphaerota cyanea (palmetto tortoise beetle) on saw palmetto (Serenoa repens)| Levy Co., Florida

While most leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae) are found associated with herbaceous plant species, many members of the subfamily Hispinae—which includes leaf mining beetles and tortoise beetles—are found on the foliage of woody plants. In North America the most distinctive of tortoise beetles found on trees is the palmetto tortoise beetle, Hemisphaerota cyanea. These distinctive dark blue, hemispherical-shaped (hence, the genus name) beetles with yellow antennae are found in the deep southeastern U.S. on the fronds of saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, and other native and introduced palms. I found the beetles in these photographs near Cedar Key Scrub State Preserve in Levy Co., Florida while searching white sand 2-tracks through sand scrub habitat for the Florida-endemic Cicindelidia scabrosa (Scabrous Tiger Beetle).

Beetles scarify the leaf epidermis, leaving trough-like feeding marks.

I first saw this species during my first insect collecting trip to Florida back in 1986. I didn’t know much then (other than that I really, really enjoyed traveling to different parts of the county to collect insects!). I was in Everglades National Park (with a permit) when I first noticed them dotting saw palmetto fronds. I think I had actually noticed them for some time but thought they were some type of scale insect before eventually realizing it was actually not only a beetle, but a tortoise beetle (one of the many groups of insects in which I was interested during those early, formative days).

Specially modified tarsi and a hemispherical shape allow the beetle to clamp itself tightly against the leaf to repel attack by ants and other insect predators.

I also remember being struck by how difficult it was to pry the adults off of the leaves on which they were sitting. It turns out that these leaf beetles have specially modified tarsi with thousands of bristles tipped with adhesive pads on the undersides. Normally only a few of the pads contact the leaf surface, but when the beetle is threatened it clamps all of them against the leaf and secretes an oil that strengthens the adhesive capabilities of the pads. Thus secured, the beetle clamps its hemispherical-shaped body down tightly against the leaf and is able to resist the efforts of ants and other predators to pry it from the leaf.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

A tortoise beetle gift

Chelymorpha varians | northwestern Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

A few days after returning from travel through northern Argentina, I found a jar on my desk with this beetle in it. One of my colleagues has seen it in the field while I was away and figured I would be interested in seeing it. Although I’m half-a-world away from home, I immediately thought of our North American species Chelymorpha cassidea when I saw it. Armed with this hunch, I typed “Chelymorpha Argentina” into Google, and the first result that came up was a paper by Hamity & Neder de Román (2008) about the species Chelymorpha varians in Argentina and its potential as a biocontrol agent for the widespread weed Convolvulus arvensis. Included in the paper was a plate showing variability of coloration and maculation in the adults, and my individual was a dead ringer for the species. Still, getting a species ID on the very first hit of the very first search attempt just seemed too easy, so I consulted the wonderfully comprehensive Cassidinae of the world – an interactive manual. This site, too, contained multiple images of Chelymorpha varians showing an extraordinary range of variability in color (from yellow to red) and degree of maculation (from immaculate to heavily maculated). A quick perusal of other species indicated as similar or also occurring in Argentina turned up nothing nearly as similar and convinced me that I had, indeed, arrived at a correct ID.

As the name suggests, markings are highly variable in shape and degree of development.

As indicated in the above cited paper, and like our own C. cassidea, species in the genus Chelymorpha are associated almost exclusively with plants in the genus Convolvulus. I would have preferred to photograph the beetle on foliage of this plant, but not knowing precisely where I might find it I decided to do white box instead. I got some printer paper and was looking for a cardboard box to line the inside with it when I spotted a styrofoam cooler of just the right size.

The scientific name translates literally to ''variable turtle-body''

These are okay white box photos, but I’ve decided if I want to do white box right I need to get a larger flash unit that is a little easier to work with off the camera. Right now I have only the small twin-flash heads from my MT-24EX—their small size makes them difficult to manipulate off the camera, and leaving them attached to their bracket limits the directions in which they can be oriented relative to the subject. As a result, I had to use more heavy-handed post-processing in these photos than I normally like to do in order to get the levels right. Hmm, I have a birthday coming up in about a month…


Hamity, V. C. & L. E. Neder de Román. 2008. Aspectos bioecológicos de Chelymorpha varians Blanchard (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae, Cassidinae) defoliador de convolvuláceas. Idesia 26(2):69–73.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Cycloalexy in tortoise beetle larvae

One of the first insects I encountered during my visit this past November to  in Buenos Aires, Argentina were these tiny beetle larvae grouped together on a single leaf of an unidentified shrub.  The presence of fringed lateral appendages and exuvial-fecal debris masses held by caudal appendages immediately identifies them as larvae in the leaf beetle subfamily Cassidinae, known commonly in North America as “tortoise beetles” due to the appearance of the adults.  With nearly 3,000 species distributed throughout the world, tortoise beetles are easily recognizable as a group; however, species identifications can be much more difficult, especially in the Neotropics where the group reaches its greatest diversity (Borowiec and Świętojańska 2002–2011). Identification of larvae can be even more challenging, as the larvae of many species remain unknown, and I was unable to find adults in association with the larvae to aid my identification.

Anacassis sp. (poss. exarata) early-instar larvae on Baccharis salicifolia | Buenos Aires, Argentina

Nevertheless, host plant can be an important clue to leaf beetle identity, as most species in the family limit their feeding to a single plant genus or group of related plant genera. The shrub on which the beetles were feeding looked familiar to me, and while perusing a list of plants that have been recorded from the Reserve (Burgueño 2005) I had an “Aha!” moment when I spotted the asteraceous genus Baccharis. I decided the plant must represent Baccharis salicifolia because of its narrowly lanceolate, willow-like leaves with fine apical serrations (Cuatrecasas 1968) (see first photo). The only tortoise beetles known to feed on Baccharis are species in the genus Anacassis (McFadyen 1987), several species of which are known from Argentina, and one (Anacassis exarata) looking very much like the larvae in these photos.

Note the circular, heads-directed-inward orientation of all larvae around the periphery

The manner in which these early-instar (perhaps even newly hatched) larvae were feeding as a group while working their way down the length of the leaf towards its base is not something I had observed before. Larvae of most tortoise beetles are solitary feeders (Borowiec and Świętojańska 2002–2011), and I was further intrigued by the deliberate circular formation that the larvae had assumed.  The larvae around the periphery were all facing inward, tightly packed against each other and with their exuvial-fecal debris masses directed outward. Additional larvae were seen inside the circular formation. As I manipulated the leaf for photographs, the larvae would occasionally raise their debris masses up and outward, presumably a defensive reaction to disturbance and a perceived threat. It was clear to me that the larvae had deliberately “circled their wagons” for defensive purposes.

Close body contact allows exuvial-fecal debris masses to form a protective barrier against predators

In fact, this type of defensive strategy has been reported in a number of South American cassidines, as summarized by Jolivet et al. (1990), who coined the term “cycloalexy” (from the Greek κύκλος = circle, and αλεξω = defend) to describe such strategies. Cycloalexy can either be “heads in, tails out” or vice versa and is usually associated with other repellent activities such as coordinated threat movements, regurgitation, or biting. The strategy is intended to provide protection from predators such as ants and true bugs and parasitioid wasps, although some parasitoids seem to have thwarted the strategy by depositing their eggs where they can be ingested (thus avoiding direct confrontation with the prey). Cycloalexy has been described primarily among chrysomelid beetles and tenthredinoid hymenopterans (sawflies); however, examples from a few other insect orders (e.g., Diptera, Neuroptera, Lepidoptera) are known as well (Jolivet 2008).  All known cycloalexic insects are subsocial in the larval stage and often also exhibit maternal protection of eggs or newly hatched larvae.

This and several other older larvae had become solitary, presumably protected in part by greater size

In addition to this single group of early instar larvae, I noted also a few larger individuals—all of whom were feeding on the plant in a more solitary fashion. Presumably as the larvae grow larger they are more able to defend themselves, or perhaps larger larvae simply demand more “elbow room” because of the larger amounts of leaf tissue they require for feeding. If cycloalexy is beneficial for small cassidine larvae but less so for larger larvae, perhaps this behavior is actually more common than is currently realized.


Borowiec, L., and J. Świętojańska. 2002–2011. Cassidinae of the world – an interactive manual (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). [accessed 3 Dec 2011].

Burgueño, G. 2005. Manejo de la vetación en reservas naturales urbanas de la region metopolitana de Buenos Aires. Aves Argentinas, Asociación Ornitológica del Plata, Proyecto Reservas Naturales Urbanas, 16 pp.

Cuatrecasas, J. 1968. Notas adicionales, taxonómicas y corológicas, sobre Baccharis. Revista de la Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales 13(50):201–226.

Jolivet, P. 2008. Cycloalexy. In: J. L. Capinera [Ed.], Encyclopedia of Entomology, Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

Jolivet, P., Vasconcellos-Neto, J., and Weinstein, P. 1991. Cycloalexy: A new concept in the larval defense of insects. Insecta Mundi 4(1–4) (1990):133–141.

McFadyen, P. J. 1987. Host-specificity of five Anacassis species [Col.: Chrysomelidae] introduced into Australia for the biological control of Baccharis halimifolia [Compositae]. Entomophaga 32(4):377–379.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Brazil Bugs #14 – Fusquinha

Despite their hyperdiversity, leaf beetles (family Chrysomelidae) as a group are for the most part among the most easily recognized of all beetle families, and within the family none are more recognizable than the tortoise beetles (subfamily Cassidinae).  Named for their distinctively armoured elytra and prothorax and associated behavior of drawing the head and legs under them when threatened, they are worldwide in distribution and especially diverse in the New World tropics.  Even though I know little about the group (chrysomelids as a whole are far too intimidatingly diverse a group for me to add to my already burgeoning list of interests), I can’t resist collecting them whenever I encounter them.  Having traveled to Mexico and South America many times over the years, I’ve accumulated almost a full Schmidt box of these beauties – most of which remained unidentified, save for the well-known representatives from our relatively depauperate North American fauna.

Thus, when I encountered this striking example on a leaf in the Barão Geraldo District near Campinas, Brazil, I figured the photos I took would go into one of those “Brazil Bugs” posts featuring a variety of pleasing to look at but otherwise unidentified insects.  Still, after having had success identifying some other Brazilian insects using Google, Flickr, and carefully selected search terms, I figured I should at least give this one a try.  It didn’t take long – searching on nothing more than “Cassidinae” in Flickr yielded a very similar looking beetle on page 6 from Panama identified by Rob Westerduijn as Paraselenis tersa.  While not likely the same species, it seemed almost certain to represent the same genus, so further searching on the genus name eventually led me to the cassidine mother lode: Cassidinae of the World: An Interactive Manual.  This web page, authored by Lech Borowiec, features species lists, identification keys and images of a large number of specimens, including nearly all of the 29 species currently placed in this exclusively Neotropical genus (you can bet I’m bookmarking this site – perhaps my Schmidt box of specimens will finally get some attention!).  A quick perusal through the images yielded an ID: Paraselenis (Spaethiechoma) flava, recorded broadly across South America.  Everything fit – the black scutellar marking, the elytra broader than the prothorax, the bicolored antennae, the thin black anterior elytral marginal band, and – appropriate for the species name – the even yellow coloration.  My ID was confirmed when I found a key to all the species of Paraselenis (Borowiec 2003).  I surmise this is a female based on the more rounded humeral elytral projections, which seem to be more strongly and angularly produced in the males based on the photos I looked at.

Interestingly, this particular species is considered a pest of sweet potato and commonly referred to as “fusquinha”¹ (Montes and Raga 2010).  Many species of tortoise beetles, in fact, utilize as host plants members of the sweet potato family (Convolvulaceae).  This individual was not on a convolvulaceous plant, but a small tree.  I looked for additional individuals but didn’t find any, nor did I find larvae or any evidence of feeding, so this must have been a wayward individual – probably searching for a suitable host on which to oviposit.

¹ “Fusquinha” is the Brazilian Portuguese word for “Volkswagon Beetle”!


Borowiec, L.  2003.  Two new species of the genus Paraselenis Spaeth, 1913 (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae: Cassidinae).  Genus 14 (3): 403-411.

Montes, S. M. N. M. and A. Raga. 2010. “Fusquinha” Paraselenis flava (L. 1758) praga da batata-doce. Instituto Biológico – APTA, Documento Técnico 004, 8 pp..

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011