Two endemic Jamaican jewel beetles: one known, one not?

I recently received a batch of jewel beetles from Enrico Ruzzier of Italy. It was an impressive sending (as is any sending of jewel beetles!) collected from diverse parts of the world, but what really caught my eye were two specimens he had collected earlier this year in Jamaica—both representing species in the genus Chrysobothris. Most members of this genus are moderate-sized in relation to other species in the family, but at only 5 and 6 mm in length the two specimens I received are downright tiny. They also are extraordinarily pretty compared to most species in the genus by virtue of their striking patterns of metallic green, red, and blue to violaceous colors! Even more interesting, however, was their West Indian provenance. This “biodiversity hotspot” enjoys not only high species diversity but also high species endemism as a result of the 7,000+ islands that comprise it. This is especially true for Jamaica, where my records indicate that 64% of the known jewel beetle fauna (16 of 25 species) occurs nowhere else.

One of the specimens was easily identifiable as Chrysobothris quadrimaculata (Fabricius, 1776) because of the transverse green, violaceous, and reddish-cupreous bands on the pronotum and metallic green “cross” on the elytra separating four large violaceous spots, each with a reddish-cupreous central area (Fisher 1925). This species has so far been found only in Jamaica and appears to be uncommon in collections. As far as I can tell, the only illustration of the species is a 224-year old drawing appearing in Olivier (1790)¹. Considering this and the extraordinary beauty of this little beetle, it seems appropriate to post a photo here (sent to me by Enrico in his initial query regarding its identity).

¹ This early landmark taxonomic publication is occasionally offered for sale by rare book dealers at asking prices that run in the thousands of dollars! Fortunately, the National Library of France has made a pdf of the book available for free download.

Chrysobothris quadrimaculata (Fabricius, 1776)

Chrysobothris quadrimaculata (Fabricius, 1776). Photo by Enrico Ruzzier.

The second specimen, even smaller but no less pretty than the first, has defied all attempts at identification. It does not key out in Fisher (1925) and clearly differs from the four species and one subspecies known to occur in Jamaica (all of which are endemic). Further comparison with descriptions of all known West Indian species also fails to turn up a match. Considering this and the fact that many West Indian Chrysobothris seem to be quite rare in general (Maier & Ivie 2012), I would not be surprised if this specimen turns out to represent yet another (and as yet undescribed) endemic species for Jamaica. I am hopeful (although not optimistic) that posting a photo here (also provided by Enrico Ruzzier) will prompt those with West Indian material in their collections to examine their holdings and see if any additional specimens can be located.

Chrysobothris n. sp. ex Jamaica

Chrysobothris n. sp.? Photo by Enrico Ruzzier.


Fisher, W. S. 1925. A revision of the West Indian Coleoptera of the family Buprestidae. Proceedings of The United States National Museum 65:1–207 [BioDiversity Heritage Library, BioStor].

Maier, C. A. & M. A. Ivie. 2013. New species and records of Chrysobothris Eschscholtz (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) from Montserrat, Saba, and Anguilla, with a key to the Chrysobothris thoracica species-group in the West Indies. The Coleopterists Bulletin 67(2):81–88 [BioOne].

Olivier, A. G. 1790. Entomologie, ou histoire naturelle des insectes, avec leurs caractères génériques et spécifiques, leur description, leur synonymie, et leur figure enluminée. Coléoptères. Tome 2, genera 9–34 (32. Bupreste), pp. 1–485, 63 plates, Baudouin, Paris [Bibliothèque nationale de France].

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

North America’s largest jewel beetle

Euchroma gigantea in Jamaica. Photo © Steve Meyer

In recent weeks I’ve featured a few jewel beetles that I have encountered amongst specimens sent to me for identification (see “Aaack!-maeodera” and “Acmaeodera carlota in northern Arizona“).  While the new distributions and even unknown species that they represent are fascinating from a scientific perspective, their diminutive size (~6 mm in length) probably makes them less than spectacular to the non-specialist.  The family Buprestidae does, however, contain some very large species, including a few that qualify as bona fide giants.  One such species, Euchroma gigantea (Giant Metallic Ceiba Borer Beetle), occurs from Mexico through Central America, the West Indies, and most of South America.  At a maximum of 65mm in length, it is not only North America’s largest jewel beetle, but also the largest jewel beetle in the entire Western Hemisphere.

My colleague Steve Meyer encountered and photographed this individual in Negril, Jamaica.  Although its scientific name translates to “colorful giant”, the beetle in the photo is especially so due to the delicate, waxy bloom covering its elytra. This bloom is secreted by the adult after transforming from the pupa and prior to emerging from its larval host, giving it a bright yellow-green appearance.  After the beetle emerges and becomes active, the bloom is quickly rubbed off and the beetle takes on the shiny, iridescent purple-green color by which it is more familiar.  The presence of bloom on this individual suggests that it had just emerged from the trunk of the kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) on which it was sitting.  Kapok and other large trees in the family Bombacaceae serve as hosts for larval development for this species (Hespenheide 1983).

Indigenous peoples in Central and South America have long utilized the dazzlingly colored elytra of these beetles to create beautiful natural jewelry and adorn their clothes and textiles.  The species is also eaten in both the larval and adult stages – Tzeltal-Mayans in southern Mexico (Chiapas) roast the adults when available, and the Tukanoans (northwestern Amazon) also eat the larvae (Dufour 1987). I have eaten a few insects in my day, but none as thick and massively juicy as the grub of this species must be. Holometabolous larvae typically contain a rather high percentage of fat (up to 66% dry weight) to meet the demands of pupal development and adult reproduction, and I suspect this makes the larvae quite tasty (especially when roasted). If there is any insect in the world that I really, really, really want to eat – it is the larva of this one!


Dufour, D. L.  1987.  Insects as food:  A case study from the northwest Amazon.  American Anthropologist 89(2):383–397.

Hespenheide, H. A.  1983.  Euchroma gigantea (Eucroma, giant metallic ceiba borer), p. 719.  In: D. H. Janzen [ed.], Costa Rican Natural History, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010