Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chasing Beetles, Finding Darwin

"... From so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

~ Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 1859

It's been over 150 years since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Yet, his ideas remain as central to scientific exploration as ever.

Duration: 26:46

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A bit of entomological humor ...

From the Arizona Daily Star, Saturday, August 14, 2014

From Fly Times Newsletter, Issue #39, October, 2007 
Cartoon from the twisted mind of the author.

© Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Comments on curation:
Materials for pinning Coleoptera.

Curation, as considered here, the pinning, labeling and storing of insect specimens, is an art, a virtuosity. In my humble opinion, a dying art. Curation, like a lot of things we attempt, is a skill one can only improve by doing. Of course, one must first be able to discern what a well curated specimen is.

In prior posts, I emphasized the importance of accurate, concise specimen data. Whether you collect for the science, the desire to discover new species and add to the knowledge of distributions, biology, and taxonomy, or, you collect for the aesthetics, the intrinsic beauty of a drawer or schmitt box of tiger beetles or butterflies, without reliable data the specimens are scientifically worthless. As they say, it depends on which side of the fence you’re on. Most of us are aware of and avoid those collectors who intentionally provide vague cryptic data with their specimens in an attempt to protect collecting sites from other potential collectors, for monetary gain, or merely to boast they have the largest series of a particular species. 

Since my collecting efforts are primarily for coleoptera, here, and in following posts, I discuss how to properly pin (colloquially referred to as “mount”) those types of specimens. For other insect orders, Orthoptera, Lepidoptera or Odonata for example, the reader should explore the internet for relevant websites explaining the pinning conventions for those specimens.

A “mounting or setting board” is a small piece of high density, closed-cell foam at least 1-inch in thickness. Rectangular pieces of blue or pink foam insulation are ideal. However, other types of foam insulation will work, even pieces of foam packing used to brace computers, televisions, and other electronics during shipment will do in a pinch.

Image credit: NaturePlus Beetle Blog

Cover the setting board surface with a sheet of bond-type copy paper (recycle those printing debacles from the trash). The purpose of which is to prevent the tarsal claws of specimens clinging to the surface of the insulation and breaking off when removing the dried, set specimen.

 Insect pins are like brushes to painters - buy quality. There has been considerable debate on which are the best insect pins especially since the classic Elephant brand is no longer being produced. I do not recommend trying to pinch pennies here. Since the demise of Elephant brand, I have been using and recommend the “Koštál” brand produced in the Czech Republic.

Insect pins are about 1.5-inches (37 mm) in length and graduated according to gauge (= thickness) by a series of numbers, 000 - 7. The lower the number, the smaller the gauge. Always use proportionately sized pins to the specimen being pinned. That is, a number one or two pin would be suitable for a small buprestid or tiger beetle; a number three for a large cerambycid.

The pins are available in two finishes or coatings: black enameled or stainless steel. Stainless steel are recommended for use in humid tropical climates as a rust deterrent; not much of a concern here in the southwest. Their cost is usually a few dollars more per pack of 100 than the black enameled.

Image credit:

For very small beetles (< 5mm), I prefer the “double mount” method using minutens, short pins, 12 mm in length, without heads. The specimen is pinned as usual (through the upper right elytron), then inserted into a small rectangular piece of poly foam, preferably plastazote. Pinning requires a certain amount of patience and dexterity while working under a microscope or optivisor. 

Image credit:
Of course, there is the traditional “point” method using some type of adhesive (PVA glue or clear fingernail polish) to attach the specimen to the tip of a small paper triangle. Depending on the amount of adhesive used, the mount may be problematic.

Double-mount pinning method for very small Coleoptera

I do not advocate the use of “glue boards” (Aufklebeplattchen), a European method of mounting specimens, mainly because once the specimen is glued in place, it is impossible to examine beneath the specimen that may have  diagnostic characters (connate abdomeres, apical ridges, trochanter setae, emarginate mentum, etc.). To do so, you would have to relax and remove the glued specimen from the board, ... is that really something you would want to attempt with a series of specimens?

So then, for the average beetle specimen, here are the basics needed.

I suggest a pair of vial forceps” for removing specimens stored in alcohol.

Continued ...
Vial forceps from

© Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What is it?
An Ant-mimicking Treehopper:
Cyphonia clavata Fabricius

Cyphonia clavata Fabricius
Cyphonia clavata Fabricius has been collected on Capirona (Calycophyllum spruceanum), on Jessamine (Censtrum lanatum), and on a Boneset (Eupatorium odoratum). The genus Cyphonia
(Membracidae:Smiliinae) is found from Mexico to Argentina.
Image credit:  Iwan Van Hoogmoed

© Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

60th Anniversary.
“A Review of the Mexican Tiger Beetles of the genus Cicindela
Mont A. Cazier 1954.

Although it has been 60 years since the publication of Cazier’s monumental tome “A Review of the Mexican Tiger Beetles of the genus Cicindela (Coleoptera:Cicindelidae)” it remains one of the most important references on New World Cicindelidae and an essential addition to any comprehensive tiger beetle library. As one would expect, the nomenclature of some species/subspecies has changed since its publication, but the adept tiger beetle aficionado should be familiar with current status and recognition. 

Cazier, M.A. 1954. A Review of the Mexican Tiger Beetles of the genus Cicindela (Coleoptera:Cicindelidae) Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 103(3):227-310 .pdf 

© Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Willcox Playa, Cochise County, Arizona:
"... We few, we happy few, we band of brothers ..."

          The author                                 Bob Duff                Dennis Fernandez   Denanthony Fernandez
                                                    Centipede wrangler                                     
                                                                 Front Row:         Ian Fernandez     Erris Fernandez

© Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Inexplicable Mojo of Tiger Beetles.

Horn's Tiger Beetle, Cicindela (Cicindelidia) hornii Schaupp.
A Rebuttal.

mo-jo - noun.
1. A magic charm, talisman, or spell.
2. Magic power.

Based on a recent perusal of current literature and various internet sources, it appears that some information concerning the behavior, seasonality, alleged rarity, and color forms of Cicindela (Cicindelidia) hornii Schaupp warrant further discussion. Apparently, a great deal of this information and supposition is based upon brief incidental field collections - or lack of - and observations. For most collectors and students of tiger beetles, this species is a fortuitous hit-or-miss opportunity - a collateral species. As a result, it carries an exaggerated distinction as being a rare and highly coveted species.

Typical habitat of Cicindelidia hornii Schaupp
Upper Sonoran Mesquite-Grassland
Sulphur Springs Valley, Cochise County, Arizona
Alleged rarity. 
The term rare is so commonly used (= misused) in entomology, that in fact, it has lost its connotation. Remember, when dealing with things biological - anything is possible. Consider that beetles, and insects in general, emerge and become active when a certain combination of physiological and environmental stimuli are reached (for example, moisture, temperature, humidity) indicative of phenotypic plasticity: any change in an organism’s characteristics in response to an environmental signal (Schlichting and Smith 2002:190).

In southwestern North America, moisture, in the form of either winter rain or summer monsoons, is an essential factor in this equation. Without this necessary moisture insects may delay their emergence for several months or years. My point being, there are prevailing factors that influence, or deter, fecundity (abundance), of an organism - despite the exhortations of frustrated collectors.

Another habitat photo of Cicindelidia hornii Schaupp
Upper Sonoran Mesquite-Grassland
Sulphur Springs Valley, Cochise County, Arizona
Behavior & Seasonality. 
In southeast Arizona, C. hornii emerges during the summer monsoon that typical begins in late June or early July. It is best described as an ephemeral species because it is active while the soil remains damp after rainfall. Once this moisture evaporates, it disappears along with several other sympatric species, such as Cicindela pulchra dorothea Rumpp (below, left). Cicindelidia hornii typically occurs in grassy pastures and roadsides where it will hide in the shade beneath grass clumps or other vegetation during morning to mid-day hours or seen running in open areas in search of prey.

Cicindela pulchra dorothea Rumpp
Polymorphism: Color Variation.
Polymorphism is the occurrence of more than one color form, or morph, in the same population of a species. Of the various publications and websites that display images of C. hornii, usually only one or two color forms are illustrated. Based on specimens in my collection, iridescent metallic blue, blue-green head and pronota with purple elytra, blue-green to green, and black are represented. The latter melanistic form being the most commonly encountered. Although anecdotal, from my field observations, it appears that the more brilliantly colored individuals appear earlier in the season. Victor E. Shelford, in his treatise, Color and color-pattern mechanism of Tiger Beetles (1917), noted that tiger beetle coloration was influenced, in part, by climatic conditions.

Color variation of Cicindelidia hornii Schaupp:
blue, bluegreen head & pronota with purple elytra, bluegreen-green, black.
Sulphur Springs Valley, Cochise County, AZ

Literature Cited

Schlichting, C. D., and H. Smith. 2002. Phenotypic plasticity: linking molecular mechanisms with evolutionary outcomes. Evolutionary Ecology 16:189–211

Shelford, V. E. 1917. Color and color-pattern mechanism of tiger beetles, with twenty-nine black and three colored plates.Volume Illinois Biological Monographs Vol.3: No. 4

                                                          Other Suggested Reading

Bertholf, J.K. 1979 (MS Thesis). Tiger Beetles of the genus Cicindela in Arizona (Coleoptera:Cicindelidae). 1983 (paperbound edition). Texas Tech University Special Publications, Texas Tech Press, Lubbock, Texas. #19:1-44.  .pdf 
Schultz, T.D., and N. F. Hadley. 1987. Structural Colors of Tiger Beetles and Their Role in Heat Transfer through the Integument. Physiological Zoology. 60 (6):737-745

                                           © Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved.       

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Adventures in Acmaeoderini.
Déjà vu all over again:
Granite Gap, Peloncillo Mountains, Hidalgo Co., New Mexico

With its spectacular granite boulders, limestone outcrops and diversity of floristic types, the area is a classic example of the Chihuahuan Desert. It has a higher cactus diversity than any other area in New Mexico. Because of its biological and scenic beauty, Granite Gap is designated by the BLM as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Access is strictly limited to designated roads and trails.

Note burned Prosopis in foreground

From the literature and personal collection records, at least 9 species of Acmaeoderini have been recorded from the site and surrounding area:

    Adult host association(s) [in part].

Acmaeodera cazieri Knull,
    Cirsium sp., Argemone sp. (Knull 1960:7); on flowers Jatropha macrorhiza (MacRae & Nelson 2003:58).

Acmaeodera davidsoni Barr (Type Locality),
   Acacia constricta, A. greggii, Mimosa biuncifera (Barr 1972:180); Prosopis sp. (Bellamy 1982:359).

Acmaeodera delumbis Horn,
    Acacia constricta  (Westcott, et al. 1979:173).

Acmaeodera parkeri Cazier,
    Allionia incarnata (Westcott, et al. 1979:177); Haplopappus sp., Boerhaavia coccinea (Bellamy 1982:359).
Acmaeodera pinalorum Knull,
    Mimosa biuncifera (Walters & Bellamy 1990:113).

Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides Nelson & Westcott,
    Adults have been recorded on a wide variety of flowers (Nelson & Westcott 1995:81).
    At this locality, I have collected this species on Alliona incarnata flowers.

Acmaeodera yuccavora Knull,
    Alliona incarnata (Westcott, et al. 1979:180).
    Adults frequently alight on paths or other bare areas (Knull 1962:3).
    At this locality, I have collected this species on Alliona incarnata flowers.

Acmaeoderopsis hulli (Knull),
    Mimosa sp., Prosopis glandulosa (Nelson & Westcott 1976:274).
Acmaeoderopsis rockefelleri (Cazier),
    Acacia constricta, Prosopis juliflora (Nelson & Westcott 1976:274).  

The distribution of Acmaeodera gibbula LeConte overlaps this area suggesting it may also occur here.

The flight period of these species is typically during the months of June through August, in some years earlier (April, May) or later (September). Emergence probably depending upon mean temperature and monsoonal precipitation. The distribution of a few of these species continues south along NM 80 on associated hosts.

Field notes 15.VII.2014.
Subsequent to my visit on 17.VII.2010, the area appears to have been burned. Most of the Prosopis and Acacia are growing back. On this visit, monsoons had drenched the area within the last few days. Some of the Acacia and Larrea were just beginning to bloom but I was unable to locate any Alliona where they grew on my prior visit.

Alliona incarnata

Internet resources and literature cited.

A Synopsis of the Adult and Larval Plant Associations for New World Acmaeoderini (Coleoptera: Buprestidae)

Barr, W. F. 1972. New species of North American Acmaeodera (Coleoptera: Buprestidae). Arquivos do Museo Boçage 2.a Série, 3(7):145-202. .pdf

Bellamy, C. L. 1982. Observations on the biology and distribution of several species of Buprestidae (Coleoptera) of North America. The Coleopterists' Bulletin 36(2):358-361. .pdf

Knull, J.N. 1960. A new subspecies of Acmaeodera quadrivittata Horn (Coleoptera:Buprestidae). The Ohio Journal of Science. 60(1): 6-7. .pdf

Knull, J.N. 1962. A new yucca-inhabiting Acmaeodera from Arizona (Coleoptera:Buprestidae). The Ohio Journal of Science. 62(1): 2-3. .pdf

MacRae, T. C., & G.H. Nelson. 2003. Distributional and biological notes on Buprestidae (Coleoptera) in North and Central America and the West Indies, with validation of one species. The Coleopterists' Bulletin, 57(1): 57–70. .pdf

Nelson G.H., & R.L. Westcott 1976. Notes on the distribution, synonymy, and biology of Buprestidae (Coleoptera) of North America. The Coleopterists' Bulletin. 30(3):273-284. .pdf

Nelson G.H., & R.L. Westcott 1995. Three new species of Acmaeodera Eschscholtz (Coleoptera:Buprestidae) from the United States and Mexico. The Coleopterists' Bulletin. 49(1):77-87. .pdf

Walters, G.C., & C.L. Bellamy 1990. Notes on the distribution and biology of certain Buprestidae (Coleoptera): Part IV. The Coleopterists' Bulletin. 44(1):113-115. .pdf

Westcott, R. L., W. F. Barr, G. H. Nelson, & D. S. Verity. 1979. Distributional and biological notes on North and Central American species of Acmaeodera (Coleoptera: Buprestidae). The Coleopterists' Bulletin 33(2):169-181. .pdf

Aerial photo courtesy of  The Sky Gypsies.

© Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cochise Stronghold, Dragoon Mountains, Cochise County, Arizona

 Trachyderes (Dendrobias) mandibularis Dupont on Baccharis ssp.

© Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cyphochilus insulanus Moser:
An amazing example of evolutionary crypsis.

Cyphochilus is a genus of Melolonthinae that occurs in Southeast Asia. It is suggested that the beetle’s white dorsal coloration has evolved to mimic local white fungi as a form of crypsis or camouflage while it feeds on sugar cane.

Photo courtesy of itchydogimages

© Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pleocoma dolichophylla Nikolajev & Ren 2012.
A fossil species of Pleocoma LeConte and its biogeographic implications.

Pleocoma dolichophylla
 Nikolajev & Ren 2012
Age range: 130.0 to 125.45 MA

 The recent discovery of a fossil species of Pleocoma LeConte from Yixian Formation, Late Mesozoic, Liaoning Province, People's Republic of China, suggests that the genus was once more widely distributed and has only recently (in geological terms) become restricted to the extreme Pacific Coast of  North America (i.e., Washington south to Baja California).

What is now China was last connected to the Laurasia land mass (North America + Eurasia) approximately 150 MYBP.

Interestingly, this is not the only family group that lived in the Mesozoic of the Eastern Hemisphere and remains extant in the recent fauna of the Western Hemisphere. Over the last few years, several species of the family Hybosoridae (representing the subfamily Anaidinae Nikolajev, tribe Ivieolini Howden & Gill, of the subfamily Ceratocanthinae Martínez), the recent members of which currently live exclusively in South America, have been described from the Mesozoic of Siberia and China.

Literature Cited
 G. V. Nikolajev and D. Ren. 2012. The earliest known species of the genus Pleocoma LeConte (Coleoptera, Scarabaeoidea, Pleocomidae) from the Mesozoic of China. Paleontological Journal 46:495-498

© Delbert La Rue 2014. All Rights Reserved.