Sunday, November 25, 2012

Super Scarabs

A very interesting post recently came out by Matthew Cobb on the blog "Why Evolution Is True" about a newly discovered Aphodiine Scarab from Cambodia.

Scarab belonging to the Corythoderini tribe allows itself to
be carried by a termite. Cambodia, Southeast Asia.

This is a stunning example of how natural selection helps this termitophilic beetle get it's nutrients. By not only tricking a colony of termites by granting it access to their stock pile of food, it lets the termite actually carry it directly to the food with it's perfectly sculpted handle on it's back for a termite to grip. This is all made possible by the beetle developing the scent of foods that a termite's brood might eat themselves.

A clearer picture of this beetle's morphology.

Looks like beetles win again! Now that I've seen these I feel like going to Asia to collect them! Sadly, money is too much a factor with a hobby such as entomology. Maybe I'll get lucky and get to tag along on an exciting biological field trip sometime that's already being funded. Maybe.

In the meantime, we have a good enough biota in North America. Another great example of a "Super Scarab" would be Cremastocheilus, Anteater Scarabs. These, I have been lucky enough to collect.

Anteater Scarab Beetle - Cremastocheilus

These scarabs have found a way to carry a fume unique to an ant colony's, and use it to sneak into that specific ant colony. Once in, they lay eggs (which are possibly even nurtured after by some ants), and once they hatch, the larvae likely prey on the ant larvae, or feed on vegetation collected by some ants (the adults may even do this too, but this is all hard to predict considering it takes place beyond our scope of vision!) Because these particular insects associate with ants, a common term for these would be "myrmecophiles."

I strongly recommend a visit to the original website linked by the two uppermost pictures, "How the Beetle Got His Handles." It's a good, entertaining tale!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Big Baldy Nov 2012

          Last Wednesday (Nov 21) Sam, Michael, Drew (A friend of Sam's) and I took off on a little day hike at Big Baldy in Tulare County. The hike was nothing vigorous itself, (enough to take a nap at the top), but really just a good place to be in mid November, as the weather was perfect for a hike.

Parked at the Trail head.

After we reached the top, we decided the assent went be too quickly to just head back down. Rather, we ate lunch at the top, took some pictures, horsed around with snowballs, etc. Michael and I even took short naps.The view also enticed us to linger: even though we were on the other side of the Sierras, we could see across the central valley which lead our eyes to the coastal range!

Michael (L) Me (R) On top of Big Baldy

Maybe an hour after we reached the top of the mountain, we began our descent. On the way down, we took a little bit of a different rout. This turned out to be good because it lead us into seeing some wildlife! No, not a bear or a cougar, but bugs! And Mushrooms!!

Sulfur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare)
Commonly found on hardwoods and conifers.
 Fruiting fall through spring time.

Despite how common this shroom can be, the bugs were a different story... As we were walking through a meadow with a few inches of snow, we saw a variety of little creatures walking along the surface including a wingless wasp likely in the genus Gelis (Family: Ichneumonidae), some Leiodids (Round Fungus Beetles) and last but not least, we found Bembidion abundantly, running on the snow surface in search of prey.

Bembidion sp.

*Many thanks to Sam Wells for the photographs that have been taken with his camera for the sake of this blog. All photos in this post are copyrighted under his name. I should be photo independent come Christmas time.

Yours truly: sitting on a stump, enjoying life. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

 Let us all recognize what we have and give back what we can!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Little Biased in Taxonomy

          There will never be an end to taxonomic adjustifications, as probably all taxonomists will tell you. Biologists are still discovering new species and higher groups of organisms abundantly, and with these new discoveries comes new taxonomic responsibilities: making room for their name on the scroll of taxonomy. Everybody who has worked in a collection arranging specimens into their phylogenetic ranking have asked them selves; "Do I include the Tiger beetles in the Ground beetles?" or likewise, a question to that same effect.

In most Insect collections, the specimens are arranged at the very least to family level. Most entomologists also tend the place their focus's on family level groups. Could this be coincidental? Maybe. But weather the arrangement of collections affects the taxonomic level of interest in an entomologist, or the taxonomic level of interest in entomologist affects organization in a collection, it does not change the question: "Is taxonomy biased?" Whoa. This is bold, of course. After all, like an honest referee, there are more honest taxonomists than not. But how about in a collection that you manage your self or you know the manager of, does it line up with with your/his/her personal likings all too well?

Sandia Mtns. Leptotyphlininae, lateral left view
Leptotyphlininae in the Staphylinidae, used to be ranked at family level.
Copyright: Edward L. Ruden 2011
Under Creative Commons License 

A little while ago, Sam Wells was telling me a story about finding an uncommon family, Leptotyphlinidae. He combed a series out of a dead beavers fur, shortly after it had died (where this group can sometimes be found). Towards the end of the conversation, he stated: "I think they're now considered Staphylinids, though." "Oh, that's not quite as exciting..." I joked. (For the record, Rove beetles are cool! Just not a family I've really studied.) -Here (me being the guilty party) is an example of this biased I'm talking about.

At the Bean Museum, Shawn Clark (Collection Manager and Chrysomelidae (Leaf beetles) specialist) chooses not to include the Bruchinae/dae in the Chrysomelidae. Do I think this is bad? Definitely not. In my own collection I treat Cicindelinae as Carabidae, even though this happens to be more popular ranking, how can we ever come to a mutual agreement? The truthful answer is that we can't. Evolution is a slow process, we can't exactly pinpoint where Cicindelinae drifted off into Cicindelidae, where is the defining line? Many taxonomists think that numbers should determine that line if the genetics are still corresponding. Other taxonomists will simply pick and choose how to rank their families and other groups.

Omoglymmius - Omoglymmius hamatus
Omoglymmius hamatus (LeConte)
Copyright: Alex Wild 2004
Note: I personally obtained permission to use this photograph.
Thank you, Alex!

I found a few of these Rhysodids last year. Thy were stationed under the bark of log in a mixed Fir and Pine forest in the southern Seirra. Rhysodidae (Wrinkled Bark Beetle) themselves, are in somewhat of a taxonomic limbo. They are being treated more and more as Ground beetles. The similarities are pretty enticing, but if it came to it, I might be a little reluctant to rank it as a Ground beetle in my collection. While I love Ground beetles, I don't want to strip this other awesome group of it's family level pride. I honestly may even look the other way. After all, it is still the same species.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

...and Shield-Winged Insects now presents... Another pitfall trap beetle!

          Well things are slowing down here in Fresno... At least the insect part of life. I haven't collected an alive insect for some time now. But when one door closes, another door opens (as there is no shortage of work to do when you have a growing insect collection and a blog.) I have also been having a lot of back pain this weekend, so I'll cut this one short (sitting at the computer isn't exactly comfortable.)

Carabus (Tomocarabus)
taedatus agasii LeConte

I really hit the jackpot on this Carabus species last year, as I accumulated around seventy to eighty specimens in my Squaw Peak Road pitfall traps over in Utah. It was really quite sad, though, because there were other species of ground beetles coming to the traps much less abundantly, which provoked me into keeping the traps in progress for much longer than was needed for C. taedatus. I have a large number pinned if any one is interested in an exchange. I will also have non-pinned specimens this January once I return from the winter break back home. (I accidentally left the others in Utah!)

Habitat for Carabus taedatus agassii
Squaw Peak Road, Utah County
Copyright: Sam Wells 2011

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Silphidmanic Domino Effect

          Last month, I had an opportunity to exchange beetles with Brad Barnd (a friend I recently met through Bugguide, who also blogs at Midwestbugs). He generously took the extra time to send me the ID's of most of the unidentified material I sent him, and he got as far as his resources would take him with the rest. Outside of the awesome beetles I received in his package, it was thrilling to find out what creatures were in my collection, including this Sexton beetle.

Nicrophorus investigator
Nicrophorus investigator Zetterstedt
Copyright: Guy A. Hanley 1992

I knew only a well focused picture with good lighting could do this species justice, which is why I asked Guy Hanley for permission to use his picture on my blog. Thanks Guy!

It's really interesting how I ended up with this species in my collection, actually. While members of this family make their usual appearance at carrion and sometimes feces, I acquired this species in pitfall traps set up mostly for Ground beetles. As I mentioned in my "Cicindela nebraskana Loves Northern Utah" post, many specimens of insects fell in. What I'm guessing happened, is that the scent of the dead insects drew more and more insects, especially Nicrophorus to the trap, over time creating a domino effect. Dan found thirteen specimens of N. investigator in a single one of his traps! I didn't even use antifreeze in the traps, rather a soap, salt and water solution (I didn't want to be accountable for harming other animals). Another Silphid that came, this time in extremely overwhelming numbers, was Thanatophilus lapponicus (Northern Carrion Beetle).

Beetle found in wood splinters - Thanatophilus lapponicus
Thanatophilus lapponicus (Herbst)
Copyright: Carol Davis 2011 

While I'm in the swing of things, I'll take advantage of another photo. This one belongs to a bug enthusiast from my home state, Utah. Thank you too, Carol!

I've found this species at other places than traps though. Once in a heap of dead birds (unappealing AND odd), and a couple other times out in the open looking for a similar situation. Still, an attractive bug.

Aspen Tree bordered meadow.
Habitat for Nicrophorus investigator
and Thanatophilus lapponicus. 

I think the most attractive Silphid I've seen yet, is N. nigrita. I was taking a walk along a seaside trail in San Louis Obispo County, California, when I saw this species on the trail. I cautiously approached it, and noticed it had Mites all over it. I wasn't sure where the fellow had been, so I was a little reluctant to touch it with my fingers. I battled with it using my forceps, trying to transport it into my vial, when it squirmed out from between the flimsy metal and flew off. Darn! I hope I see this species again, as it definitely was a beauty. I also hope to find other species of this family at future pitfall traps.