The Bug Geek

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Tag Archives: Staphylinidae

An Inordinate Fondness #3: Discovery Zone

Beetles are, quite simply, hecka-cool.  Although all insects are generally fascinating I have a tendency to get very excited about beetles in particular because…well…OMGSHINY!!!  That being the case, I am just a tad all-a-flutter about hosting An Inordinate Fondness this month (so much SHININESS in one post I can hardly stand it!).  

One of the things I like best about beetles (good grief, where do I start?), which represent about 1/4 of all living species on earth, is that there is never a shortage of new critters to discover.   This week I came across a new and incredibly interesting species of beetle.  When I first spotted it, I mistook it for a very small jumping spider: everything about its behaviour was akin to that of a Salticid, from the way it peered up at me on extended forelegs with head raised, to its odd manner of darting from place to place  with sharp bursts of movement.  I leaned in close (it was only about 2mm long) and decided it was NOT a spider, so picked it up to have a better look.  I thought I saw a tiny beak running between its legs…a beak?  Was this a true bug?  It was so small my unaided eyes could not even discern whether it had hard beetley elytra or the half-membranous wings of a hemipteran.  I snapped a bunch of photographs in hopes that my camera could pick up details my eye could not.   

And it did:

A little out-of-focus, but clearly a beetle; a small stout snout beetle (Curculionidae), with long legs and simply enormous eyes!  I scoured my field guides and then turned to the web for some assistance, and soon enough it had a name:   Lechriops oculata.  Along with its species name, I found out that the Korean word for its subfamily (Conoderinae) translates to “spider weevil”.  Cool beans!!!  Who knew that such a tiny little beetle would end up being a source of hours of reading, learning and discovery. 

Without further ado, I am super-pleased to present the 3rd installment of An Inordinate Fondness: Discovery Zone.    In this collection of Coleopteran coolness we get a good dose of the geekly glee shared by enthusiasts when a beetle is found. Sometimes accidental, sometimes carefully orchestrated, each beetle discovery is thrilling in its own right.  With 13 entries spanning three continents and nine beetle Families, hopefully it will whet your Coleappetite™ (ha!) for another month.

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Eureka!  (Or, sometimes good discoveries happen by accident)

 

Great discoveries can be made even when we’re not looking for them. Hugh at Rock Paper Lizard finds a gorgeous Ground Beetle in a not-so-gorgeous pile of compost.  I say, keep digging, Hugh!  OMGSHINY! 

Seabrooke at the the Marvelous in nature encounters an unexpected beetle-ey guest during her nighttime moth-hunting activities (this is great fun: you get three BONUS BIG BUGS along with the beetle, who has Funky Feet. Sweet.

A different kind of winged creature is the unlikely guide that leads Jason to the discovery of a very large (and very tenacious) rove beetle.   He shares his highly blusterous experience at xenogere.

 

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First-time discoveries

The thrill of encountering a new beetle species – whether new to you or new to science – well, either way it’s gosh-darn exciting!   Shelly, our guide at MObugs, is astonished to discover her first Red Flat Bark Beetle  in a most unusual place (no, it was not under a piece of bark).

 Myrmecos blog reminds us that discoveries can be steeped in controversy, and that science is a two-way street.  A new species of fossil insect is found in amber…the authours claim it’s an ant.   “No way!” , cries the blogosphere, “It is most certainly a beetle!” Then the authours chime in with their 2¢, and the gloves come off!

Matthew Wills at Backyard and Beyond nearly trod upon these mystery beetles (I’m glad he didn’t, because they are OMGBLUESHINY!). His post describes the rewarding challenge of identifying unfamiliar beetles. (Wouldn’t we all love one giant field guide with EVERYTHING in it???)   

 

Aaron Brees is busy Exploring the Remnants and enjoying a bevy of Tiger Beetles (his first batch of the year) in sandy spaces, when he finds this lovely creature: the Oblique-Lined Tiger Beetle.  It is the first time he’s encountered the species and his excitement over the find is evident!

  

  

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Discovery through research

 
It is no secret that Ted MacRae from Beetles in the Bush likes Jewel Beetles (a lot).  Understandably, he jumps at the opportunity to spend a day with visiting Buprestid experts in Sacramento.  Ted has another motive, however: the burning question of the identity of a six-year-old Buprestid mystery larva.   The stars seem to align: a fallen willow fallen tree, some poop (*ahem* frass), a pocket knife, a big ol’ larva and a Buprestid Larva Dissecting Guru of the Universe = one very exciting discovery: a sneaky larva poorly known to science…until now! While the larva is not SHINY (sorry, Ted), it makes up for it by having a Big Giant Head With a Nifty-Shaped Furcus.

 

Beetley discoveries don’t always happen in the field; sometimes delving into the scientific literature can be almost as exciting….you never know what you might find!  Soon-to-be-entomology-grad-student Heath Blackmon at the Coleopterists Corner  has been uncovering literary gems as he prepares for his future studies.  In his post, A History of Coleopterology, he provides an excellent summary of a fascinating article on “Charles Darwin, beetles and phylogenetics”.   The accompanying tree of life is a beautiful touch.

 

 

 

 *POOF* (That’s my brain exploding from how fracking GORGEOUS this beetle is.  I am quite certain that I need to move to the Philippines.).   There is not one but two HECKASHINY snout beetles to be found on Estan’s  Salagubang blog.   The two incredibly-coloured critters provide an astonishing example of cross-tribal mimicry.

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Re-discovery

It’s interesting to see how certain natural phenomena are re-discovered and enjoyed  generation after generation, even in two places an ocean apart.  Dave Stone from Things Biological shares some beautiful shots of a familiar summertime friend: the Firefly.  Meanwhile, Javi Gállego reminisces about his childhood experiences with “lights in the grass”  in Spain on his blog macroinstates.  He also expresses concern about the seemingly declining populations…will there be fireflies for future generations to admire on warm summer nights?  (Click on the translation widget to read other posts in English).

Lastly, Alex  says what we have come to realize: there are “so many beetles”!  Nonetheless, even amid the mind-bogglingly diverse order of beetles, some may eventually become familiar faces.   A search in an old log leads to the discovery of an old friend, and a great photoshoot.

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Xenogere is the home of May’s edition of IAF…be sure to get your SHININESS to Jason by May 15!

First Beetles of 2010 (Part 1)

Now, I know I’ve been posting reasonably frequent offerings of beetle-ey goodness in the past few months, pretty much exclusively of sub-bark-dwelling and sleepy overwintering larvae

Although they are hecka-cool and did much to whet my Coleapetite, they just can’t compare with the thrill of REAL beetles, as in, ADULTS with ELYTRA  and SHINY.  I have been dreaming of this moment since November ’09, the Coleopterans’ last hurrah for the season.

As you know, I was powerfully drawn to the local bird sanctuary a few days ago (although, I’m not 100% certain whether it was the pull of sunshine or the push of procrastination).  There I found all kinds of woody nooks and crannies that were considerably warmer and drier than those near my home, and positively dripping with the possibility of discovery.  And discover I did.  The usual earthy offerings of mites, slugs, and myriapods…but also, finally, beetles.

This small Ground Beetle (Carabidae) was one of many tucked away in this particular log.  They scattered quickly when disturbed, melting away into the nearest shadowed space as if they’d never been there in the first place.  This one paused briefly before scampering off, although it seemed a bit confused about the whole “hiding” thing…it merely stuck its head into a crevice, leaving its abdomen completely exposed and visible.  I poked it gently with my finger.  It seemed either startled or incensed, and dashed away to join the others. 

The Ground Beetles are one of the most common families; incredibly abundant, widespread, swift and successful hunters of Small Things.  Although the one pictured above is quite small (only about 6mm) and rather bland, some Carabids are quite large and flashy, boasting a rainbow of colour, iridescence, and sculpturing.  My personal fave in my current collection is the firey hunter, Calosoma calidumMy first discovery of this species, which is large, black and adorned with incredibly orderly rows of iridescent red punctures, was met with a jubilant woop and an in-the-air-fistpump when I pulled it out of a pitfall trap catch.

Another common ground-dweller is the Rove Beetle (Staphylinidae).  I’ve written about these before, and they really are quite marvelously quirky-looking beetles.  Not very “beetle-ey” at all, actually, with those stubby little elytra (hard outer wings) and thin, wormy abdomen.  This little guy was quite still for me; I think it was still too chilly to move as its log had not yet been basked in warm sunshine that morning. 

Check out the long, sickle-like mandibles on this guy.  Those are some pretty impressive chompers.  They are, undoubtedly, designed for making meals of smaller critters, but these unfussy Staphs will also sup on dead plant and animal matter.

I’ll save my last beetle finds of the day for the next post…stay tuned!

I love being “that person”

You know: “The Person In The Office Who Knows About Bugs And Stuff”.  People tend to bring/show/tell you about buggy, geekly goodness, which provides a welcome distraction from boring shit work.

I entered a co-worker’s office this morning to find her fretting over one of her potted plants: a lovely pale pink Amaryllis.   “I saw a bug in here,” she stated accusatorily.  “I think it’s killing my plant!”    Indeed, one of the blooming stems had sagged overnight, and a second had an inch long indentation, surrounded by bright reddish flecks, running up one side.

I peered at the plant and the soil.  I lifted the green plastic pot out of the purple ceramic one enclosing it and looked in there.  Finding nothing remotely buggish, I handed the pot back over and asked her what she saw.

“It was small, and dark, and wormy, and had little legs like this,” (she brings her hands up close to her sides and wiggles her fingers  suggestively) “but not like millipede legs.  What was it???”   Hmm.

I really didn’t know what to tell her other than “come get me if you see it again”, and suggest that (to my very un-pathology-trained eyes) the speckled dent on the stem could be a virus or other pathogen but was almost certainly not caused by an insect.

“But it had legs like this!” (fingers wiggling)  Sigh.  I shrugged and went back to my cube to continue my boring shit work.

Hours later, I heard the thudding of feet running down the corridor.  My co-worker appeared, breathless, with the Amaryllis (still in its generic green pot) in one hand and the purple ceramic one in the other.  The latter was thrust at me with an air of triumph.

“THERE!  There it is, I TOLD you there was a bug!”  Sure enough, an eensie-weensie rove beetle was busy doing laps in the bottom of the pot.  It was indeed small, dark, wormy and it had little legs…like this; ironically, reasonably accurate descriptors for a rather cryptic-looking group of beetles.

I distinctly remember the undergrad entomology class where I first encountered one of these strange critters.    I remember thinking “wow, what a weird-looking earwig”.  Then spent a good while flipping through the pages of my trusty Borror, Triplehorn, and Johnson, mainly through the chapters involving the more primitive orders.  I was quite surprised to discover (after actually using the key and not just looking at pictures, duh) that it was, in fact, a beetle.  A beetle who had totes received the short end of the elytra stick, but a beetle nonetheless.

Image from Wikipedia

The rove beetles (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae) are the second largest beetle family after the true weevils (Coleoptera: Curculionidae).  With over 46,000 known species, there is considerable variation in size, colour and shape.  However, most can easily be identified by the typically elongate body and very short elytra, which leave over half the abdomen exposed.  I herded the little one in the plant pot onto my finger, where it promptly demonstrated the flexibility of its vulnerable lower half by curling its abdomen up and over in a threat display.

Image from Wikipedia

These beetles are found in a range of habitats but tend to haunt moister areas with leaf litter or similar decaying plant matter.  Staphs feed on almost anything: mainly smaller arthropods and other invertebrates, but also dead plant and animal tissue etc.

Luckily for my co-worker, one of the few things they rarely eat is live, healthy plant tissue.  Her Amaryllis was safe (at least until the virus or rot or whatever it’s got does it in).

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