The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Tag Archives: beetle

Photo Friday – A horned beauty

I’m still not entirely sure how this little fellow caught my eye – he was resting on the rough bark of a maple tree, blending almost perfectly.

Maybe he sneezed, or something.

Either way, he’s probably one of my favorite finds of the summer, partially because it’s a “new-to-me” species, and partially because…well, just LOOK at him:

Bolitotherus cornutus (Forked fungus beetle) 1

Male Forked Fungus Beetle, Bolitotherus cornutus

Is that not one of the most adorable little faces you’ve ever seen? The little upturned “nose”! But the fancy adornments on the thorax of this male forked fungus beetle (Bolitotherus cornutus) are what makes him stand out from the crowd:

Bolitotherus cornutus (Forked fungus beetle) 4

These Darkling beetles (family Tenebrionidae) like to hang out on shelf fungi on maple and poplar trees, and are mostly active at night. Only the males sport these fuzzy-tufted “horns”. I have scoured the literature and can’t find a single conclusive answer for their purpose. I suspect they’re partially for fighting with or expressing superiority over other males, but the hairs suggest some kind of sensory function. I really don’t know, and would love it if anyone could shed some light on these structures.

Bolitotherus cornutus (Forked fungus beetle) 3

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An another note, I just wanted to tell you that I’m on the Entomology conference circuit for the next two weeks! I’ll be attending and speaking at the Entomological Society of Canada and the Entomological Society of America meetings. If any of you are coming, I’d love to know! Send me a tweet at @GeekInQuestion 🙂 (Also, once these talks are finished, I’m going to FINALLY get around to updating you all on my research a bit – it’s been a productive couple of months!)

Hey Geek, what’s this? Mystery critter from northern Ontario

This latest installment of “What’s This?” comes via email from my own aunt Elizabeth, who discovered a new-to-her insect while at her cottage, which is on a small bay north of Manitoulin Island in Ontario. She has been cottaging on the same body of water since she was a child, and knows the wildlife pretty well, but:

Never saw this before. Any ideas?

Photo by Elizabeth, used with permission.

I’ll bet that many of you recognize this charismatic beastie…

It’s the unmistakable American Burying Beetle, Necrophila americana (Silphidae). The only species of the genus in North America, it is incredibly widespread in the eastern and central areas of the continent. As the genus name implies, it is a lover of dead things: a carrion-feeder, that also feeds on maggots and other carrion beetles.

Although their diet may seem distasteful, they perform a critical service as part of nature’s clean-up crew. A few years ago, in my garden, I watched a pair of carrion beetles (a different species than this one) drag a mouse carcass into a patch of loose soil, then, over the course of an hour or so, they buried the entire thing until no trace remained. This seemed to be an amazing feat for two insects a fraction of the size of the rodent! The young of that pair of beetles would have fed on the carcass after they hatched: burying beetles are excellent providers in addition to being marvelous cleaner-uppers…

Look, always look

During my camping trip, I spent hours and hours poking around in the mixed forest surrounding my campsite, scouring the area for insects I could photograph. I was mostly looking for moths (I figured, since I don’t know the group well at all, I should practice for National Moth Week, which is coming up soon – so go register – hint hint), but I was also keeping my eyes peeled for other interesting beasts.

The moth-hunting quickly taught me two things: 1) even very tiny things (i.e., micro-moths) are worth pausing for, and 2) don’t discount something at first glance because it seems “boring”. Walking through the woods would flush a fluttering of pale, inconspicuous and seemingly uniform beige wings, but a closer look, some photographs, and some time with my new field guide (which is just great, by the way) revealed remarkable diversity.

So, it was with these principles in mind that I paused to give a boring-looking dot of meandering brown on the trunk of a white birch a second glance.

I was so glad I did, because it turned out to be a species of jewel beetle (Buprestidae) I’d been wanting to see: the bronze birch borer (Agrilus anxius*).

Small, with subtle but beautiful colours, this little gem would walk, stop, walk, stop, walk, stop – all apparently quite purposefully. As I watched, I realized that every time it stopped, it would extend something long and beige into a crevice or under a scale of bark. I had a female, who was in the process of laying eggs!

The green arrow is pointing to the female’s ovipositor, which she is using to place an egg under a small scale of bark.

A cropped photo showing the ovipositor

In the minute or two that I watched she must have deposited at least a few dozen eggs. It was an incredible thing to observe, and her preoccupation with her important task probably helped her ignore my antics as I struggled and sprawled on the forest floor to find an accessible angle from which to take her picture.

Had I 1) not bothered to check out the boring brown speck on the tree, or 2) simply taken a few quick shots and not stuck around to watch, I would have missed out on seeing a new-to-me species AND missed out on witnessing some really interesting behaviour.

The moths, and this beetle, were excellent reminders that we must sometimes pause, and really LOOK, in order to capture some of nature’s most interesting moments.

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*It is almost certainly A. anxius, but there is a chance it could also be A. pensus, which is also associated with birch (hat tip to Ted for this info).

Photo Friday – Now you see it, now you don’t

This lovely buppie landed on the screen door at my back porch two weeks ago. It is golden, glittery, and gorgeous. SO. SHINY.

This is a metallic wood-boring beetle (or “jewel beetle”, family Buprestidae), belonging to the genus Dicerca – a group with many very similar species that require a microscope to get a proper ID. Ted thinks this one has the “gestalt” of D. tenebrosa (I warned him that I’d quote him on that :P). Buppies are lovely, charismatic creatures, and with a beetle in hand, like this one, it seems amazing to me that I don’t spot them more often.

But then, upon placing this bejeweled beauty on a tree, it becomes clear why I don’t see more:

The bronzey-goldey hue and elytral sculpturing suddenly render the beetle all but invisible.

It’s incredible that something so astonishingly “colourful” can still be so incredibly cryptic.

Milkweed leaf beetle (Labidomera clivicollis)

A mid-week bit of SHINY, to brighten up what has been a mostly rainy week…

Labidomera clivicollis, a leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae) that specializes on milkweed, Asclepias sp. (hence the red and black warning coloration). It’s the only member of this genus is North America, and it is gorgeous.

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