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Tag Archives: Lampyridae

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!

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CROCODILE!

Ok, I lie.  Clearly I did not encounter a crocodile here in Eastern Ontario (although, that would be pretty sweet, wouldn’t it?)

But you just feast your eyes on this bad boy and try to tell me you don’t see some resemblance:

Now, had I not been fooling around with Diurnal Fireflies only minutes before coming across this critter, I may not have seen the likeness right away.  But with the colours, habitat and prominent thorax of the Lampyrids on my mind, it is, in fact, what my brain decided this must be: a Firefly larva.

Allow me to get all sentimental and stuff for a minute…*ahem*

THESE GUYS ARE SO FRACKING COOL!!!!!

I mean, if you could take a trilobite, a croc, and an anteater, and mush them into a one-inch-long body, and stick 6 legs on it, this is pretty much what you would get. 

They’re like flattened, compact, multisegmented little tanks

with a wicked armour of scutes

and a crazy snail-slurping head.

Oh, you didn’t see the head?  That’s ’cause he’s hiding it.  It’s extensible.  And SO COOL.  Here it is:

They use that bizarre, skinny little head to prod inside snail shells, then use their hollow mandibles to slurp up snail juices.  YUM.

Now, I initially thought (silly me) that this larva must have been the same species as the adult Fireflies I saw (duh).  But the Dirunals overwinter as adults, and clearly this is not an adult.  Some poking around BugGuide leads me to think it’s probably a  plain ol’ noctural Firefly, likely Pyractomena sp.; these overwinter as fifth-instar larvae, also in crevices of tree bark, and are seen in early spring.    

I even found the exuvia from its last moult, perfectly nestled in the bark, hanging head-down:

The larvae have little claspers at the end of their abdomens for just this purpose (hanging out and shedding exoskeletons).

Ok, now, say it with me: “OMG SO COOL!!!!!”

What are YOU doing out of bed?

That morning at the bird sanctuary, along with the birds and slugs and log-dwelling beetles, I was actually able to find MORE beetles WITHOUT FLIPPING A LOG.  Or PEELING BARK.  They were there, just so, fully exposed, soaking up the rays of early morning sunshine on the bark of an old Maple tree.

These pretty beetles may look familiar to some of you…the elongate, oval-shaped body, black elytra and red/yellow pattern on the thorax (which often hides the head from a bird’s-eye view) are quite characteristic of many Fireflies (Lightning Bugs) (Family Lampyridae).   However, usually Fireflies are active at night, blinking away with the bioluminescent organs at the tail-end of their abdomens in hopes of attracting a mate.  If we see them by day, they’re normally sleepy and resting; they are nocturnal animals.

These beetles were quite alert and active, strolling over the bumpy bark terrain.

I wondered what they were doing out of bed at such an ungodly hour.

I plucked one off the tree to have a better look…it had a soft gleam of all-over gold thanks to the dense cloak of fine yellowish hairs on the surface of the elytra and thorax.   And then I had a peek…er…”down there”.  Something was missing…the last few segments on most fireflies are usually pale greenish; it is here that a chemical reaction produces the characteristic night-time flickers of light.      This beetle lacked the pale organ.  I returned it to its tree and plucked a second…same thing.

Hm.   Day-active?  No bioluminescence?  Was I mistaken about these beetles’ identity? 

No.  These were, in fact, representatives of the genus Ellychnia…the Diurnal, or day-active, Fireflies. 

There are only about a dozen species of Dirurnal Fireflies in North America.  They lack the bioluminescent organs characteristic of their noctural cousins.  They overwinter as adults, in grooves of tree bark; the ones I spotted would have just roused from winter slumber.   They will begin mating in April and lay their eggs in rotting wood, where the larvae will spend their summers.

Speaking of Firefly larvae….  stay tuned.

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Reference:  Ellychnia corrusca (University of Alberta)

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