Thursday, June 26, 2014

Computer Woes

I regret to inform my loyal readers here that I am having serious computer issues. I am writing this from my wife's machine, and plan to take my own computer to the repair shop ASAP. That might be Monday at the earliest, and how long they will need it I have no idea. Hoping my disk isn't bad, but it is a relatively "old" HP Premium Elite HPE I purchased back in....2010?

I've backed up all my edited images, documents, etc, but I have thousands of unedited photos that I don't have room to back up on my external hard drive. So, I will still be able to do some blogs in the future, even if I face the worst-case scenario. I just really hope that doesn't happen.

Thank you for your understanding and patience during this trying period. I will not be posting for the immediate, foreseeable future, but have no plans to terminate the blog.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Backswimmer or Water Boatman?

Just a short post for “True Bug Tuesday,” addressing an identification problem that many people admit having. I am not an expert on aquatic insects by any means, but differentiating backswimmers (family Notonectidae) from water boatmen (family Corixidae) is fairly straightforward.

Backswimmer swimming upside down

My own experience has shown that backswimmers are generally far more commonly seen by the casual observer than are water boatmen. Backswimmers can even turn up in the fountains, swimming pools, and other artificial water environments water boatmen rarely frequent. Now, if you bother dragging a net through the water, especially over the bottom of a pond or slow-moving stream, then you may see water boatmen at least as frequently as backswimmers, if not more so.

Turn on lights at night anywhere near water and you may bet large numbers of water boatmen showing up, flailing about on the ground. Both water boatmen and backswimmers can fly as adults, but backswimmers seem to be mostly diurnal and will rarely if ever be attracted to lights at night.

Water boatman attracted to light at night

Physically, both kinds of insects do superficially resemble each other. Both are more or less oval or bullet-shaped, and the hind legs are very long, modified for rowing through the water. That is pretty much where the similarities end, however.

Adult backswimmers, at least those of the common genus Notonecta, are much larger than the average water boatman. Backswimmers, in cross section from front to back, have distinctly triangular bodies. They are shaped more like a boat than a water boatman. The top of a backswimmer is keel-like, affording it the ability to swim very rapidly upside down. Water boatmen are more flattened top to bottom.

Water boatman

The front legs of backswimmers are short, but shaped normally, with no obvious modifications. The front legs of water boatmen have spoon-shaped tarsal segments for scooping organic matter into the mouth of the bug. While backswimmers have a four-segmented rostrum (“beak”) they use to bite prey, water boatmen have the beak fused to the head. The face of a water boatman reminds one of an imperial storm trooper from Star Wars.

Water boatman. Note scoop-like front "feet"

Most water boatmen are brown on top, marked with fine, transverse black lines, giving them a slightly corrugated appearance. Backswimmers, by contrast, are usually boldly marked with patches of black, yellowish-brown, red, or white.

Top of backswimmer, © Lynette Schimming

Backswimmers frequent open water where they actively pursue mosquito larvae and other small aquatic insects. Water boatmen normally cruise the bottom, stirring up muck and microscopic organisms that they feed on. Consequently, water boatmen are often difficult to see when you are looking into the water. They are camouflaged, and/or they hide under leaf litter and other bottom debris.

Backswimmer, © Margarethe Brummermann

Look for backswimmers surfacing to take in air with those hydrophobic hairs around their rear end. The hairs also go down the middle of the underside of the abdomen, helping to trap air for their underwater lifestyle.

Source: Lehmkuhl, Dennis M. 1979. How to Know the Aquatic Insects. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers. 168 pp.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Termite Swarms

It is, was, or will be termite swarming time across much of North America. Contrary to popular “knowledge,” we do have termites here in Colorado, at least below 7,000 feet elevation. Our most abundant species is the Arid-land Subterranean Termite, Reticulitermes tibialis. Back on the morning of May 24, I happened upon a colony that was liberating its “alates,” winged reproductive termites that will mate with members of other colonies and begin their own new colonies.

Subterranean termites actually nest in the soil, consuming wood and other sources of cellulose that are buried in the soil or in contact with the soil. Turning back a board out in the shortgrass prairie here in Colorado Springs is likely to uncover foraging termites that quickly seek shelter back in their underground tunnels.

A typical termite colony consists of a “king” and “queen,” a male and female pair that founded the colony and bond for life. That life can be a decade or more for the queen. Her sole mission is to lay eggs, and she is a bit of a bloated creature, her abdominal segments distended. Still, she can move around rather freely, in contrast to the huge, immobile queens of some tropical termite species that exist trapped in a “royal cell” defended by soldier termites.

Soldier termite

Subterranean termite colonies have soldiers, too, with large, rectangular heads and oversized jaws they can use to dispatch ants, the chief predators of termites. Most of the colony is made up of a “worker” caste that does the foraging, underground tunnel- and above-ground tube-construction, tends the queen and newly-minted immature termites. All the young termites in the colony are workers, but have the potential to become soldiers or reproductives. In situations where a queen dies, or becomes separated from part of the colony, some workers can metamorphose into supplementary reproductives capable of laying eggs themselves within their parent colony.

Once each year, a mature colony launches a swarm of winged male and female termites that goes in search of mates in hopes of starting new colonies. Arid-land Subterranean Termites typically swarm from January to March at elevations below 4,000 feet, and in June or July above that elevation. The alates I witnessed were issuing from imperceptible cracks in the soil, like toothpaste oozing from the tube. Check out the video below:

Termite swarms are like a buffet to insectivores, and it was only a matter of minutes before tiny ants set upon the lethargic alates, carting them off by the bushel to feed their own ant larvae in some subterranean nest. Birds, amphibians, lizards, spiders, and countless predatory insects feast on the living confetti.

Ant carrying off alate termite

Those female individuals that do survive are mostly wind-blown across the landscape, hoping to land in the vicinity of an unrelated colony that is also swarming. The female sheds her wings and emits a pheromone (chemical scent) that attracts males. Once a suitable mate appears, they mate and begin searching for a nesting site. The pair creates a small chamber underground or beneath a stone or other object, and she begins laying eggs.

Alate termite with hind wings stuck together

How do you tell winged termites from winged ants? Winged termites have two pairs of wings of equal length, whereas ants have the front wings much larger than the hind wings. Ants have long, elbowed antennae, while termites have shorter antennae with segments of equal length. Ants have the body clearly divided into three sections: head, thorax, and abdomen. Winged termites have those divisions much less obvious. The thorax and abdomen seem to merge seamlessly in termites.

Pair of winged ants, Crematogaster sp.

Subterranean termites are not large insects. Even the alates of the Arid-land species measure only 10 millimeters from nose to wingtip. Soldiers are a mere 3.5-4.5 millimeters. This species occurs throughout the intermountain west of the U.S., eastward to Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas, south to Mexico. Other species of Reticulitermes range in other parts of North America.

A termite swarm outdoors, away from your own home, is a spectacle to behold. An indoor swarm….not so much. Still, to suddenly witness an enormous population of normally unseen animals erupting from the landscape is simply stunning. It helps to know that, in nature, termites are valuable decomposers that turn and aerate the soil while breaking down cellulose into nutrients now available to other living organisms.

Notes: Fairly recently (2007), termites became reclassified. Once they were members of their own order, the Isoptera. Today they are recognized essentially as “social cockroaches,” lumped with roaches in the order Blattodea.

Termites, unlike carpenter ants that merely chew cavities in wood to make nesting space, actually do eat wood. They can do this thanks to a gut fauna of microbes that efficiently break down cellulose. The bacteria, archaea, and protozoans exist only inside of termites, and are acquired by young termites when they consume fresh fecal material of adult termites, or are fed regurgitated, partially-digested food by worker termites.

Sources: Cranshaw, Whitney and Boris Kondratieff. 1995. Bagging Big Bugs. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing. 324 pp.
Helfer, Jacques R. 1972. How to Know the Grasshoppers, Cockroaches, and Their Allies (2nd edition). Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers. 359 pp.
Noll, Kenneth. “NSF Termite Project,” Noll Lab.
”Termites Are Cockroaches After All,” Natural History Museum (London) News.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Eyed Elaters

I am almost guaranteed to get at least one query every year about a large beetle with enormous eyes. The “eyed elaters” in the genus Alaus, family Elateridae, certainly are a curiosity, and thankfully harmless. This past week my wife and I were fortunate enough to encounter two specimens of the Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus, while we were in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta.

Alaus oculatus

There are currently six recognized North American species in the genus Alaus, five of which are discussed below. They are collectively found over most of the U.S. and southern Canada. All are large insects, active during the day or at dusk, and are strong fliers. Ironically, they seem far less ambulatory on their six legs. They are usually seen on logs, stumps, or tree trunks where they are surprisingly cryptic given their large size and striking eyespots. A motionless eyed elater is often nearly invisible.

Alaus oculatus from Georgia

Alaus oculatus varies from 24-44 millimeters in length, is bullet-shaped, and mottled black and white. This is the species most commonly encountered species in eastern North America, found from Quebec and Ontario south and west to Texas, the Dakotas, and eastern Colorado. They are sometimes attracted to aromatic solvents and fresh paint, scents that are also produced by freshly cut or downed trees.

Larvae of all Alaus species live in decaying wood where they prey on the larvae and pupae of other kinds of beetles. These giant “wireworms” have strong jaws and should be handled carefully, if at all.

Likely a young Alaus sp. larva

The “Blind Click Beetle,” A. myops (not illustrated), has much smaller eyespots than its cousin, and is mostly slate gray in color. Adults measure 19-42 millimeters. This is insect is most common in southern pine forests, but ranges from Quebec to Florida and west to Manitoba, Minnesota, Kansas, and Texas. Both adults and larvae are predatory and are found under loose bark on pine trees, logs, and stumps.

The western half of the continent has its own set of eyed elater species, including the Western Eyed Click Beetle, A. melanops. Its geographic distribution includes British Columbia, Oregon, Colorado, California, and New Mexico. Adults measure 20-35 millimeters. They resemble the Blind Click Beetle, but the ranges of the two species do not overlap.

Alaus melanops

Perhaps the most spectacular eyed elaters reside in the southwest U.S. The Zuni Click Beetle, A. zunianus, appears confined to Arizona. Note the eyespots are rounder than in other Alaus species, and the mottling is ivory or beige rather than stark white in many specimens. These are hefty insects, more robust than the others discussed so far.

Alaus zunianus

The Texas Click Beetle, A. lusciosus, is nearly identical to the Zuni Click Beetle, but it ranges from Texas to southern Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

Click beetles in general get their name from a peculiar behavior made possible by their body structure. Elaterids have a spine on the underside of the thorax that snaps into a groove on their “chest.” The beetles are so smooth, frequently covered in soft hairs of slick scales, that predators have a hard time grabbing the insects without the slippery, torpedo-shaped beetles escaping. However, should a bird or other animal manage to get a grip, the beetle snaps that spine into the groove with such force as to eject it from the predator’s grasp, or startle the attacker into dropping it.

Alaus lusciosus from Mission, Texas

It was formerly assumed that the clicking mechanism was used by the beetle to right itself should it land on its back….and indeed, the beetles do this as well. Smaller click beetles can vault themselves up to ten inches into the air in attempts to land on their feet. Oddly, the big eyed elaters can barely pop up an inch or two.

Keep an eye out for eyed elaters in your own region, especially during late spring and in June and July. At least some adults may overwinter in cavities in rotten wood, where they may be encountered at any time of year.

Sources: Arnett, Ross H., Jr., Michael C. Thomas, Paul E. Skelley, and J. Howard Frank (editors). 2002. American Beetles Vol. 2. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. 861 pp.
Bartlett, Troy, et al. 2012. “Genus Alaus,”
Evans, Arthur V. 2014. Beetles of Eastern North America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 560 pp.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Black Swallowtail

We tend to think of butterflies as symbolic of everything delicate and dainty, but not so the actual insect. The Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes, a common species throughout the summer, is a prime example. At all life stages, this insect is the epitome of durability.


I was prompted to write about this species by an encounter with a female Black Swallowtail at Sinton Pond Open Space here in Colorado Springs on June 5. She was flitting among a stand of Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum. While this plant is, as the name implies, highly toxic to people, it is one of the host plants for the caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail. Indeed, many members of the parsley family are palatable to the larvae.

I somehow managed to capture the female in the act of ovipositing, then found the egg after she left. She determines the suitability of the plant by “tasting” it with her tarsal segments (feet), scratching the plant into liberating chemical compounds that the butterfly recognizes as a host plant.

The egg is a hard-shelled object impermeable to moisture loss, and insulating the embryonic larva within from the elements. The caterpillar chews its way out of the egg in about 4-9 days, consuming the empty shell so as to leave no trace for birds and other predators to clue in on. It then turns its attention to munching on the host plant.

When they are small, Black Swallowtail larvae mimic bird droppings in color and texture, being black with a white “saddle” marking. It is easy to dismiss the little caterpillar as an inanimate object on the dill, fennel, parsley, or carrot plants in your garden. That white mark is an expression of uric acid deposits in the cuticle of the larva, which may act as antioxidants in disarming the phototoxic chemicals that its host plants use in their own defense.

After three molts, the larva suddenly becomes a dapper, zebra-striped animal that is hard to miss, especially considering the caterpillars get pretty large and are generally feeding on plants that have very slender foliage.

At this point, the Black Swallowtail caterpillar has a number of defenses at its disposal for thwarting predators. First, it uses its jaws to hurl its fecal pellets, thereby eliminating trace evidence (and aromatic clues) of its presence. Should it be directly antagonized, it will evert a gland called an osmeterium from a fold in the thorax. This gland is bright orange and resembles the forked tongue of a reptile. Further, the gland exudes a substance that effectively repels ants and potentially other insect predators, especially if the fluid can be smeared directly on an attacker. One of the components of this awful cocktail is isobutyric acid. That’s right, it smells like rancid butter.

The larval stage can last anywhere from 10-30 days, after which the caterpillar molts for a fifth time, into the pupa stage.

When preparing to enter the pupa stage, the caterpillar spins a silken “safety belt” around itself, such that it is leaning back off the stem, twig, or other surface to which it is anchored at the rear by a button of silk and hooklike appendages on the tip of its abdomen. The chrysalis looks more like a shard of dead wood or other plant material than anything animal, and is easily overlooked. The pupa is the overwintering stage for the Black Swallowtail, but in summer generations, this stage lasts from 9-18 days.

Adult male butterflies emerge two or three days ahead of females, and they immediately try to establish a territory. This is often at the summit of a ridge or butte, and this behavior is known as “hilltopping.”. Competition is keen, however, and males will engage in aerial combat for possession of prime real estate. They collide violently enough to be audible to human observers, if the butterflies don’t chase you off, too.

The butterflies quickly become battered, their “tails” lost on the wind, but the wear on their wings hardly slows them down.

Females ascend the peaks where they are intercepted by the males. Once mated, a female begins the life cycle anew. Females are much darker than the males, and mimic the distasteful Pipevine Swallowtail where the range of both species overlap.

The Black Swallowtail ranges throughout North America east of the Rocky Mountains, and in Arizona and southern California as well. Northerly populations have up to two generations annually, with at least three generations in the south. You can almost be guaranteed to see them simply by planting carrots, parsnips, celery, fennel, dill, or any related herb/vegetable in your garden.


Sources: Berenbaum, May R. 1989. Ninety-nine Gnats, Nits, and Nibblers. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 263 pp.
Hall, Donald W. 2011. “Eastern Black Swallowtail,” Featured Creatures. Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida. EENY-504.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: Beetles of Eastern North America

Full disclosure: Dr. Arthur V. Evans is a good friend and colleague, but our relationship exerts no influence on my review of his work. I have come to expect great diligence, accuracy, and attention to detail in Art’s books and articles. Beetles of Eastern North America (Princeton University Press, 2014, $35.00 US) is no exception, and reflects Evans’ continued professionalism and enthusiasm for his subject of choice.

When I received my review copy of the book, I was a bit surprised to find that it was not a field guide, at least in terms of size. It is 10 x 8 inches and, despite being a paperback, weighs in at a hefty 4 pounds, assuming the bathroom scale is accurate. No worries, this only means that the images can be larger, and this is of great benefit to those of us with failing eyesight.

Inside the front cover is a pictured list of the “Ten Most Commonly Encountered Beetle Families,” with the page number for easy reference. The roster certainly touches on the most frequently noticed families, and is an excellent way for a beginner to address a “mystery beetle.”

Few entomologists are also skilled at writing for a general audience, but Evans makes it seem effortless. He has a real gift for simplifying concepts so that they are not intimidating to an amateur naturalist yet not condescending to veteran entomologists. The introductory section is as well-illustrated as the remainder of the book, and explains many puzzling physical features of beetles. The metamorphosis of beetles is covered in good detail, as well as some of the odd behaviors exhibited by various species.

Are you interested in making a beetle collection? How about observing and photographing beetles? Maybe you would like to rear beetles in captivity for yourself or your nature center, zoo, or museum. Information on all those pursuits is contained in this book.

An illustrated key to common beetle families sets off the bulk of the text and graphics that are geared toward identifying beetles at least to the family level, if not genus or species. All the characters used in the key are observable with either the naked eye or low magnification.

The book does treat all the families of beetles found east of the Mississippi River, and I was surprised to find some entirely new families have been erected, and others renamed. I won’t offer any spoilers, but suffice it to say that this book is the most up-to-date reference of its kind.

In this digital age of “images are everything,” Evans put equal emphasis on how specimens are presented. The results are mandible-dropping. Nearly all specimens depicted are live animals, shown in postures and often habitats that they are likely to be observed in. The list of photo credits read like a who’s who of entomologists and photographers I already know in person or online or both, and they all know how to bring out the best in their subjects.

Despite the regional scope of the book, I was delighted to identify a ground beetle I had recently collected in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Clearly, this volume is going to be useful to anyone living or traveling east of the Rocky Mountains.

The appendix covers the full classification of beetles from order to genus (with selected species). There is also a glossary of terms used, though as far as I can tell all terms are defined in the text when they are first used. Selected references and resources includes published material, online sources, and companies that provide equipment and supplies.

In short, this is the most compact, affordable, comprehensive, and useful beetle book to come along since I can’t remember when. I know that Art is eager to receive feedback from readers to learn about how he can make his books better still. The good news is that he is under contract to do a book on beetles of western North America next. Please be patient, though. It takes a great deal of time and effort to produce the results to which we’ve become accustomed.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Identification Expectations

Several factors have conspired to create a perfect storm of unrealistic expectations when it comes to insect identification these days. The digital age has meant that entomologists are more accessible to the general public than ever before; that it is possible to capture a stunning image with a smartphone; and that social media has accelerated the broadcast of incorrect information. Naturalists who are branching out from the pursuit of vertebrates seem stunned to learn that not every insect or spider can be identified to species from visuals alone. Here are the top reasons why you may fail to achieve a species-level identification from myself, or any other entomologist or arachnologist online.

  • You have not supplied an image. Few insects are so distinctive that a verbal or written description alone is sufficient to make an identification. The Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus is one exception that comes to mind.
    Wheel Bug adult
  • The image is of exceedingly poor quality. Many insects and spiders are simply too small, and/or move too fast to allow you to capture a clear image. That is not your fault, you are doing the best you can. However, standing across the room and taking a picture of the spider on the opposite wall is your choice, and the image results won’t be pretty. I often kid people that they must have used Google Earth for the image in order to maintain a safe distance.
  • You did not furnish location information. The geographic location where the arthropod was spotted can be of paramount importance in eliminating some “suspects” and narrowing the possibilities of what the creature could be. The more precise the location the better, as even a state or province may not be of much help.
  • Your insect is in an immature stage. Many immature stages such as eggs, larvae (caterpillars, grubs, maggots, etc.), nymphs, and pupae simply cannot be identified much beyond a family-level of classification. In many cases, we simply don’t know what a species looks like in its youth, unless it is something of economic importance. Try rearing the insect to adulthood if possible, documenting the different stages. You could easily make important discoveries this way.
    Yeah, I got nothin'
  • You don’t know the host plant (for an herbivorous insect). Many insects are best identified by association with a particular plant, but perhaps you found your specimen on a fencepost, or it landed on a plant that it does not feed on. These are circumstances over which you obviously have no control, but it may mean you won’t get a specific ID this time around.
  • Overestimating size. Insects and spiders are very good at creating the illusion that they are much larger than they appear. People prone to arachnophobia or entomophobia then inflate the size even more until you have the bug equivalent of a fish story. When in doubt, don’t even bother mentioning size.
  • Many species look alike. You would be amazed how many insects, even from different families, can look essentially identical. Add to that the amazing degrees of mimicry whereby harmless insects resemble stinging insects, and it becomes a real challenge for the novice to achieve an identification even to an “order” level of classification.
    Bumble Bee
    Not bumble bee (robber fly)
  • Visuals alone may be insufficient. This problem arose for myself last week when I sought the identification of a jewel beetle in the family Buprestidae. Turns out there are several species in the genus Agrilus that feed on oak, and are slate gray with a metallic head and thorax. Who knew?
  • Cryptic species. It is not just the digital age that has revolutionized our expectations for identification. The age of molecular biology, with DNA analysis, has revealed that what we once thought was a single species may in fact be several species, all of which are visually identical, but are vastly different at the genetic level. Consequently, “species groups” have entered our vocabulary.

    Photuris sp. fireflies are best identified by the flash patterns they blink at night
  • Taxonomy changes frequently. Entomologists are constantly revising the classification of insects, from species-level to order level as they gain new insights into phylogenetic relationships. Did you know, for example, that cockroaches and termites are now in the same order? It’s true! Not because they can both be pests, but because we now know they are more closely related than previously thought. So, the identification you get today may not stand up to the test of time.
  • Proliferation of field guides. More field guides is never a bad thing, but people accustomed to bird, mammal, and reptile guides that include every species for a given geographical area has created an unrealistic expectation of the same when it comes to invertebrates. It would take an encyclopedia of several volumes to cover every species in a single order (or even family in some cases).
  • Limited expertise of the expert being consulted. Most entomologists are specialists on a single order, or even family or genus, of insects. Consequently, when confronted with something unfamiliar, they are not easily able to offer a definitive answer. I can count on one hand the number of entomologists with an impressive ability to identify almost anything (and I am not one of them). Please bear that in mind when making your identification request.
  • Considering everything that can go wrong, it is a minor miracle that most folks who submit requests for identification end up being satisfied with the results. We aim to please, and are happy to make your day by solving whatever was, um, “bugging” you.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    A Flower Scarab, Euphoria fulgida

    Last year, on June 15, 2013, my wife Heidi captured an interesting beetle at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo where she works as a keeper for gorillas, orangutans, and other primates. What transpired after she posted images on was surprising and exciting. It turned out that the beetle was a flower scarab, Euphoria fulgida, which had not been recorded in Colorado since 1902.

    I was delighted that she even recognized it as a beetle, because she saw it in flight and this species is a remarkable bee mimic. Scarabs in the subfamily Cetoniinae, collectively known as fruit and flower chafers, have a special “hinge” on the body that allows the membranous hind wings to deploy for flight while the wing covers (elytra) remain closed. The insects are fast, powerful, and erratic fliers, so I am also surprised Heidi managed to catch the beetle.

    © Mark E. Marcuson in Ratcliffe, 1991

    Since I was out of town when all of this happened, and without ready internet access, I couldn’t help her identify the specimen. So, she posted her images to By June 17, she had a preliminary identification, and then Dr. Frank Krell, a scarab expert conveniently located at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, confirmed it on June 18.

    Complicating matters is the great degree of variation in color for Euphoria fulgida, sometimes called the Emerald Euphoria. Many specimens from the eastern U.S. are indeed metallic green, with some reddish color around the edges. Margarethe Brummermann and I found specimens in the mountains of southeast Arizona that are metallic blue-black (Note: these are now recognized as a separate species, E. monticola).

    An Arizona specimen, now known as E. monticola

    The ones here in Colorado mostly have a bright metallic blue-green pronotum (top of thorax), and mostly burgundy elytra with white speckling.

    Euphoria fulgida is a fair-sized scarab, adults measuring 13.4-19.8 millimeters. This is a widespread species found from Ontario and Quebec to Florida, west to Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico. Look for the beetles flying during the day, usually close to the ground. They enjoy feeding on sap exuding from wounds on trees, especially oak. Occasionally they visit the flowers of dogwood, sumac, thistle, and other plants for nectar and pollen. The adults are most common in May and June, but can persist well into July.

    The life cycle of this flower chafer takes about a year. Larvae reared under laboratory conditions and fed on manure and ungerminated wheat seeds took an average of 122 days to mature. The larvae enter a quiescent pre-pupal stage in September or October, and pass the winter this way. Pupation takes place in the spring, often under logs in moist habitats, with the adult beetles emerging mostly in late spring and early summer.

    Fast forward to this week. Monday, June 2, Heidi and I went hiking in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, just south of Colorado Springs. Above the floor of the plains, the habitat changes to mixed evergreen forests with an understory of Gambel’s Oak and other shrubs. By late morning and early afternoon we were encountering a fair number of Euphoria fulgida weaving their way through the understory shrubs. We were also lucky enough to notice a trio eating sap from an oak twig. Altogether we saw probably close to a dozen specimens. Nowhere does this species appear to be abundant, but where you see one there are usually others in close proximity.

    This is one of my favorite beetles, I must admit. I first encountered them on Marathon Key in Florida in June, 1978, and at first thought they were bees. (Note: Those Florida specimens are now recognized as a separate species, E. limbalis, per a revision of the genus by Jesus Orozco in 2012). I hope you have the pleasure of finding them in your own explorations.

    Sources: Evans, Arthur V. 2014. Beetles of Eastern North America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 560 pp.
    Krell, Frank-Thorsten. 2010. Catalogue of Colorado Scarab and Stag Beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeoidea), Based on Literature Records. Denver: Denver Museum of Nature and Science technical report 2010-4. 86 pp.
    Ratcliffe, Brett C. 1991. “The Scarab Beetles of Nebraska,” Bulletin of the University of Nebraska State Museum vol. 12: 1-333.
    Ritcher, Paul O. 1966. “White Grubs and Their Allies,” Studies in Entomology. vol. 4. Oregon State University Press. 219 pp.
    Special thanks to Margarethe Brummermann and Eddie Eichinger for the clarification of the new species recently split from E. fulgida.

    Monday, June 2, 2014

    Coming Soon

    Apologies for the brief hiatus, but this kind of thing happens between May and….about October or so, when I am spending more time in the field than behind my keyboard. Last week I was also briefly ill (much better now, thank you).

    You can look forward to some pretty diverse topics in the coming weeks and months: Early summer buprestids, termite swarms, eyed click beetles, delusory parasitosis, a review of Art Evans’ new book on beetles of the eastern United States, mating season, stink bugs, spring field crickets, etc. There might even be more videos.

    Thank you for your patience and continued interest and support. I assure you I enjoy delivering quality content, with no plans to stop anytime soon.