As spring begins to give way to summer, we’re starting to enter the peak months for insects. The hot, dry weather is their kind of climate, and numbers boom. Every plant has one or two or three on it, it seems. Your back starts to get sore from stooping to look at them all. But what diversity! Nearly 90,000 species of insect occur in North America north of Mexico, and of those some 24,000 are beetles. That means that 4 out of every 15 insects (one in every 3.75, but I assume that, like me, you look at your bugs in wholes) you stoop to check out is going to be a beetle.
Well, probably the proportions don’t work out quite so neatly as that as some species are much more abundant than others, but you get the idea. There are a lot of beetles. There is a well-known quote attributed to JBS Haldane (though its authenticity is sometimes disputed) wherein he reflects that his studies of nature’s diversity have shown him that God “has an inordinate fondness for beetles”; it is, of course, from this quote that this blog carnival appropriately takes its name. God, or natural selection, may have given us the diversity present today, but we are the ones who get to enjoy it. AIF #5 shares with us ten different species of eight different families, and all different shapes and colours.
Margarethe of Arizona Beetles, Bugs, Birds and More starts us off with a small but lovely weevil, Coniatus splendidulus. The beetles were recently observed by a coworker in stands of tamarisk, an invasive plant that is slowly spreading through parts of the US including Arizona. While C. splendidulus, which feeds exclusively on tamarisk, had been considered for biological control measures, none to date have been officially released. The weevils observed by Margarethe’s coworker seem to have made it there under their own steam.
Arati of Trees, Plants and More shares another world-traveler, the lady beetle Coccinella transversalis, the Transverse Lady Beetle. Arati blogs from India, but the beetle is actually native to Australia. She observes that her lady beetle has markings that differ from the usual stereotype of black spots on red. However, only a small number of lady beetle species actually sport such markings; most either have more black like this one, black in different patterns than spots, or are different colours entirely.
Hugh of Rock Paper Lizard searches for a typical lady beetle, a favourite of the kids’, among yellow Santolina blooms. What we think of as the typical ladybug is a non-native species here in North America, too. The Asian Multicolored Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis, was introduced to North America on multiple occasions by the US Department of Agriculture as a biological control for aphids in orchards. The first release was in 1916, and the last in 1982, but it was an accidental introduction in 1988 to which we can attribute most of the lady beetles we encounter today.
Dave at Things Biological brings us Oedemera nobilis, a flower beetle of western Europe. He photographed this one in Provence, France, where it is native. It actually belongs to the family Oedemeridae, which are given the common name false blister beetles. In North America, the Kaufman Insect Guide suggests the group is most common along shorelines, though I don’t know if that’s true for this species in Europe; Dave seems to have found this species to be abundant on Spanish Broom (an evergreen shrub) throughout France, in any case. The KIG warns that members of the group will release strong skin irritants when crushed, not unlike actual blister beetles, so probably best just to look, don’t touch.
John of A DC Birding Blog spent some time watching several individuals of Strangalia luteicornis as they clambered about the flowers of a winterberry bush. These guys are in the subfamily Lepturinae and are properly called flower longhorns, according to the Kaufman Insect Guide (my “bible” for all things six-legged, if you haven’t already guessed). The larvae are borers of trees; this species focuses on hardwoods. The adults, unsurprisingly, feed on pollen from flowers in deciduous woodlands.
Rob Mitchell, blogging at Alex Wild’s Myrmecos, brings us another longhorned beetle. This one is Neoclytus tenuiscriptus, native to southwestern North America. The KIG indicates there are 26 species in this genus, and suggests that they are wasp mimics. Rob’s interpretation is that they do a better job imitating grasshoppers, with their short antennae and long hind legs. Other, related species are found across the continent. All are wood borers, and some species can sometimes be found emerging from firewood.
Over at Willow House Chronicles, Barefootheart recently discovered a population of Rose Chafers, Macrodactylus subspinosus, which were released from the soil as she was taking up sod to expand her garden. Most likely they were just about to emerge as adults from the soil, where they spent their larval stage, when she helped make it a little easier for them. Despite their common name, the beetles aren’t just interested in roses but will feed on the leaves and flowers of many different species of plants. In very large numbers they can become a pest, severely defoliating plants and potentially even killing them as a result, but fortunately numbers rarely get so high.
Cindy at Dipper Ranch reflects on some beetles that emerge in late spring with the first rainfalls of the season. Appropriately, they are called rain beetles, and are members of the family Pleocomidae; others in the group come out in late fall or winter, but rainfall or snowmelt is always the trigger. They are all contained within one genus, Pleocoma, of which there are about 30 species in North America. The group is restricted to the west coast of the US. Amazingly, the larvae of this group may take as long as 8-13 years, feeding on roots in the soil, before they reach adulthood. When they finally become adults, the beetles have vestigal mouthparts and cannot feed; they die shortly after mating and laying the eggs for the new generation.
Not nearly so interesting in habit, but certainly eye-catching in colour, yesterday I posted about some Milkweed Leaf Beetles, Labidomera clivicollis that I encountered a couple of weeks ago. These guys are variable in colour and pattern through their range east of the Rockies. As their name suggests, both the larvae and the adults feed on the leaves of milkweed plants; predominantly Swamp Milkweed, but also Common.
So now, if all that diversity has gotten you enthused and you want to go out to look for some beetles yourself, swing over to Beetles in the Bush where An Inordinate Fondness founder Ted will teach you everything you need to know about dressing for success in beetle-collecting. He outlines everything you should take with you into the field, from what to hold in your hands, to what to wear on your head, and how to carry all your bits and bobs, in order to produce the best results. And if you read Ted’s blog, you’ll see that the results speak for themselves. (The obvious key is item #5. Make sure you get one, too.)