Welcome to the inaugural issue of An Inordinate Fondness, the monthly blog carnival devoted to beetles. AIF is a celebration of the indescribable beauty, amazing forms, and astonishing diversity of this fascinating group of animals. For this inaugural issue, we feature 18 submissions from 17 contributors who have written about beetles from a diversity of perspectives ranging from ecology to photography to objects of art. Despite these different perspectives, all display an element of passion — a common feature among those who study beetles. Nobody displays this passion better than the late Frank T. Hovore, a widely known and respected student of longhorned beetles, who can be seen in this YouTube video collecting Titanus giganteus, one of the worlds largest beetles, in the Amazon forests of Ecuador. I hope you’ll savor the passion that Frank exudes and then visit the sites of our contributors to enjoy the passion that they’ve shared in their individual posts.
Beetles Around Us
Ladybugs are good – everyone knows that. They feed on aphids and other plant pests, and they’re… well… just cute. However, as Shelly Cox at MObugs shows in her post Squash Lady Beetle, not all ladybugs have adopted such a beneficial lifestyle. Instead of feeding on aphids, the Squash Lady Beetle (Epilachna borealis) has taken a liking to cucurbit crops, such as squash, melons, and cucumbers. Shelly nicely summarizes the life history of these beetles, from egg to alien-looking larva to pretty-as-a-ladybug adult.
Susannah at Wanderin’ Weeta submitted a two-part series on a beetle that she found in a jar of chile pasilla. Part one, Mexican Pharaoh?, introduces the Drugstore beetle (Stegobium paniceum), with its “Egyptian Pharaoh headdress” and patch of tangled golden hairs on the forehead, while part two gives Bits and Pieces of its life cycle (including a very nice closeup photograph of the beautifully creepy C-shaped larva). You may want to check your flour, bread, and cookies more carefully before eating them after reading these two posts!
One of North America’s largest beetles is featured in The Ponderous Borer (Ergates spiculatus) by John at Kind of Curious. While it may seem that this beetle was given its name because of its “ponderous” size, in actuality it is named for Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), its preferred larval host plant. Marvel at the size of this beast, then follow his link to a photo of the impressive 3-inch long, thick-as-your-finger grub being held in a man’s hand.
Marvin Smith has been blogging about Nature in the Ozarks for as long as I can remember and then some. He has a knack for finding the most beautiful elements of the Ozark fauna and flora, taking gorgeous photographs of them, and presenting them with fascinating details about their natural history. In his post, Eyed Click Beetle (Alaus oculatus), Marvin shows not only the adult with its impressive eye spots (thought to function in distracting potential predators), but the otherwordly-looking larva with its spiny butt. If you’ve ever wondered how click beetles “click”, this is the post for you.
Beetles are often a study in irony. In American Carrion Beetle, Moe at Iowa Voice presents photographs of the extraordinary beautiful adult of Necrophila americana — in delicious contrast to their… shall we say… disgusting habits. As the genus name suggests (don’t you just love it?), both adults and larvae frequent carrion, but they’re not just there to consume dead flesh. No, they also behave as predators of the maggots (larvae of flies) that breed in carrion as well — I don’t know which is more repulsive!
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is an attractive host plant for many insects, nearly all of which sequester the cardiac glycoside toxins present in its sap within their hemolymph (insect blood) to make them distasteful to potential predators. At A DC Birding Blog, John presents Milkweed Critters, a photographic montage of the insects he found on common milkweed plants during the past summer. Lovers of beetles should skim through the milkweed bugs and aphids and go directly to the milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus). There are 13 species of Tetraopes in North America, each associated with different species of milkweed, and all displaying the red/black color theme that is so common to insects that utilize these plants.
Even consumate birders can’t help but notice beetles during their summer outings, and Amber Coakley at Birder’s Lounge presents a photographic beetle collection in Beetle Collection for Inaugural Edition of “An Inordinate Fondness”. Amber’s method of observing and contemplating beetles (actually, every wild thing) is to walk around and see what she sees, and scarab beetles, with their glittering, iridescent colors dominate the collection. However, you must see the video she posted of a wood boring beetle larva ejecting frass (er… bug poop) from its gallery within a dead branch. Fascinating!
Beetles are not only subjects of scientific inquiry, but also objects of art. Valerie Littlewood at pencil and leaf presents a sketch essay on a Nepalese leaf beetle (Lilioceris sp. nr. impressa) in Meet Nepalese Beauty, Little “Lili”, lover of the Air Potato. Introduced in an effort to combat the strangling spread of the exotic air potato in Florida, you are certain to enjoy her exquisite watercolor on pencil sketches that seemingly bring this gorgeous beetle to life.
Beetles can be makers as well as objects of art, and this month we had two submissions from two bloggers showcasing the handiwork of woodboring beetles in the Canadian woods. Seabrooke Leckie at the Marvelous in nature needs no introduction among nature bloggers and submitted Coleopteran art work; while relative newcomer “The Geek in Question” at Fall to Climb submitted Winter Treasure Hunt, Part 4: Beetles????. These two posts prove that even though beetles are not active this time of year, evidence of their presence can still be found in the cold, Canadian forests. In the case of Scolytidae (bark beetles), adults and larvae actually work together to create some of the most intricate woodboring beetle art imaginable.
When it comes to beetle photography, you’ll find nobody better at it than myrmecologist?! Alex Wild at Myrmecos Blog. Alex has a regular feature called “Friday Beetle Blogging”, and his latest entry, Friday Beetle Blogging: Dynastes granti, the Western Hercules Beetle features stunning photographs of North America’s heftiest of beetles. Drool over the photos, note the metadata, and see if you can reproduce them in all their stunning glory – it can’t be done!
Renaissance Man Adrian Thysse excels at photography, entomology, and evolutionary thought. He has several blogs, but it is at The Bug Whisperer where his photographic skills and entomological interests intersect. In his post The Scarlet Malachite Beetle, gorgeous photos of Malachius aeneus prompt a fascinating discussion on ‘native’ versus ‘alien’. A common and seemingly inoffensive addition to the North American fauna, it is declining in its native Europe. Should this species be vilified for its recent appearance here, or does North America offer a new lease on life for this pretty little insect?
Despite Haldane’s proclamation, beetles comprise less than 10% of the 339 animal species recorded by Dave at The Home Bug Garden in Edmonton, Alberta. Still that doesn’t prevent Dave from showcasing those that can be found in the far northlands in his post When Alien meets Alien: De gustibus…. In it, Dave ruminates about how introduced species fit in with home bug gardening by contrasting two aliens: a well-studied, if dowdy, predatory carabid beetle (Carabus nemoralis) and the little-studied yet brilliantly coloured Scarlet Malachite Beetle(Malachius aeneus). Although sometimes maligned, Dave convincingly argues that the presence of this beetle in Alberta might be a good thing – too bad they don’t eat slugs!
Not all “aliens” are introduced species — sometimes they are strange-looking things that just cannot be identified. They remain unknown, aliens to us. Such is the case with this beetle larva photographed by Jason Hogle at xenogre in his post What’s your name? Perhaps a rove beetle (Staphylinidae) larva, perhaps a ground beetle (Carabidae) larva — we’ll never know. Do we really need to know the name of something, however, to enjoy its tentative steps into the ephemeral warmth of a fleeting winter sun?
Macromite submitted this post on beetles and beetle-loving mites called Mite Farm or Some animals are more equal than others, featuring beetles in diverse families such as Carabidae, Passalidae, Scydmaenidae, and Silphidae and the mites that like to hang out on them. Macromite notes that not only do these mites seem to have “an inordinate fondness” for beetles, many of these mite-beetle relationships, in fact, seem to be mutually beneficial. Does this mean that beetles have an inordinate fondness for mites? And if you think mites are creepy, crawly, itchy little things, just wait till you see his digital scanning electron micrographs? Absolutely stunning!
Mike Bergin at 10000 Birds is the consumate birder, and with three million page views it seems he has quite a following! So imagine my delight when Mike lowered his eyes from the bird-rich woodland canopy in the Lower Rio Grande Valley to take note of the region’s unique invertebrate fauna. In his post Dung Beetles of the Rio Grande Valley, Mike features two dung beetles [Editor’s Note: I love dung beetles — except for their silly little shit-eating grins!], one tentatively identified as Canthon lecontei (a south Texas speciality — that’s right, birds are not the only south Texas specialties), the other certainly representing the much more widespread rainbow scarab (Phanaeus vindex). Pretty beetles in a comical sort of way, most folks are less enamored with their habit of rolling dung into little balls which they feed to their young. Just imagine, however, if there were no dung beetles to perform such cleanuip duties?
I can’t let the inaugural issue of AIF come and go without mention of tiger beetles, so I include from my own blog, Beetles in the Bush, this post from the past month, Habitat Partitionining in Tiger Beetles. In reviewing a paper that appeared in the tiger beetle journal CICINDELA, I add some additional thoughts on the seeming contradiction of multiple species sharing the same habitat. A bonus feature is the spectacular photographs of Williston’s Tiger Beetle (Cicindela willistoni estancia) taken by the article’s author, David A. Melius.
I hope you have enjoyed this inaugural issue of An Inordinate Fondness, and my sincere thanks go out to all of those who contributed! AIF #2 will be hosted by Amber Coakley at Birder’s Lounge. Send your submissions using this handy submission form, or you may contact Amber directly as well. Submission deadline for AIF #2 is March 15. Also, we are looking for hosts for future editions of AIF – if you are interested please send me an email indicating the month of your choice.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010