Category Archives: Adventure

Dung beetle battle royale

Lately I have been locked away in our secret laboratory, identifying our dung beetles from a couple projects in the Missouri Bootheel. The specimens are moved from the boxes the have resided in the past couple of years, sorted into groups that roughly look alike, and then run

A group of dung beetles ready for keying under the microscope.

A group of dung beetles ready for keying under the microscope.

through a dichotomous key to confirm they are alike or separated. When most people think of dung beetles, they think of scarabs. If you pay attention to the dung you will find that many of the beetles you find will not be scarabs, but will be adapted for a dung lifestyle.

In a previous blog post I talked about the need for the correct key, and because many of the non-scarab dung beetles look like scarabs you will be tempted to run them through scarab keys. A close look at the antennae should keep you safe from falling into a morass of KEY FAILURE, where nothing works. Among the non-scarab dung beetles are Hydrophilids, or water scavenger beetles. These ‘dung beetles’ have a major distinction that makes them different from the scarab dung beetles – they are predatory as larvae (but this feature never shows up in any key – thank goodness). I know you have always thought of a piece of poo as tranquil, nice place to raise up a brood of kids, and I hate to ruin this idyllic notion, but predators run rampant in this environment. The hydrophilids in poo are beneficial because they help control fly populations, which came be a problem in livestock production.

Cercyon quisquilius, a tiny, but voracious, predator in the poo

Cercyon quisquilius, a tiny, but voracious, predator in the poo

A favorite poo hydrophilid is Cercyon quisquilius. Carl Linnaeus, a botanist, (and the first modern taxonomist) initially named this species Scarabeus quisquilius putting it firmly in the family Scarabaeidae, because the family Hydrophilidae didn’t yet exist. As our understanding of these beetles grew, so did our taxonomy. As I work with these beetles, my understanding of their roles, my appreciation of their innate grooviness, and realization that a poo is not a nice place to live increases.

Nope, that’s just poop!

Today i had the opportunity to explore a ditch bank while Kelly was working. A ditch may not sound exciting, but it can provide hours of entertainment for the entomologically impaired. I photographed some ladybugs for the Lost Ladybug Project, shot some dragonfly photos (no county records for Odanata Central), shot Ponometia erastrioides (an Obion County record for BAMONA), collected a Lixus – like weevil that I hadn’t seen before, and then I came upon the truly fascinating: A WARTY LEAF BEETLE! Well, I watched it a while on the Sambucus leaf it was occupying, but it wasn’t moving because I spooked it. I then picked it up and held it to see if it would walk away – but at this point I had really traumatized it, so I decided to collect it. When I dropped it into my collecting vial it made a satisfying ‘clink’ – poop does not have an exoskeleton to make that sound! (I am such a smartypants I thought). When I got home, I did all the stuff I had to do thinking about how exciting this chrysomelid would be under the microscope when I had the time to view it! I have enjoyed these beetles before and they are so cool!

Nope, that is just poop! 23 June 2013 Obion County, TN

Nope, that is just poop!
23 June 2013 Obion County, TN

Well, under the microscope it was just a hard 2.5mm piece of caterpillar frass.

Sorry to have missed you

Today, I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I would visit my good friend Cylindera

The neighborhood for Cylindera cursitans.

The neighborhood for Cylindera cursitans.

cursitans. 2006 through 2011, Ted MacRae, Chris Brown, and I learned some really cool things about this beetle in Missouri (MacRae et al. 2011)! The coolest thing was we found this beetle to be using habitats that were outside of habitats previously described in the literature. Bottomland forests are a difficult habitat to census because not only is the habitat structurally complex, but there are also Diptera in the bottomland forests who will command your attention as they try to take blood meals from you.

The Mississippi River has been high, we have had a cold and wet spring, and the bottomland forest (likely due to the lack of beach because of high water) was full of of the larger, and probably dangerous to C. cursitans, Cicindela repanda. Perhaps C. cursitans was not out yet, perhaps C. cursitans was hiding from Cicindela repanda, or perhaps they were in plan sight and I couldn’t find them – part of the fun of looking for insects is you never know what you might find. Even though I did not find what I wanted, I did get to spend a few moments in the company of mature trees next to the awesome Mississippi River and soak up the peace and tranquility.

I am sorry to have missed you Cylindera cursitans, but I will be in the neighborhood again soon – maybe we can visit then!

Reference: MacRae, T. C., C. R. Brown and K. Fothergill. 2011. Distribution, seasonal occurrence and conservation status of Cylindera (s. str.) cursitans (LeConte) (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) in Missouri.  Cicindela 43.3:59–74.

Restoration Park

Yesterday, I had the privilege of going for a run  at Restoration

map of the park - sorry about the vandalism, it isn't a perfect world... even in West Monroe, LA.

map of the park – sorry about the vandalism, it isn’t a perfect world… even in West Monroe, LA.

Park in West Monroe, Louisiana. Restoration Park is a perfect example of many restoration paradigms. It reflects that restoration and conservation are human (not natural) processes and as such must reflect human values. The park also demonstrates that a win-win-win is better than a win-win situation.

The park is located at the site of an old mining operation. Mined out, the area became a defacto dump where all sorts of illegal dumping took place. In 1989, the city of West Monroe bought the property with plans of developing a storm water detention basin. Well they ended up building a storm water detention basin, that also provides a green space, that also provides an awesome running trail, that also provides a bit of green beauty in a commercial district.

The running trail is a roughly 1 mile loop that allows a detour across the detention basin on a wooden board walk. Yesterday the water lilies and Tradscantia were in bloom and the wood ducks were whistling as I ran past. I got a good work out and got a good nature fix – while the storm waters from the rains the day before were being processed by ol’ Mom Nature. WIN – WIN – WIN! Hooray for West Monroe!