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beetles

Back at the end April I had a chance to escape from classes and get out into the field for a weekend of collecting and photography. The day was slightly cooler than anticipated but still productive; throughout the day I saw numerous Calosoma wilcoxi scuttling about. While smaller than its larger cousin C. scrutator, this species is still quite vividly colored – a striking combination of green, blue and some red edging.

The sheer number of beetle present was possibly the most surprising; I saw beetles running on the trunks of tress, on the road, and even, in copious amounts, in the leavings from a small mammal. This did make for many great, though at times frustrating, photographic opportunities.

Further information on Calosoma wilcoxi, C. scrutator, or on all of the species from Virginia.

For me there was no rest after final exams were over; it was right off to southern Utah to begin work on a summer research project on the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle, Cicindela albissima.

I’ll write more on the research itself over on my cicindela blog, but for now a bit on photographing the beetles.  This was my third trip out to the dunes and as ever I could not wait to get some shots of the beetles, now with an improved set of equipment, including a shiny new Canon 7D. It was not until the end of the first week of my stay that I found time to take a morning off to focus on photography.

As with most tiger beetles the adults are quite flighty and the best time to get close enough to this species for a good photo is mid morning when they are just emerging for the burrows which they spent the night in.  My first tries were less the successful; there was the usual slow chase as I followed the uncooperative beetle about and then at last take a few shots.  Unfortunately I had set the flash, a Canon 580 Ex speedlite with a Micro Apollo softbox, too far away from the subject and as a result the lighting was just a little too harsh.

Annoyed by this rather poor first attempt I switched focus to capturing some video of these intriguing beetles. This was done taken with my new Canon 7D SLR which is capable of  recoding  HD video, a feature which I was interested to explore. The video set up was bare bones with only the harsh sunlight for illumination, a tripod, and a borrowed Canon 180mm macro. This solid lens allowed me to get fairly close-up shots while remaining a fair distance away, ideal for minimally obtrusive video work. I hope to soon edit together a short video from the footage I shot and will have that up in the coming weeks but here is a neat clip.

My second attempt at getting a photo of the adults was similarly lackluster. I had set up an old Nikon Ais 55mm 1:2 macro lens with an adapter on an extension tube and the flash was now moved closer to the subjects. With this setup the distance between the camera and subject was quite short requiring a good deal more care in getting near the subject. It was during mid evening and the adults were still very active when I found a mating pair and got right up to them. As best I could I focused while the manual aperture was set at f/11, darkening the viewfinder. When I thought the focus was about right I snapped a few shots and, not surprisingly, spooked off the beetles.  Unfortunately the focus was a several millimeters off and only the tarsi of one beetle was actually in focus. The solution to this problem was very simple – something modern cameras do automatically – open up the lens and let as much light as possible in, then stop down the lens to the desired f-stop (it does take a bit of guessing/counting the clicks of the aperture ring to get it right).

My third try went far better; it was after the day after the first rain in over a month and with the temperature lower than usual the adults were slightly sluggish, by far easier to approach. I used the Nikon 55mm macro,  extension tube, and 580 Ex with diffuser as before; this time my first attempt was successful.

In this shot the spectacular colors of the beetle can be fully seen and there is no harsh/obtrusive shadow present. Any comments on the lighting or questions on the setup? I will have more details on photographing these beetles – particularly close-up shots – and some notes on photographing the larvae in later posts so stay tuned!

From a month-long stay at Coral Pink Sand Dunes state park where I was doing research on Cicindela albissima, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle.

Will have more posts soon and hopefully some videos about equipment and the like – stay tuned!

After a very long wait, the Eastern Hercules Beetles (Dynastes tityus) that I’ve been rearing since August of 2006 have finally emerged. There are six adults, two females and four males – here’s one of the males…

This species is a member of the family Erotylidae, also known as the Pleasing Fungus Beetles. It spends most of the daylight hours in a sheltered spot on or near its food source, fungi, and at night ventures out to feed. This individual was collected under the bark of a rotting log.

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For more information, see the BugGuide page, this guide, and this side by side comparison of the two Nearctic species

This little, though long deceased beauty is Elaphrus ruscarius, a member of the family Carabidae. Species in this genus resemble cicindelids, though smaller in size and with ornate “pits” on the elytra rather than maculations.

elaphrus

Photo created with a Canon EOS 30D camera, MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro lens, and MR-14EX macro ring flash with a homemade diffuser. A series of images was captured and merged in CombineZM and adjusted in Photoshop.

To anyone actually reading this blog (what?!), sorry for the delay between posts lately

Another species commonly found while peeling bark is the brightly colored Cucujus clavipes. Its flattened body is adapted for life in the tight space under loose bark. They are thought to feed on mites and small insects but relatively little is known about their biology otherwise. 

Cucujus clavipes

The larvae of C. clavipes are similarly flattened, though not as vividly colored, are instead a light shade of orange. 

Cucujus clavipes larva

Any collector of insects or similar fauna is familiar with the thrill of coming across a new or rare find – even old familiar species on occasion. Few beetles which reside under bark rarely provoke such a visceral reaction, but something about the loud color and unusual shape of C. clavipes always elicits that sudden jolt of excitement, particularly in the often bleak winter months.

For more information, check out the BugGuide page, American Beetles description of the family, the Cedar Creek NHA website, and this page on the family.

Additionally, here is an interesting article on the freezing tolerance of Cucujus clavipes

Not to add to the massive avalanche of stories on Charles Darwin, but today is the 200th anniversary of his birth – and Abraham Lincoln as well.

The most intriguing aspect of Darwin, at least to me, was his interest in beetles. Art Evans has a good post covering Darwin’s beetle adventures – take a look for a more in depth treatment of the topic; however, I will let Charles speak for himself…

From the small size of insects, we are apt to undervalue their appearance. If we could imagine a male Chalcosoma, with its polished bronzed coat of mail, and its vast complex horns, magnified to the size of a horse, or even of a dog, it would be one of the most imposing animals in the world. (The Descent of Man)

But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them, and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one. (Autobiography)

I was introduced to entomology by my second cousin W. Darwin Fox, a clever and most pleasant man, who was then at Christ’s College, and with whom I became extremely intimate. Afterwards I became well acquainted, and went out collecting, with Albert Way of Trinity, who in after years became a well-known archaeologist; also with H. Thompson of the same College, afterwards a leading agriculturist, chairman of a great railway, and Member of Parliament. It seems therefore that a taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life! (Autobiography)

I feel like an old war-horse at the sound of the trumpet, when I read about the capturing of rare beetles— is not this a magnanimous simile for a decayed entomologist. It really almost makes me long to begin collecting again. (Private Letter)

Anyone who has peeled bark in the search of many-legged quarry will probably be familiar with the diminutive (only 2-3 mm long) yet distinctive Mioptachys flavicauda. With elytra tipped with striking golden-yellow, antennae and legs a similar translucent golden hue, and head and thorax a deep glossy brown/black, resembles a bit of detritus, easily overlooked except when it is moving. Fortunately, M. flavicauda is seldom still, almost perpetually on the move when not safely under bark.

Mioptachys flavicauda

Photographing M. flavicauda is quite challenging – the best chance is when the beetle is on a light background with plenty of space to move and few crevices to escape into. This shot was taken a couple of days ago when the weather was near 50°F so I had a slight advantage due to the temperature.

More Information, Image, Bugguide page, Ground Beetles of Maine

described as “the ultimate in recycling” by Thomas Eisner, fecal shields are probably the most unique method of insect self defense – used by beetles family Chrysomelidae, commonly known as leaf beetles.

I found this larva with a particularly ornate example feeding on some type of morning glory back in August 

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For more information and examples see here, and here

I found this very tiny beetle (the scale is .5mm) while I was trying to get a shot of some springtails on a piece of fungus.

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small beetle

It was not too had to get a shot even though I was shooting at 5x, mainly because the beetle was  not perturbed by my camera and went on about its business.

This sucker is the larva of Dynastes tityus – the Eastern Hercules Beetle 

 

I’ve been rearing these (7 or so)  larva since August of 2006. As of the 19th all but one have finally sequestered themselves in pupal chambers. Almost there!

I found a lot of these little beetles on a piece of fungus – getting a decent shot is like trying to shoot a gnat with an elephant rile. These beetles are about a millimeter long (the  scale in the image is .5mm).

Using Canon’s MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens I was a few centimeters away from the beetles (if that) – at 5x it was a challenge to try and find a beetle through the viewfinder. Fortunately, there were plenty of them, so no worries about losing my subject.

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