Sunday, August 9, 2009

The night 20 Strepsipterans hit my sheet...

So what do the following have in common?

Miss. Entomological Museum
Smithsonian Institution
UC, Berkeley
Florida State Unive
Midwestern State University

Texas A&M University
University of Texas, Austin

Folks (in high and low places) in all of those institutions commented on a short note I posted to both a Texas-centric and an international entomological email list about having collected 20 (!!!) male
Strepsipterans July 31, 2009 in Austin, Texas.

As can be seen from the photo,
Strepsiptera are truly bizarre insects. The females are wingless and never leave the host they parasitize. The adult males live but a few hours and must find and mate with a female in that short time period.

Of those replying to my email post, some said they had collected single digit numbers of this rare insect order, but most (from the Smithsonian to Monsanto to UC, Berkeley) said they'd never collected a single one. Twenty in one night may well be a record (no one's yet disputed it).

The Strepsipterans didn't all come in at once. Some time after 11 p.m., I went out to check my backyard mercury vapor set up that backs up to a Juniper/Oak dominated park surrounded by suburbia.

Shortly, I noticed a Strepsiptera on the sheet. I freaked out, having only collected one previously. I grabbed my aspirator/pooter and snagged the fragile insect. I quickly noticed two more perched on the sheet at odd angles, perhaps near dead. Before long, more males came in and I quickly had seven.

Only after collecting the first half dozen did I dare to take a photograph before reaching for the alcohol vial to preserve the catch. Each time I squeezed off a frame, I briefly lost track of the critter. But through the night, none got away.

At this point it's getting late and I'm starting to think about when to quit collecting for the night. Then another burst came in and I had 12, a dozen, then 13, a baker's dozen. Both figures seemed like decent stopping places, but I was still pumped up so I waited a bit more and then I was up to 17.

As I was close to 20, there was no way I could call it a night, yet I was exhausted, and so I laid down to rest briefly. When I rose, one more was on the sheet. The final two finally
came in and I turned off the light and hit the sack with Strepsiptera dancing in my head!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Giant Cicada Comes A Calling...

The raucous Giant Cicada (Quesada gigas) was featured on the front page of the San Antonio Express-News this week. I had pitched the story idea to Anton Caputo the prior week. The Exp-News first featured the bug in 2007 when it made quite a splash so Anton didn't need a lot of convincing to go at it again.

This year's version created a bit of a letters-to-the-editor buzz. There were a number of insightful comments (as well as frequent references to my website). One writer, identified as "Charlie," reminisced about (non-giant) cicadas of his childhood:

"When I was young I'd lie in bed for hours after lights out, not going to sleep but listening to the sound of the cicada through the open window. ... The raucous cicada sound soon became a soothing rhythm that entwined me and served as background music as my thoughts transported me into other worlds. Eventually the sound of the cicada and the light wafting of night air would combine to overpower me with sleep."

David G. Huffman, Prof. of Biology, Texas State University-San Marcos was prominently featured in both Exp-News cicada articles (as well as articles on the topic from other outlets). He recently posted the following note to the Cicadas of Texas Google groups list:

"I have described many species of worms, and a genus and 15 species have been named after me, but nobody knew who I was till you posted that silly laptop recording of a bug I couldn't find. What a treat!"

Obviously, cicadas touch people deeply, even resonating with some people's souls...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday visit to Brack Track

Visited the insect collection at UT-Austin's Brackenridge Field Lab (BFL) on Monday.

There I found a half unit tray (box about 3 in. sq) full the strange species at left. (Click on image for larger view.) The specimens weren't determined but they resembled really weird scarabs. Turns out they belong to a somewhat obscure family known as Enigmatic Scarab Beetles, a small family of only 15 species n. of Mexico. Referring to the TX Scarab Checklist, I think they are Glaresis medialis (based on that species being recorded from the county
adjacent to where the BFL specimens were collected).

Anyway, what's neat about the bugs are the "hairs" that cover their body. These hairs must facilitate the critter's movement though loose sands which is the family's normal habitat.