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!


  1. Very cool bug, and awesome experience to see so many at once.
    regards--ted (ex. Monsanto)

  2. It's great to hear the story behind the catches.

  3. Nice story. There must have been a very sexy female nearby (cherchez la femme). Did you ever found it?