Thursday, November 19, 2015

Epicauta polingi (Coleoptera: Meloidae) eats Mountain Laurel and Guajillo

Epicauta polingi (Coleoptera: Meloidae) Feeding on Mountain Laurel (Sophora
secundiflora) and Guajillo (Acacia berlandieri) in West Texas

My third research paper (using the word "paper" lightly here), and the first one where I fooled with beetles.  This was one of my favorite projects of all time.  Why?  Well it definitely wasn't the paradigm shifting new knowledge unveiled. It also wasn't the part where BioOne added a random accent mark to the second O in Coleoptera making us look silly.
I mean check this thing out, its really only two paragraphs long:

Huston, D.C., D. Araujo, J.R. Gibson, and J.T. Hutchinson. 2014. Epicauta polingi (Coleoptera: Meloidae) feeding on mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) and guajillo (Acacia berlandieri) in West Texas. Southwestern Entomologist, 39: 887-890. PDF

If you read the paper you will know that what we reported were two new host plants for a species of blister beetle called Epicauta polingi.

Two Epicauta polingi beetles (Coleoptera: Meloidae)

While that's not earth shattering to most, I am a firm believer in the value of scientific notes.  I think its incredibly important for us to record anything and everything we can about the natural world, no matter how small, as the natural history of most animals is completely unknown.  For most invertebrates, the only thing we know about them is their name and the morphology described by the scientist who named them.  While I beam with pride at the notion that now we know E. polingi eats two additional plants than previously known, thanks to the efforts of myself and my team of adventurers, the true fun in this project was the work that went into figuring out what species of beetle I had in the first place!

Epicauta polingi adult feeding on a Sophora secundiflora leaf.


Taxonomic work often ends up in obscure journals, or as large hard copy volumes of which there were only so many copies.  The vast majority of taxonomic work has not yet been digitized.  In this case I needed a volume called "The Taxonomy of North American Epicauta (Coleoptera: Moloidae), With a Revision of the Nominate Subgenus and Survey of Courtship Behavior" by the eminent Dr. John D. Pinto.  I reckoned this book had the taxonomic keys I needed in order to properly key my beetles to species.  Unfortunately, this book is out of print, fortunately I was currently both a student at Texas State University and an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so I had great inter-library loan options.  In the end, I got a hard copy mailed to me and was able to use the keys.  If you enjoy things like examining little spines on beetle legs and/or measuring and calculating antennae length ratios, then beetle taxonomy is for you!



Measuring antennal segments in order to help determine what species of Epicauta I had.

Well to prevent general boredom, I'll cut this short and say that it took a combined effort of the team (and in the end the help of Dr. John Pinto himself) to get this guy identified properly.

While I'll maintain that I think the natural history information we reported in this manuscript is important, the aspects of this project I enjoyed most were getting the battered old copy of Pinto (1991) in the mail, spending some evenings in the lab examining legs and antennae, speaking with experts, and collaborating with my friends, colleagues and co-authors.

REFERENCES

Pinto, John D. The taxonomy of North American Epicauta (Coleoptera: Meloidae), with a revision of the nominate subgenus and a survey of courtship behavior. University of California Press, 1991.

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