Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Borer Expedition II

The Great Borer Expedition II
A journey into the untamed brush of southern Ohio in pursuit of the Amorpha Borer,
a seldom seen longhorned beetle, described by the few who have found it as
‘the most beautiful insect in the world.’

The Team
(in alphabetical order)

Even when she’s without her favorite hat, Heather Aubke wears her reputation well. She's the Indiana Jones of the volunteer naturalist crowd. Often found with her nose-to-the-ground while camera-stalking an interesting bug, an expedition of any sort is sure to capture her interest. Capturing pictures of Heather at work, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult—unless you’re also nose-to-the-ground.

Derek Hennen is an entomology major in his 4th instar…er.. senior year at Marietta College. Derek’s great passion for the insect world quickly spreads across his face when two seemingly disjunct words are said together.
... and ...Bug

John Howard is a resident of southern Ohio and intimately familiar with anything having wings or roots, scales or fins, feathers or flowers…well, you get the idea. He knows how to look for and where to find the best of it all.
His keen spotting on this expedition secured our trophy of the day and earned him the title ‘Chief Beetle-Watcher.’

If you hear Dave and Laura Hughes talking about nets and bait, it’s not fish they’re after, but moths. This pair loves the Leps--and just about everything else. And with their enthusiasm for getting into the outdoors, what’s not to love about Dave and Laura, as well?

Jim McCormac is our expedition leader--the lifelong explorer, whose curious nature has taken him from his boyhood fascination with birds... to plants, back to birds, and on to bugs…biodiversity. If he’s not blazing a trail somewhere or cleaning the lens of his camera, he’s probably writing another book…about birds or plants or birds or bugs or…

The Scene

Mid-morning, late August found us near the banks of the Ohio River. Hoping to get a jump on the heat of the day, yet still have it hot enough for beetles to be up and about in their feeding, we gathered our gear (which, understandably consisted of 1 net and 8 cameras) and set out toward what we hoped would be suitable beetle-hunting ground.
The Amorpha Borer, Megacyllene decora, is a longhorned beetle in the family Cerambycidae—a family heritage shared by the more well-known Locust borer, Megacyllene robiniae. Both brightly-colored, yellow and black-striped beetles require, as a host plant for their developing larvae, a different member of the legume family. For the Locust Borer, it's black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia; for the Amorpha Borer, false indigo, Amorpha fruticosa.
Not surprisingly, both beetles’ names reflect the names of their respective host plant. It’s this critical connection, the life-supporting role of a host plant, that dictates where one might expect to find the beetles, and where we would begun our quest.

False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa
means 'without form' in Greek, referring to its flowers,
which are lacking the usual petals of those in the legume family

False indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, reaches its native northernmost distribution in several of the southernmost counties in Ohio—those bordering the Ohio River. Its pinnately compound leaves look at first glance like those of its family relative, black locust, but there are no thorns along the slender stems and the spiked purple flowers wait until latest weeks of summer to bloom.

Hedge Nettle, Stachys sp.

Scarlet Sheetweaver, Florinda coccinea

By late summer, the untamed land within the Ohio River Valley has begun to resemble a jungle. High humidity and fertile soil grow thick, tangled stands of wildflowers waist-high. Overhead, vines climb hungrily along the branches of the trees. Spiders wait patiently for prey in elaborately woven webs. Singing insects trill.

Sensitive Partridge Pea, Chamaechrista nictitans

Handsome Trig, Phyllopalpus pulchellus

Locust Borer, Megacyllene robiniae, making a meal of goldenrod pollen

And perfectly timed to bloom profusely, offering a late-season hearty meal of pollen to hungry emergent beetles, the flowers of goldenrod and thoroughwort open on tall stems.

The Quarry

Yay! We found one!
Amorpha Borer, Megacyllene decora,
August 28, 2011

Boldly marked in bands of bright yellow and black, the Amorpha Borer, and the Locust Borer as well, look like wasps atop the flower heads as they feed in late August and September.
But look closely at those long antennae—it’s a longhorned beetle, instead!

Amorpha Borer on tall ironweed

If you’re extremely lucky, you might find one feeding or mating or preparing to lay eggs within a stem, but you’ll never find the white, worm-like larvae, which feed only on plant tissue inside the host plant. They’ll chew their way through next year’s growing season to emerge once again as a snazzily-clad adult.

Extreme infestations might weaken a tree and make it susceptible to wind damage.
(Several members of this family have become quite well-known as pests for their wood-boring life-style. Asian longhorned Beetle)
But not the Amorpha Borer.

You have to hand it to this lovely creature,
of whom some say is none more beautiful,
cruising the tops of the field flowers,
masterfully eluding all but those
whose one purpose
is to see just

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Jim McCormac said...

An excellent recap and photos of a very interesting and successful borer safari! Good work, Nina, and that scarlet sheetweaver photo may be the best in existence!

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Thanks, Jim.
And thanks for letting me be a part of this great day!

I know I'll never walk past another borer without giving it a second look--just to be sure!

Kat said...

I wonder if they're like their cousins, the super-nasty Asian long-horned beetles in that when they land on you it takes three grown men to pull them off?
They cling like nothing else on this planet!

Guy said...

Hi Nina

It looks like you had a great day in great company. I have had a soft spot for long horned beetles ever since one gnawed me some years ago. A great post and it was fun to read several accounts.


Marilyn Kircus said...

Thanks for a great post. Everything I was readng and the pictures made me think this beetle should be occuring at Anahuac NWR on the upper Texas cost. We have Amorpha fruictocas and fields of goldenrod. Because of the drught, our goldenrod hasn't bloomed but may bloom shortly due to the half inch of rain we got yesterday. I'll be looking for the Amorpha borer here.

Heather said...

You better watch it Nina, next thing you know I'll start carrying a bullwhip and my walk will turn into a swagger... ;) It truly was a great expedition, and you know I'll look for any excuse to get out and about doing stuff like this. I like your presentation here, by the way - very crafty and creative.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Kat--Hmm, I don't know. The one we found hustled off after her photo shoot. But from the look of her clawed feet and mandibles, I'd bet she could hang on pretty fiercely if she wanted to!
mkircus--yes, keep your eyes peeled--they're a delight to look at!
Heather--I didn't think you'd mind the reference to Indiana Jones. I remember your saying something about it at Cranberry Bog last spring! Bullwhips might come in handy, though. You never know what we might encounter out there!

KaHolly said...

What a fascinating outing. Your photos are great. And the company you keep very interesting. I wish I had more of an opportunity to go out with others! You inspire me to keep a closer watch on the plants in my wet meadow!