New backyard bug: Asian mango flower beetle

December has been chilly here; the longest stretch of cold nights I can remember, punctuated by lovely cool and ever-so-slightly-warm by the afternoon days. After nearly fifteen years here, I feel like I’m finally getting my money’s worth out of living in the Sunshine State.

The cool weather, though, has slowed the flowering in my yard, and with the smaller nectar and pollen crop that’s available in these shorter days, I’ve seen fewer insects, and with fewer insects, there have been fewer birds around. I still see the wintering palm warblers, and now and then the kestrel shows back up on the wires, but few butterflies, apart from the ever-present Zebra Heliconian and Cloudless Sulphur, are making themselves known.

And the odonates (damsel- and dragonflies) almost seem to have disappeared. It wasn’t until the 17th that I saw any kind of dragonfly this month, and I only caught the briefest of glimpses so I have no idea what species it was. Later that same day I found a lone Citrine Forktail out in one of the many sunflower beds around the house. And that’s all, at least now, a few days before the solstice and a full week before Christmas.

However, I did find and photograph what I at first took for our native flower beetle, Euphoria sepulcralis, which seems to occur here regularly in December. I was alerted to its presence while I was inspecting the flower beds for more damselflies by the loudest buzzing you can imagine. For example, flies buzz at, let’s say a three on a ten-point scale. A mosquito’s whine would be a one. A honeybee might be a four, and the loud megachilid bees would be a five or a six, depending on species. But the flower beetles probably rate a seven or eight. They are frighteningly loud, at least when you’re in a flowerbed with lots of potentially stinging insects nearby. (In the four years I’ve been here, I’ve yet to be stung by any of the bees or wasps, or bitten by any of the ants or spiders. Still, no one likes to be stung or bitten, and it’s still kinda scary!)

So when I heard this loud, loud buzz, and saw a flower beetle, I took a few rudimentary shots just to document the presence of a known species to begin rebuilding my sighting matrix. (As you’ll recall, my recent computer crash has destroyed two full years of data, including over 10,000 photographs that I’d just finished tagging and labeling to help build my yearly sighting matrix. Sigh.)

Asian mango flower beetle (Protaetia fusca). Boca Raton, FL, December 17, 2014.

Asian mango flower beetle (Protaetia fusca). Boca Raton, FL, December 17, 2014.

On closer inspection of the photographs, though, it turns out that the loud buzzing flower beetle that I’d assumed to be E. sepulcralis was its imported cousin instead, Protaetia fusca, the Asian mango flower beetle. Even though I’d read the “featured creature” page I linked to over two years ago, at the time I hadn’t even noticed the comparison of the native and non-native scarabs that I now find so interesting.

Turns out that these little guys, while looking somewhat alike to the presbyopic naturalist writing these pages, to the taxonomic entomologist writing them up back in 2006, they are rather distinct:

Both species are typical of the scarab subfamily Cetoniinae, being somewhat flattened dorsally, the head barely visible from above. Both dorsally have variable patterns of scales, some of which can be rubbed off, contributing to many synonyms being created for E. sepulcralis. They can be recognized readily by the accompanying habitus illustrations (Fig. 1-2 ). In addition, the dorsal surface of P. fusca is matte and somewhat velvety; that of E. sepulcralis is shiny. Each elytron of P. fusca terminates in a spine at the sutural apex (Fig. 4), but E. sepulcralis has no such spine (Fig. 5). The pattern formed by the pygidium and elytral apices is composed of scales and is similar but distinct (Fig. 6, P. fusca; 7, E. sepulcralis), both appearing to mimic the head of a bee. Because this is the part exposed while beetles are headlong into a flower, it could serve as a deterrent for a predator.

I rarely read block quotes, so I’ll point out what I find interesting from the description above: these beetle’s butts imitate the head of a bee! Here’s the picture from that article that “proves” it:

Elytral apices of non-native (left) and native (right) flower beetles in Florida. Looks like a bee's head to me, all right! Photo from Woodruff, 2006.

Elytral apices of non-native (left) and native (right) flower beetles in Florida. Looks like a bee’s head to me, all right! Photo from Woodruff, 2006.

Whether you’re convinced or not that this beetle’s behind resembles the front end of a bee, it’s kind of neat, right? What do you see in your flowerbeds?

I’m not sure of the etymology of this species’ taxonomic name; aetio is the Greek root of “cause” or “responsibility” (think “etiology”); fusca comes from fuscus, “dusky,” “dark.” Perhaps a reference to the color of the beetle, or to the color of the flowers it damages while feeding?

References

Thomas, M. 2007. Euphoria sepulcralis. DPI Entomology Circular 386, updated for Featured Creatures web article at UF’s website.

Woodruff, R. 2006.  The Asian mango flower beetle, Protaetia fusca (Herbst), and Euphoria sepulcralis (Fabricius) in Florida and the West Indies (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Cetoniinae). Insects Mundi 20(3-4):227–232. Available online at Digital Commons.

 

November inventory

Hammock Skipper (Polygonus leo). Boca Raton, FL, November 27, 2014.

November was an interesting month here. Spells of cold, wintry air alternated with spells of heat and high humidity that spoke of summer. The bugs in the yard were confused, and the winds whipped up by all the changing weather made photography tricky. Nevertheless, I did manage to get a few new species, and to welcome a few returnees. The Atala hairstreak butterfly, considered extirpated from Florida (its only U.S. home) over fifty years ago, is now a fairly routine guest near any place that contains a sufficient supply of its its host plant, coontie (Zamia punila):

Atala hairstreak […]

Atalas in November

Atala hairstreak (Eumaeus atala), Boca Raton, FL, November 23, 2014.

It seems that every November the Atalas cruise through my neighborhood. There are supposed to be several broods per year, but each and every documented sighting I have had on my property has been in the month of November. And last December I installed their larval host plant, coontie (Zamia pumila), so they might have a reason to stay:

Florida coontie (Zamia punila). Boca Raton, FL, November 24, 2014.

Of course, not every butterfly that stays is happy to have done so:

Atala (Eumaeus atala) hairstreak butterfly that has seen better days. Boca Raton, FL, November 13, 2014.

[…]

October inventory, part two

Wasp, Conura species. Boca Raton, FL, October 30, 2014.

October of 2014 was a tale of two months, it seems. The first half of the month continued the late wet season trend of several days with rainfall, which seems to have increased the number of dragonflies and damselflies in the yard compared to the second half of the month, which had about as many days with rain, but not clustered together as much.

New species for the second half of the month:

Hummingbirds returned; I actually got buzzed by one as I was out lamenting the latest scale infestation on the firebush; they love the red tubular flowers of […]

New Backyard Butterfly: Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon martialis)

Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon martialis). Boca Raton, FL, October 17, 2014.

With my new “monthly inventory” program underway, I’m taking a bit more time in the mornings and at lunch out in the yard, weeding when windy, taking pictures when calm. And one day this month, I found something quite rare: a butterfly that’s normally seen (when seen at all) in the Keys or in Cuba! Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon martialis) is an unassuming little guy, like most hairstreaks on the small side. But two curly tails add some visual interest, and the rarity adds even more.

Cech and Tudor, authors of the definitive butterfly guide to the East Coast describe its […]

Monthly inventory

Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis genera). Boca Raton, FL, October 3, 2014.

October is a month of transition here in south Florida. The wet days of the rainy season start to taper off, giving way to the first few cooling breaths of our short-lived autumn, eventually to be followed by the drier and steadier days of our wintertime dry season (which usually arrives around November). That doesn’t mean it won’t rain; we still get appreciable rainfall in this last month of the wet season, but the rains are punctuated by spells of drier, cooler weather, that is much welcomed after the long, hot days of summer.

The first […]

September equinox today, 10:29 p.m. EDT

Today, at 10:29 p.m. Eastern “daylight” time, Earth’s equatorial plane intersects the center of the Sun’s disk.

Sunrise and sunset occur due east and due west, respectively, from all points on Earth’s surface.

Equinox, man!

Days and nights will continue to get shorter in the northern hemisphere, as they’ve been doing since the June solstice, culminating in the shortest day of the year (and longest night) at the December solstice.

Enjoy the equilibrium today!

Giant Swallowtail at last

Papilio_cresphontes_20140918-3

The Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) is not the largest butterfly in North America. That distinction goes to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, at least to the larger females of that species. P. cresphontes, though, is still “noteworthy for its size” (Cech & Tudor). It’s also a butterfly that is rather camera shy, at least in my experience. (The only pictures of an adult Giant Swallowtail in my photo files date back to Fern Forest days, back in 2007 or 2008.)

Their larvae, however, are considerably less camera shy, and over the years I’ve noticed (and even written about) the tiny little […]

Bees have hairy eyes

European Honeybee (Apis mellifera). Boca Raton, FL, September 14, 2014

If you’re a native plant gardener, it’s easy to let your focus on native plants and animals blind you to the characteristics of non-native species. But one of the most important non-native species worldwide is the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Because they’re so common, I frequently opt not to take pictures of them, preferring instead the more unusual “sweat bees” (halictids), with their bright green bodies and unpredictable (to me at least) sighting opportunities. This gal, for instance, was rescued from drowning in my backyard pool; she’s still in the net (she recovered and flew away):

Halictid (Sweat Bee), […]

Here there be dragons

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) enjoying a repast of Blue Dasher (

Wow, a record for me. Three days in a row at the Yamato Scrub! My older son, Eric, surprised me midmorning on Labor Day by suggesting that we go to Yamato Scrub. I seized on the suggestion, and off we went. I brought snacks and a drink to keep him occupied, and it worked! I was able to install him on a bench with a good view of the pond while I wandered off to take a few more pictures of the insect life around the wetlands, and found some new (to me) creatures and behaviors. It wasn’t long before […]