Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Beetling the Hobcaw

As I’ve mentioned a couple times previously, the coastal plain has been calling my name, and I’m now even involved in a large-scale proposal to get a better handle on the insect diversity in the eastern US lowlands. However, my ‘boots on the ground’ time in the lowcountry has been minimal, a situation I’ve been eager to rectify. So this past week, a team from my lab (Master’s student Anthony Deczynski, postdoctoral fellow Shelley Myers and myself) made a 5-day visit to the Baruch Institute in the coastal flats of Georgetown County, South Carolina. It was productive and eye-opening.

The Baruch Institute is a research station operated by Clemson on the grounds of the Baruch Foundation’s ‘Hobcaw Barony’ a collection of lands formerly owned by the Baruch family, willed to the state by Belle Baruch to establish a research preserve. Hobcaw inclues a mosaic of marine, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats, with the nonmarine areas dominated by pine woodlands and cypress swamps. For our first visit we wanted to sample a little of everything that the area had to offer, and managed to do a pretty good job of that.

For our main sampling sites we selected to different areas of pine forest, one that had been part of a regular burning rotation to maintain the open grassland character of the understory. The other had escaped fire for over 40 years, allowing a dense and lush understory to develop. Fire has probably been a constant feature of these woodlands throughout their evolution, and many rare plants rely on fire for regeneration, so the grassland is likely the most natural state. Nonetheless, seeing what might be living in a larger late successional example made for a potentially interesting comparison. Our third site was down in the lowland swamp, right along the edge of permanently flooded cypress-tupelo woodland.

In each of these sites we employed a number of traps, including flight intercept traps…

 Malaise traps…

 Canopy traps….

 ...and Lindgren funnel traps…

 ...with some meat and fruit bait traps scattered here and there for good measure.

While these traps did their work we beat, swept, debarked, and generally scoured the surroundings for more cryptic beetle species. We also took a couple side trips to nearby and complementary habitats.

A trip to the beach was essential, yielding a great diversity of beetles washed up with the tides, as well as a selection of dune and coastal scrub specialist species. This area, adjacent to the exclusive DeBordieu Colony, also hosted some interesting maritime forest, a mix of shorter pine and oak, with a rich understory growing in mostly sandy soils.

Each night of course we broke out the blacklights, running at least two and as many as four each night in various places.

So, what about the beetles? There were a lot of them (most of which still remain unmounted)! We had arrived in the immediate wake of Tropical Storm Ana, so I think that the rains followed by heat and high humidity triggered a lot of activity. Our first night was by far our best, yielding an incredible diversity and abundance of species. Some of the highlights were Polyphylla (probably occidentalis), Phileurus truncatus (and many of its larvae), numerous Monochamus (carolinensis?), a smattering of smaller longhorns, several specimens of a very large Chlaenius, ceratocanthine scarabs, and a great abundance of small staphylinoids (scyds, pselaphines, and staphs proper) and cucujoids. Subsequent nights were not as exceptional, but also very productive.

Here's Anthony's hands full of Phileurus larvae.

Below is a shot of what was pinnable after the first couple days and nights.

We are still sorting and just getting started mounting the smaller stuff, including a couple good litter samples (one with Adranes, a funny clavigerine pselaphine). The pointing is ongoing, although a little sampler is shown below. I’ll plan to update with more details and photos on that material soon.

My working beetle list for the trip has 285 species, and I'd guess there will likely be close to 400 when all is said and done.

[Thanks to Shelley for all of the trap photos.]

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Continuing where my last post left off, the Berleseing went fantastically (thanks to Shelley putting in some weekend hours!) Beetles in all samples, in good numbers, including many Cercopeus (from both Wannamaker and the 'WalMart site'), among other things. I've only thoroughly sorted one so far, the pine litter from Wannamaker, but the beetles included at least 4 or 5 different Pselaphines, a diversity of Scaphidiines and Scydmaenines (all now considered part of Staphylinidae proper), Leiodids, Latridiids, Carabids, Cryptophagids, Tenebrionids, Nitidulids, Ptiliids (surprisingly few), and even a Histerid (Xestipyge)! I can't wait to go through the other 5 samples, and then to get back out in the field and hit some new sites. The season is in full swing. Below are a couple of through-the-eyepiece snapshots.

I might have warned the sensitive that I do have a bit of a thing for ants, for reasons that many readers will already know. Hint - it also has to do with beetles - but that'll be a post for another time.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Seeking Cercopeus

After a late but serious onset of winter in the south, and days of storm warnings and school closures, it was a treat to see the sun, and to get out sifting some leaf litter. It was a double or triple treat because we were able to connect with Jan Ciegler and weevilologist extraordinaire Bob Anderson (who mistakenly thought he could come south and escape the winter - Sorry Bob!)

Bob's been intrigued for some time by a group of winter active weevils in the genus Cercopeus (see BugGuide picture here: Cercopeus) that Jan, Charlie O'Brien, and Jennifer Giron worked on a few years back (published here in Insecta Mundi), reportedly with numerous new species still lurking about in the southeast. So Bob decided that in addition to seeking warmth, he would seek some Cercopeus, and invited us to join them on a day out.

In Jan's experience the beetles were often found in the sandhills regions, areas of ancient coastal dune, now far-removed from the coast, and mostly well vegetated. The sandhills of Georgia and the Carolinas are home to numerous endemic species of both insects and plants, and are a biome I've long been interested in getting to know better. So I was excited to experience some sandhills, while also spending time in the field with some renowned coleopterists.

Our first stop was at the Wannamaker Nature Preserve, southeast of Columbia. The area was not classic sandhills, with mixed hardwood forest and some pines on the ridges, but immediately below the litter the soil was almost pure sand, a very far cry from the red clay of the higher areas upstate.

At one point we had five sifters going simultaneously, between Bob, Jan, Shelley, Bob's wife Catherine, and myself, surely a record of some kind. Here's Bob, demonstrating proper technique.

I spent a little time doing more general collecting, and only found a few things, mostly under bark, the tenebs Platydema and Alobates, an endomychid, silvanids, and a whole mess of flat little nitidulids, Prometopia, I believe, raising the question what the proper collective noun might be for nitidulids - a nexus of nitidulids, perhaps?

Our second stop was near the town of Ballentine, northwest of Columbia, on a property that was apparently at one time considered as a site for a Wal-Mart. Jan said that she found a new species of Cercopeus there, although I didn't quite get whether it was the weevil that stopped Wal-Mart or not. Here four of us sifted while Katie and Peter picked bark. A neat, if small parcel, now thoroughly sifted.

Will be Berleseing over the next few days and will report back...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Field work recommences

After a several month silence (mostly a hunkering down to write a grant proposal and lectures for my new course in Conservation Genetics), I am happy to be getting back to some more regular and serious fieldwork. My new postdoc, Shelley Myers, will be undertaking a project examining the responses and resilience of leaf litter beetles to forest disturbance and regeneration.

Today we took our first sampling foray out to one of South Carolina DNR's Heritage Preserves, Buzzard's Roost, just a little west of Walhalla. Although the trail was poorly maintained, we found an abundance of great leaf litter. This was the first sifting I've ever done outside of California, and it was as exciting as it was momentous.

We ran our samples through Berlese funnels as soon as we got back to the lab, and can confirm a wide variety of beetles (leiodids, nitidulids, weevils, and pselaphines were conspicuous), and we haven't really looked at them too closely yet. I'm looking forward to many more outings, and to building a rich collection of a lot of tiny, obscure, and exquisite coleopterans!

Here's a few pictures from the day.