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...

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