Category Archives: Science

Tricrania sanguinipennis, a bee parasitoid

Found this striking, highly punctate beetle in my yard a few days ago and finally figured out what it is: Tricrania sanguinipennis, a blister beetle (Meloidae). Apparently a parasitoid of Colletes spp., ground-nesting bees that are often situated in dense aggregations. I have hundreds of such bees in my front yard each year and I’m guessing they are unequal cellophane bees (C. inaequalis).

Per Parker and Böving 1924, female T. sanguinipennis deposit clumps of eggs near these aggregations and when larvae hatch they seek out adult bees and clamp onto body hairs with specialized mandibles. If the bee happens to be a female, larvae release their grip when she arrives at the brood cell, sometimes up to 2 1/2 feet underground. If the beetle larva has attached to a male bee it will move onto a female while the bees are mating. Once in the nesting chamber the larva will seek out the bee egg, eat it, then set up camp inside the cell (see fig 21, below) that holds the honey and pollen, which it will eat until maturity.

Below is Plate 3 from the Parker and Böving article. If you expand the image you can see that the bee has multiple larvae attached. I think I might need to capture a few of the bees this Spring to see whether I can find some of these hitchhikers. Am also trying to find the egg clumps, which can have thousands of eggs. That’s a lot of eggs for a beetle but the success rate of the larvae must be extremely small so they’ve presumably evolved large brood size to ensure that at least some find their way into a nest.

Tricrania sanguinipennis
Illustrations of Tricrania sanguinipennis larvae from Parker and Böving 1924.

Very cool beetle and just had to share the find. If you’d like to see more photographs, there are currently 27 sightings Tricrania sanguinipennis on iNaturalist. I highly recommend the Parker and Böving article for the biology details but mainly for how they figured out the details; it’s hard to figure these things out when the species spends its life underground. For more information on related beetles this page by Dr E. F. Legner (UC Riverside) is excellent.

Exobasidium ferrugineae

I found this fleshy, flower-like structure growing on Lyonia ferruginea (rusty staggerbush) at Archbold Biological Station (Venus, Florida). Heaths don’t make flowers like this, so I originally thought it might be an insect gall or phytoplasma infection, but I was wrong. After poking around online I think it’s Exobasidium ferrugineae, a Basidiomycetes fungus. Members of the genus grow in between cells of flower and leaf tissue, then in the Spring send hymenial tissue through stomata and other cracks in the epidermis, eventually turning the surface white with spores. I’d never heard of such fungi before. I’ve led a sheltered life.

Colin Purrington Photography: Fungi &emdash; Exobasidium ferruginea on rusty staggerbush (Lyonia ferruginea)

The above was the largest structure I found (perhaps 3 inches high) but there were dozens of others (see below) at the same location. If you’d like to know more about the species and genus, a good starting point is Kennedy et al. 2012 and references therein. In older literature the fungus was known as Exobasidium vaccinii (Burt 1915), but it seems likely that that species is host specific to Vaccinium vitis-idaea.

Bats with red spots

During a 2008 trip to La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, I took a terrible photograph of some lesser sac-winged bats (Saccopteryx leptura) roosting on the underside of a tree.

Roosting bats covered with red dots

I kept the photograph because the bats seemed to sporting some strange red dots that were the color of giant red velvet or trombidium mites, and I was curious. But I looked online (for years) and for the life of me couldn’t find any reports of something that large on a bat in Costa Rica. All I succeeded in discovering was that quite a few smaller mites seem to be found on bats (Banks 1915; Klimpel and Mehlhorn 2013), with new species found all the time.

One person suggested that they might be chigger mites (Trombiculidae). Each spot, perhaps, would be composed of hundreds of mites feeding together. Chiggers feeding in a group isn’t rare, apparently. If you search for “trombiculidae aggregation” you’ll get lots of images of seething groups (e.g.) on all variety of animals. But it begs two questions. Why does each bat have only one clump, and of the same size.

UPDATE: After posting and sharing on Twitter, Sean McCann sent me a message asking whether my dots might be marking bands. He also sent a photograph (a good one) in which the locations of the bands exactly matched where my dots are in my photograph. So I contacted Dr Carlos de la Rosa, the Director at La Selva Biological Station, to see if anyone was banding bats at the time, and he responded that it was likely … and is checking to see exactly who. I’ll post an update if I hear back. 

UPDATE II: Dr de la Rosa spoke with Dr Martina Nagy, who claimed those bats as part of her research (as well as corrected my species identification; they are not rhinoceros bats). She even recognized the tree (“SOR 170 Sendero Oriental”). These individuals (two males, one female) had been banded by Dr Barbara Caspers. The tree eventually fell and then the bats disbanded to someplace else. 

It took me almost 10 years, but I’m glad I finally know what was going on. That photograph had really been bugging me. Thanks, everyone!