Tag Archives: beetle

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.

Pyractomena borealis mouthparts

Here are several anterior close-ups Pyractomena borealis. The telescoping head allows the larva to inject (via curved, hollow mandibles) a numbing agent into snails that have retreated inside their shells. The antennae and maxillae are also partially retractable. When a larva is done feeding on a snail (or slug or earthworm) it will de-slime all of these parts with the hooked, fingerlike projections of the holdfast organ (pygopod) located on the last abdominal segment. The head is also fully retractible (see previous post). These larvae are extremely active, so really hard to photograph.

Pyractomena borealis

Pyractomena borealis (Lampyridae) exploring the surface of trees on a warm winter day in February. At first I thought it might be foraging — they are highly predaceous, and hunt slugs and earthworms (in packs!) by first injecting them with paralytics. But it turns out they are just looking for a place to pupate.

Here is a close-up of the fully retractable head. Those mandibles are hollow.

Pyractomena borealis mouthparts

Here’s a photograph showing a retracted head.

Adults of this species will emerge from pupae sometime in early Spring to be the first fireflies in the area.

The larvae are bioluminescent, too, by the way. The hypothesis about why the larvae glow is that it evolved first as an aposematic trait in larvae, warning mice and toads of the presence of lucibufagins, steroidal toxins in the hemolymph. It’s thought that the adult habit of using flashes is secondarily evolved, millions of years after the larvae evolved the ability to glow. The ability of larvae to glow even predates the origin of the Lampyridae, I gather. For more enlightening details, see Branham and Wezel (2003)Stanger-Hall et al. (2007), and Martin et al. 2017.