June 16, 2008

Tricky Insect Will Tell Me Its Secrets

I had been planning on going into the field with two of my lablings today but the weatherman convinced me otherwise with dire warnings of hail and damaging winds — neither of which has materialized. We'll go out on Wednesday instead. Sigh.

On my previous trip to Wachusett on June 11, I found a beetle in a decaying cluster of Pholiota squarrosoides that I thought at the time was an Eleodes. I was wrong.

Penthe pimelia courtesy of BugGuide.netOne of the things I'm trying to learn is to be able to look at a beetle in the field and at least identify it to family. Being able to say whether or not something was in Tenebrionidae would save me a lot of useless collecting. The beetle family that contains the one I found, though, doesn't make that any easier (and Tenebrionidae are already so variable that it's not an easy task to pick one out without recourse to counting tarsal and antenna segments). It's a mock teneb, so close morphologically to true Tenebrionidae that its family is referred to colloquially as the "false darkling beetles." The family it belongs to is Tetratomidae and the species is Penthe pimelia, sometimes called the velvety bark beetle. It's not really a bark beetle; it's another fungus-eater and sometime dweller that usually specializes on polypores. In this case, though, it happened to be working on an agaricoid when it was captured and dropped into 1.5 ml of 200-proof ethanol.

This beetle looks so much like a teneb that I wonder why it isn't classed with them. It has the same number of joints in its foot, the same number of antenomeres. As variable as tenebs are it's surprising that taxonomists relying exclusively on morphological characters put it in a different family.

Only a few nucleotide sequences have been obtained from this beetle to date, if indeed they are from the same species as the specimen I have. I'm going to start work on getting more sequences out of my voucher specimen tomorrow and see if I can't add to the 16S mtRNA, 18S nucRNA and COI partials. I'm going to go after another chunk of the LSU, the SSU and the wingless gene, too. After that I'll see for myself whether or not it might be a teneb (eventually, anyhow). Even if t isn't, it should make a perfect outgroup for the rest of Tenebrionidae I use in this study.

Right now, I'm just killing time waiting to see if I got a product out of Bolitotherus cornutus. The gel is running. If I can sequence it, it will be the first time (at least as far as GenBank is concerned) that anyone has done so. Fingers (tarsi?) crossed.

EDIT (4:09 PM) - No PCR products from B. cornutus. Crap. I'll have to start over again tomorrow.

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