It was fifty years ago today…

Fifty years ago today, Carl Hildebrand Lindroth’s revision of the Bembidion of Canada and Alaska was published; this was part 3 of his opus on the ground beetles of Canada and Alaska. This work is the basis of all that has been done in Bembidion systematics in North America since then. It is astounding to think how far Lindroth took a speciose group that, before he entered the scene, was a complex chaos of confusion, and how quickly he did so, for he was coming in to the fauna as a European, someone who had not worked long with North American Bembidion.


Not only is it a study that is beyond thorough (for he covers many species outside of the stated geographic range), it is also elegant in its simplicity.  I think one of the most amazing things about this revision is how he conveys, in a few sentences, the essence of each species.  There are no lengthy descriptions to sift through, just the diagnostic details and illustrations one needs.

For example, he describes Bembidion nudipenne as follows:

“102. Bembidion nudipenne n.sp. (type loc. Brandon, Manit., DAO!).
Smaller, slenderer, and darker than constricticolle. Dull; piceous to almost black, elytra with a usually well defined yellow subapical spot laterally, also shoulder and suture slightly paler; legs dark reddish, antennae piceous with indistinctly paler base. Head narrower than in constricticolle, prothorax (fig. 171b) with sides less rounded; both without setiferous punctures. Elytral striae with somewhat finer punctures, intervals only with a row of extremely small, non-setiferous punctulae (easily overlooked). Microsculpture strong and perfectly isodiametric over entire upper surface, except ± effaced on disc of prothorax. Wings constantly full. Penis, fig. 172. L. 3.5—4.0 mm.”

And, yes, that’s B. nudipenne in a nutshell.  I wish I had the ability to so succinctly communicate the means to recognize a beetle species.

The work is also art.  Lindroth’s drawings are beautiful, and extraordinarily informative. They were far ahead of most other illustrations from the 1960s of carabids.  Just as his text captured the essence of the beetles in a few words, his habitus drawings gave an accurate sense of the organisms through pencil and ink.


And his genitalic figures are so much better than others at the time, and most if not all that have been done since.


I don’t think I can fully convey how much I love Lindroth (1963).  I have five copies of it, and these are scattered around my life, which means I am never far from its pages.

Tonight I will raise a glass in honor of this remarkable achievement, 50 years later.

I might also note that my first contact with this work was when I received it from Carl Lindroth a few weeks after my 17th birthday.  George Ball had contacted Carl, asked him to send me the faunal work, and had paid for it – all shortly after I had first contacted George expressing my interest in carabid beetles, when I was 16.  Tonight I will raise a second glass in honor of George – thank you so much, George, for helping me fall in love with these little beetles.

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A zephyr is a soft, gentle breeze, derived from the Greek “zephuros”, meaning god of the west wind.  It is one of my favorite words, in part because I find the word “zephyr”  beautifully shaped, in part because it reminds me of the beaches of the Pacific Ocean that are cooled by zephyrs, and in part because of the beetle named after zephyrs:  Bembidion zephyrum.  Bembidion zephyrum is one of my favorite beetles in North America.  But this post is not about Bembidion, nor beetles, although a coleopterist is at the center.  We have had a Mesquite package called Zephyr in development for several years, but this post isn’t about Mesquite either.  It is not actually about zephyrs, although it is about a different Westwind.

Eight days ago I was a participant in an event that formed one of the best weekends of my life. The convergence of good, warm, people,  great food, and an absolutely spectacular setting and weather formed a perfect context for a deeply moving celebration of the wedding and love of two people, Chris and Brian.  I don’t think I’ve never cried as much at a ceremony as I did at this one. Our culture has come ever so far within my lifetime, and it felt so profoundly right that our community joyously embraced the love that these two men have for each other.


The setting was Westwind, a facility just north of Lincoln City, Oregon.

And, yes, beetles were found. Thinopinus and Akephorus were on the open beach at night; Nipponebria was on the faces of the rock cliffs; Zacotus, Pterostichus, and various tenebs were along the edge of the forest.

Although a love of the other species on Earth was an important theme of the weekend, the event was about the people.  My memories are mainly about them, but the location has seared itself in my mind as well.






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Shutting down Lionepha lummi

I am quite sure that this is the habitat of Lionepha lummi.  The picture below shows American Camp, on San Juan Island, not far from Friday Harbor, in Washington state.  And I think tomorrow would be a perfect day to collect specimens; it is October, the rains have come to the Pacific Northwest, and tomorrow will be a mixture of sun and scattered rain.


I have wanted to collect L. lummi for years, and tomorrow I was scheduled to go there. I will have driven about 1300 km in the last few days specifically so that I could go after L. lummi. I had all of my reservations in place, and a collecting permit for American Camp.  Alas, American Camp is part of San Juan Island National Historical Park, and is closed because of the government shutdown.

I could easily walk into that site from the nearby road, but there is a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail if I am caught (and there would be even more dramatic consequences).   And I can’t contact the folks I know at the park to see if it would be OK for me to collect there (perhaps they would let me given that I have a permit), as they would be subject to up to two years in jail just for checking their email.



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BotW: Andinodontis

Andinodontis is a genus of small ground beetles that lives in the Andes of South America. Here’s Andinodontis muellermotzfeldi from near Baeza, Ecuador; it’s a bit less than 2.5 mm in length.  These beetles are part of an enigmatic lineage of trechite carabids in which I am rather fascinated.

Andinodontis V100624Large

Some species of Andinodontis live on the gravel/sand shores of creeks (in habitats very similar to those inhabitated, elsewhere, by Bembidarenas or Phrypeus), and other species live away from water on damp silt/sand soil in cutbanks of roads.  Here’s a live specimen of an undescribed species of Andinodontis running on a dirt road near Cosanga, Ecuador.



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Rainy-season beetles

The rains have returned to the Pacific Northwest.  During the last few days a rain-drop symphony has been playing in my house in the woods, and the douglas fir and oaks are weeping in thanks for fall’s arrival after a dry summer.


The rains will lead to the appearance of one of the PNW’s most famous insect inhabitants,  the rain beetle, Pleocoma.  But Pleocoma isn’t the only insect in this area that appears along with the rains.

When I arrived in Oregon in the fall of 2009, one of my quests was to find Lionepha chintimini.  This was a species described in 1981 from a single female, caught on top of Marys Peak, the highest mountain in the Coast Range of Oregon,  by Milt Campbell and Ales Smetana. That there was an endemic bembidiine about 30 minutes away from Corvallis was extremely pleasing, and I wanted to see it in the wild, and collect some for DNA work.  That it was only known from a single individual made it all the more mysterious and intriguing.

Continue reading

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My favorite beetle illustration

Today I was reminded of my favorite illustration of a carabid beetle.  Here it is.  Drawn by my daughter, Julia, 21 years ago, when she was 4. Given the prominence of the area around the discal setae of the elytra, I suspect it has “silver spots” (granulate patches of microsculpture), and is thus a member of Bembidion subgenus Bracteon.  And, because of the lack of “mirrors” (dark, smooth patches on the elytra), and the wide prothorax, it is likely Bembidion (Bracteon) balli, named by Carl Lindroth after my mentor George Ball.  Happy Birthday, George!juliaBeetle23Feb1992

Posted in Miscellany, Scientific Illustrations | 6 Comments

BotW: Cnemalobus

Cnemalobus is a genus of large carabids from southern South America.   Here’s one from Chile:


One of the cool things about Cnemalobus is that they make noises (they stridulate) as the run:

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Who should be listed on collecting labels?

One of the questions that all collectors face is “what should I put on the label?”  From a time in which the only label on a specimen might be a gold dot, or simply “Canada”, we are now at a time in which much more detailed locality information is expected.  Accurate latitude and longitude values are now standard, for example.  Country, province or state, a locality description, and date are also standard.  Some folks regularly include habitat information.  And, pretty much universally, a list of collectors is added to the label.  The topmost label in this picture is a standard locality label:


But who should be listed as collectors?

There seems to be no simple standard for this.  I have encountered three different approaches and there may be others.  Here are some styles I have seen:

Continue reading

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Another surprise in Lionepha

Two days ago I had a post about an unexpected species of Lionepha in the Sierras, of which I became aware when I looked at a specimen that my graduate student John Sproul caught on the South Fork of Bishop Creek.  Let’s call that the “Bishop Creek” species.  I mentioned in that post that there was another series from around Carson Spur, also in the Sierras, that had characteristics that were a combination of those found in several species of Lionepha.  I said:

 I had collected some females at Carson Spur and will be getting the first sequences back from those tomorrow.  I’ve also just found a male from a nearby locality that I had collected into 100% ethanol – I’m extracting it now and will look at its genitalia tomorrow.

Yesterday morning I looked at the genitalia of that male from near Carson Spur, and it clearly wasn’t any of the species known from the Sierra Nevadas.  The genital structures looked very familiar, though, and after some rummaging in my brain I realized that they looked a lot like Lionepha chintimini, a species of the coastal range in Oregon, 690 kilometers and several faunas away.  The microsculpture and body shape doesn’t match L. chintimini, but the sclerites of the internal sac of the male genitalia have some notable characters in common.  At 10 am yesterday I was convinced this was an unrecognized species related to L. chintimini.

About 1 hour later I got our new sequence data back (more on that in a separate post), including four of the Carson Spur females, and here is the 28S gene tree:



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A surprise in Lionepha

In the late spring I was in the final stages of a manuscript about the genus Lionepha.  This paper will describe the new species I have mentioned earlier, describe the male of Lionepha chintimini for the first time, document DNA sequence variation patterns within genus, and provide revised identification tools (beyond those in Erwin and Kavanaugh’s 1981 paper).   I had completed all the DNA sequence analyses, written much of the paper, and was working on the figures.

And then, toward the end of the BLT, we collected in the Sierra Nevada west of Bishop, California.  Along the South Fork of Bishop Creek (pictured below) my graduate student John Sproul found three Lionepha amongst the gravel of the shoreline.

South Fork of Bishop Creek

South Fork of Bishop Creek

At first glance they looked like L. erasa, which is known from that area.  When we got back to Oregon, I looked at them under the scope.  Two of the specimens are L. erasa,  having the classic nearly-circular (“isodiametric”, consisting of little polygons that are of similar distance across in all directions) sculpticells of that species.  But the third specimen very much puzzled me.   Continue reading

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