Thursday, December 23, 2021

Bountiful Brazilian Beetles

My recent 18-day tour to Brazil may have been more about mushrooms, but there’s a lot to look at in the Amazon rainforest. These beetles I photographed below are a good example. Most people have heard that beetles are the most speciose group of animals in the world, but some experts have been saying recently they may be outnumbered by wasps. Most are so tiny you would never notice them, but the big, showy ones – let’s call them macrobeetles – are diverse and beautiful enough to elicit an “inordinate fondess” from any biologist. I only started paying much attention to beetles because of my friend Margarethe Brummerman, who I first got to know through mothing and birding outings in SE Arizona, and her fascination with beetles got me to look a lot more at them. I really look forward to the book she is co-authoring and illustrating on the beetles of Arizona.

Most of the beetles below were at Pousada Rio Roosevelt in the state of Amazonas, but a few were from Mato Grosso, where we were briefly in the Pantanal and a few days at the ecolodge Jardim da Amazônia.

My favorites are the pleasing fungus beetles, family Erotylidae. These should not be confused with other families of beetles that are associated with fungi, such as Endomychidae (the handsome fungus beetles) or Cryptophagidae (the silken fungus beetles). I laugh, because I’ve only barely heard of those too and had to look them up to mention them here. The better-known Erotylidae are usually large (the diameter of a dime or penny) and often with striking patterns.

Erotylus mirabilis is deserving of the specific epithet, meaning “marvelous.” 

Update: This is apparently the similar Erotylus elegantulus. Also a nice name – it means "a little elegant."

Erotylus mirabilis

Erotylus pretiosus is no less marvelous, however.

Erotylus pretiosus

This one I have only to genus, Erotylina.


This Ellipticus dorbignyi is the only species I had seen before; it seems to be one of the more common and widespread species in Amazonia.

Ellipticus dorbignyi

There are many species in the genus Iphiclus.


This Pselaphacus sp. was the most interesting pleasing fungus beetle on account of its behavior. It was off to the side of a loose group of its larvae on a fallen branch, and they seemed to be feasting on a small bit of mushroom and rather spread out. When we got closer for photos, we may have alarmed it, as it walked over to the larvae and herded them away and onto a larger piece of mushroom, joining several other larvae, and the whole group then coalesced into an amorphous blob that I suspect would have looked less like food to a potential predator than singly wandering larvae.



I’m also a huge fan of Longhorn beetles, family Cerambycidae, as they are often large and colorful with distinctive field marks. This pretty one is the widespread Chlorida festiva, though it’s not as distinguished with its feet all tangled up in spiderwebs after crawling around on the dining hall screen at our Pantanal lodge. I’ve seen it twice before, in Jamaica and in Costa Rica.

Chlorida festiva

This huge one is Colobothea eximia, a new one for me.

Colobothea eximia

Click beetles are always fun, and though they can be large and interesting like longhorns, they often lack distinctive field marks. Many are just brown or black, and you have to go on very subtle differences in structure to ID them. The genus Pyrophorus is unusual among beetles in bearing these two glowing lights at the distal corners of the thorax. At night they are incredibly bright as they fly through the forest and are often mistaken for fireflies. They are usually much brighter and don’t have a blinking pattern though.


On the other hand, not all fireflies – members of the family Lampyridae (an easy name to remember) – have a blinking tip to the abdomen. I found this colorful one, probably in the genus Lucidota, during the day, and I suspect it lacks bioluminescence.


The family Scarabaeidae is one of the most familiar to people. This rhinoceros beetle looks to be female of the species with the ridiculous name Enema pan.

Enema pan

The subfamily Scarabaeinae is where the thousands of species of dung beetles belong. Hundreds of them are still undescribed, and since no one has ever collected here, these three species could be new, and I haven’t tried to pin a name on them. They sit on top of leaves in the forest understory, just waiting for a waft of animal poop to come their way, and they then home in with precision for a fecal feast.




The family Tenebrionidae, the darkling beetles, is not a well-known name, but almost everyone has seen members of this family. They are diverse not only in species but also in size, shape, and color, and I rarely get the family right on the more obscure ones. Thanks to Enrico A. R. Tosto on iNaturalist, I now know that these little bark-huggers are darkling beetles in the subfamily Nilioninae, though I had guessed they were leaf beetles, due to their similar shape to tortoise beetles. I didn’t look closely enough at their antennae and legs.



This darkling beetle in the genus Poecilesthus is slightly more typical in size and shape, yet I still did not recognize it. The way the eyes half wrap around the base of the antennae led me to believe it was a longhorn beetle. I might just give up on trying to know Tenebrionidae.


I did see a leaf beetle, a member of the family Chrysomelidae, but I wouldn’t have guessed it. This fat, palm fruit-predating larva is probably Pachymerus nucleorum. Our local guide cut open the palm nut to offer it to us as a late morning snack. I might have tried it fried, but neither of us was hungry enough to pop a fresh live one into our mouths.

Pachymerus nucleorum

Carabidae are the hunting beetles, though a lot are also scavengers, and of course the diversity of species means there are also many other ways they make their living. But there can be no doubt that this nocturnal, sand-dwelling monster Phaeoxantha klugii is a fierce predator.

Phaeoxantha klugii

A hugely diverse family of beetles are the rove beetles, family Staphylinidae. Most are super tiny, but this one in the genus Glenus is gigantic compared to most, and it’s probably a voracious predator as well. We found several roaming around the forest floor, always near leafcutter ant nests, but we never saw what they were hunting, as they seemed to ignore the ants.


Weevils are cute. But not all weevils are weevils. This one, for example is in the family Brentidae, the so-called “primitive weevils.”


The “true weevils” that most people recognize are the megadiverse Curculionidae. This one, possibly in the genus Cholus, reveals an amazing pattern of scales and spangles with a close-up shot. It’s curled up in a defensive posture here.


This tiny but beautiful weevil is in the subfamily Baridinae.


Finally, a family of little beetles that any beetle afficionado would instantly recognize – Nitidulidae, the Sap-feeding Beetles. But since I have only seen about three before (out of about 4500 species worldwide), I failed to notice how distinctive those adorable little antennae are and assumed it was another Chrysomelid at first. Incidentally, if someone wants to edit the Wikipedia article on the family, it’s horribly written, riddled with errors, and obviously painfully incomplete.


Sunday, November 14, 2021

Mushrooming in Brazil

I’ve just returned home from an 18-day private tour with a single client to Brazil, from southern Amazonia to the northern Pantanal, crossing the great watershed divide between the central Atlantic (Amazon River) and southern Atlantic (Paraná River). My tour participant, Susanne Sourell, is actually a very advanced amateur fungus expert, and we’ve been on several tours together. She knows much more about finding and identifying fungi than I do, so I while I was often able to help find them and co-marvel in their amazing beauty and diversity, I pointed out birds, plants, and all kinds of other things – which was a lot. Maybe I’ll post more blogs on those later, but for now I just wanted to share a few of the photos of the incredible mushrooms we found.

Most people think of the shape of these gorgeous Green-spored Parasols, Chlorophyllum molybdites, when they hear the word mushroom.

This delicate, little Leucocoprinus sp. is clearly shaped like a typical mushroom, but you have to get on your hands and knees to see them.

Some grow in very attractive arrangements, like this Marasmiellus volvatus.

But a mushroom is any kind of external fruiting body from a fungal organism. As you look at these photos, keep in mind that the main, functional part of the organism known as a fungus is otherwise largely hidden from our view as it grows, feeds, and interacts with its environment (including with other organisms). The mushroom itself is only a very small – and usually very temporary – part of the organism, which can be huge and live for many years. And with the incredible diversity of fungi, you can imagine there must be an equal diversity in fruiting body types. Sometimes you just have to look very closely, such as at this Favolaschia species, just a few millimeters across. The undersides remind me of the spaces in a waffle.

Look even more closely at tiny things growing on the thinnest twigs and dead leaf petioles, and you discover things that barely look like mushrooms. This might be in the genus Trichoderma.

There were some bizarre things that are somewhat familiar to me, such as this Tremella sp.

Or this Xylaria globosa.

Related to stinkhorns, this odd mushroom might be in the genus Laternea, possibly also Clathrus.

Most people wouldn’t look at these tiny bird-nest like structures and think of mushrooms, but that’s what this Cyathus sp. is.  A related species grows in my Eugene yard.

We saw lots of typical looking wood-ears, but this was the first time I’ve seen Auricularia nigricans, distinctive with its fuzzy dorsal side.

This fascinating mushroom is Myrmecopterula moniliformis, placed in a new genus described only last year, and is associated with leafcutter ants. It may be a parasite on the species of fungi that the ants cultivate, or it might just be the decomposer of old ant fungus farms after the colony has died, but it’s not really known.

There were some so bizarre, like these two, I have no idea what they are – nothing similar can be found in the Field Museum field guide pdfs I have.

There are some truly beautiful mushrooms, like almost anything in the genus Marasmius and their close relatives, which turn out to be a largely early-season group that is the first to start decaying the leaf litter that has accumulated over the dry season.

One of my favorites is Marasmius amazonicus, a spectacular and gigantic member of the genus, and not an abundant one; this was the only one we saw.

Let’s not forget the entomopathogenic mushrooms that more and more people are hearing about. There are still many undescribed species in the Neotropics, so it’s usually not possible to say what species you have with confidence. This first is probably in the genus Nigelia, having killed a gorgeous scarab.

This is an Ophiocordyceps sp., its host an ant.

Not really mushrooms, but appearing in similar environmental conditions with a sporophytic reproductive phase are the slime molds. These are actually more closely related to single celled organisms like amoebas (and fungi are more closely related to animals). Up close they are quite beautiful.

Ceratiomyxa morchella

Arcyria cinerea

Tubifera microsperma

At the end of our tour, even though only slightly deeper into the rainy season, we finally started seeing some mushrooms that one encounters more frequently later in the season. This exciting find was the only Hygrocybe we saw.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Calliope Corner Garden Update – Not Winter Yet

When I came home from three weeks in Brazil earlier this week, I was expecting (and sort of hoping) that the Pacific Northwest would be winterish already. With the garden all dormant and harvests completely done, the gradual tasks of cleaning up spent plants and all the gardening infrastructure (trellises, stakes, twine, and the watering timer system) can begin.

But practically the only winterish thing in my yard are the peach trees, which have truly lost most of their leaves. They must respond more to dwindling daylength than temperatures.

But not elsewhere in the garden – while the winter rains have arrived in seasonally normal amounts, we haven’t had a single frost yet, and the garden is largely lush, green, and still producing. Consider that this November 13 morning I picked a bowl-full of delicious raspberries. Mixed with plain yogurt, hulled hemp seed, and drizzled with honey, they were like a mid-morning, mid-summer snack.

Or how about my chiles de árbol, still leafy and ripening, producing what for me is a 10-year supply.

My Nicotiana alata is still blooming and being delightfully fragrant after dark.

The artichokes ‘Green Globe Improved’ that I sowed this spring are looking mighty lush. And look at that volunteer nasturtium in the background!

I didn’t have time to deal with the big crop of ‘Fuji’ apples before my tours began in late September, but there are still many salvageable (and delicious) apples on the tree, though the Varied Thrushes and Starlings have already started digging in.

The brassicas that I sowed in late July are maturing quite fast, and I had to squish a Cabbage White caterpillar on one of them.

Broccoli 'Jacaranda F1'

Brussels sprouts ‘Groninger’

Cabbage 'January King'

I was a bit concerned that it’s been so warm, my carrots won’t go dormant and provide me with delicious roots all winter before they bolt. I planted four varieties, and this one is ‘Giants of Colmar’ (named after a city in France very close to where I lived a year in Germany). It’s young (they apparently get 12 inches long) but certainly big enough to eat, and maybe winter will come soon enough (we do have 5 1/5 weeks of shortening days ahead of us still after all).