Monday, October 25, 2010

Lytta funerea

Lytta funerea is a blister beetle known from the San Joaquin Valley in California. These pictures are from a small population I found on September 4th (of this year) just below Millerton Dam (north of Fresno). They were all on a few tarweed plants near Lost Lake.

Lytta funerea is a pretty black species with a small orange spot on the top of the head (vaguely discernible in one of the pictures). Caution is required, however, in identifying black blister beetles in the Western US. There are several species that are black and have a small orange spot on the head. Lytta funerea is different from these in having nearly straight mandibles. It is also the only one of these species lacking clear pads on the tarsi (the segments making up the "feet").

The habitat around Lost Lake in September is dry. Dragonflies and wasps are out and about but not many other things are. Lytta beetles are known to parasitize bees of the family Anthophoridae. A young beetle larva, once it has emerged from the egg, is very active and finds its way to a flower. When a bee arrives to feed, the small larva (called a triungulin) quickly crawls aboard and is carried back to the bee's nest where it begins to feed on the developing brood. As the larval beetle grows it turns into a sluggish grub and will eventually isolate itself to pupate. These beetles were all glossy black and seemed to have recently emerged.

Here's a habitat shot with tarweed and oaks near where the beetles were seen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Amphicyrta dentipes

I spent a few hours last weekend up in the Sierra foothills above Fresno a day or two after our first rains of the season. It was cool, refreshing and quiet. It's always nice to get above the valley air as well. At one stop just a couple of miles southeast of Bretz Mill Campground (a bit south of Shaver Lake in Fresno County) I came across this pill beetle under a partially cut log near Big Creek. It is Amphicyrta dentipes and quite large - at least for a pill beetle (about a centimeter long). Most pill

beetles feed on mosses but Amphicyrta doesn't fit this pattern so much. I found A. dentipes partially buried in the riparian litter of dead twigs and dark soil. The other Amphicyrta species in California (the brassier looking A. chrysomelina) is known to feed on lilies and other vegetables and can sometimes be a pest (although I doubt very much that you'll ever find an insecticide label with a pill beetle listed on it).

The habitat along Big Creek is a bit unusual for a mid-elevation Sierra stream (at about 3,000 feet). It flows fairly slowly and has sandy banks in several places. I also found several ground beetles in the same area (including the impressive Pterostichus lama).

A bit further up the road I came upon a wild apple tree at dusk with ripe fruit. It was a very pleasant surprise and not something I see very often – especially in California where we have no native apples larger than a crab apple. I sampled a few of the less-wormy fruit. They're not as bitter as crab apples but not so sweet as fruit-stand varieties (like Red Delicious for example). They're also smaller but I enjoyed them much more than I've enjoyed apples in years. I kept thinking of Thoreau's essay on wild apples.

“But it is remarkable that the wild apple, which I praise as so spirited and racy when eaten in the fields or woods, being brought into the house, has frequently a harsh and crabbed taste. The Saunterer’s Apple not even the saunterer can eat in the house... for there you miss the November air, which is the sauce it is to be eaten with.”

And indeed Thoreau is right. I brought a small bag full home with me and nobody liked them at all. But I’m secretly saving the seeds anyway.


Johnson, Paul. Project Byrrhus ( Accessed October 12, 2010.

Thoreau, H.D. Wild Apples; in Henry David Thoreau, Collected Essays and Poems. The Library of America, Second Edition, 2001.