Great Smoky Mountains Beetle Project News and Events 2001 - 2003

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The Coleoptera Taxonomic Working Group (TWIG) at the Louisiana State Arthropod Museum
Christopher Carlton, TWIG Coordinator

Psylliodes sp. (illustration by E. Roberts,
Systematic Entomology Laboratory,
USDA, Washington, DC) (actual size about 4 mm)

An Undescribed Species of Psylliodes flea beetle
Alexander Konstantinov, Systematic Entomology Laboratory, ARS, USDA, c/o National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. 20560-0187

The majority of flea beetles (subfamily Alticinae) and other leaf beetles live openly on plants above the ground. However, a small group of flea beetles colonized much more discrete habitats on the forest floor, either leaf litter or moss. They were discovered by sifting sometime during the 1970's by beetle researchers collecting staphylinids, carabids and other soil and leaf litter beetles. Now leaf litter flea beetles are known from the majority of main mountain systems of Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, being especially abundant in the Himalayas. However, until now, extensive sifting in North America revealed no flea beetles. Recent collecting efforts as part of the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park yielded the first Nearctic leaf litter flea beetle, an undescribed member of the genus Psylliodes.

Leaf litter flea beetles mostly occur in mountain forests, but some are known from high altitudes above the tree line. These beetles are wingless, therefore flightless, and have highly restricted distributions. Some of them belong to speciose genera with large ranges and a majority of species that are distributed widely on the surrounding lowlands. The other leaf litter flea beetles are members of small genera with limited distributions. In any case it is usually easy to recognize a species or a genus closely related to a leaf litter forms. The biology of leaf litter flea beetles including their food source is generally unknown.

The genus Psylliodes is cosmopolitan with more than 100 species in the Palearctic, but only only eight species are known to occur in North America. Although there are some flightless alpine species in Europe and the Caucasus Mountains, this species is the first known Psylliodes which inhabits leaf litter.

Update, 16 July 2004. This species was published as Psylliodes appalachianus Konstantinov and Tishechkin (2004) (see Bibliography).

The Second Rediscovery of Cainosternum imbricatum Notman
Richard Leschen, Landcare Research, Auckland, New Zealand and Chris Carlton, Louisiana State University, Department of Entomology, Baton Rouge, LA 70803

C. imbricatum Notman (actual size about 4 mm)

The genus Cainosternum and the sole species, C. imbricatum Notman, were described in 1921 based on a single female specimen collected on the east shore of Lake Erie, in New York State. Apparently it was not seen again for over 60 years. In 1986 Quentin Wheeler reported its rediscovery in Macon County, North Carolina, south of GSMNP. He reported the recovery of two specimens, one of each sex, in a single Berlese sample among approximately 300 samples collected.

We report the recovery of 13 specimens taken in a single Berlese sample (among approximately 30 since June 2001). The sample was collected 19 October from a single large rotting stump in Albright Grove, an old growth cove forest located in Cocke County, TN. We have requested a loan of Notman's holotype female in order to confirm the identity of the specimens because of the possibility that they may represent a second, undescribed species of the genus.

The Rediscovery of Tohlezkus inexpectus Vit
Chris Carlton, Louisiana State University, Department of Entomology, Baton Rouge, LA 70803

Tohlezkus inexpectus Vit (actual size about 1.5 mm)

Members of the family Eucinetidae are believed to feed on fungi, perhaps some specializing on slime molds. Most species possess normal mandibulate mouthparts as is typical for the vast majority of beetles. However, a small group of eucinetids have the mouthparts modified to varying degrees to a more suctorial condition. The extreme form of this is seen in two genera described by Stanislav Vit that have completely tubular sucking mouthparts apparently formed by the fusion and elongation of the labrum and mandibles. Jentozkus is a South American genus containing a single species. Tohlezkus is represented by several species in Turkey and the Orient, and T. inexpectus Vit, known only from the southern Appalachians in the U.S.

Tohlezkus inexpectus was described by Vit in 1995 based on three specimens, two from GSMNP south of Gatlinburg, and a single specimen from Macon County, NC. I report the discovery of two additional specimens of this rarely seen beetle collected in a Berlese sample from the same locality (Albright Grove) on the same day as the specimens of Cainosternum imbricatum (above).

New Species of the Ground Beetle Genera Anillinus and Trechus
Igor Sokolov, Laboratory of Agrocoenology, All-Russian Institute for Plant Protection, St. Petersburg, Russia 899620 and Chris Carlton, Louisiana State University, Department of Entomology, Baton Rouge, LA 70803

Anillinus moseleyae Sokolov and Carlton
(actual size about 1.5 mm)

Species within the genus Anillinus are tiny soil and forest litter dwelling ground beetles. They are among the most difficult to sort and identify within the family Carabidae. Maximum size within the genus is about 2 mm, and species are eyeless and remarkably uniform in overall appearance, though they differ in morphometric, microsculptural, and genitalic characters. Proper identification has been hampered for many years by inadequate keys, poor quality type specimens, and the presence of at least as many undescribed as described species.? Dissection is required to positively identify most species, although distributional information can be helpful. Specimens may be quite common in soil and litter samples from upland areas of the Southeastern United States, and a few species occur in flatland habitats. Species tend to be quite localized in distribution and may hold important clues for unraveling biogeographic and ecological patterns. Most species are surface litter and soil inhabitants, but a few species are obligate troglobites that are typically restricted to a single cave or cave system.

Specimens of Anillinus are particularly common throughout the Great Smoky Mountains. When we began looking at this problem closely within GSMNP, we made some surprising discoveries. Anillinus dunavani Jeannel is the most frequently illustrated member of the genus, and its identity was presumably well-established. But, examination of the type specimen revealed that the species illustrated under this name actually represents an undescribed species that is common in GSMNP and elsewhere in the region. The type is actually a member of the related genus, Serranillus, described recently by Thomas Barr. Thus, we will be transferring A. dunavani to Serranillus. The result will be the new combination, S. dunavani (Jeannel) (this species does not occur in GSMNP) and necessitates the formal description of the species that has been masquerading under this name. In addition, three additional undescribed species have been discovered in the park as a result of our fieldwork.

These four species and nine more from as far west as Oklahoma and east to Florida will be described in a manuscript to be published in the journal Coleopterists Bulletin during the coming months.

The genus Trechus also contains a large number of forest litter inhabiting species. Most are larger than Anillinus, possess eyes, and are shiny black in color. Like Anillinus, they are common in GSMNP, but the species composition is much better known, having been thoroughly revised in several papers by Thomas Barr during the '60s and '70s. Fifteen species are currently reported from GSMNP, most of which have extremely restricted Southern Appalachian distributions, many found only within the park. We have been able to identify another undescribed species which we will name after the late Don Defoe, longtime naturalist and curator for the park.

Update, 16 July 2004. The undescribed GSMNP species of Anillinus were published as A. lowei, A. langdoni, A. moseleyae, and A. murrayi (Sokolov, Carlton and Cornell 2004) (see Bibliography). A fifth species, A. steevesi Barr, also occurs in GSMNP.

Life History Observations on the Stinkhorn Mushroom Specialist Psilopyga nigripennis LeConte
Chris Carlton, Louisiana State University, Department of Entomology, Baton Rouge, LA 70803

Larvae of Psilopyga nigripennis LeConte
(photo courtesy Earnest Bernard)

The beetle family Nitidulidae includes about 4000 species worldwide representing a diverse array of feeding habits, habitat associations, and other life history traits. The common name, sap beetles, suggests the habitat in which many species are commonly encountered, sap flows, tree wounds, and other fermenting substrates.? A significant number of nitidulids, especially within the subfamily Nitidulinae, feed on mushrooms and other kinds of fungi.? Very specific host associations seem to be typical of the subfamily, but the details of the life history of the vast majority of species are poorly known, or not known at all.

Members of the genus Psilopyga are known to be specialists of stinkhorn mushrooms. Stinkhorns are exceedingly ephemeral nutritional substrates and represent bizarre fungal morphologies. The fruiting body presents itself initially as a small gelatinous "egg stage" for a day or two, then rapidly grows to a definitive fruiting stage that is distinctly phallic in appearance even to the unimaginative observer. At this stage it sheds its spores to be disseminated by visiting flies and beetles that are attracted by the distinctive carrion aroma. Usually by the next day the fruiting body collapses and the remains begin decomposing, forming an unpleasantly fragrant puddle of viscous slime.

During my extended visit to Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob I had the opportunity to observe the phenology of the large stinkhorn Dictyophora duplicata (for a picture see thanks to information provided by members of the Asheville Mushroom Club, who were visiting at the time. In addition to the usual flies and carrion beetles (Nicrophila americana), I caught just a glimpse of adults of Psilopyga nigripennis but didn't try to collect any (both species are already recorded for the park). Instead I harvested the whole stinking mass and associated forest litter and took it back to the lab for daily observations. I was able to observe up to a dozen larvae of P. nigripennis at any given time during approximately one week of intensive observation. The larvae grew amazingly fast, from 5 mm to approximately 15 mm in only four days. They spent all of their time completely immersed in decomposing stinkhorn slime with only the tips of the spiracles exposed for gas exchange. They ate their way through this substance in slow undulating movements with the mouthparts working greedily at the leading end. Dr. Ernie Bernard (University of Tennessee) was kind enough to set up his video camera and record live shots of the larvae near the end of the observational period. Unfortunately, conditions were not suitable for larval pupation and they began dying at this point. All dead and remaining live larvae were preserved for detailed character analysis.

These life history observations and a detailed redescription of the larvae of the species will be the subject of a manuscript to be completed this coming year. These data will also be presented at a symposium presentation at the 2003 Entomological Society of America annual meeting in Cincinnati this coming October.

Beetle Blitz 2003
Victoria Bayless, Louisiana State University, Department of Entomology, Baton Rouge, LA 70803

Victoria Bayless and Chris Carlton Appalachian Highlands 
Science Learning Center

Victoria Bayless and Chris Carlton demonstrate beetle collecting techniques to a group of students at the Appalachian Highlands
Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob during Beetle Blitz 2003.

With support from a Discover Life in America (DLIA) minigrant, the second Beetle Blitz was held 17-20 July 2003. A major focus of the 2003 Blitz was Coleoptera families that require specialized collecting, are difficult to identify, or were poorly represented on the current park list. This was a great success. We assembled a highly qualified team of 19 Researchers along with students, volunteers and park staff to participate in the 2003 Beetle Blitz. Areas of expertise and current researchers participating were as follows: Staphylinidae-Steve Ashe, Chris Carlton; Histeridae- Alexey Tishechkin; Chrysomelidae-Alex Konstantinov, Charlie and Susan Staines (Also Hydrophilidae); Lycidae/Cantharidae-Sergey Kanzantsev; Scydmaenidae-Sean O'Keefe; Anobiidae/Ptinidae-Keith Phillips; Dermestoidea - Kurt Helf; Scarabaeidae- Matt Paulson, Paul Skelley, Phil Harpootlian, Art Evans;? Cleroidea-Adreian Mayor; Cucujoidea-Christopher Hartley; Carabidae-Robert Ward, R.T. Allen. Coleoptera general-Victoria Bayless, Will Merritt. Free housing was provided by DLIA and a picnic dinner featured Blue Grass performed by the "Woodpickers."

Thousands of specimens were collected, although at this writing, no exact numbers are available. Many of the scientists continue to work on their identifications and continue to send in partial reports as they become available. Some identifications were done at the University of Tennessee's Greenbrier Field Station where scopes and work stations were set up for the scientists.

To assess the success of the Blitz and determine how best we can continue recruiting coleopterists to participate in the ATBI, a questionnaire was sent to the 19 researchers after the Blitz. Eighteen of 19 replied (one being out of the country). The results were presented at the 2003 DLIA Annual Meeting. The responses were very positive and we learned that a majority indicated they valued the use of volunteers and were impressed with the quality of volunteer workers. Many indicated that they would like to return to collect in different habitats within the park. One point stressed by everyone was that the camaraderie of other like-minded enthusiasts and the sense of doing something important for our national parks was a very important part of participation.

In addition to the collecting events of the Beetle Blitz, several educational activities were arranged. A beetle collecting walk was scheduled and open to the public at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and a teaching/training session for 40 high school students was held at the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center.

In conclusion, the Beetle Blitz 3003 benefited the overall goals of the ATBI by introducing new scientists to the program, adding more information and species to the database, and encouraging students and volunteers to learn more about science and beetles in particular.