Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mugging with Monochamus

I’ve been religiously reading Compound Eye and trying to improve my photographic technique while sticking with my convenient point-and-shoot camera. I think I’m getting a few pictures that speak more to the strengths of my camera than to my desire to document a species, as with the long-horned beetle above and its impressive antennae. But I had a bit of a letdown this morning when I saw that the Edmonton Journal article on the White-tailed Bumblebee has eschewed my pictures in favour of my wife’s (although still attributing the picture to me). Oh well, my bee pictures were for documentation anyway, but this beetle view was for fun.
 One advantage of a point-and-shoot is one-handed snaps as above, a more difficult feat with a heavy SLR. The White-spotted Sawyer Beetle, Monochamus scutellatus (Say, 1824), is probably better known in Alberta as the Tar Sands or Oil Sands Beetle. When a conifer is damaged, a variety of volatile chemicals are released, and sensors in the long antennae allow the female beetles to track down a good tree in which to lay their eggs. The larvae then burrow in the wood for a couple of years. Apparently the tar sands emit similar turpentiny smells and keep the beetles a buzz.
 Sawyer beetles are rather large: the White-spotted Sawyer above was about 2.5 cm long with an antennal span of 7-8 cm. I once had a job sawing off all the limbs, one by one, from the ground to the top of live, standing fir trees. I still remember the shock when large sawyer beetles would crash into me while I was dangling 30 or 40 feet above the ground. It did make one appreciate their safety ropes. The beetles may have appreciated the results of our work – a limbless tree that looked more like a telephone pole – but I don’t think the poor poplar branch boring longhorn beetle (Oberea quadricallosa LeConte) above will be able to appreciate much of anything without its antennae. Who knows what disaster befell the beetle, but it may have been ants tending aphids and objecting to its feeding on a poplar leaf. As you may note from the clarity of the picture, this one came from my wife's Nikon SLR.


  1. A longhorn beetle without his longhorns--so sad! I find these creatures fascinating. They render me a staring ape, my brain stuck repeating "wow" over and over. =) So, I'm probably dense, but did you mention WHICH of the above pics is the one accepted and which was yours?

  2. In the Bombus moderatus post, the last image is my wife's. I usually put the name of the artist or poseur (aka HBG) on the pictures in the hopes that anyone who borrows them without permission will at least credit the author. You can also check out the article by cutting and pasting the url in the fourth comment. The image was chosen, though, rather than accepted.

    Carrying around those amazing antennae is, well, amazing! And they aren't even the result of runaway sexual selection, just the lust for nice wood for their offspring to spend years chewing.

  3. What camera do you use? I'm a point-and-shooter, too ;-)

  4. Those flashy long horns are very impressive!

    Hey, I read that article in the Journal and thought of you and how pleased you would be to see it, not knowing it actually was you. A very cute bumblebee and nice to know they are thriving. :)

  5. Hi Cindy - I use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 (10, mpix, 18x optical zoom). For what it can do, I am very happy with it. The battery lasts a long time and recharges quickly. It is light, has a good grip, and changing modes is easy and straightforward.

    Hi Garden Ms S - Bombus moderatus does seem to be thriving. I was out around Devon on Friday and males of the species were everywhere and this morning The BugWhisperer published photos from his his garden.

    With your recent expansion, it looks like your garden will be heaven for all kinds of bees!

  6. Yay, longhorned beetles! Those pics certainly do play to the strengths of a point-and-shoot.

    I suspect the Oberea was lucky enough to escape a bird's grasp - perhaps by clinging tightly to the branch it was sitting on as the bird grabbed it by the antennae. Just a hypothesis.

  7. Hi Ted - Yes, that's possible and possibly less painful then having the antennae gnawed off by ants

  8. I carry my point&shoot and occasionally get a surprising, 1-handed snapshot. However, I am jealous of the quality in those SLR shots.