Monday, April 18, 2011

A most handsome blister beetle

I spent all of yesterday plumbing the depths of southern Ohio's Shawnee State Forest, unfettered by schedules, people, or things. Well, one thing - my new Nikon D-7000. This was the first day that I've had to really fool around with this camera and its 105 mm macro lens. I am but an inexperienced piker with this setup, but the camera with that lens is amazing! I hope to progressively get better with it, and start to learn more about using flash and other tricks.

Anyway, Shawnee was great as always and I saw scads of interesting stuff. I did spend a lot of time looking at and photographing insect pollinators, mostly the often colorful flower flies that so ably mimic bad guys such as wasps and bees. More on those in a later post, if I get to them, but for now it's a beetle. And what a beetle! Early-blooming wildflowers, such as this pussy-toes, Antennaria plantaginifolia, which sometimes goes by the odd name of "woman's tobacco", are very important nectar sources for vernal insects. Pussy-toes, which in this species typically form sizeable colonies, are good for finding lots of interesting bugs. Those are bluets, Houstonia caerulea, in the backdrop - another good nectar source.

I was after some fly shots when I noticed this little beauty wing in and plunk down on some pussy-toes flowers. It's small - perhaps one-half inch in length and I don't think I would have noticed what an exquisite animal it was had I not been turning my macro lens to small bugs.

Anyway, it is the so-called "bronze blister beetle, Lytta aenea. Having the word "blister" in your title does not sound flattering and indeed the beetle does have some caustic chemicals within its hard-shelled exoskeleton. But who cares - look at this thing! It would be hard for a metal-working artisan to create such a thing. Everything about this beetle is cool, from those ornately braided antennea to the head and thorax which look as if they've been plated in high quality bronze. The iridescent purplish wings contrast nicely with the yellow legs.

A major piece of work on a minor scale, this one.

Blister beetles, which can often be found visiting flowers for nectar, get their name from the presence of cantharadin, a nasty chemical they carry. Accidentally ingest one of these things and you'll regret it. There's a whole raft of bad effects, including greatly elevated temperature, rapid heart rate, diarrhea and dehydration. Depression is another cited effect, perhaps because all of those other bad things are happening to you.

Even getting cantharadin on your skin can cause nasty blisters and inflammation, so it's better to admire blister beetles from afar.


Michael Bartneck said...

great shots, we must be on parallel coarses as I've been seeing alot of Red-necked blister beetles in my "Neck" of the woods :).very cool.

John said...

I'd never noticed them when I lived in Ohio, but down here in Texas they're everywhere!

Doug Marcum said...

Awesome that you got your new macro setup!! Be prepared to be hooked. I don't have to tell you about how immensely diverse the micro world is!! On a nice warm day I can find myself getting lost in a 4x4ft. patch of land for hours, and then I finally look up and am like "whoa, I forgot where I was!"

A little tip for you to experiment with on the macro images...the higher you set your aperature, the more of the subject (insect) will be in focus (you may already know that) Sometimes you don't have a choice because of low light conditions, but if you can it is a nice tool to understand and play with! Just thought I'd let you know in case you didn't!!

Take care,

Kelly said... the closeup of the beetle with the focus on the antenna...spectacular, especially with the pollen showing too.