Friday, April 16, 2010

Painted Hickory Borer

It's not often that one gets a "life bug" while in their office, but it happened to me today. Colleagues at work know that I'm interested in a wide sphere of things in natural history, and routinely deliver specimens of flora and fauna, curious as to their identity. I appreciate their curiosity, because I always learn a lot from identifying mysteries, too.

I had stepped away from the office briefly, and upon returning noticed a thick glass jar sitting on my desk. "Ah, a bug of some sort!" thought I, seeing a small moving shape through the opaque glass. Unscrewing the lid brought clarity to the situation, and I quickly realized there were two gorgeous Painted Hickory Borers, Megacyllene caryae, within the jar! I'm no Eric Eaton, and the reason that I knew its identity so quickly is because this was a bug high on my most wanted list.

A type of long-horned beetle, the Painted Hickory Borer is a stunner. And a bit of a mystery. In all of my poking about I had never seen one, and the person that brought them to me had never seen them before, in ten years of living on their Knox county property. Painted Hickory Borers look nearly identical to another, apparently much more common species, which I'll get to. It seems that in most texts and references, this one is hardly mentioned and often just as a brief footnote in accounts of its more common relative.

This borer and some others of its ilk are thought to be wasp mimics, and they do look the part. When they do emerge from their woody haunts, Megacyllene borers spend time nectaring at flowers, and looking like a stinging nasty is probably a good ploy. As you have no doubt inferred from the common name, this beetle utilizes hickory trees (genus Carya) in the subadult stages.

I wonder if this is an irruptive species. In other words, many years can pass with populations remaining at very low levels, and then, for whatever reasons, the population explodes and we get a conspicuous outbreak. The finders of this specimen report that dozens were around their yard. And coincidentally, I was told of yet another large concentration of Painted Hickory borers today, near Chillicothe in Ross County.

This is the apparently much more common look-alike, the Locust Borer, Megacyllene robiniae. Note that all of the dorsal stripes are bold yellow; on the hickory borer the M-shaped stripe is whitish as are two dots on the carapace towards the rear. These don't emerge until early fall, and are quite fond of nectaring on goldenrod. I shot this one last September on Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis. The host tree is Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. I see scads of these every year, and once I learned about the existence of the apparently far less frequent Painted Hickory Borer, I've wanted to see one.

Finally, our third? Megacyllene borer in Ohio, and perhaps the showiest, the Amorpha Borer, Megacyllene decora. This one may actually be the rarest, but I think I know how to find them now. Some of us will be mounting an expedition this August to look specifically for this beauty; should be quite the adventure.

Keep your eyes peeled for Painted Hickory Borers, and let me know if you find any. Or, if you know any interesting info about them, I'd appreciate hearing it.


Susan Gets Native said...

Dude. My daughters and I saw one of those just yesterday! My oldest, a budding wannabe marine biologist/bug girl, spotted it outside our Skyline Chili parlor. It was just gorgeous and I knew that I had never seen anything like it. And here it is on your blog. How very helpful.

DenPro said...

Some friends of mine had a large hickory fall last June, and within a day there were probably 200 painted hickory borers gathered to mate and lay eggs. Within two days they were all gone. This species, like many other insects, are attracted to the scent of recently wounded trees. They rarely attack healthy hickories.

Tom Arbour said...

I had to return to this post this evening when something very similar flew onto my lawnmower just after I shut it off this evening. It flew away before I got a good look, but it was long and slender, black, with narrow orangish yellow stripes. Thanks Jim for this post- I'm not sure if what I saw was one of these borers, but it may have been.

Jim said...

I had a large Hickory tree come down in my back yard, I decided to cut and split the wood to use in my meat smoker. I got about 3 cords of wood stacked, and I split it when needed. Every time I split some logs I see these things fall out and have always wondered what they were. Now I know! Thanks.

Chad said...

We were just unloading some nursery stock from Medina, and I saw one of these on a grass I was unloading. I could tell it was a borer, but I wasn't sure what kind. Thank you for the info and the pics!

Jim Scheff said...

We just found dozens of them all over some Pin oak logs that were cut about two months ago. The nearest hickory tree is about 300 yards away. None of the literature we've found lists oak as a host, but there's nothing else in that pile other than some very old willow.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Just photographed an Amorpha borer on goldenrod in the backyard. This is the first time I've ever seen one of these - it's very pretty,, although I'm not too excited about having its larvae chomping on the few leadplants I have on my little recovering prairie.

Anonymous said...

I have an entire swarm all over the outside of my house. I love in a small town outside of youngstown, ohio. I thought they were wasps. But a friend of mine said they were locust borers. I looks them up because I didn't know if they were poisonous, if they could sting me, etc. I came across your post in my searching. And they are definately hickory borers, they have bright orange legs. Ugh. Creepy. You can have them