Wednesday, July 18, 2012
I've been seeing a lot of these large blister beetles with outsized, orange marked abdomens crawling around this summer, but usually I just see them on the ground, trundling along very purposefully. I see lots of "regular" black blister beetles on my plants like potatoes and tomatoes, eating the leaves, and I see still other species of blister beetles on blooming flowers like goldenrod, nectaring or eating pollen. On the morning of June 30th, however, I found this one, lone individual eating out the inside of an already dead cicada and it seemed unusual enough to photograph it. I know that most, if not all, blister beetles are carnivorous as larvae, but I'd never seen one eat anything but plant material as an adult.
In finally getting back to downloading photos and blogging again, after a hiatus of several weeks due to a (planned) surgical rearrangement of my innards, I found my series of photos highlighting this interesting sight. This is the best of the lot, although far from perfect.
Checking the book, Insects in Kansas, this exact species was actually pictured, identified simply as Meloe sp. After researching online (including an extended check at Bugguide.net), I've concluded that the species was misidentified in that book; this beetle is actually Epicauta conferta. (To be fair, at one site I found that Epicauta conferta used to be known as Meloe conferta, but has since been renamed. See the paragraph below for why this matters.) I couldn't find a common name or much information about its habits. The genus it belongs to is the largest genus of blister beetles in North America, containing 173 species in this part of the world, and its members are generally considered to feed exclusively on grasshoppers eggs and/or larvae in their own larval stages.
Epicauta conferta specifically, aka "this guy," is only found in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. Our own southern plains blister beetle!
I got a little freaked out at first, though, when Insects in Kansas listed it as a Meloe species. My brief research on Meloe blister beetles mentioned prominently that the genus Meloe genus feeds solely on native bee larvae in their own larval stages. It was the only genus mentioned as eating bees rather than grasshoppers. Was this going to be another test of my ability to let nature take its course?
Thankfully, no. Without further evidence to the contrary, I'm assuming that Epicauta conferta is yet another grasshopper egg eater - and I'm happily watching each one I see, as it self importantly walks through the grass, hopefully searching for another grasshopper egg-laying site.