One of the great things about prairies – and nature in general – is that there is way more to discover than I’ll ever have time for. Especially within the world of invertebrates, there is no shortage of species to learn about, and every one of them has a fascinating story. During the last two weeks, I’ve started paying attention to longhorned flower beetles, a group of species I’d noticed before while looking for bees. Not surprisingly, once I started really looking at them, I discovered that there are multiple species and that they are much more common than I’d realized.
These beetles belong to the “flower longhorn” group of insects (family Cerambycidae, subfamily Lepturinae). Adult flower longhorns are largely diurnal (active during the day) and feed upon a wide variety of wildflowers. When I started looking for information on longhorns, I turned to Ted MacRae, an entomologist and author of the fantastic blog, “Beetles in the Bush“.
Ted helped me identify the species I’d been able to photograph around here, and gave me some good information on what longhorns are all about. Ted, by the way, has documented at least 229 species and subspecies of longhorn beetles in Missouri. That information made me feel better about being unable to identify my photographed beetles myself, but also strikingly ignorant about a very diverse group of insects I’d never really noticed before. (Such is the way it usually goes with insects.)
Flower longhorn beetles are named for their habit of feeding on wildflowers as adults. As larvae, on the other hand, most longhorn beetles are wood-borers. That includes many (most?) members of the Typocerus genus – the genus of beetles I’ve been seeing. However, Ted says the larvae of many Typocerus species in the Great Plains are actually subterranean root feeders on prairie grasses. That, of course, seems a much more sensible strategy for insects in landscapes with only widely scattered woodland habitats.
Now that I’ve started to pay attention to longhorned flower beetles, I’ll probably never ignore them again. That’s both a blessing and a curse. I love learning about new species, but it makes prairie hikes go more slowly because the more species I recognize, the more there is to see. If this keeps up, it’ll take me all day to walk 100 yards!
Thanks to reading this post, your mind has also been infected with the visual image of longhorn flower beetles. The next time you walk through a prairie, you’ll likely spot more than one. (You might want to budget just a little more time for that prairie walk, by the way – sorry about that!)