9 out of 10 Noble Chafers Agree…

Romania is the place to be!

Now, I can’t comment the nobility of Noble chafer, Gnorimus nobilis, (Family Scarabaeidae) and whether it belongs to a hereditary class with high political or social status. However I can confirm that the Noble chafer has high principles and ideals when it comes to choosing its natural environment and home, traditionally managed orchards and woodlands.

The Noble chafer can often be found in traditionally maintained cultural landscapes and develops in decaying wood within the hallows of live trees throughout Europe. The adults emerge in early summer and live for 4-6 weeks dining on high nectar flowers such as hogweed, elder, and meadowsweet.  Unfortunately, over the last century these beetles have been losing their habitat due to the rural to urban human exodus, urbanization, and rural development programs (Hartel et al. 2013) and consequently have become rare in parts of Europe, such as Great Britain; (Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership). However, in Romania, many people still practice traditional land practices such as manual hay mowing, tree pollarding, low intensity grazing. These practices create a mosaic of habitats in which many species, including the Noble Chafer, thrive.  So, these beetles still seem to be abundant in Romania…. at least for now.

[Photo] Beetles geographic Range includes the palearctic ecozone (Europe: Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Servia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, Ukraine, Belarus, Switerland)
Noble beetles geographic range includes the palearctic ecozone (Europe: Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Servia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Albania, Ukraine, Belarus, Switzerland) [Photo: Wikipedia]
Noble chafer habitat, Iron Gates Natural Park, RO
Noble chafer habitat in Iron Gates Natural Park, RO. (Although, in the UK Noble chafers found in Orchards.)

I discovered the Noble chafers while surveying longicorn beetles using pheromone trapping in a sub-Mediterranean forest of the Iron Gates Natural Park in Southwest Romania, as part of the Romanian Beetle Project.  At first, I thought it was a fluke!  I figured the first Noble chafer captured must have been merrily going about its daily business and accidentally flown (undamaged) into my trap.  Oops!  But then I continued to find Noble chafers throughout the month and a half of our trapping expedition. In total, we captured 24 Nobel Chafers!

The Noble chafer is a beautiful metallic green beetle (approximately 2cm or, if you are American, Liberian or Burmese that is 3/4 inches in length).  But the most telling feature to identify these beetles is their scutellum, which is the small triangular shield-like structure between their hardened wings (elytra).  Noble chafers have a scutellum that is shaped like an equilateral triangle (all three sides are equal).  But be careful when making the identification because they can be easily confused with the Rose chafer, Cetonia spp., (Family Scarabaeidae) which have an isosceles triangle (2 out of the three sides are equal) shaped scutellum.

The Rose Chaffer is similar to the Noble beetle with the exception that its scutellem is shaped like an isoseles triangle. The Noble beetle is rare and has a scutelum shaped like a equalateral triangle.
The Rose Chaffer is similar to the Noble Chaffer with the exception that its scutellem is shaped like an isoseles triangle. The Noble beetle is rare and has a scutelum shaped like a equalateral triangle.

I needed to learn more about the Noble chafer, if scientists were working with it and what conservation initiatives were being taken… So, I contacted The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. It is an UK-based organization that bridges that gap between science and real-life conservation initiatives.  They consider this beetle vulnerable in the UK, which means that is at high risk of extinction. I told them about all the Noble beetles I captured in Romania and they immediately put me in touch with Dr. Deborah Harvey.  Dr. Harvey is a Post Doctorate at the Royal Holloway University of London and has been working on the Noble  beetle as part of a wider project in conjunction with the Universities of Birmingham and Aberstwyth, funded by Leverhulme.  She is investigating the use of pheromone attractants to manage, survey, and ultimately conserve the Noble chafers.  So, she was obviously intrigued and excited to hear about my discovery (and especially to learn about the pheromones I am using)!

In essence, pheromones have been “playing with insects heads since the 1950’s” when they were first applied to control moth pests. A pheromone is a chemical compound produced by an organism that sends a signal or message to a member (or members) of the same species, causing a change in their behaviour. In this case, we hope that a pheromone will attract Noble chafers looking for romance (a potential mate)!  Similar to the Romanian Beetle Project with longicorns, a pheromone would help conservationists survey and monitor the number of Noble chafers (without harming them) and inform about their community and ecology.

Dr. Harvey is an Insect Conservationist and has been working with Noble chafers (among other vulnerable beetles) for a few years now. In addition trying to find pheromones for attracting adult Noble chafers, she will also be studying the larvae (baby beetles). She explained that in the UK the current method for identifying the presence of chafers is to look for signs of larval frass (beetle poop!). The larvae develop in decaying wood and probably feed on fungi. But that’s the thing… we do not know exactly what they are eating or how they develop. And the frass could have been there for a really long time after the beetles have left the tree. So, in fact, frass may not actually be the best method for determining if beetles are really there. …And this is where Dr. Harvey comes in, she will be conducting scientific experiments to learn how the larva develop, what they eat, and the kind of natural home environment they prefer. With knowledge on the Noble beetles biology and ecology, we can better identify and safeguard Noble chafers habitat.

I always tell people that Romania is the “wild wild west”… of Eastern Europe!  It is one of the few European countries with intact wild forests with a diverse array of ecosystems.  And it is because of this that it is home to many species that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe and many of them are threatened or are in danger of becoming extinct. So, it was no surprise that it would be home to Noble chafers but whether or not they prefer Romania?  …Well, we will have to wait and see if Dr. Harvey and I have stumbled upon a pheromone to find out for sure!

What can you do?  Please keep an eye out for these beetles and if you see one this summer, contact The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species or Tweet, Dr. Deborah Harvey @deborahjharvey, #ROBeetleProject #conservation

 

Citations:

Hartel, T., Dorresteijn, I., Klein, C., Máthé, O., Moga, C.I., Öllerer, K., Roellig, M., von Wehrden, H., Fischer, J. (2013): Wood-pastures from a traditional rural region of Eastern Europe: characteristics, biodiversity and threats. Biological Conservation, 166: 267-275.

Noble Chafer, Gnorimus nobilis: Species Action Plan (2001) Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership. 2: 1-6.

Noble chafer, Gnorimus nobilis, (Family Scarabidae), Iron Gates Natural Park, Romania
Noble chafer, Gnorimus nobilis, (Family Scarabidae), Iron Gates Natural Park, Romania

The Case of the Mysterious Mesosa Longicorn Beetle

Entomology Today

A white-clouded longicorn (Mesosa nebulosa) with all of its tiny hairs (pubescence) intact. Photo by Szczepan Ziarko.
By Bekka Brodie

It was a beautiful, sleek, black beetle with long antennae. Immediately, I knew it was different than any other longicorn beetle I had seen, but its identity eluded me.

Bekka Brodie

Solving mysteries may be “elementary” for Sherlock Holmes, but for entomologists, trying to identify an unknown insect requires more than careful examination of trace evidence to reveal information about a mystery insect — especially when there are more than 400,000 different species of beetle worldwide! Identification requires a systematics key, careful examination of the beetle’s habitat, and a review of the scientific literature. And in this case, a team of entomologists from all over the world.

I discovered the mystery beetle while trapping deep in a sub-Mediterranean forest of the Iron Gates Natural Park in Southwest Romania. I had been checking traps for…

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Beetle Trapping Expedition

It was a beautiful, hot, Spring morning, and 3 out of shape committed scientists set out to bait and trap beetles in a mountainous and rugged sub-Mediterranean area of Romania.  Enthusiastic, we were carrying 50 traps, anxious to see what surprises will wait for us in those 50 cups over the next several weeks. We wanted to survey threatened and endangered longicorn beetles that live in the unique habitats that make up the Iron Gates Natural Park (IGNP) but we would have been excited to find even the most common of them all!  This was a brand new territory for us and one that has never been systematically surveyed. We were looking for one beetle in particular, the endangered European Maple Longicorn Beetle (Ropalopus ungaricus), but found more then we ever expected!

Pheromone Factory Line
The “Pheromone Factory Line”, here Gabriel Vanau, Viorel Popescu and I are tying multiple generic pheromone lures together in preparation for deployment in the field. The pheromone lures were provided by David Wakarchuck at Synergy Semiochemicals.  (Yes, we are wearing socks!  The lab is inside someones home… so, no shoes allowed! Next time I will be prepared and bring/wear slippers.) .
Hanging flight intercept traps and recording habitat data.
The pheromone lures are used in combination with flight intercept traps (above) provided by Joseph A. Francese at USDA APHIS.  …Here’s how it works, the pheromones are chemical compounds that transmit a seductive message to the beetles (i.e. “happy hour” or “ladies night”) and attracts members of the same species (often the opposite sex) to the trap location.  The responding beetle flies toward the pheromone message in search of a mate, bumps into the panel, and slides into the white cup below (trapped!).

The pheromones we are using are generic (many species of longicorn beetle produce the same or very similar pheromones) and we hope that they will attract a variety of beetle species (Hanks and Miller 2013, Wickham 2014). The pheromones and traps will help shed light on the diversity and community of beetle species, which is critical since the deciduous forests in Romania are among the last remaining habitat in the European Union suitable for the survival and persistence of a variety of endangered species and because knowledge about them is relatively scarce.  Additionally, the pheromones we are using have yet to be tested in Europe. So, what we find in the trap cups will be a great big surprise (like Christmas morning… but for insect nerds)!

We walked over 3 kilometres setting up traps, up steep mountains and through open fields. The elevation in Eselnita Valley increased from just under 200 meters above sea level to almost 500 meters in less than 1 km!  Within this landscape, there is a temperature inversion causing the Beech trees (which prefer a colder climate and usually grow at higher altitudes) to grow near the valley bottom (200-300 meters), where the river maintains a cooler microclimate.  The higher we climbed, the warmer it got, the Beech trees disappeared and were replaced by Oak trees.  In the open fields (Mala Valley) it is sunny, hot, and full of wildlife, including wild boar, deer, snakes (vipers!), and insects (lots of ticks!).

Vipera_ammodytes ammodytes_VGavril
Baby corn viper posing for the camera, Vipera ammodytes, IGNP, RO [Photo: Viorel Gavril]
Danube Delta,UNESCO,Biosphere Reservation,traditional food,people,landscape,food Danube delta,carp traditional,sturgeons
Danube Delta, UNESCO, Biosphere Reservation [Photo: unknown]
While setting up our traps in Mala Valley, we just about walked into a barbed wire… and looked like we trespassed on someone’s land!  We had to be careful about setting up our traps because we didn’t know if our presence would be welcome, and didn’t know how serious people are about trespassing.  Carefully, we proceeded onto the property in hopes that we would be permitted access to continue our work… And we were greeted with kindness!  We met an old couple, Ion and Veta Jianu, who not only welcomed us, but they gave us coffee and homemade cheese (which became my staple food for the next several weeks), and also gave us permission to trap beetles on their land.  (In fact, Ion greeted me by hand-kissing without making eye contact, which I learned is a traditional way for a gentleman to greet a lady in Eastern Europe!)  Throughout the field season, I would continue to meet Ion every day (no hand-kissing since). Ion spoke no English, but he patiently waited while I strung together a few Romanian words (thanks iPhone data and Google translate!), and we made conversation for hours at a time.  We chatted about the beetles captured, the trees and plants I came across in the woods, our families, and the weather (always up to date with weather conditions in the area, as well as in the town where my in-laws were babysitting my son, at the other end of the country).  I would often bring leaves from trees where I was catching beetles and Ion would teach me the Romanian name of the tree and its traditional use (scythe handle, cane, etc.).  …So, as it turned out, on the other side of that barbed wire was a very good friend!

Ion Jianu
Ion Jianu waiting for us to finish our work for the day (Mala Valley, Eselnita, RO)

There are many vulnerable, threatened, and poorly understood beetles in the IGNF.  (I will post stories about many of them in the future.)  However, there is one beetle in particular that we were interested in finding, the endangered European Maple Longicorn Beetle, Ropalopus ungaricus.  This beetle has an endangered IUCN status due to severe destruction Ropalopus_ungaricus_copyright_Petr_Zabranskyof mixed forest habitat for intensive agriculture and urbanization, and because of deficient forest management, and most importantly, the abandonment of traditional land uses (fewer people like Ion and Veta). The Maple Longicorn develops in living and dying Maple trees (Acer spp.) with a preference for pollarded or open trees. Pollarding is a form of traditional forest management in Central and Eastern Europe used to produce more branches and foliage for use as animal feed or firewood. Pollarding also has a side effect of increasing the amount of light that enters the tree canopy, as well as its undergrowth, allowing for optimal conditions Maple Longicorn.

A "wolf beetle" overpowering a longicorn beetle, Hungary, Gerence Highlands. [Photo: Sig]
A “wolf beetle” overpowering a longicorn beetle, Hungary, Gerence Highlands. [Photo: Sig]
Over the next month and a half we checked the traps daily.  We wanted to ensure that none of the beetles were harmed… especially the Maple Longicorn beetle.  We were worried about them getting harmed because we caught more then just beetles responding to pheromones for romance (a mate), we also caught beetles looking for a meal!  We caught hundreds of checker beetles (Clerus mutillarius) daily (about 10-20 per trap)!  The Romanian people I spoke to called these beetles ‘gândacul lup’, or wolf beetles, because they’re amazing hunters and eat everything!    So, we had to check the traps daily to reduce the number of Longicorn beetles that would have been on the “wolves” menu.

After an entire month and a half of hiking 1.5 kilometers of rugged terrain daily, we decided to wrap up the project and take down the traps.  The pheromones were quickly depleting from the heat and we hadn’t caught any new beetles species in a week.  And, although we hadn’t found our target beetle, the endangered Maple Longicorn Beetle (Ropalopus ungaricus), we still had plenty of data for a great story!  (As it turns out it’s so elusive that even the Grigori Antipa Natural History Museum in Bucharest, RO, does not have one in their vast collections).  However, (and quite ironically) on the very last day we captured a similar species of Maple Longicorn beetle (Ropalopus insubricus), a cousin of our target beetle (and featured on the header this post).  So, we are getting closer!  We will be back in August to scope out better habitat to trap for the elusive Maple Longicorn Beetle.

Overall, we managed to collect 40 different species of Longicorn beetles and of those approximately 10 are rare, vulnerable, and threatened beetles.  One species of beetle was unidentified, possibly a new species or invasive species??  Many beetles were captured in specific habitats within our trapping areas or at different times of the day.  I will write more detail about the beetles, their identification, habitat, and behaviour in future posts… So, please stay tuned or “follow” this blog.

In the mean time, for more details on the project, please visit my new page “RO Beetle Project“!

Removing traps from the Eselnita Valley with Akis and Laurentiu Rozylowicz.
Removing traps from the Eselnita Valley with Alexandru Gavrilidis Athanasios (AKA “Akis”) and Laurentiu Rozylowicz [Photo: Laurentiu Rozylowicz).
The spot where the Maple Longicorn Beetle "should be" in the collection at the Antipa...
The blue arrow shows the empty location for the Maple Longicorn Beetle in the collection at the Grigori Antipa Natural History Museum, Bucharest, RO

Citations:

Hanks LM and Millar JG (2013) Field bioassays of cerambycid pheromones reveal widespread parsimony of pheromone structures, enhancement by host plant volatiles, and antagonism by components from heterospecifics. Chemoecology 23:21-44.

Wickham JD, Harrison RD, Lu W, Guo Z, Millar J, Hanks LM, and Chen Y (2014) Generic lures attract cerambycid beetles in a tropical montane rain forest in southern China. Journal of Economic Entomology 107(1):259-267.

Featured imageRopalopus insubricus