Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Home Sweet Home Redux

This marine blue was never mentioned in this post but
she was posing so nicely that I couldn't resist!
As some of you know we (the family) recently moved to Orange County. I'll sure miss having the Santa Monicas on my doorstep but there are a lot of benefits on living this site of LA!

One downside is the neighbourhood is very modern. That means that the flower beds are chocked full of distasteful garden shrubs and there is naught a weed to be found. There is a gully along the east side of the apartment complex boundary though which I scouted out today.

The gully is dried out from the summer heat but there are interesting weeds such as moss verbena and rose clover, the latter of which is frazzled into seed heads. At one location there is a lone stinknet growing, a plant which despite having not seen it before I somehow knew had the word "stink" in its name. I'll never know how I have such a knack for knowing things I've not even consciously seen in a field guide or in real life!

Moss verbena, Verbena pulchella
Stinknet, Oncosiphon piluliferum.
One of the bounties of this spot although easily overlooked is the dense covering of telegraphweed, a common native daisy that inhabits disturbed ground. However I have never seen it so dense. It creates a literal tangling jungle! As cool as it sounds lthough, I doubt anyone else would endorse a new habitat name of "telegraphweed jungle".

Thanks to the fact that this weed is native, it attracts several of the native Californian species too. On these plants I found some cool insects such as broken-backed bug, several dark-legged green aphids which look to be Uroleucon erigonense, an unusual Pissonotus sp., a gall fly in the genus Procecidochares, and one of the few easily recognizable Mordellids, Mordella hubbsi.

Procecidochares sp., one of the most cumbersome names I've seen
since Dicycla oo. Ok, that was a joke. The suggestion that
Dicycla oo is one of the more difficult scientific names, that is.
Mordella hubbsi.
But nothing prepared me for the small, rounded clearly Coccinellid little dot ascending one of the leaves. It was a skittery thing that jumped and flew all over, so I threw the box on it as quickly as I could. Finally contained, there was ample time for my read the faint, crimson waves on the black of midnight. Wow! There was no doubt that this was one of those that I call sigil ladybugs (Hyperaspis), a diverse genus of ladybugs with nearly 100 species in North America. Yet, out of those 100, none of them are regularly seen by anyone. I have only seen 1 species in the past, H. lateralis, despite extensive searching.

This 2.7mm lady was, unfortunately, actually a lady. In Hyperaspis that is usually bad news, because many species are only identifiable on males. In CA there are only two species in the fimbriolata group as my ladybug was, the widespread curved sigil (H. inflexa), and the seldom seen corona sigil (H. cincta). So either this was an amazing Hyperaspis, or it was not only an amazing Hyperaspis but one that had probably been seen alive by less than 10 people in the world.

Look how small she is!!!
The differences between these two species are poorly known. Robert Gordon in his 1985 publication may have the only documented information on Hyperaspis cincta. Here I was surprised to know that these two species can't actually be separated from male genitalia, a situation that plagues almost every other Hyperaspis species, and that the only difference is in the marking pattern. Phew! So luckily this was one of the few species that could be identified from a female.

As for the difference: the markings are wider on H. cincta than they are on H. inflexa. So what does that mean exactly? According to the almighty key, H. cincta has markings 1/2 of the elytral width, while other species have 1/3 or less. Sounds easy, but when I posed my ladybirds in a straight dorsal view it was clear the markings were intermediate between these two scales.

I spoke to Robert Gordon himself who thought there was likely more variation in these species than currently known. And given how minimally collected this species is I have to agree. The type specimen of this species is identical to all of my specimens,. For now I'm putting them to corona sigil, H. cincta. The most important evidence is that the type specimen of the corona sigil, that is the specimen that was originally referenced when describing the species, is identical to my series. One trait I have found is that the red markings on my specimens are distinctly toothed at the front. I have seen this so far in every cincta specimen, but I cannot find it on inflexa.

putative corona sigil, Hyperaspis cincta.
There is a third option, the ribboned sigil, Hyperaspis taeniata. That species usually has very uniquely smudged or prominent markings, however in CA it is known to have scattered populations with abnormal patterns. But as plausible as it could be that is a readily variable species, so I wouldn't expect an entire series to show an abnormal pattern. Think of having a 6-sided die, with 1-5 representing the normal pattern and 6 representing the abnormal pattern. If you roll it 7 times, what are the chances of getting 6 every time? Not impossible, but unlikely.

With one of California's most inconspicuous native ladybugs in what is virtually my backyard, no matter what species it turns out to be, I can only hope that this is just a fraction of the great things to come.

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