Observation of the Week, 6/8/16

This Phengodes glowworm beetle seen in Alabama by friel is our Observation of the Week!

As a professional ichthyologist, John Friel has collected fishes from two countries in South America and nearly a dozen African nations. He curated the ichthyology and herpetology collections at Cornell University for over fifteen years and is now the Director of the Alabama Museum of Natural History at the University of Alabama. Now that he’s not in the field, John has become an avid iNat user (nearly 3,000 observations and over 2,000 identifications), and says the site “has really changed the way I interact with the natural world.” He focused on collecting organisms for much of his professional career, and “taking images of living organisms in their natural environment was always a lower priority…while I still recognize the need and value to do traditional collecting of organisms for basic research, I am now freed up from that task, and with iNaturalist I can focus on making observations of any cool organisms I encounter on a daily basis.”

In fact, John encountered the above Phengodes (genus) glowworm beetle and its millipede prey while moving a potted plant in his backyard! At first thinking the beetle was a similar looking millipede he’d seen previously, “on closer examination I noticed it was something different.” While he’d seen an adult male Phengodes before (below), the larval and adult females look quite different. In fact, adult glowworm beetle females are larviform, meaning they retain many larval traits even after they metamorphose.

Glowworm beetles get their common name from bioluminescent areas of their bodies, and the light is created by a chemical reaction inside the animal. Some Phengodes adult male glowworm beetles are luminescent, but it’s more commonly found in the larvae and adult females. And while larval and adult female Phengodes are fierce predators who specialize in devouring millipedes, adult males do not eat at all. The males use their impressively branched antennae and their wings to find females who are emitting breeding pheromones.

John’s Phengodes observation is one of nearly 9,000 observations that have been added to the Biodiversity of Alabama project on iNat, which was started by John and his colleagues at the University of Alabama museums “to engage the public in observing and learning about the amazing biodiversity of organisms that surround them.” While the project is only a few months old, it has an impressive about of data, and John says “we already have a several active members that contribute new observations on a daily basis.” If you’re in the Yellowhammer State, make some observations and help this project continue to grow!

John, of course, will continue to explore the wildlife of Alabama, and says that while he’s “still a vertebrate biologist at heart,” he’s “quickly developing a new love for terrestrial invertebrates and plants.” iNaturalist’s “lack of any taxonomic boundaries [has] really allowed me to expand my curiosity and knowledge of biodiversity beyond those taxa I studied professionally.”

- by Tony Iwane

- John’s colleague at the museum, entomologist and photographer John Abbott, took some great pics of two adult male Phengodes, including one in flight!

- Glowworm video artwork!

- Glowworm beetles are not to be confused with the equally cool cave glowworms in New Zealand, which are the larvae of the Arachnocampa luminosa fungus gnat. 

Posted by tiwane tiwane, June 08, 2016 14:28



As always, great job in selecting these observations and putting them up on the social networks, Tony. Keep up the awesome work. :)

Posted by sambiology over 4 years ago (Flag)

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