Updated! WA Jewel Beetling
I recently went on an amazing fieldtrip. Despite the extreme temperatures, huge number of flies and an irritating field assistant, it was a great success.
– Amanda Franklin, PhD.
Amanda wrote this very brief and candid assessment of her recent field trip, clearly not anticipating it would be uploaded. Standby for the extended disco version.
The extended disco version, as promised:
In January this year, I was lucky enough to go to Western Australia in search of jewel beetles. As I was preparing, I was reading Sir David Attenborough’s book, Adventures of a Young Naturalist. In the book, he says that an expedition should involve “schedules and permits; lists, visas and itineraries; enormous piles of carefully labelled baggage and equipment, and a chain of transport”. I felt quite chuffed because I had organized all these things… I was preparing for a trip in a similar way to Attenborough! Then Attenborough went on to say that he organized none of those things and that they were going to work it out when they got there. Perhaps my preparations were not so Attenborough-like. My disappointment was short lived though, because my preparations, including a kitted out Landcruiser, had made me super excited for the field work.
We were spending a week in the Goldfields region, about 5 hours east of Perth. It’s quite beautiful out there – red dirt, lots of flowering eucalypts and, if you get off the main road, some gorgeous isolated campsites. It’s also stinking hot and swarming with flies at the end of January. But, we’d been told that this is prime jewel beetle time, so we weren’t going to let a little heat and a few flies stop us.
And it really was prime jewel beetle time! Before heading out to the Goldfields, I was concerned that we weren’t going to find many beetles. We had excellent collaborators who assured us we would, but I had minimal experience finding beetles and I was worried it would take a while to get my eye in. I shouldn’t have worried. There were jewel beetles everywhere! You could see them buzzing around flowering trees while driving past at 110km/hr. Several times Katrina (our lab manager and “irritating field assistant”) almost got whiplash as I slammed on the brakes to check out a flowering eucalypt.
To our utter delight, we could walk right up to the trees to watch the beetles and they wouldn’t fly away. And yes, I wrote ‘our’, because even though Katrina will never admit it, these huge jewel beetles weaselled their way into her heart. Especially Temognatha mnizsechi who she nicknamed Zechi and whispered “you are cute” when she thought I couldn’t hear.
All up we found 25 different species of jewel beetle from four different genera. My favourites were Temognatha chevrolatii (nicknamed Chevy) and T. duponti (nicknamed Tibi for the notch on its tibia, and its previous species name T. tibialis). Chevy has stunning purple and blue iridescent chevrons on its elytra, and Tibi is huge, maroon, and kept flying into me when I was wearing red. Merimna atrata was definitely my least favourite because it loved to bite us (and each other).
Since this field work, I have completed labwork at UWA to discover what these beetles can see. Some research suggests that they can see ultraviolet, visible and far red light! This is a much greater range than most other beetles which can generally see ultraviolet to green light. In fact, it’s a greater range than what humans can see! I am still processing my data and don’t have results yet. But, hopefully soon I will be able to tell you whether different jewel beetle species have different visual capabilities, and, if so, why?