Currently viewing the category: "Ship-Timber Beetles"
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Subject: Australian Possibly Coleoptera or Hymenoptera?
Location: Canberra, Australia
January 14, 2014 5:12 am
Dear Daniel/Bugman,
I usually like to entertain myself by attempting to identify insects around my house, sketch and release them. I can often identify down to the species thanks to many helpful Lucid keys such as from CSIRO. Your website is also incredibly useful in finding insects and links to info pages.
However, tonight I’m stumped as to even which Order this insect belongs to.
My mum thinks it is a beetle because it appears to have elytra and my dad thinks it is a wasp because of it’s elongated body.
It has huge compound eyes, no evident ocelli eyes, hardened forewings which do not cover the membranous hindwings stretching over just half of the body. It’s antennae are short, curved and filamented, and are tucked under the head at rest. It has long mouthparts that if anything resemble a fly’s. It also has a long “filament” which sometimes protrudes from it’s abdomen which I can only assume is genitalia.
I hope that is enough information. Sorry for phone photos!
Many thanks,
Signature: Claudia

Ship Timber Beetle

Ship Timber Beetle

Hi Claudia,
This is quite a find, and our collective hats go off to your mother for actually correctly identifying the insect order.  This really is a beetle, despite its decidedly un-beetle-like appearance.  It is a Ship Timber Beetle in the family Lymexylidae and probably the genus
Atractocerus, and it is represented in our archives a scant three times, prior to your submission.  There is considerable information from our previous postings, but we are going to search the web for additional links with additional information.  According to BioDiversity Explorer:  “Adults are attracted to light at night and larvae bore into hard wood and palm stems.”  According to British Insects:  the families of Coleoptera, they are capable of:  “Boring into living wood (causing fungal infections on which the larvae feed), or boring into dead wood.”  According to Beetles in the Bush:  “Nothing is known about the biology of Atractocerus, but larvae of other genera are reported to bore into hardwoods and palm stems (Picker et al. 2002). Larvae of the genera Lymexylon and Melittomma are believed to form symbiotic associations with ambrosia fungi that grow on the walls of their galleries (Young, 2002).  Adult females deposit fungal spores in a sticky matrix when they lay their eggs, and the hatching larvae carry the spores into wood on their bodies.  The large eyes of Atractocerus, however, suggest a predatory lifestyle. The common name of the family originates from a northern European species that has in the past been a destructive pest of ship timbers.”  There is a host of information in Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia.  The Atlas of Living Australia has a record of Atractocerus crassicornis Clark, 1931, from the northeast corner of West Australia, and there is a record of another species, Atractocerus tasmaniensis Lea, 1917, from Tasmania, also on the Atlas of Living Australia.  Yet another species, Atractocerus victoriensis is listed, but not pictured, on the Australian Faunal Directory.  According to A Guide to the Beetles of Australia (and we have to type this out because the document will not allow us to cut and paste):  “Ship-timber beetles are extraordinarily slender with a distinctive shape.  Members of the genus Atractocerus have very short elytra and well-developed, gauzy flying wings.  When these beetles are at rest, their wings are folded fan-like but as the reduced elytra can not cover them, they are exposed.  Gravid females have enormously swollen abdomens.  They lay their eggs in woulds of eucalypts and possibly other hardwoods too.  The cylindrical and elongate larvae have short, strong legs, and a hood-like pronotum, which partially conceals the head from above.  They bore into the timber and grow to considerable size (up to 35 mm in length).  Their tunnels run parallel and transversally with and to the grain.  Discontinuous, irregular bands of stain marks caused by their activity discolour the timber.  The larvae feed on a fungus, which grows on the walls of their tunnels in the timber.  This fungus is transmitted by the beetles themselves.  It is presumed that their development takes at least two years.  Adults can be found in decaying timber, on tree trunks and occasioinally fly to artificial lights.  Adult specimens of a Western Asutralian species of  Atractocerus sometimes fly in swarms at dusk.”  Thanks so much for contributing additional photos of this rarity, and our first example from Australia, to our archives.

Ship Timber Beetle

Ship Timber Beetle

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Subject: Bug
Location: guinea west africa
December 19, 2012 4:24 pm
this bug is 6.5 cm, black and resembles bug on the website sidebar. Short antennae.
Signature: Codfish Joe

Possibly Ship-Timber Beetle

Hi Codfish Joe,
This is not an Earwig, but it does remind us of a very unusual beetle we have in our archive, the Ship-Timber Beetle.  We have a representative that was photographed in Costa Rica and it has been identified as being in the family Lymexylidae and the genus
Atractocerus.  We will need to do additional research to see if the Ship-Timber Beetles are known to be found in Africa.  This posting from Beetles in the Bush makes our identification likely correct.  According to Beetles in the Bush:  “Atractocerus species are rarely encountered and therefore, not well studied. Their evolutionary history is still unknown; however, the oldest known lymexylid fossil is a very primitive member of the genus Atractocerus preserved in 100 myo Burmese amber (Grimwold & Engel 2005). Thus, the lineage containing these beetles had already appeared by the mid-Cretaceous and may have originated as early as the Jurassic, a fact that has earned them the moniker “living fossils.” These beetles were once thought to be among the most primitive of all Coleoptera – their simple wing venation, almost undifferentiated antennae and tarsi, and naked abdomen being likened to a supposed neuropteran common ancestor. ”

Possibly Ship-Timber Beetle

Thank you so much for responding so quickly. I am Codfish Joe’s mom, and I want to tell you what a blessing you have been to him with your website. We live in Guinea, Africa, and see many interesting wildlife here (mostly bugs!). He is very much a nature lover, and it enriches his day when he can identify one of God’s creatures that he has discovered. I did manage to find that the Ship Timber Beetle lives in SOUTH Africa, but we are a long way from there (closer to Senegal and Sierra Leone), so I don’t know if it would be here or not. Our dog found it and was playing with it. We’ve lived here 5 years, and it is our first time to see the ugly thing!
Thanks again,
CFJ’s mom

Dear CFJ’s mom,

Thanks for your kind response.  We are pretty certain about the identification.

 

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Musandam insect
Location: Musandam, northern Oman
November 14, 2011 6:57 am
This insect can fly very swiftly as it did shortly after I photographed it, much to my surprise.
Signature: Keith Wilson

Unknown Insect

Dear Keith,
New mail was slow today, so we went back through our unanswered requests to find some interesting posts.  Your photo has us quite intrigued as well as stumped.  The head somewhat resembles a Stick Insect in the order Phasmidae, though the legs are quite short and there are no visible antennae.  Something about this insect reminds us of the insects that have aquatic nymphs, though again we are not quite certain.  Though it has been some time since you sent this request, can you provide us with any information on its size or the conditions under which it was seen, including terrain?

Hi Daniel,
The insect was a beetle – a ship boring beetle, known as Atratocerus belonging to the family  Lymexylidae. It was about 30 mm long. It was the second record for Arabia and may have come in on a wooden ship as it was found near a local fishing boat where there are lots of wooden dhows. The antennae are present but folded under the head.
Regards
Keith

Eric Eaton identifies Ship Timber Beetle
Dear Daniel:
Trying this again.  First time it never sent, or saved….
Happy holidays to you, too!
I am delighted that I can give the gift of this identification, especially when my initial thought was that this is a fly of some kind.  I was literally off by several “orders” of magnitude!  I still managed to find this blog post by my friend Ted MacRae.  Turns out this is a beetle.  I know!  He has a nearly identical image, but good information to go with it:
http://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/2009/02/28/ship-timber-beetle/
Hope that helps.  Take care.
Eric

Ed. Note:  Here are a few quotes from Beetles in the Bush posting on this Ship Timber Beetle:

“One of the more unusual, and enigmatic, beetles that I encountered in South Africa was this beetle in the pantropical genus Atractocerus.  Placed in the family Lymexylidae (ship-timber beetles), species in this genus look less like beetles than they do large flying ants or strange damselflies due to their highly reduced elytra that expose their greatly elongated abdomen and leave the hind wings uncovered.  The hind wings also are unusual in that they are held fan-like in repose rather than folded as in most other beetles.  Atractocerus brevicornis is the only species in the genus found in Africa (Scholtz & Holm 1985).”

Atractocerus species are rarely encountered and therefore, not well studied. Their evolutionary history is still unknown; however, the oldest known lymexylid fossil is a very primitive member of the genus Atractocerus preserved in 100 myo Burmese amber (Grimwold & Engel 2005). Thus, the lineage containing these beetles had already appeared by the mid-Cretaceous and may have originated as early as the Jurassic, a fact that has earned them the moniker ‘living fossils.’ These beetles were once thought to be among the most primitive of all Coleoptera – their simple wing venation, almost undifferentiated antennae and tarsi, and naked abdomen being likened to a supposed neuropteran common ancestor.”

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Can’t even class this to Order!
Location: Caribbean coast, Costa Rica
May 12, 2011 12:25 pm
Hi bugman!
I just stumbled upon your page while trying to identify this insect that was buzzing around my room last night. It’s really bugging me (pardon the pun) that I, a biologist with basic Entomology skills, can’t even figure out what order this insect belongs to!
The insect is approximately 3cm in length. It has hardened forewings like a beetle, and chewing mouthparts as well, but the forewings are minuscule and don’t cover the hindwings at all. The eyes take up nearly the entire head. The antenna that remains (one is missing) may be damaged, so I can’t use them to help. And the abdomen is very long, roughly 9 segments, about one-third of which extend beyond the wings. It has no cerci or abdominal appendages.
Help!
P.S.
I’m sorry I don’t have better images, the only macro capabilities I have are with a zoom lens. If you need more detail regarding a specific body part, I’d be happy to describe it for you.
Signature: Jennifer

Ship-Timber Beetle

Dear Jennifer,
Trying to identify North American species can often be quite difficult despite the comprehensive archives on BugGuide, however, once the unknown entity hails from the tropics, all bets are off since there are numerous families there that are not represented in temperate zones.  We agree that the mouth parts and they elytra-like forewings seem to indicate that this may be some type of beetle, but we haven’t a clue as to its identity.  The legs are not inconsistent with those of the beetles either  We will try to contact Eric Eaton, but he is currently away, having traveled here to Los Angeles for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for the annual Bug Fair.  We may see him tomorrow and we can direct him to this posting to see if he has any ideas.  Meanwhile, our posting might lure some expert to weigh in with an identification.

Ship-Timber Beetle

Hi Daniel,
It is truly a mystery. I’ve been living here for 4 years and have never seen one of these, and now I had another in my house last night, and it was nearly a centimeter larger. I am anxious to hear the verdict!
Thanks,
Jennifer

Karl’s identification supports mardikavana’s comment
Hi Daniel and Jennifer:
Your bizarre creature is indeed a beetle.  It is a Ship-Timber Beetle (Lymexylidae) in the genus Atractocerus. This one appears to have an ovipositor which would make it a female. Here is one more image from flickr.  Regards. Karl

Ed. Note:  Here is one more link from the Museo Virtual de la Ciencia.

Thank you both so much! I am glad to hear that my hunch was correct!


What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination