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Photo#692206
Thought it was a bee or wasp...with bizarre antennae! - Ripiphorus rex - female

Thought it was a bee or wasp...with bizarre antennae! - Ripiphorus rex - Female
West of Kennedy Meadows, Tulare County, California, USA
June 8, 2012
Size: Body Length ~10mm
This one certainly intrigued me when I found it in the late afternoon on the native mint Monardella exilis. Like other BG posters, I thought it was a strange hymenopteran...with flamboyant antennae and oversized tegula. It allowed me to approach quite closely...so close that I began to wonder whether it was alive. It was windy, so I reached out to hold the plant still, and soon was able to actually touch the "wasp". It was still alive, but very lethargic...and it seemed to be stuck to the flower head. Later I realized it was a beetle of the bizarre genus Ripiphorus, whose members are very short-lived, and it was apparently ovipositing on the flower head while on its last legs.

Once I got the idea (from the antennae) that it might be a ripiphorid, a quick check on BugGuide cinched the notion, and a reading of Linsley & MacSwain(1)(1951) indicated this was R. vierecki. Then I ran into comments and this forum post by BG contributor Edward Ruden, pointing out that R. vierecki and R. rex are very similar looking, and that while Linsley & MacSwain(1) didn't include the species R. rex in their treatment, the 2006 field guide by Evans & Hogue(2) indicates it occurs in southern to central CA. Edward also noted that Evans & Hogue(2) mention (without reference) that R. rex "is unique among the species of Ripiphorus in having a serrated outer edge of the middle tibiae", and Edward provided a wonderfully detailed image of a serrated tibia edge to illustrate that character on a post he made of R. rex.

While I don't have an image of the detail (or quality) of Edward's, I do think I can barely make out the presence of what may be similarly serrate outer edges on the tibiae of my specimen (see 6th image in this series). Edward's forum post also referred to a 1955 paper by Vaurie(3), and I noticed that she stated another distinguishing character of R. rex not mentioned in Linsley & MacSwain(1), Evans & Hogue(2), or the earlier 1929 treatment by Rivnay(4). Namely, among all the specimens of R. rex Vaurie had studied, one of that species significant characters was "the densely hairy elongate projection on the inner side of the front coxae at apex". I think I may see that structure in the full-size versions of some of my images. (See, for instance, the 5th image and the cropped detail in the last image of the series.)

All this seems to point to a determination of R. rex here, although I'm not certain all my interpretations are correct, and it seems these two taxa...and the genus as a whole...could benefit from clarification and revision (e.g. see =v='s comment here). Nevertheless, considering all the above, it seems reasonable to place this under R. rex, and move it elsewhere if future comments suggest that's the right thing to do.

Two last remarks. The one-sided tapering processes ("flabella") on the antennae here, indicate this is a female. And, it may be of interest to note the Ron H.'s nice post of an ovipositing ripiphorid was also photographed on the flower head of a native Monardella.

Images of this individual: tag all
Thought it was a bee or wasp...with bizarre antennae! - Ripiphorus rex - female Thought it was a bee or wasp...with bizarre antennae! - Ripiphorus rex - female Thought it was a bee or wasp...with bizarre antennae! - Ripiphorus rex - female Thought it was a bee or wasp...with bizarre antennae! - Ripiphorus rex - female Thought it was a bee or wasp...with bizarre antennae! - Ripiphorus rex - female Thought it was a bee or wasp...with bizarre antennae! - Ripiphorus rex - female Thought it was a bee or wasp...with bizarre antennae! - Ripiphorus rex - female

great find!
I'm envious! I've only seen ripiphorids once in CA (an exciting find a couple of years ago). The species you found is larger and even more bee-like (color-wise) than the one I found. Nice that you were able to get a species ID on this one.

 
Yes, an exciting find :-)
And I remember your excitement with the ripiphorid you found at Onion Valley way back when. In fact, if it wasn't for you sharing your fascination and images (prompting me and learn a bit about Ripiphorus), it would have taken me a lot longer to make the connection here. So thanks Joyce! :-)

I agree this one looks quite bee-like...besides the elytra looking like over-grown tegula, the face and head were also bee-like, and the dark leg joints look a bit like basitibial plates. (Though bees only have those on their hind legs, not all their legs like here.) And it was pretty big...I'm guessing the epithet rex might refer to the relatively large ("king"-)size of this species.

Maybe we haven't seen more of these partly because they're so short lived? (Just a day or two?) Gotta be in the right place at just the right time. This one was quite weak when I found it...appeared to be close to death, even though it didn't look at all worn.

I wonder if Essig and/or CAS have a fair number of R. rex and R. vierecki specimens? If so, I'd like to visit the collections and see if the "serrate outer mesotibia" and "hairy sub-coxal projection" characters are indeed consistently present on R. rex and absent on R. vierecki. I'd also like to see the "medial carina on dorsum of abdomen" character on R. rex, as that doesn't seem to be visible in photos, but might be more viewable on specimens.

Very nice series, Aaron
.

 
Thanks, Ron
I have special appreciation for the compliment from you...as you were the ground-breaking "first-poster" for many CA ripiphorids :-)

Moved
Moved from Ripiphorus.

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