Caveat: It definitely lives in Cochise County, it’s clearly an insect, and it’s obviously a bug–but the “side flange bug” moniker was tacked onto the tiny critter just minutes ago. It might be a beetle. It might be a true bug. Whatever it is, four hours of hammering the Internet accomplished nothing. All attempts to identify the species were fruitless.
So I stopped, took a break, and ate a bowl of raspberries. That was fruitful.
Rather than waste the entire night with nothing to show for it, here’s what we know so far (including photos) about this miniscule insect.
1. Great hatches of the beasties manifest in pretty cool weather.
This is December 10, 2013. Even here in southern Cochise County, Arizona, one mile from the Mexican border, it’s apparent that winter is on its way. Last night’s low temperature hit somewhere in the mid-twenties at our place. Daytime highs have been in the fifties, but no more than that.
2. They swarm all over any building surface they can find.
For the last several days, these side flange bugs have been observed roaming around on the little structure that houses our passive solar hot water tank. All of the photos for this page were taken there. They’ve also been busy atop the steel roofing panels of the Border Fort itself, though in fewer numbers, and atop the raw OSB strand board sheathing wood of the back porch that’s still under construction.
Roofing felt (tarpaper) was added to that porch roof this afternoon. A few dozen of these side flange bugs were still there when the layers of 30 lb. roofing felt fell on them from above; what they thought about that, I have no idea.
3. They really do have side flanges.
I can’t recall ever noticing an insect of any sort that possessed these distinctive flanges. It looks for all the world like the top half of the bug was heat-sealed around the edges, held together with some sort of hot glue carapace welding job.
4. The larger individuals are no more than 1/16″ or so in length, but there is considerable difference in size in the side flange bug population.
In the header photo, as well as in the photos that follow this text, those size differences really stand out.
5. They’re pretty active little critters.
Although the bugs didn’t seem particularly alarmed at the presence of a looming camera lens, it was necessary to pay close attention when taking pictures. They’re capable of stopping for a while, but for much of the time they’re on the move.
6. Their abdomens are quite decorative.
Before the “right” photo showed up on the computer screen, I was calling these little fellows (or gals, whichever they may be) “cinnamon butts”. A closer look, however–such as in the photo immediately above–reveals a remarkable visual impact for the eyeball sharp enough to catch it. The abdomen is somewhat translucent, with at least one narrow brown cross band plus several other bands that look like dotted lines.
7. The abdomen is widest, then the thorax, with the head tapering down to a narrow nose-point finish.
In the largest individuals, the overall perimeter of the critter resembles a sort of narrow guitar pick–but in the smaller ones, there’s a definite, narrowing waistline, with the beginning of the thorax being noticeably narrower than the ending of the abdomen area.
8. The antennae have something of a dotted line pattern, too.
Let’s see if we can find a photo that shows that antenna pattern clearly.
Here’s a photo that really provides a sense of scale. The screw head shown (upper right) is 11/32″ in diameter. The metal dominating the scene is simply the corner of one of the hinges that allow the lid on the solar hot water tank enclosure to be lifted to let out excessive heat buildup during hot summer days. (It turns out that’s not necessary, not ever, but when I built the system, there was no way to be sure in advance.)
9. From above, the bug’s abdomen appears as one solid color (cinnamon brown) with a single light colored stripe running up the center of the dorsal thorax.
There is some puzzlement here. From certain angles, it looks like those darker thorax parts might actually be vestigial wings. However, I’ve never seen one of these little beasties fly or even make any obvious attempt to do so. It would take a different camera than my Canon PowerShot to magnify things crisply enough to be sure: Is that a carapace over that thorax? Only your entomologist knows for sure.
Speaking of entomologists, a link to this page will be emailed to the entomology department at the University of Arizona. Those folks can probably eyeball these photos and identify the real name (including scientific nomenclature) for this species. Bet they don’t even break a sweat.
In the meantime, any and all help from readers is more than welcome, as usual.
There was one picture from this afternoon’s photo op that sort of just…got me all excited as a photographer. The side flange bug was standing on one of the sheets of 1/4″ tempered glass that allow the sun to warm the water in our passive solar tank. Had it been a bit to the left, its shadow would have been lost somewhere in the interior of the enclosure. As it happened, though, Ms. Bug (just guessing the gender) was positioned out toward the right edge…and the shadow was caught and held by the painted wood surface of the framing that holds the glass in place.
It’s nice that all of these side flange bugs have been observed outside of the dwelling. If they did make it inside, though, Zach’s last pest control treatment (from when he had to wipe out a harvester ant invasion for us) most likely has thousands of deadly poison micro-crystals just waiting for them to be foolish enough to wander by.
Like we said, there are a lot of them out there at the moment.
And…that’s it for now. As soon as we get a firm identification for these Cochise County side flange bugs, the title, the text, and the photo captions will of course be updated–but we’re keeping the side flange part in there, too. It’s just too cool to throw away.
Who knows? Perhaps the scientific name will turn out to be contra illi labium, Latin for “the ledge”–at least according to Google Translate. A ledge is not precisely the same as a side flange, but it might be close enough.