Bombo’s Big Question in 5 languages


Hey everyone!

Bombo’s Big Question is now also available in Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, and Norwegian.          Links below.


English original:





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Bombo’s Big Question

On behalf of the Carabid-Q research Team* I am very pleased to present a book about a bombardier beetle for children that is beautifully illustrated by Ainsley Seago and chocked full of facts and fun. This beetle tale is suitable for children and those of us that never grow up.

bombo overviewBombo’s Big Question” is a fable about the adventures of a beetle named Bombo who is in search of an explanation for what she sees as her “superpower.” It’s an allegory that intends to promote curiosity, critical thinking, and natural explanations. Ultimately Bombo does find a good answer and one that goes beyond a mechanistic explanation in that the answer connects her personally to the rest of life.

The story is about how evolution provides the answer, but it is not a primer on evolutionary theory or any specific topic. Aside from reading for entertainment, the story of Bombo can be a companion to a full lesson plan on evolution, or a way to facilitate discussion between adults and children on the topic.  Also provided are supplemental materials for anyone that wants dig into more information about the beetles and other animals introduced in the story. There is a guide to pronunciation of the scientific names and hopefully, answers for some of the many questions curious readers will have.

Get the ebook and print on demand versions from these links or sites

Free PDF is available hereBombo-ebook-low res (smaller file) or  Bombo-ebook-high res (big file)

Free eBook file hereBombo epub (big file)

Get a print copy and/or Kindle version hereAmazon print copy or Kindle format

Why the print and Kindle versions are not free.

Distributors may charge a distribution fee and all costs of printing and shipping must be paid by the purchaser. In most cases the book itself is “free,” i.e., cost are for production and distribution only, no royalties are paid to the author and illustrator. Because the book was published and distributed via CreateSpace  and on Amazon, some distributors do not allow royalty-free books (see image of rules below). If there are any purchases made with those vendors then all royalties will be donated to the NCSE.


To be transparent, here are the royalty rules at CreateSpace (above) and the minimum prices allowed (below)


Some great resources for teaching evolution can be found at the following sites:

Understanding Evolution:



Talk Origin

National Center for Science Education



The C-Q research team is headed up by the following PIs (click name to see web sites and lab members): Wendy Moore, Tanya Renner, Athula Attygalle, and Kip Will

NSF logo

This project is supported by funding from the US National Science Foundation: DEB1556957 DEB1556813, DEB1556931, DEB1556898

Posted in Carabids, Children's Science book, Coleoptera, Entomology, Evolution, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Vote now for a bombardier beetle genome

Vote daily from now until 5 April here

Bombardier beetles are among the world’s most impressive chemists. They repel predators with rapid-fire, precisely-aimed explosive discharges of a toxic chemical mix at over 100°C, earning them lead roles in media and culture. Yet the genomic basis of this extraordinary ability remains a mystery. We need YOUR help to sequence the Explosive Bombardier Beetle genome.

Our team’s bombardier beetle proposal has been selected as one of five finalists to undergo a popular vote for the world’s most interesting genome! The final winner receives Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) SMRT Sequencing and genome assembly.

Vote YES for the Explosive Bombardier Beetle! Vote here today:

You can vote once per day through April 5th. Help SDSU/UC Berkeley/University of Arizona/Stevens Institute of Technology win this exciting competition! Please announce to your students, friends, etc. Our team will be sending periodic reminders throughout the voting period.

Social Media:

Follow the Explosive Bombardier Beetle team on Twitter:
Dr. Tanya Renner (San Diego State University): @TanzRenner
Dr. Wendy Moore (University of Arizona): @paussus
Dr. Kipling Will (University of California, Berkeley): @Cerabilia
Dr. Aman Gill (University of California, Berkeley): @amanomenon
Dr. Athula Attygalle (Stevens Institute of Technology)

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New Pterostichus for Hilary

Modified by CombineZP

Pterostichus (Leptoferonia) hackerae

In 2015 David Maddison blogged about a trip we took to meet Hilary Hacker in Northern California (A Love of Leptoferonia). It was so amazing to meet her after being an admirer of her field work and her publication on Leptoferonia.

I am very pleased to announce that my small contribution describing a new species of Leptoferonia from Oregon that honors Hilary Hacker has been published. The tiny-eyed, soil-dwelling beetle is named  Pterostichus (Leptoferonia) hackerae and together with a key for the species of the subgenus and a phylogeny, the description is published in the Pan-Pacific Entomologist in a paper titled “Description of a new microphthalmous species of Pterostichus Bonelli, 1810 (Coleoptera: Carabidae) from southwestern Oregon and key to species of the subgenus Leptoferonia Casey, 1918.” It’s available here or if that is pay-walled ask me for a PDF. Even better, join the Pacific Coast Entomological Society and get the journal.

Also in the paper I follow up on the question of P. (Leptoferonia) enyo‘s sister-group relationships. Spoiler alert- I proved my original hypothesis wrong. So goes science.


Meeting Hilary Hacker in 2015. Image by D.R. Maddison.

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Support the Essig Museum, Cal’s Big Give

For more about the Essig Museum click here or to donate now click the image below. Thanks for your support!



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Enigmatic La Brea Tar Pit Insect Fossils

Anna Holden who recently wrote a guest post here  on insects from the La Brea Tar Pits as paleoenvironmental indicators has a lot more stunning insect fossils that have turned up during her studies. She is looking for help to identify more of the specimens. You can check out images of some of the material and if you have expertise in a group offer some suggestions as to the identification. Visit the Flickr account that she has created of ~44,000k year old insects from a unique assemblage. Comment there or for non-Flickr members you can email Anna comments aholden[at]

Some examples of the fossils on the Flickr site.

Some examples of the fossils on the Flickr site.

These insect fossil fragments are in near pristine preservation due to a rapid entrapment event that compacted this material into a camel (Camelops hesternus) skull.

Clyde the camel's skull from La Brea (Camelops hesternus)

Clyde the camel’s skull from La Brea (Camelops hesternus)


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Talk slides from I.C.E. 2016

I’ll be speaking tomorrow in a chemical ecology session about the carabid-Q project, in part.


Here is a reduced size pdf of the slides for preview or review. Enjoy.




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Poster previews for the 4th International Symposium of Carabidology in Athens, Georgia

I have the pleasure of participating in a couple projects that have poster presentations at this week’s 4th International Symposium of Carabidology in Athens, Georgia. One is on the Phylogeny of Adephaga (draft preview poster here: 6genes2treeposter-draft-locked)



The other is from the Carabid-Q team,  detailing our new project on carabid defensive chemicals (draft preview poster here: carabid-q_poster_carabidology2016_locked-public )  The project is looking for students!


Enjoy! I hope to see you at this meeting or at ICE in Orlando.



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One less Pterostichus for Montana

My recent trip to Bozeman, MT wasn’t entirely fun and games. Well, it was entirely fun (Thanks, Mike!), but not all games. One objective was to collection samples of the various forms of Pterostichus (Hypherpes) protractus, the species of Hypherpes with the largest known range in the subgenus. This species has a distribution that stretches from just a bit north of Jasper, Alberta, Canada south to the Zuni and Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico, and west to northeastern Sierra Nevada Mountains and southeastern British Columbia.


Hanging out at the Continental Divide with Mike Ivie (MSU). We old guys aren’t good at this selfie thing.

With such a big range and a good deal of morphological variation, is anyone surprised that there are seven synonyms and six of those are T.L. Casey names? The area around Yellowstone was the last locality I needed (two Casey names from there) in my due diligence to sample areas in or near the type localities for all named species and get DNA quality specimens and males from across the entire range.

Part of my effort involved working in the MSU collection to look for localities. There were plenty of P. protractus records and so it was very easy to pick sites for sampling.


In addition to P. protractus, I expected to see Pterostichus restrictus, based a record of nine specimen records published by Hatch (1933) (in Hatch’s paper as Pterostichus longulus (see Bousquet 2012)). This is a species that I found to be very common in New Mexico and Colorado. But I couldn’t find any specimens in the collection.  Mike helped me search through the old card records and voilà, there were nine records all from around Bozeman.



Specimen identification tracking cards from the MSU collection.

But… they were all really P. protractus. Sorry Montana, no P. restrictus for you. I doubt that P. restrictus ranges north of southern Wyoming. Hatch didn’t identify any specimens as P. protractus, so I suspect he was either unaware of the species or had a different concept in mind.

IMG_0486 cropped

Two of the series of nine P. protractus that were initially identified as P. restrictus.




-Bousquet Y (2012) Catalogue of Geadephaga (Coleoptera, Adephaga) of America, north of Mexico. ZooKeys 1722, 1–1722.

-Hatch MH (1933) Records of Coleoptera from Montana. The Canadian Entomologist 65: 5-15.

Posted in Carabids, Coleoptera, Entomology, Pterostichines | Leave a comment

Tar Pit Beetles Unlock New Clues to Ice Age Climate in Southern California

Preliminary analyses of Tar Pit insects provide evidence for more aridity and warmth than previously proposed for the transition from late Ice Age to modern times.

by Anna Holden, American Museum of Natural History, La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Establishing Paleoclimate as a Means to Understand Current Climate Change

Scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, UC BerkeleyUC, Irvine, and the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) are joining forces in an effort to use information from fossil insects to help establish what the Ice Age climate was like in southern California. This project is intended to help us answer questions such as: “To what degree can we predict the possible future climate of California from analogous, prehistoric data?”  and “How have the flora and fauna responded to climatic changes over time?”

In California, we are currently experiencing one of the worst prolonged droughts in our recorded history (National Climate Assessment). While anthropogenic climate change may be one force driving the current episode, paleoenvironmental records indicate that this drought is not unique in the history of the region.

Although climate change impacts in southern California are well documented, our records only go back a century and a half at most. Deeper paleoenvironmental patterns must be reconstructed using other evidence. The Rancho La Brea (RLB) Tar Pits in southern California offers a wealth of fossils that can shed light on how the local environment has changed through time and these reach much further back than human records.


Leading the project, Anna Holden, Ph.D. candidate at the Richard Gilder Graduate School, American Museum of Natural History and Research Associate, La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Insects as Paleoclimate Indicators 

Though there is an abundance of insect material in the RLB deposit, this potential source of data has seen little use. Thanks to recent advances in reliable radiocarbon dating of disarticulated, identifiable beetle fragments from RLB (Holden and Southon, 2016), we are now in a position to date radiocarbon time as far back as 50,000 years or more, and are also able to date sufficient numbers of insect fossils such that they can provide a significant density of data for this period.

These developments have now been combined with methods using carabid and tenebrionid beetles as climate indicators. We can use these beetles as their present-day life-cycles, climate restrictions, and geographic distributions of the selected species are relatively well documented, and unlike migrating and often wide-ranging, mammals and birds, they offer crucial information about very local environments. Beetle species known from the Quaternary and even Tertiary are still extant and can reasonably be assumed to have flourished under the same climatic conditions that they do today.


Live Dicheirus dilatatus imaged by Joyce Gross, UC Berkeley

A number of species of carabids and some tenebrionids have been used as paleoclimate indicators over the past decades. In particular, these predatory and scavenging species, whose behavior is reasonably well-documented, are known to find food in a variety of habitats and are not tied to specific types of vegetation. They are able to migrate into suitably warm or cool, wetter or drier habits, independent of the flora, as necessary. Therefore, they are expected to typically respond to fluctuations faster than plants (Elias, 2010).

RLP 15216E prothorax

Prothorax of fossil  Dicheirus dilatatus imaged by Carrie Howard, La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Give this, generalist predator and scavenging insects may serve as better local indicators of change—in contrast, there may be a lag of hundreds of years for evidence of temperature changes to appear in pollen records (Elias, 2010). We expect that the rapid changes in populations of insects such as carabids and tenebrionids can reflect climate change that takes place within a matter of decades. Already entomologists are tracking the distribution of present day carabids and tenebrionids to record how they respond to current climate change.



Advances in Radiocarbon Dating Circumvent the Lack of Biostratigraphy* at RLB

john_southon copy

Dr. John Southon, collaborator and co-founder of the UC Irvine Keck Carbon Cycle Mass Spectrometry Facility

For our initial step, we established a protocol to remove the asphalt matrix and other fossil preparation contaminants from the insect cuticle. This protocol works so effectively that it is now considered the most accurate procedure for radiocarbon dating insect cuticle from any Late Pleistocene deposit.

This method is invaluable for material from the  RLB which lacks biostratigraphy as a means of establishing dates by association.  Asphalt flows are characteristically intermittent and discontinuous and the result is mixing of fossils from different ages into the same layer.

  • *Biostratigraphy: Layers, or “strata,” in which the fossils are assumed to correspond to the same age. Strata form and superimpose over time and are one of many layers.


Selecting the Right Insects for Analysis

The next step was to identify disarticulated fragments of carabids and tenebrionids with well-documented, narrow climate restrictions. Species also must be abundant enough in the RLB for destructive sampling and have enough mass to survive the chemical baths and then still have sufficient material remaining for radiocarbon combustion.

small Copy of 2014_07_05_012

Rolf Aalbu, searching for tenebrionid beetles in California.

Kip Will (UC, Berkeley) and Rolf Aalbu (CAS associate) identified and contributed critical information on the ecology of the selected carabid and tenebrionid species. Systematists such as Kip and Rolf are fundamental to the success of this project because of their expertise in California species. They spend an inordinate amount of time in the field—thus, their experience on the ground, observing the behavior and the environments where their focal taxa live, provides the necessary, first-hand, detailed habitat information.

Extracting Climate data

We then associated a suite of informative bioclimatic variables from weather station data at with hundreds of georeferenced natural history records for each species from CalBug, an open-access repository of occurrence data for California arthropods with contributions from thousands of collectors and data entry personnel. Selecting suitable records from those available for each of the target species resulted in a high-resolution data set.

Preliminary Results

So far, we have radiocarbon dated approximately 200 carabids and will soon have dates for 55 tenebrionids. The insect-based results are similar to what was found by Heusser et al. (2015) but notably different in one regard- there is no evidence for an earlier mesic interval. What might explain the difference?

climate graph-arid-mesic copy

A: A concatenation diagram of radiocarbon dates based on insect data. All the sample so far have dates between the Late Pleistocene and Holocene, except for the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) period, which is unrepresented. This is interpreted as a case of consistent aridity and warmth except during the LGM period. Absence during the LGM is likely due to climate cooling. B: A concatenation diagram of radiocarbon dates based on pollen data from  the sites nearest to RLB, including terrestrial pollen cores from lake Elsinore in Riverside County analyzed by Heusser et. al (2015), which is closer than the frequently cited Santa Barbara marine cores (Heusser et al., 1998).

Can distant pollen data adequately capture conditions at or near RLB and nearby locales? If we look at current conditions, it suggests that this may not be the case. Lake Elsinore is approximately 70 miles away, significantly farther from the ocean, and sits at nearly 400 meters above sea level compared to only about 50 meters above sea level at RLB. Therefore, assuming the two sites were equally dissimilar in the past, these paleoclimatic differences can easily be accounted for by microclimate differences between Elsinore and RLB.



Map showing terrestrial pollen core site near Lake Elsinore and the location of the Rancho la Brea

How are these results novel?

These results challenge the widely-accepted interpretation of the paleoenvironment at RLB during the Late Pleistocene as being a cool, mesic climate, similar to that of modern-day Monterey, California (which is 450km north of RLB), or having approximately twice the amount of rainfall as typically falls at RLB now.

The standard story is largely based on a remarkably small number of plant identifications that have problematically been associated with 26-29,000 year old bone collagen dates (Friscia et al., 2008; Coltrain et al., 2004) from one RLB deposit, “Pit 91.”

Surprisingly, the dated insects from Pit 91 show a broad range from late Pleistocene to Holocene in the same grids where they are associated with the much narrower bone collagen-based date range; a clear demonstration of the RBL’s lack of biostratigraphy. This emphasizes the need to date individual samples and be very cautious about relying on dates based solely on associated samples. Reliance on such associations has led to persistent, and apparently mistaken paleoenvironmental and taphonomic inferences.

Why do our samples of insects show such a wide spread of ages? Intermittent and shallow asphalt pooling, not deep enough to immobilize larger animals, may have entrapped smaller organisms such as insects just like a pitfall trap that was opened sporadically to sample active and abundant species.

Previous investigators have provided some evidence for the paleoenvironment of southern California during the late Quaternary, but we still lack important details. Using the insects of RLB as climate and taphonomic indicators we can more clearly evaluate RLB’s significance for understanding other events such as the timing and agency of the megafaunal extinctions.

Stay tuned for even more results and other studies which use RLB insect fossils to better understand changes in southern California flora and fauna over time.


Many thanks to the scientists, staff and volunteers who have collected and input CalBug data required for this study. We also thank the scientists and staff at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum and the American Museum of Natural History.


Coltrain, J., Harris, J.M., Cerling, T.E.,  Ehleringer, J.R., Dearing, M., Ward, J. and J. Allen. 2004. Rancho La Brea stable isotope biogeochemistry and its implications for the palaeoecology of late Pleistocene, coastal southern California. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 205(3–4):199-219.
Elias S. 2010. Advances in Quaternary Entomology, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 3017 p.
Friscia A.R., Van Valkenburgh B., Spencer L., Harris J.M. 2008. Chronology and spatial distribution of large mammal bones in Pit 91, Rancho La Brea. Palaios 23:35-42.
Heusser, L.E., Kirby, M.E., Nichols, J.E. 2015. Pollen-based evidence of extreme drought during the last Glacial (32.6–9.0 ka) in coastal southern California. Quaternary Science Reviews 126:242-253.
Heusser, L.E. 1998. Direct correlation of millennial‐scale changes in western North American vegetation and climate with changes in the California Current system over the past∼ 60 kyr. Paleoceanography 13.3: 252-262.
Holden, A. R., and J. R. Southon. 2016. Radiocarbon Dating and Stable Isotopic Analysis of Insect Chitin from the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits, Southern California. Radiocarbon 58(1): 99-113.



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