Tessaratomidae

Lychee stink bug Tessaratoma papillosa, copyright Ian Jacobs.

Belongs within: Pentatomoidea.

The Tessaratomidae are a group of tropical shield bugs with the spiracles of abdominal segment 2 fully exposed and removed from the posterior margins of the metapleura, and lacking reticulate veins on the hemelytral membrane (Carver et al. 1991). Members include the bronze orange bug Musgraveia sulciventris, a significant pest of citrus crops in Australia.

Edible stinkbugs
Published 25 October 2017

In recent years, there has been some discussion in certain circles about whether people in western cultures should become more accepting of the practice of entomophagy: that is, eating bugs. For the most part, insects do not play a big part in diets in the English-speaking world except indirectly. In other parts of the world, however, certain insects may be eaten with relish. One such insect is the edible stinkbug Encosternum delegorguei of southern Africa.

Edible stinkbug Encosternum delegorguei, from Dzerefos et al. (2013).

The edible stinkbug is a member of the family Tessaratomidae, one of a number of families in the stinkbug superfamily Pentatomoidea. Tessaratomids are mostly relatively large, flat-bodied stinkbugs, often with shining metallic coloration, found in warmer parts of the world. They are all plant-suckers; one species, the lychee stinkbug Tessaratoma javanica, is a significant pest of lychee crops while the bronze orange bug Musgraveia sulciventris is a pest of citrus trees in Australia. The edible stinkbug feeds on a range of tree species, belonging to a number of different flowering plant families such as Combretaceae, Fabaceae and Ebenaceae. Though widespread in southern Africa, their distribution seems to be patchy; only certain ethnicities have a tradition of stinkbug harvesting (Dzerefos et al. 2013).

Harvester collecting stinkbugs, copyright Cathy Dzerefos.

Edible stinkbugs are collected during winter (the dry season) when they aggregate in large protective clusters (up to football-sized) on particular trees. Like other stinkbugs, Encosternum delegorguei produce a foul-smelling defensive chemical from glands on the thorax. As well as smelling bad, this chemical can stain skin and may cause temporary blindness if it gets into eyes. Dzerefos et al. (2013) note that stinkbug harvesters informed them that exposure to the defensive chemical over several years could cause fingernail loss and wart growth. The chemical needs to be removed from the bugs before they are cooked for consumption because, as one harvester explained, “if you eat the unprepared one it will kill taste for a month“.

Clusters of stinkbugs are collected live into bags which are then shaken to encourage the bugs to discharge their chemicals. Further processing could be done by two methods. Perhaps the more common method is to pinch off the head of each bug then squeeze out the contents of the thorax, after which the bugs are cooked immediately. However, the Bolobedu people (who collect stinkbugs more for commercial sale than for their own consumption) place the bugs into a bucket with a perforated base, then pour hot water over them and stir vigorously. The bugs discharge their glands into the water as the heat kills them. They are then rinsed off in cold water, then returned to hot water for about eight minutes, then spread out on bags on the ground to dry. Any bugs that had not fully discharged their glands before dying can be recognised by dark marks on the thorax and are discarded. Though slightly more involved than the waterless method, this process of preparation has the advantage that bugs can be stored for some time rather than having to be cooked immediately. Stinkbugs are usually cooked by braising in a frying pan with salt; they are supposed to have a spicy taste, like chili.

Basket of prepared stinkbugs, from here.

According to Dzerefos et al. (2013), many of the stinkbug harvesters they spoke to reported a decline in populations of the bugs in recent years. Potential reasons for the decline included drought and/or the felling of trees that would otherwise be used by the bugs as roosts. Could edible stinkbugs be more widely used commercially? Perhaps, but it should be noted that while some groups relish the bugs, their neighbours disdain the delicacy. Mind you, Bolobedu people apparently didn’t eat the bugs themselves before the 1980s, only taking up harvesting them when co-workers in tea plantations taught them what a resource they had on their hands!

Coconut or no?
Published 20 August 2022

Research on insects has, unsurprisingly, often focused on those which are of economic importance to humans. Nevertheless, there are some species that have received little attention despite being identified as potential economic pests. One such species is Agapophyta bipunctata.

Female Agapophyta bipunctata brooding eggs, photographed by J. Deckert, from Monteith (2006).

Agapophyta bipunctata is a tessaratomid species known from northern Queensland (Australia), New Guinea and New Britain. It and other members of the Indo-Australian genus Agapophyta are characterised by having the medial area of the third abdominal sternite extended forwards as a spine that reaches the metasternum, and is faced by a bifurcated process projecting rearwards from the mesosternum (Sinclair 2000). Within the genus, A. bipunctata is distinguished by fine punctation on the pronotum and scutellum, and a very small apical incisure at the end of the scutellum (Blöte 1945). It is an even orange-brown colour dorsally with each wing having a single black spot near the centre of the hemelytron.

Agapophyta bipunctata has been found on a variety of host plants, including shoots of the golden shower tree Cassia fistula and leaves of Hibiscus (Sinclair 2000). It has also been referred to as a ‘minor economic pest’ of coconut and sago palms, feeding on young leaves. What I have not been able to learn, though, is just how minor is ‘minor’. Does this species cause noteworthy damage? Or is it just a transient nuisance? Inquiring minds want to know.

Systematics of Tessaratomidae
<==TessaratomidaeSS02
    |  i. s.: SepininiK69
    |           |--SepinariaK69
    |           |    |--Pisena longirostrisK69
    |           |    `--SepinaK69
    |           |         |--S. selchelessK69
    |           |         `--S. urolaboidesK69
    |           `--Platytatus [Platytataria]K69
    |                `--P. ambiguusK69
    |         Anacanthopus Montandon 1894K69, HW92
    |--Thalma [Thalminae]G75
    |    `--T. biguttataG75
    |--OncomerinaeSS02
    |    |--Oncomeris Laporte 1832LS57
    |    |    `--*O. flavicornis (Guérin 1831) [=Tessaratoma flavicorne]LS57
    |    |--Erga Walker 1868 [incl. Axona Stål 1865 (preoc.)]LS57
    |    |    `--E. longitudinalis (Westwood 1837)G75 (see below for synonymy)
    |    |--Rhoecocoris Bergroth 1836 [=Oncoscelis Westwood 136 (preoc.), Rhoecus Bergroth 1891 (preoc.)]LS57
    |    |    `--*R. australasiae (Westwood 1836) [=*Oncoscelis australasiae, *Rhoecus australasiae]LS57
    |    |--Garceus Distant 1893LS57
    |    |    `--*G. fidelis Distant 1893LS57
    |    |--Peltocopta Bergroth 1904 [=Coptopelta Bergroth 1895 (preoc.); incl. Chinatessa Leston 1955]LS57
    |    |    `--*P. crassiventris (Bergroth 1895) (see below for synonymy)LS57
    |    |--Cumare Blöte 1945LS57
    |    |    `--*C. pallida Blöte 1945LS57
    |    |--Lyramorpha Westwood 1837LS57
    |    |    |--*L. rosea Westwood 1837 [incl. L. pallida]LS57
    |    |    `--L. parens Breddin 1900 [=Lyramorpha (Lyrodes) parens]LS57
    |    |--Agapophyta Guérin 1831LS57
    |    |    `--*A. bipunctata Guérin 1831LS57
    |    |--Plisthenes Stål 1865 [incl. Merocoris Burmeister 1834 (preoc.)]LS57
    |    |    |--*P. dilatatus [=Tessaratoma dilatatum]LS57
    |    |    |--P. australis Horváth 1900LS57
    |    |    `--P. merianae [=Cimex merianae, *Merocoris merianae]LS57
    |    |--Stilida Stål 1863LS57
    |    |    |--*S. indecora Stål 1863LS57
    |    |    `--S. sinuata Stål 1870LS57
    |    `--Musgraveia Leston & Scudder 1957
    |         |--*M. sulciventris (Stål 1863) [=Oncoscelis sulciventris, Rhoecocoris sulciventris]LS57
    |         `--M. antennatus (Distant 1880) [=Oncoscelis antennatus]LS57
    |--TessaratominaeSS02
    |    |  i. s.: Pycanum rubensG75
    |    |--PrionogastriniSS02
    |    |    |--MalgassusSS02
    |    |    |    |--*M. hypoleucusK69
    |    |    |    `--M. exiguusK69
    |    |    `--Prionogaster serratusK69
    |    `--TessaratominiK69
    |         |--TessaratomaSS02 [TessaratomariaK69]
    |         |    |--T. javanicaSDT88
    |         |    `--T. papillosaSS02
    |         `--Aurungabada Distant 1906 [Eusthenaria]K69
    |              `--*A. singularis Distant 1906K69
    |--NatalicolinaeK69
    |    |--Cyclogastridea nigromarginalisK69
    |    |--Natalicola delegorgueiK69
    |    |--Encosternum delegorgueiK69
    |    |--Aplosterna virescensK69
    |    `--Selenymenum piriformeK69
    `--Notopomus [Notopominae]K69

Erga longitudinalis (Westwood 1837)G75 [=Rhaphigaster longitudinalisG75, *Axona longitudinalisLS57; incl. *E. roseoflua Walker 1868G75]

*Peltocopta crassiventris (Bergroth 1895) [=*Coptopelta crassiventris; incl. *Chinatessa natalicoloides Leston 1955]LS57

*Type species of generic name indicated

References

Blöte, H. C. 1945. Catalogue of the Pentatomidae in the Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie. Part I: Tessaratominae, Urolabidinae. Zoologische Mededelingen 25: 285–316.

Carver, M., G. F. Gross & T. E. Woodward. 1991. Hemiptera (bugs, leafhoppers, cicadas, aphids, scale insects etc.) In: CSIRO. The Insects of Australia: A textbook for students and research workers 2nd ed. vol. 1 pp. 429–509. Melbourne University Press: Carlton (Victoria).

Dzerefos, C. M., E. T. F. Witkowski & R. Toms. 2013. Comparative ethnoentomology of edible stinkbugs in southern Africa and sustainable management considerations. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 9: 20.

[G75] Gross, G. F. 1975. Plant-feeding and Other Bugs (Hemiptera) of South Australia. Heteroptera—Part I. Handbook of the Flora and Fauna of South Australia.

[HW92] Houston, W. W. K., & T. A. Weir. 1992. Melolonthinae. In: Houston, W. W. K. (ed.) Zoological Catalogue of Australia vol. 9. Coleoptera: Scarabaeoidea pp. 174–358. AGPS Press: Canberra.

[K69] Kumar, R. 1969. Morphology and relationships of the Pentatomoidea (Heteroptera). III. Natalicolinae and some Tessaratomidae of uncertain position. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 62 (4): 681–695.

[LS57] Leston, D., & G. G. E. Scudder. 1957. The taxonomy of the bronze orange-bug and related Australian Oncomerinae (Hemiptera: Tessaratomidae). Annals and Magazine of Natural History, series 12, 10: 439–448.

[SDT88] Schaefer, C. W., W. R. Dolling & S. Tachikawa. 1988. The shieldbug genus Parastrachia and its position within the Pentatomoidea (Insecta: Hemiptera). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 93: 283–311.

Sinclair, D. P. 2000. A generic revision of the Oncomerinae (Heteroptera: Pentatomoidea: Tessaratomidae). Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 46 (1): 307–329.

[SS02] Sweet, M. H., & C. W. Schaefer. 2002. Parastrachiinae (Hemiptera: Cydnidae) raised to family level. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 95: 441–448.

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