Beautiful Bristletail

I’ve landed in soggy Portland, Oregon for the night, after a blissfully rain-free week or so in the temperate rainforest of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.  Julia (my traveling companion) and I retreated to the warmth and dryness of a friend’s apartment here after waking up in a downpour yesterday morning.  We broke camp as quickly as possible and took off without any exploration of the place we had spent the night, which was just as well because it was one of those horrible state park campgrounds that amounts to an enormous RV parking lot.  We’ve been struck by the fact that the more we have to pay to camp somewhere, the less desirable the place is–ranging from a random spot in a National Forest (free) to what feels like an overpopulated suburban neighborhood ($17 in this case).  A few days ago, as I was taking down the tent in a campground that was somewhere in between these extremes, I said, “oo, there’s a nice caddisfly under the rainfly.”

Julia, washing dishes and some clothes on the picnic table, replied that there was something weird in one of the bowls.  I wandered over and was excited to see this bristletail:


Bristletails are wingless, silverfish-like insects in the order Microcoryphia.  I have only seen a few, and they are typically zipping around too quickly to get a decent photo of one (here is a nice one that I particularly regret not getting better shots of).  This one, however, was logey enough after a chilly October night that it was just sitting there in the bowl.  This gave me a chance to put together my macro setup and get a closer look, at which point I was bedazzled by the moth-like scales that covered its body.

When I was satisfied with my “studio” shots in the white cereal bowl, I let the bristletail go on a mossy stump, where it let me take a few more photos before disappearing under some debris.  This one was my favorite:

The species is probably Pedetontus submutans (Machilidae), according to Matthew Bowser.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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4 Responses to Beautiful Bristletail

  1. Lisa Rainsong says:

    This is such a beautiful insect – thank you for this post!

  2. Dave says:

    Bristletails always seem to me to most clearly reflect the crustacean ancestry of the Insecta. I suppose ‘living fossil’ isn’t much of a concept intellectually, but to me these beat out cockroaches and coelacanths (and tie with Horseshoe Crabs). Great pictures.

  3. Just discovered/noticed one of these for the first time and was trying to figure out what it was! Thank you so much for this post, which helped me to identify- and your photos are so stunningly beautiful! I too was mesmerized by the moth-like scales…. I didn’t get the details as clearly, but look at the wonderful colors/pattern on this one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/avadarlene/9704487905/

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