Observation Series
Beetles and Host Plants

This topic started due to this particular leaf beetle with a black body and an orange to red wing cases (elytra). After doing some search in the Internet, I was quite certain its scientific name is Lilioceris cheni. The trigger was actually quite interesting. While on a field trip in October 2011, I saw this beetle chewing on the tuber of the air potato vine(Dioscorea bulbifera). With this lead, I launched an Internet search to look for beetle that feeds on air potato. It turned out that this beetle has been studied in the United States (USA) as a potential biological agent to control the spread of the invasive air potato vine. I have seen other leaf beetles over time but their background story is not as interesting as this species.

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The first time that I met this beetle was in September 2011, on the leaf of a rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). At that time, it was to me just another interesting beetle seen on a field trip. A month later, when I saw it for the second time on an air potato tuber at a different location, I was thrilled because now I know the diet of this beetle. When I went back the location where I spotted the first beetle, indeed, air potato vine was also abundant there.

As the story goes, there was a leaf beetle found in Nepal that feed on air potato vine. This finding has created excitement in the United States (USA) where air potato vine is considered an invasive plant. The quest to identify this beetle resulted in a publication in 2011 in the journal ZooKeys that concluded the beetle is Lilioceris cheni. However, there was no picture of the beetle included in the article.

Based on the description in the Environmental Assessment (February 2011) by U.S. Department of Agriculture on the release of this beetle in the field, the beetle was described as one having "a shiny patent leather black color except for its tan/light orange or bright red wing covers" (page 3). This description fits rather well with the beetle that I had seen.

Although the beetle was discovered in Nepal, I was surprised not to find a single picture of this beetle in the Internet. When I last checked on July 2012, still no picture.


1. Tishechkin, A., A. Konstantinov, S. Bista, R. Pemberton & T. Center, 2011. Review of the continental Oriental species of Lilioceris Reitter (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae, Criocerinae) closely related to Lilioceris impressa (F.) ZooKeys, 103: 63-83.

2. Pemberton, R. W. and G. L. Witkus, 2010. Laboratory host range testing of Lilioceris sp. nearimpressa (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) - a potential biological control agent of air potato, Dioscorea bulbifera (Dioscoreaceae). Biocontrol Science and Technology, 20: 6, 567-587.

These orange beetles are common on the leaves of Clerodendrum villosum shrub. At first, I thought that it was likely to be the Cucurbit Leaf Beetle (Aulacophora indica). However, Aulacophora indica prefers plants from the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae). I have not seen the orange beetles feeding on the leaves of the 4 common wild members of the cucumber family here --- namely, Ivy Gourd (Coccinia grandis), Rough Bryony (Cucumis maderaspatanus), Gymnopetalum scabrum and Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula).

Later, I found a description of a "shining yellow brown" beetle that feed Seaside Clerodendrum (Clerodendrum inerme) in the Hong Kong Entomological Bulletin (2009, Volume 1, Issue 2, page 12) with an image of the beetle. The name of the beetle was Hoplasoma unicolor. Since the orange beetles I saw also feed on another Clerodendrum species, it is likely to be this species. Hoplasoma unicolor appears to have a slightly longer and narrower body when compared to that of Aulacophora indica.

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I have not indicated the date where I saw this beetle as they are rather abundance where Clerodendrum villosum is present and finding them is usually not a problem.

In August 2011, I spotted this yellow beetle feeding on the flowers of the Bamboo Orchid (Arundina graminifolia). It is likely to be the Yellow Orchid Beetle (Lema pectoralis). Another common name is Orchid Lema. It is a well known beetle pest of orchids.

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1. Hirao G. A., B. P. gabriel and H. T. Facundo, 2001. Life history and habits of the orchid lema, Lema pectoralis Baly (Coleoptera : Chrysomelidae), a major pest of orchids. The Philippine Agricultural Scientist, 84: 2, 166-170.

2. Mohamedsaid M. S., 2004. Catalogue of the Malaysian Chrysomelidae (Insecta: Coleoptera). Sofi a & Moscow: Pensoft. 239 pp.

In November 2011, I spotted at least 4 of these orange beetles feeding on the leaves of the Spiral Flag (Cheilocostus speciosus) plant. Each of them had a total of 4 tiny dark spot on their wing cases. Based on the picture found in the book, Singapore Biodiversity (page 359), I have identified this beetle as Lema quadripunctata. The book, Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae, 1908 (page 55) by Martin Jacoby, indicated that each of the elytron has two black spots.

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In March 2012, a mating pair was found on one of the plant in the same location. There were several beetles around the area. The picture on the right (below) showed the results of the feeding activity of the beetles on the leaves.

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In July 2011, I saw a patch Primrose Willow (Ludwigia octovalvis) being attacked by this tiny blue metallic beetle and its larvae. There are plenty of them on each host plant in that area. It looks very similar to Altica birmanensis. However, the host plant of Altica birmanensis is Chinese Knotweed (Persicaria chinensis).

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The extent of destruction caused by the beetles can be seen in the 2 pictures below. The behaviour of this beetle toward Ludwigia species and its life cycle had been studied by Nayek back in 1987 due to the beetle's potential as a biological control agent in rice field where the Ludwigia plant is prevalence (Life history and host-specificity of Altica cyanea, a potential biological control agent for water primrose, Ludwigia adscendens.


1. Nayek, T. K. and T. C. Banerjee, 1987. Life history and host specificity of Altica cyanea [Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae], a potential biological control agent for water primrose, Ludwigia adscendens. Entomophaga 32 (4): 407-414

2. Altica cyanea (Col: Chrysomelidae) for the biological control of Ludwigia prostrata (Onagraceae) in China. Tropical Pest Management 1990;36(4):368-370.

3. Occurrence of Altica cyanea (Weber), a possible biocontrol agent for weeds in rice fields. Gujarat Agric. University Research Journal 1987;13(1):64.

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Apparently, some studies reported that Altica cyanea also attacked Straits Rhododendron (Melastoma malabathricum) shrub. However, I have not seen that in the field so far.


1. The potential of Altica cyanea Weber (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) as a biological control agent for Melastoma malabatricum Linn. MARDI Research Bulletin 1987;6:1.

2. Ooi, P. A. C., 1987. A Melastoma-feeding chrysomelid beetle, Altica cyanea. Malayan Nature Journal 41(2-3): 379-382.

Since I have uploaded my Beetle pictorial panel, I will no longer be updating this page. Instead, you can visit my Leaf Beetle pictorial panel for the latest additions.

Last updated: 18 September 2012

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