Saturday, November 9, 2013


A colourful term used by field biologists for a kind of mate-seeking behaviour that involves unmated males and females going up to the highest point in a locality and then competing and pairing up before dispersing. (this behaviour is thought to be restricted to insects although I know several mountaineering couples!) Apparently some of us had expanded the "hill-topping" entry on Wikipedia a few years ago but the real impact of that behaviour did not sink in until last week.

There is a wonderful line of hills somewhere between the two westbound highways going down from Mudigere and Sakleshpur in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, India that we decided to visit. More importantly it was accessible to researchers, unlike the national parks and sanctuaries in the neighbourhood. The forest here surrounds a towering hill with a rock that sticks out from lower hills covered in grass.

We climbed up the summit and were surprised by an enormous swarm (several thousands) of Tetraponera rufonigra (you can find some images here), all of them winged. It was so large and the numbers quickly got onto our bodies and faces that we were forced to descend back. I tried to tolerate them but had to swat one off leading to a sting that quickly swelled into a nice weal that took a couple of days to fully subside. We packed off a few specimens just to confirm identity and check whether we had any males. Getting back we checked with Dr Musthak Ali and he found that the few we collected to be only queens. We had hoped for some males, perhaps some more valiant observers will determine how males respond to these aggregations. It would seem that the usual emergence of breeders is in October-November, possibly after some rains.
Looking towards the western horizon - a matrix of tropical montane forest and grassland

Hill-topping behaviour is apparently very widespread and the definition of a hill can be as low as a small mound. In some countries the location of such sites are carefully avoided when roads are aligned or special wildlife crossings and other measures considered at such places. And talking of roads, there is a particularly well-done bit of road between Belur and Hassan. The road is uniformly wide and just right for two lines of traffic with well marked medians and edges and the shoulders are level with the roadside verge well covered by a tough species of grass. Overall this would seem like a great model for other roads, good enough and supporting a smooth flow of traffic without being too much of a hazard for people and wildlife around it. The quality of the road and the surroundings seems to induce calm driving behaviour.

The road between Belur and Hassan. Well marked and bordered. Accidental or by design?
Further reading

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Elephant Killer

I was looking for some Wikipedia articles tagged under the umbrella of WikiProject India - I was looking for poor quality articles to use in a little training exercise and of course there was no shortage there. Since the article list was alphabetically sorted, I espied the entry for Anaconda. Now why should that be related to India when the snake does not even occur outside of South America? Turns out that the word for the South American snake may have never been used in South America and that the word somehow emerged out of Sri Lanka. The material on the Wikipedia article was not entirely incorrect but the sources it cited were really poor quality and dubious and there was excessive emphasis on one theory - that the word anaconda was derived from the Tamil roots anai and kondra meaning "elephant killer". 

As always, a good researcher needs to find better sources and so a check for better sources for etymology and associated information led to a fairly interesting pursuit. The first port of call was that incredible and most entertaining piece of scholarship - the Hobson-Jobson and Henry Yule had practically sorted it all out in two and a half pages of in depth research but curiosity got the better of me and I decided to fish out the sources he used and found some others too.

Hobson Jobson entry

Entry from John Ray (1693)
Charles Owen (1742) An essay towards a natural history of serpents has this entry which expands on Ray and cites the source as D. Cleyerus (=Andreas Cleyer) which seems to be fairly good fit for the rock python (except for the length which might be based on stretched skins or imagination).
And The Dublin Penny Journal for 1834-5 has a long entry explaining the boa constrictor and anaconda.
Frank Wall, the herpetologist who worked in Sri Lanka, seems to be quite clear that the snake in question was a python. It would seem that somehow a really tiny little snake (Ahaetulla pulverulenta - and that genus name is also derived from Sinhalese) known as Henakandaya in Sinhalese somehow got mixed up with tales of pythons which then grew into monstrous man-eaters in South America (and Hollywood).

Now there is a second tale here, the one that I really came here to tell, which is that one can research the Internet and find Wikipedia articles in quite a bad shape or worse, appearing to be in good shape and not being scholarly enough. The right thing then is not to blame the medium but to use it to make things easier for future seekers/researchers. Part of that is to recognize bad sources and the other part is to fix it and I just did my bit for today.

PS: Have not been able to locate a scanned copy of Cleyer's note - (Cleyerus, Andreas 1683?/1684? De Serpente magno Indiae orientalis urobubalum deglutiente. Ephemer. curios. natur. Dec. 2, an. 2, p. 18)

"Boa Constrictor seizing a Government Messenger" by William Daniell  (1769-1837)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ant mimics redux

A few weeks ago I was looking at a clump of grass and spotted this little ant-like insect walking on a blade. When I stooped to take a closer look, it leaped and I knew immediately that this was something to check carefully. After a little bit of searching I found it not far away and, with absolutely no hesitation, I was able to put a species identification to it - it had to be Formiscurra indicus. I had seen pictures of it at the entrance to the lab of Professor C.A. Viraktamath, a specialist on the oriental Cicadellidae and one of the two authors who described (i.e. taxonomically described and named the species) this species, at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore. This remarkable insect is a Caliscelid hopper and this is the male. The female looks quite different and fits the description brought to mind by the name of "piglet bug", a generic name used for many other members of the family. Male-limited mimicry is rather rare, indeed it is not entirely clear if there is a real value to the ant-like appearance. Females being vital to the survival of offspring are more often selected for mimetic resemblances that make them harder for predators to find or cause predators to avoid them. I decided to put together whatever little was known about this species on Wikipedia and for the first time also created a little DYK (Do-you-know) entry which appeared on the main page of Wikipedia. It was quite remarkable in that it led to ~3000 views and some interesting questions were raised on the talk page. One question was about why this species was described only in 2011 although specimens had been collected at least since 1976 and that too right within the limits of Bangalore city, a major science hub. The species seems to have a wide distribution and is probably not restricted to dry habitats as suggested in the original description paper. A few months ago, another male leaped away before I could make any careful observation at Moolehole on the Karnataka-Kerala border inside fairly dense moist-deciduous forest.

Hopefully some enlightened and more qualified entomologists will take the hint and decide to contribute to Wikipedia - the kind of outreach potential it has clearly beats the readership that an average scientific paper gets. I am quite sure that a good and accessible article will lead to greater readership of the more technical literature too. This article published by The Guardian last year undoubtedly caught attention, but it does not introduce the reader to the original work in the journal and I think a part of science communication should be about getting people to see the process by which knowledge is organized. Wikipedia cannot be that difficult to contribute to for anyone involved in science. I am happy to help anyone get started in adding to a major research resource. Maybe someone needs to write a "Why entomologists should embrace and contribute to Wikipedia" too.

This hopper is facing right, the forelegs are waved like feelers.

Formiscurra literally means "ant-clown" and refers to the "bulbous nose"

You can see the eyes and the antenna-bases below them.

For the photo of a shrivelled specimen see the one in the Guardian. And here are some older posts on spiders looking like ants and another ant-like bug.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bird art from the past

In a review of old bird art (Review of Fine Bird Books, 1700-1900 in New Statesman 1953, reprinted in Enjoying Ornithology), David Lack makes a curious statement:
"...It must also be remembered that, while Gould himself was a skilled craftsman, many of the books that bear his name were illustrated by others, including H.C. Richter, Edward Lear and Joseph Wolf. Indeed, some would regard the last-named as the greatest bird illustrator, particularly in his birds of prey, which combine accuracy with power. One must, I think, qualify this statement by 'of the western world', because the bird paintings from India and China surpass anything that the West has yet produced, and only these, perhaps, come in the category of great art."
India? Well, I suspected for long that Lack got this wrong. China? One can certainly find support for some truly artistic works from this region. The only major bird art from India that can even be considered in comparisons with the likes of Joseph Wolf are from the Mughal period. There are very few works of quality (at least as far as someone with very limited means for research can see) from the pre-Mughal period in India. The lack of good media as well as archival means that even if good works were made, few are preserved for us to examine. In an earlier post we saw some 30000 year old rock paintings from near Bhopal depicting large birds which are more likely to be floricans than ostriches as has been claimed by archaeologists.
30,000 year old rock paintings from near Bhopal
From what is available, one has to accept that the oldest and best depictions of birds have to be the ones from Egypt. The famed Meidum geese are truly a spectacle. The detail of serrations on the mandibles and the general stance are remarkable for 2500 BC. (Alfred Newton in his classic dictionary of birds notes it almost in his second page on the history of ornithology!)
Meidum geese - a plaster panel from the Tomb of Nefermaat and Itet, Egypt (zoomable facsimile) c. 2500 BC
The pair facing right are Red-breasted Geese, Branta ruficollis, and the pair facing left are Greater White-fronted Geese, Anser albifrons. The outer birds have been thought to be Bean Geese (Anser fabalis) although some have suggested that they could be Greylag Geese.

The Egyptians used paint on limestone and rock very effectively and the results have lasted long. There are several wonderful examples of Egyptian art available online via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Birds in a papyrus thicket - the duck, egret and cormorant are distinctive (2000 BC)

The Egyptians looked very carefully at their falcons and vultures too. They had reduced, symbolic versions that were part of their hieroglyphics. They seem to have done well in their understanding of feather arrangement, something that Joseph Wolf had taken great care of unlike some earlier bird artists in Europe.

Vulture from a panel in Memphis, could well be used in a modern field guide. (From Larousse Dictionary, 1910)

Falcons and Ibis painted pottery from Egypt, 400 BC 
From Hermann Ranke (1936)
The falcons show feather patterning which is very artistic and reasonably accurate. It seems like later works in Egypt were not as well preserved. If they did paint on papyrus, it seems like it was not preserved.

Crane by Sesshū Tōyō  (1420 – 1506) [Fenollosa, 1913]
The Chinese and Japanese found a medium that allows for more delicate depictions. They used ink on silk and paper and these are perhaps what Lack refers to in his review. Bird art from this region, from a later age though, is beautifully composed with artistic landscape backgrounds and elements of the environment. Contrast enhancing techniques are used in the way they set their mountains from the skies and white birds like egrets from the background. They also make careful choices in their use of unpainted areas. (artists will be interested in this guide to brush-painting technique)

Now let us examine some of the older Indian bird portrayals. Most of the early art belongs to the Buddhist school. These included semi-mythical birds such as the hamsa which the Buddhists clearly identify with the goose (probably the Bar-headed Goose) unlike some Indian scholars who seem to feel better about calling it, however improbable it could be, a swan. Ornate renditions of the hamsa are found in 6th century China as well as in the cave paintings at Ajanta.

Three ducks by Manju - 12th century China

An ornate hamsa (See also this ornate goose at the Metropolitan Museum) is found in Cave 1 at Ajanta (sketched by James Burgess here). One can see the horses and elephants depicted with a level of naturalism that far exceeds that of the birds.
Frieze over cave 1 at Ajanta (100 BC - 500 AD)
A fresco inside cave 17 at Ajanta depicting Mahahamsa jataka or the tale of the golden king goose also has a stylized goose rendition. These birds are of course talking ones!

Animal world around sacred tree on east gate at Sanchi

The carvings on the gate at Sanchi show a parrot like bird which has been interpreted as an early version of garuda. Cave 17 at Ajanta also has some garuda, with a combination of bird and human traits and it is interesting that it almost retains the same name, karura, in Japanese Buddhism of the 8th Century.
Garudas from cave 17 at Ajanta
There is little by way of evidence of later bird art until the arrival of the Mughals. The idea of scribes maintaining journals for the Mughal rulers was itself an innovation and the introduction of illustration to capture scenes from daily life was something that historians would have liked others to do. Lots of collections of Mughal paintings have been made, and many have resulted in coffee table books. Salim Ali traced his ancestry to the Mughals and wrote a multi-part essay on Mughal natural history.

If Lack was appreciating Indian bird art, it has to belong to the Ustad Mansur school that worked for Jahangir. Mansur is most well known for his depictions of the dodo and Siberian crane. Others  like Shaikh Zain ud-Din painted for wealthy English patrons and the most famous collection is that of Lady Impey (of Impeyan pheasant or Monal fame), wife of Elijah Impey of the Calcutta court. This collection has some spectacular images of the Pink-headed Duck and Black-necked Stork that are painted from living specimens. They lack the sense of depth produced by shading techniques that the Chinese had mastered long before.
Pink-headed Duck by Bhawani Das ca. 1778-82 (Impey collection ) which was used by Latham to describe the species
Black-necked Stork by Sheikh Zain al-Din made for Lady Impey around 1781
The lack of a good historical and technical account on art in other periods stands out. A lot has been written about Mughal and Rajput art techniques but it seems like not enough mention has been made about some better art from southern India. A 1595 sample of art from Bijapur(?) (reprinted in Beach, 1992) seems to show better technique in shading. Basawan was an artist in Akbar's court. Although this does not depict birds, it suggests that there must be more interesting works languishing in collections around the world.
A work by Basawan of Akbar's court.
We have already seen in another post that T. C. Jerdon (of Jerdon's Courser fame) hired Indian artists to produce bird pictures for him. From a few other sources we know that he (or perhaps his wife Flora, who was a bit of an artist) trained traditional Indian artists to help him. Very little is known about their talc paintings or the antiquity of this form.

PS: If you have seen any exemplary Indian bird art from the pre-Moghul period, please do let me know.
In August 2014, I had an opportunity to examine the work of Hodgson's artist and for the 1850s, truly spectacular - see my post on it.

Further reading

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The hidden world of the crouching tiger-beetles

An ultrasound detector
Tiger beetles are an iconic group for many entomologists and ecologists. They have been considered to be a good surrogate group for use in biodiversity studies. They are perhaps not as good as the more ecologically dominant ants, but are certainly full of character and action. To add to that, most of them can be found on open paths, saving the need to dash through vegetation and load oneself with ticks. Unfortunately, nobody has quite made an illustrated fieldguide for the Indian region despite the ease of making one especially for someone with access to a good collection. Perhaps the museums have not been welcoming to anyone who might be motivated. A major reference for the Indian region is by R. Acciavatti and David Pearson (Acciavatti, R.E.; Pearson, D.L. 1989: The tiger beetle genus Cicindela (Coleoptera, Insecta) from the Indian subcontinent. Annals of Carnegie Museum, 58). 

C. venus up front
A somewhat less studied aspect of tiger beetles is the production and hearing of ultrasound. Some years ago I went out on a bat-watching outing with the Norwegian Zoological Society to a lake to the east of Oslo. Equipped with bat-detectors, we were able to hear more bats than we could see. It is simply fascinating when a world that our senses do not detect is suddenly made perceptible. I think this is the fundamental allure of photography (showing detail we may not spot), microscopes, binoculars, ultrasound detectors, DNA sequencers and a most other instrumentation. Anyway, I would love to hold a sensitive bat-detector up close to these critters.

Cicindelids apparently hear ultrasound using two "ears" on the dorsal side of the first abdominal segment. They respond to bat pulses with escape behaviour and also produce ultrasound at around 30–35 kHz in non-defensive contexts, perhaps for communication. According to one study the production of ultrasound in flight is possibly through a mechanism that involves the elytra and wings. I however wonder if they may be producing other sounds through mandibular stridulation, when not flying. They often seem to gnash their jaws, mandibles crossing over each other and perhaps the micro-structure of the flat mandibular surface will have something to reveal. Someday hopefully we can hear these beetles, who knows they might even be detected and identified by their sounds.

A regular on forest paths in the Western Ghats
Cicindela (Cosmodela) duponti Dejean, 1826
Another view of
Cicindela (Cosmodela) duponti Dejean, 1826

Cicindela (Jansenia) venus Horn, 1907
another forest species found on leaf-litter
Cicindela (Calochroa) hamiltoniana Thomson, 1857
most times seen on shaded paths close to water
Cicindela aurofasciata Dejean, 1831
a stouter species found on open grassy habitats
Cicindela (Calochroa) flavomaculataHope, 1831
One of the few species more often attracted to light in the night

Lophyra lineifrons, Bandipur (April-2013) [Determined by Michael Geiser]
Cicindela (Calochroa) whithilli (Hope) from Talakaveri, Coorg
Cicindela (Ancylia) calligramma Schaum, 1861 from near Nandi Hills, Bangalore (15-July-2013)

To be determined. Mudigere, 11- May 2013
Cylindera (Eugrapha) sp. Seen in large numbers on sand beside stream (11-May-2013).
(Identified to genus by Michael Geiser - 5-Dec-2013)
Cicindela (Jansenia) dasiodes Acciavati & Pearson, 1989 (from GKVK, 19-June-2013)

A feature that makes tiger beetles particularly interesting for those interested in electronic field guides is their patterning. It would appear as if there was a fairly simple archetypal "bodyplan" (what the Germans called Bauplan, but often avoided because of an implicit idea of "design"). An archetypal plan is however possible without any fear of "intelligent design" if one considers that patterns are coded by sections of genetic code, modules of which are shuffled about during the evolution of species. An amazingly old (1917) work on this is by Shelford and he identifies patterns of colour and provides some interesting insights into developmental biology. By subjecting larvae and pupae to specific environmental conditions of temperature and humidity he was able to alter the patterns that form on the elytra of the adults.

"Showing the geographic distribution of types and patterns. The first series at the left are world-wide in distribution, being most generalized in Eurasia and North America. The second group of patterns belong to several groups of species but all are characterized by the presence of three spots at the base and along the elytral suture. They are most numerous in Africa and India. The next group shows the relatively rare type with the pattern oblique but in the opposite direction from the slope of the tip of the elytron. The last type is one showing peculiar joinings of markings characteristic of species found chiefly in • Indo-Australian region." (Shelford, 1917)

Inspired by Shelford, I attempted to look at the patterns on some Indian species. It is however very difficult to see much without access to museums or other collections.

Patterns on a handful of Indian species - easily drawn using Inkscape


Most of the photos were taken on field trips either accompanied or made possible by Dr. Revanna S. Revannavar, entomologist at the University of Horticultural Sciences, Mudigere.

Would be terrific if someone can come up with a low-cost ultrasound monitoring instrumentation in India - based on ideas such as this. Would be very happy to help in field testing for any electronic whizzes out there that might be interested.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bird fossils from the Indian Subcontinent

I normally desist from the archaic practice of listing things within meaningless political delineations but a need to locate information on bird (and near-bird) fossils and ichnotaxa from the Indian region led me to the discovery that there are no readily available reviews. This is a rather rough working index of taxa and sources. Additions are welcome.
  • Struthio asiaticus A. Milne-Edwards [Siwaliks] (bones, egg-shells from a wider range)
  • Dromaeus sivalensis Lydekker [Siwaliks]
  • Leptoptilos falconeri (=Argala falconeri) A. Milne-Edwards [Siwaliks]
  • Megascelornis sivalensis Lydekker [Siwaliks]
  • Pelicanus cautleyi Davies [Siwaliks]
  • Vastanavis eocaena Mayr et al., 2007 [Vastan, Gujarat]
  • V. cambayensis Mayr et al., 2010 [Vastan, Gujarat]
  • Strigidae [Narmada] Patnaik, R & A. Sahni (1994)
  • Egg clutch [Lameta, MH] Mohabey D.M.; S.G. Udhoji; K.K. Verma (1993)
Postscript: 8-May-2013
In going through an article by Badam (2005) I came across reproductions of a couple of rock drawings from Kathotia and Firengi south of Bhopal. These have apparently been attributed with some doubt to ostriches by paleographers. The illustration from Firengi is pretty poor for a match with an ostrich and on the other hand is a very good match to a Lesser Florican particularly in the fluffy neck and the two plumes exaggerated on the back. I agree with the authors about the inaccuracy in the detail of feet.

A 30,000 year old rock illustration reproduced from Badam (2005).
The bird on the right is a good match for a Lesser Florican.
An old illustration of Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indicus)
Postscript (24 Dec 2013): An exhibition on rock art at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bangalore included a photograph of the Kathotia bird and it is clear that Badam's sketch is an oversimplification.

PS: 10 Dec 2014 - new paper by - Blinkhorn, J.; Hema Achyuthan; Michael D. Petraglia (2015) Ostrich expansion into India during the Late Pleistocene: Implications for continental dispersal corridors. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 417:80–90.
Late Pleistocene ostrich egg shell records (Blinkhorn et al. 2015)


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Be like a bee

I have written in the past about ant-mimicry (Why look like an ant?), and last week I was reminded how good their relatives, the bees and wasps, are as models for Batesian mimicry. It was just by chance that I noticed this yellow spot on a rock beside a stream running through the forest. 
It was evident that this was a moth, a hawk-moth for sure, confirmed by looking at the hooked tip to the antennae. The remarkable similarity in pattern and size to carpenter bees of the genus Xylocopa is readily evident. As kids we used to play a trick with Xylocopa males that would perch atop wooden posts. Toss a pebble in the direction of the male and it would set off and pursue the pebble. Handling a dead carpenter bee was a painful lesson on how spiny and hard they are. Females can sting but they rarely need to use it. There is probably no predator of adult Xylocopa bees. Little wonder then that several species in the day-flying hawk-moth genus Sataspes have been selected to appear like carpenter bees (other day-fliers like Cephonodes look like clear-winged bees). The genus Sataspes does not seem to be well known in southern India and this observation may be among the few reports from southern India.

Species in the genus appear to show considerable variation within populations in the distribution of blue and yellow on their body and wings. Several of these variants have been described in the past as species and the exact determination of species may be reliably established only by dissecting out their genitalia (which show species-specific lock-and-key patterns). In 1900, a year before he died of malaria, Lionel de Niceville described a species from Burma:
S. tagalica (=S. hauxwelli) and model
"I have named this handsome moth (which is unique) after Mr. T. A. Hauxwell, Deputy Conservator of Forests, who is an enthusiastic collector of birds and Lepidoptera. It is a beautiful mimic of the very common large blue carpenter bee, Xylocopa auripennis, Lepeletier, a male of which I have figured-for the first time-for comparison ..." JBNHS 13:173
Some people find the evolution of mimetic forms too implausible to occur by random processes and those that question evolution pose the question as to how the "exact" same pattern could arise. Interestingly enough there is considerable variation within the mimics and it is actually not an exact imitation. Here are a couple of Xylocopas (unidentified) from southern India just for a sampling.

A Xylocopa from the W. Ghats
A Xylocopa from Bangalore

Looking at the variations in Sataspes it is clear that a series of characters are being mixed in various forms and species.Yellow bands, thorax, tufts, bluish wing shine and so on.
Sataspes xylocoparis described by A G Butler in 1875
Writing about Xylocopa aureipennis in 1922, Cedric Dover notes incredulously:
In addition to the localities noticed by Bingham, the Indian Museum also possesses specimens from the Parjiling District, the Naga Hills and Sibsagar in Assam, South India and Nepal. The species is supposed to be mimicked by a Sphingid moth (Sataspes hauxwelli), which according to De Niceville (Journ. Bomb. Nat. Hist. Soc. XIII, p. 174) was "a beautiful mimic of the very common large blue carpenter-bee Xylocopa auripennis, Lepeletier." The wings of the moth are a deep indigo-blue with bronze markings, which scarcely resembles the wings of the bee, and in the cabinet the whole insect seems entirely different.
De Niceville does not say that the bee and the moth were taken together, and in the absence of definite field-observations, the moth has little claims to being a mimic of the Xylocopa.
My own impression was that the moth above was the right size, shape and colour to give the impression of a carpenter bee.

Although carpenter bees are free from predators, they are not free from parasites and their immature stages probably have predators. A peculiar feature of carpenter bee females is a cavity on the first abdominal segment, known as the acarinarium, which is home to mites of the genus Dinogamassus. Nobody quite knows what the role of these symbiotic(?) mites are. Dr B. Mallik, an acarologist (and one of my teachers) at the entomology department in the University of Agricultural Sciences (Bangalore) showed me some of these mites under a microscope a few years ago pointing out that they stack up in a toroidal pattern.
The fact that so few records of these amazing day-flying moths exist is either due to their rarity or the fact that we have so few people keeping an eye on life around them.

1-May-2013: Ian J. Kitching of the Natural History Museum notes:
... all the evidence now points towards it being the first representative of infernalis from SW India. All other specimens I have seen from the Western Ghats are the relatively non-metallic forms as shown on SEP. None have the strong blue sheen on the wings of your specimen. ..., the moth does look a bit more like S. tagalica but this usually has a greenish metallic sheen and the females (which your moth is) never have a yellow thorax, only the males. That said, there is a definitive feature that could settle the matter BUT it is on the underside of the abdomen. This is a long shot but do you have a photo in which the colour of the underside of the terminal segments of the abdomen is visible, even slightly. These are yellow in infernalis/xylocoparis and black in tagalica.

All that said, no Sataspes in our collection of any species has the subdorsal rows of yellow spots; they either have more extensive yellow bands (see xylocoparis on SEP) or broad central patches (see tagalica on SEP). So I am minded to think that this may be a new species, or at least a distinctive subspecies of infernalis.