Male cerambycid

Tithoes confinis is a large and hairy cerambycid beetle widespread throughout Africa. Adult females can reach 100 centimeters in length, edging out males in terms of weight and girth. The genus name is derived from the Greek name Tithoes, referring to the Egyptian god Tutu. Tithoes is depicted as a sphinx-like creature with the body of a lion, wings of a raptor, the tail of a snake, and a human head. As master of demons, he is often accompanied by other animals in sculptural portrayals including crocodiles, rams, ibis, scorpions, and two auxiliary cobras. Tithoes was worshipped in the Late Period (~650 BC – 350 BC) and provided people with protection during the night from demons and bad dreams.

This beetle belongs to the subfamily Prioninae, a charismatic and flamboyant group of giant cerambycids. From striking metallic green and purple on Peruvian Psalidognathus to my most sought after beetle, Macrodontia cervicornis, prionines are as crazy as beetles get. Many species in this clade have noticeable sexual dimorphism, with males having enlarged scythed mandibles for use in combat with other males. All other prionines I’ve caught have been vicious in their refusal to accept subjugation. They will rotate their heads wildly while clamping their mandibles repeatedly. It was really surprising to see that Tithoes instead plays dead upon any disturbance. I can flip them on their backs, even put my finger in between the mandibles, and nothing seems to elicit a defensive response. Because large cerambycids are formidable creatures, it is unusual for this species to not put up a fight when captured. A writhing beetle with strong mandibular power would surely make birds think twice about their prey item.

All cerambycid photos taken after capture under controlled conditions [6]

Male (left), and female (right) Tithoes cf. confinis
Female cerambycid
The most common large longhorn beetle (Cerambycidae) at Mpala was a dark one in the genus Macrotoma (~7cm long). Unlike Tithoes, they do not play dead when handled, and instead run around haphazardly. Macrotoma is quick to defend and will readily bite and fend off anything that obstructs its path. Sexual dimorphism was evident in body size, but not in length of the mandibles, and all individuals had a spiny thorax that pinched my fingers if I grabbed them too high up the abdomen.

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