Two days ago, the WGNSS Botany Group met in the Visitor Center parking lot on a not-as-cold and not-as-cloudy day compared to previous days with the plan to walk the Natural Wonders Trail—a relatively easy 1.3-mile loop that features mesic forest on north-facing slopes, dry forest and glades on the south-facing slopes, and a spring-fed creek that meanders through the riparian corridor below. The upland portions of the trail pass through Meramec Mosaic Natural Area, boasting an amazing diversity of natural communities and associated flora all in relatively close proximity.
We walked clockwise around the loop, which took us up and out of the riparian forest onto the north-facing slopes. Lindera benzoin (spicebush) was abundant in the understory at the lower elevations, with male and female plants both being immediately recognizable—the former sporting noticeably swollen buds that will produce the male flowers in spring, and the latter still bearing many of their now-faded berries, their earlier bright red color lost to a dull purple-black. Two members of the Betulaceae were also seen commonly in the understory—Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam), with its hop-like fruit clusters and almost always adorned with rich-brown marcescent leaves, and Corylus americana (hazelnut) sporting distinctive hanging male catkins.
We had scarcely reached the upper slopes when we began noticing a diversity of green foliage—not from the numerous trees and shrubs, but rather from a variety of ferns, hangers-on from earlier times that continue to find niches within the woody-dominate community that now dominate the landscape. The first example seen was a single Sceptridium dissectum (cutleaf grape-fern), its leaf now in reddish-bronze winter dress. Shortly afterwards we began to see prominent outcrops of dolomite as we neared the north-facing bluffs, their surfaces thickly covered with mosses and providing a perfect situation for Asplenium rhizophyllum (American walking fern). The long, tapering leaves of this species root at their tips and give rise to new plantlets—an asexual method of reproduction that allows a single plant to quickly colonize an entire rock surface.
The bluff faces themselves provided the greatest diversity of ferns. An unusual species observed in abundance was Cystopteris bulbifera (bulblet fern, bulblet bladderfern, or bulblet fragile fern). Unlike many ferns, the fronds of this species turn completely brown during the winter (although a few small green plantlets of what may be this species were observed growing among them). It’s most notable feature, however, is the small “bulblets” that form on the underside of its leaves, providing the plant a most unusual method of asexual reproduction.
Two Pellaea spp. (cliffbrake) we’re found as well growing from crevices on the bluff face: P. atropurpurea (purple-stem cliffbrake or purple cliffbrake) and the more uncommonly encountered P. glabella (smooth cliffbrake). In some cases the plants were growing very near each other, allowing the group an opportunity to compare and contrast. Pellaea atropurpurea is distinctive in both habit and appearance, with fertile leaflets narrowly elongate—sporangia arranged along the curled under margin and the sterile leaflets broader and “T-shaped” at the base. In addition to its dimorphic leaves, the distinctly pubescent, purplish-brown rachis separates it from P. glabella. The latter species can be found scattered throughout the Ozarks and a few northern counties and is less likely to be seen growing in soil as opposed to exposed rock.
Two more species of Asplenium were found as we continued to examine the moss-covered rock exposures, one being the commonly encountered A. platyneuron (ebony spleenwort or brownstem spleenwort)—distinctive by its purple-brown rachis and “offset” pinnae with asymmetrical basal lobes, and an as-yet-undetermined species provisionally assigned to this genus. We would see additional examples of A. platyneuron away from the rock faces growing in the soil—their fertile fronds tending to grow more erect than the sterile fronds. This same habit was seen in the eighth and final fern of the day, the very common Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern) which we encountered regularly in more mesic areas of the forest floor.
Despite the botanical focus of the walk, we are all naturalists at heart and quick to notice anything that piques our natural history curiosity, regardless of what kingdom of life it pertains to, and when John called out, “Okay Ted, here’s a quiz for you,” I suspected my entomological skills would be put to the test. What he’d found were three strange-looking structures hanging from a small Ostrya sapling that would have, to anybody less-observant, been passed off as some plant fruiting structure. Of course, we knew that Ostrya fruits bore no resemblance to these structures, and when we noticed they were connected to each other and had apparently been “tied” to the twig by some sort of insect, we then guessed they may have been the fruiting structures of an as yet unidentified herbaceous plant or vine. That idea was quickly dispelled, however, when cutting into one of the structures revealed it was filled with bright yellow spheres that I can only surmise to be lepidopteran eggs, with the structures themselves and their attachments to the twig consisting of the silk that many caterpillars use to construct cocoons in which to pupate. Could these be the eggs of an usual type of bagworm moth, the females of which are typically wingless and larvicida and remain in their cocoon after emergence, where they mate, lay eggs, and die? The structures and their egg-like contents, at this point, remain a mystery, but I did collect them and am attempting to hatch the “eggs” (if that is what they are) in an effort to gain further clues about their identity.
Turning back to the east the forest changed dramatically. The tall canopy of mesic-loving hardwoods such as Quercus alba (white oak) and Acer saccharum (sugar maple) gave way to a shorter, more open canopy of trees preferring dry to xeric conditions such as Q. muhlenbergii (chinquapin oak), Rhamnus caroliniana (Carolina buckthorn), and Sideroxylon lanuginosum (wooly buckthorn or gum bumelia). Entomologist that I am, I couldn’t resist the chance to check the ground around the bases of the trunks of each of the latter, hoping to see evidence of larval activity by the spectacular and highly host-specific Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer), but no such evidence was seen. At one point, the dry oak woodland yielded to a bona fide dolomite glade (more properly called “xeric dolomite prairie”), with evidence of mechanical removal of woody plants and prescribed burns serving as testament to dedicated management practices intended to restore and preserve the original character of the glade by park management.
The final stretch led back down into the valley, where a disturbing amount of Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle) was observed on the forest floor and growing up the smaller trees. A grove of Pinus echinata (shortleaf pine), apparently planted some time ago, looked oddly out of place given the dolomitic substrate in the area but did provide an opportunity for dramatic up views. After regrouping in the parking lot (and remarking on what a “fern-tastic” walk it had been), a number of participants caravanned to Clark Street Cade and Bakery in nearby Sullivan for a welcome resumption of the traditional post-walk lunch.
It’s been too long since I’ve been able to go out with the WGNSS Botany Group on their weekly Monday outing—a consequence of travel and renovations on top of the frenetic-as-usual insect-collecting season. The result is that my attendance on the Botany Group outings is semi-regular during fall/winter but spotty at best during spring/summer. That may seem exactly the opposite of what would be optimum for studying plants, but as a naturalist to the core I have no trouble finding things of interest no matter the season. Especially when the destination is a place as fascinatingly diverse as Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park—best known previously for its rhyolite “shut-ins” but now mostly for the gashing scour zone that was ripped across it in Dec 2005 when a catastrophic failure of the reservoir atop nearby Proffit Mountain released one billion gallons of water that tore through the landscape in a matter of 12 minutes. The geology exposed by the scour and the living experiment of biological succession that began afterwards are both fascinating, making the Scour Trail one of the Missouri Ozarks’ most interesting day hikes.
Our chief target for the day was Hamamelis virginiana (common or American witch-hazel), which blooms in November and December and is restricted in Missouri to a few counties in the St. Francois Mountains and the extreme southwestern corner of the state. Interestingly, there is a second species of witch hazel—H. vernalis (Ozark witch hazel), more common in Missouri but much more restricted globally—that occurs here, but as it blooms later in winter (January/February) we did not expect to see it on this trip. We found the former reliably, though not abundantly, and among the last plants we found in bloom were some with the freshest (and best-illuminated by the low-angled sun) flowers. At one point while we were still within the dry-mesic upland deciduous forest uphill from the scour zone, we saw a nice colony of the patch-forming Diarrhena obovata (beak grass). This is an attractive grass that does well in shade and should be utilized more as an ornamental.
The overlook provided a stunning overview of the scour zone from an elevated vantage—the since rebuilt Proffit Mountain Reservoir rising ominously above it as an almost deliberate reminder of its potential power—before the descent down into the scour zone. It’s an almost alien landscape with an irregular, unweathered floor of exposed bedrock strewn with rocks ranging from pebbles to boulders. Sycamore and willow are the early leaders in the now 17-year-old race to recolonize the barren swath of land, but lack of toeholds for roots to grow is a bigger problem for this future forest than lack of sunlight by taller neighbors. At one point, we spotted a large bush heavily laden with dense clusters of berries atop a pile of rocks. While the more astute botanists in the group recognized it for what it was, I was dumbfounded as to its identity until it was revealed to me to be none other than Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)—the largest, densest, most heavily berry-laden “bush” form of the species I have ever seen. So impressive it was that seven botanists gave it much more than just a trifling look.
About halfway down the scour zone we encountered the “great unconformity”—previously hidden by topsoil and forest but now exposed. Here, knobs of 1.3 billion-year-old granite are surrounded by 540 million-year-old dolomite deposited atop the granite in the shallow Cambrian seas that once covered all but the tallest of these by then already ancient knobs—mere nubs of the towering mountains they once were but worn down nearly to sea level by nearly a billion years of relentless rain and wind. The exposures of pink granite, their large embedded crystals glistening sharply in the sunlight, contrasted starkly with the dark gray dolomite surround them, representing an incomprehensible gap of nearly 800 million years in the record of Earth’s history preserved in the rocks. The entire history of multicellular life on Earth could be swallowed by such a gap!
As an entomologist, I cannot ever stop being on the lookout for insects, no matter what the season. Even though temps were well on the chilly side, I still managed to discern a couple of small wolf spiders, and somehow I managed to see a small ant cadaver on a twig that had succumbed to an insect-pathogenic fungus in the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis complex. Even the botanists around me started taking advantage of the opportunity for insect education. Len and Michael noticed a gall on a small Quercus muhlenbergii (chinquapin oak) which turned out to be the work of Disholcaspis quercusglobulus (round bullet gall wasp), and John noticed a colony of Prociphilus tessellatus (woolly alder aphid) on Alnus glutinosa (European alder). Closer inspection revealed an adult Harmonia axyridis (Asian lady beetle) preying upon the aphids.
It was as enjoyable an outing as I’d hoped (how can four hours in the woods be anything BUT enjoyable), and I hope not to let so much time pass before the next time I’m able to join the group!
Madam and I are staying in South Lake Tahoe this week, so today I took advantage of this rare opportunity to do some fall insect collecting in western North America. In many insect groups, most species have finished their business for the season by the time autumn arrives. This is especially true for my beloved longhorned beetles, whose spring/early summer flush is now but a distant memory. There are a few genera of longhorned beetles, however, that wait precisely until autumn before making their appearance—Megacyllene and Tragidion being the best-known examples in eastern North America, and Crossidius being the best known out west. I adore autumn collecting, both in the east and in the west—its cooler temperatures and lower humidity make conditions incredibly pleasant, and the longer shadows cast by a low-hanging sun make the landscape—gently morphing from monotonous tones of greens to dazzling shades of amber, tawny, and gold—even more stunning.
I figured my best shot for Crossidius was in the sagebrush habitat below the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, so I took the Kingsbury Grade over Dagget Pass and found some good looking habitat near Genoa with nice stands of Ericameria nauseosa (rubber rabbitbrush)—host of Crossidius coralinus—in peak bloom. It took quite a bit of work to find the beetles, and for the first half-hour the only insects I saw were non-native honey bees (eventually I did see a few native bees as well, which I collected for Mike Arduser). I also checked some Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed) that I found hoping to find Tetraopes femoratus (red-femured milkweed borer) but saw only Polistes dominula (European paper wasp).
After quite a bit of seeching, I finally found a Crossidius adult, although it was not C. coralinus but rather the all-black C. ater.
Very quickly afterwards, however, I found the first C. coralinus, and over the next half-hour I collected about a dozen males and females of C. coralinus and one more C. ater.
Crossidius coralinus has been divided into several subspecies based on differences in markings and coloration across its geographical range—in this area, the species is assignable to subspecies C. coralinus temprans. I did a final check of the stands near where I parked and found one more adult C. coralinus, after which I decided I’d seen enough and went to another spot to look for different species of Crossidius.
After having such good luck with C. coralinus on E. nauseosa, I went a few miles further north to Jack’s Valley Habitat Management Area where I saw a different species of rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, or yellow rabbitbrush) in bloom.
Yellow rabbitbrush is the host of a different species of Crossidius in this area—C. hirtipes, and I hoped I might be able to find this species as well. It didn’t take long, as I found a small female hiding in the inflorescence of one of the first rabbitbrush plants that I looked at. As sometimes happens, however, my early success was followed by an extended time without seeing another beetle.
The plants were sparse in the sagebrush habitat, and I zigzagged my way from plant to plant going west from the trailhead. Despite the lack of beetles, there were other insects active on the flowers, including assassin bugs and digger wasps.
Eventually, I came upon an area where the plants were more abundant, and I started encountering beetles more regularly, including several big males perched atop the flowers and another C. ater adult hiding inside the flowers on one of these same plants.
Bees—other than honey bees—were scarse, but I managed to pick up a few for Mike, and I also collected a few Eleodes sp. (desert stink beetles) that were, for some reason, crawling and perching on the rabbitbrush flowers. I’ve never thought of darkling beetles—at least those in the genus Eleodes—as anthophilous, and maybe this habit isn’t strict anthophily, per se, but it was remarkable to see so many of these beetles associated with the plants and hardly a single individual crawling about on the ground.
After a couple hours worth of effort, I’d secured about a dozen C. hirtipes, which, like C. coralinus, has been assigned to several subspecies (populations in this area being assignable to subspecies C. hirtipes immaculatus)—enough for my purposes, and I left to head back up into the mountains.
I’d hoped to find one more spot up in the mountains, but the sinking sun and rising elevation conspired to make conditions much too cool for all but the most persistent insects. I did stop at a powerline cut, where recently-cut Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) trunks, stumps, and branches provided a perfect attractor for wood-boring beetles. Sadly, none were seen, even on the undersides of the logs and branches. Thus, my rare chance for fall insect collecting in western North America came to a close.
Zebra stripes are a common theme in animal coloration — there are not just zebras, but zebra swallowtails (Protographium marcellus) and zebra longwings (Heliconius charithonia) — both butterflies; zebra beetles (Poecilesthus fasciatus) and zebra longhorns (Typocerus zebra) — both beetles; zebra clubtails (Stylurus scudderi) — a type of dragonfly; and zebra moths — specifically Conchylodes ovulalis, the zebra conchylodes moth.
The fact that these black/white striping patterns are so common throughout the animal/insect worlds clearly suggests they provide some benefit, but the benefit differs for different species. For example, the stripes of zebra swallowtail butterflies serve to confuse birds trying to follow them as they fly swiftly and erratically through the forest. The stripes of zebras are commonly believed to function in a similar manner, confusing predators while they run as a herd; however, researchers have recently learned that the stripes may actually provide more benefit in preventing attacks from biting flies by confusing their vision as they try to land on the animal. Zebra longwing butterflies, on the other hand, have noxious chemicals in their body and use their stripes to advertise the fact. For most insects lacking chemical protection, however — including the zebra conchylodes moth, we have little experimental data to go by and can only assume that the stripes somehow function in providing camouflage for the insect.
I’m always on the lookout for cool plants and critters during my daily walk with Beau and Madam, and today we saw one of the coolest plants ever — Monotropa uniflora (ghost pipes, Indian pipes).
This bizarre plant, a member of the blueberry family (Ericaceae), occurs throughout much of Missouri, but the plants seem to pop up sporadically and unpredictably and are difficult to locate intentionally. The common name derives from their unique shape, the nodding flowers — one atop each stem — giving the plant a pipe-shaped appearance, and their pure white coloration — a consequence of the complete absence of any chlorophyll in their tissues. As such, the plants are unable to photosynthesize and must obtain nutrition from decaying organic material on and in the soil, which they do with the aid of soil-inhabiting fungi that digest the matter into basic compounds that the plant can absorb.
The nodding flowers will eventually turn upwards as the fruits form and mature, so I am anxious to keep an eye on these plants as that happens over the next couple of weeks.
Back in mid-July, I was fortunate to have the chance to host a couple of beetle colleagues from out-of-state and to show them a few of Missouri’s premier habitats. Art Evans is a scarab specialist from Virginia who has published several books on beetles—most recently “Beetles of Eastern North America” and “Beetles of Western North America.” Bob Anderson is a weevil specialist from the Canadian National Collection in Ottawa. I’ve been in the field with Art a couple of times, both out west in Arizona, while this is my first time in the field with Bob. They are passing through as they work their way west for a 4-week collecting trip, and since neither has ever collected in Missouri it was a perfect opportunity to spend a few days together.
Sand Prairie Conservation Area
We met up at Sand Prairie Conservation Area in southeastern Missouri, which contains a high quality sand prairie remnant—one of Missouri’s rarest and most endangered natural communities. This is the place where a few years ago I discovered two scarab beetles not previously known to occur in Missouri—including Strategus antaeus (smooth ox beetle), the second largest beetle in eastern North America.
I was hoping there might still be jewel beetles (family Buprestidae) on the Quercus spp. (oaks) and Diospyros virginiana (persimmon) trees ringing the perimeter of the sand blowout area, and my hopes increased when I swept two Dicerca obscura off high branches of the latter. Those would be the last buprestids I saw there. Sweeping the high branches of Quercus marilandica (blackjack oak) and southern Q. falcata (red oak) produced only epitragine tenebrionids.
I looked for live individuals of S. antaeus but, as is typical, only saw bits and pieces of carcasses near the base of certain oaks. Under one I did collect an almost intact female carcass (missing only the head), and the head and pronotum of a super-major male.
Continued sweeping of high branches finally produced something besides epitragines—an Enoclerus sp. Returning to the vehicles, I exchanged my long-handled net for a sweep net and swept the Polygonellum americanum (American jointweed), collecting only a single Cryptocephalus sp. For their part, Bob and Art collected a small variety of beetles, including some weevils that Bob found interesting.
Otter Slough Conservation Area
After Art and Bob had seen enough of Sand Prairie, I took them to Otter Slough Conservation Area. This area features sloughs and wet bottomland forests where I’ve collected many good species, most notably Agrilus concinnus—formerly considered very rare until I determined it to be a later-season species associated with species of Hibiscus (rose mallow)—and an undescribed species of Taphrocerus that I’ve found on Carex hyalinolepis here but nowhere else in the state (despite finding the host plant). I alerted Art and Bob to these possibilities and started down the 2-track where I’ve seen these species before.
Unfortunately, the 2-track was completely overgrown to the point of being impassable (it’s been many years since I last walked it), so I opted instead to walk the perimeter of Mudsnake Marsh where I’ve also seen the two species. The marsh was dry—first time I’ve seen it like that, allowing me to check Hibiscus plants in the marsh interior as well as along the edge. No A. concinnus were seen on any of the plants—just a few Paragrilus tenuis and good numbers of Chaetocnema quadricollis (hibiscus flea beetle).
Failing to find A. concinnus, I swept the Carex along the perimeter on the edge of the wet bottomland forest side and even in a spot where I had collected Taphrocerus abundantly in previous years, but to no avail and finding instead only one chrysomelid. Collecting was slim at Sand Prairie, and it was even slimmer here at Otter Slough, so it appears seems we have definitely entered the “summer doldrums” stage of the collecting season—at least for beating and sweeping.
Holly Ridge Natural Area
After going into bearby Dexter to get a motel room and eat some dinner (Dexter Bar-B-Q pulled pork—pretty good!), I took Art and Bob to Holly Ridge Natural Area for an evening of blacklighting. I wanted to come here to 1) avoid the hoards of aquatic insects that would come to our sheets if we blacklighted at Otter Slough and 2) give myself a chance (however outside) of getting Saperda obliqua—known from only a single specimen collected at Hawn State Park but likely here as well due to the stands of Alnus serrulata (hazel alder).
Bob and Art agreed it looked like a good spot to blacklight when we arrived, so Art placed his light setup in the parking lot, while I placed mine about 100 meters into the mesic lowland deciduous forest. I had high hopes for the evening—it was warm (89°F) and humid, and we were two days past the full moon so moonlight would not be an issue for at least two hours after sunset.
A lot of insects ended up coming to the lights, but not a lot of cerambycids (and certainly not S. obliqua). Nevertheless, I picked up one Enaphalodes atomarius and a few Lepturges confluens, along with some telamonine treehoppers and other miscellaneous beetles—all at my light setup.
We also saw Elytrimitatrix undata and several other miscellaneous beetles on the trunk of a large standing Quercus sp., and E. atomarius and another E. undata at Art’s lights, all of which I let him collect. He was also happy to see the many Lucanus capreolus and Neocicada hieroglyphica that came to both our lights. By 10:30 pm few additional insects were coming to the lights, so we broke them down and heads back to Dexter.
Long Bald Glade Natural Area
It took us all morning to drive across southern Missouri to reach this near the easternmost limits of the White River Hills, a fantastic region in the extreme southwest of Missouri featuring dry oak/juniper woodland surrounding extensive dolomite glades atop rounded knobs. It is my favorite region of the state for collecting insects, and I wanted Art and Bob to see the area before they continue on to western Texas. I also have jug traps and a Lindgren funnel trap placed here, so coming here would give me a chance to service them before checking the rest during the next two days on the way back to St. Louis.
By the time we arrived, temperatures were already soaring, and I was disappointed to see that conditions were very dry. Nevertheless, you never know how collecting will be until you try. I started out by checking the Lindgren funnel trap, which I had placed in actively-restored dry post oak woodland and was pleased to see a variety of beetles, including a series of Neoclytus scutellatus. In addition to re-baiting with ethanol-only, I added a pheromone lure (Fuscumol Lure MR, #P655-MR, Chemtica International) to the trap to increase the attractiveness of the trap to cerambycids.
The ethanol/red wine trap had a nice variety of beetles that caught the attention of Art and Bob and included Plinthocoelium suaveolens, Stenelytrana emarginata, Eburia quadrigeminata, undetermined elaphidiines, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, Cnephus mutilatus, miscellaneous beetles, and a cicada. The ethanol-only trap, however, was much less productive, yielding no cerambycids and just one E. sepulchralis, a few C. mutilatus, and some miscellaneous beetles. This continues the trend noticed four weeks ago during the first round of trap collections, when it appeared that the ethanol/red wine traps yielded higher numbers and diversity of not only beetles but also bycatch of other insects (primarily moths, flies, and wasps), suggesting that red wine possesses additional components attractive to beetles that more than make up for the reduction in ethanol content resulting from mixing the two.
The condition of the glade vegetation was extremely dry, and as I walked between the traps I didn’t see a single plant in bloom. I encountered Bob on the way back to the car and mentioned this to him, and I suggested to both Art and Bob that instead of spending time here we should look at locations further west that may have gotten more rain. They agreed, so we cut our visit short and headed further west.
Mincy Conservation Area
As we traveled west, we passed two locations where I had placed traps, but the entire area still looked exceedingly dry so we didn’t stop. By the time we reached Branson, however, conditions looked much better, and I suggested to Art and Bob that we visit Mincy Conservation Area just south of town since we were now in an area that looked like it had received some rain. Mincy is another of my favorite localities in this area due to the presence of high-quality dolomite glades, and in fact it is one of the localities where I have placed jug traps. Beetle numbers and diversity were much higher in the ethanol/red wine trap, which had Plinthocoelium suaveolens, Eburia quadrigeminata, elaphidiines, Neoclytus scutellatus, Strangalia luteicornis, Acmaeoderatexana, Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, elaterids, Cnephus mutilatus, mordellids, and a cicada, while the ethanol-only trap yieldedmost of the same but in lower numbers. While servicing the traps, I noticed an Acmaeodera on the flower of Liatris hirsuta (hairy blazingstar). I at first assumed it was A. pulchella, a common summertime species here, but looking more closely at it I realized it was A. texana, a very uncommon species in Missouri that I have not seen for many years. I looked at other Liatris flowers but didn’t see any, so I swept the surrounding herbaceous vegetation of this xeric dolomite prairie and found one more (plus a few chrysomelids). We had originally planned to go further west to Roaring River State Park for an evening of blacklighting. Hiwever, seeing that the vegetation looked good here and that the area had obviously gotten some rain, I suggested that we stay here instead of taking a chance on moving to an area where we were not sure what conditions were like. This also would allow us to spend more time collecting—we could go into Branson for dinner and return here quickly rather than driving another hour to Roaring River. Art and Bob agreed this was a good idea, so we headed into town and enjoyed Mexican cuisine at Los Poblanos (I had crispy tacos and, in a true rarity, resisted the siren call of the beans, rice, chips and salsa that would have totally derailed my 3-week stretch of healthy eating).
We returned with still about an hour before it would start getting dark, so I decided to continue sweeping the glade vegetation to look for more Acmaeodera texana. I paid particular attention to any flowers (primarily Liatris hirsuta and Rudbeckia missouriensis), since those were the plants most likely to have the beetles on them. Most sweeps, while not yielding A. texana, did produce hispine leaf beetles in the genera Anisostena and Microrhopala—certainly interesting enough to collect and motivate me to continue sweeping. After going through one particular area and looking at the sweep contents on the net, I saw the unmistakable shape of an Agrilus. This was not, however, just any Agrilus, but rather A. impexus—one of North America’s rarest Buprestidae! I recognized it because some years ago I received two specimens from another person who collected them sweeping prairie vegetation at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in west-central Missouri. I identified them as this species but noted they were much larger than specimens collected commonly in the southwestern U.S. I sent the specimens to Henry Hespenheide, who not only confirmed their identity but also determined they were not conspecific with a more common but as yet undescribed southwestern species going under the same name. In reality, true A. impexus is very rare, known from only a handful of specimens—most many decades old—collected in the tallgrass as prairie region of the central U.S., and the common but unnamed southwestern species was described as A. paraimpexus. I have swept tallgrass prairies abundantly ever since but failed to find the species—until now. I alerted Art and Bob to the find and worked up to the brink of darkness sweeping the area to look for more. I never did, but Bob, on his last sweep of vegetation before closing darkness, found another (right in the same area where I had collected mine)!
As exciting as this find was, darkness prevented continuing to look for it, and I had to take advantage of what little light remained to setup my lights. I felt a few sprinkles as I did this but didn’t think much about it, assuming it would pass, and fired up the generator. The sprinkles continued, however, and gradually increased to the point where I worried about the mercury-vapor bulb. Art had also set up his lights but waited on turning on the mercury-vapor light, and together we hoped against hope that it would blow over and we would be able to proceed with blacklighting. It was all in vain though, as temps continued to drop and light sprinkles turned to steady drizzle. With darkness well developed and absolutely no insects flying around the ultraviolet lights (which we had left on, it was clear that it would be pointless to continue. With that, we took our lights down and said our goodbyes, as their plans were to head towards Texas in the morning while I went to Roaring River to begin checking the rest of my jug traps as I worked my way back to St. Louis. It seemed an inappropriately inauspicious end to an otherwise successful stop and fun trip with two exceptional coleopterists. I’m already looking forward to the next chance I get to spend time in the field with each of them!
Roaring River State Park—Chute Ridge Glade
First stop of the day to service jug traps, and the area has apparently gotten more rain as the glade vegetation looked reasonably lush. I was hoping to see more Glycobius speciosus here after getting a single individual in the ethanol/red wine trap last time, but that was not the case. The trap was, however, still full of beetles, including numerous Plinthocoelium suaveolens and a variety of other longhorns such as Eburia quadrigeminata, Elytrimitatrix undatus, and elaphidiines, scarabs like Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, and E. sepulchralis, and other beetles such ad elaterids, one Chrysobothris chlorocephala?, one Chariessa pilosa, mordellids, and Cnestus mutilatus. The ethanol-only trap, as before, had fewer individuals and lower diversity. Between checking the traps, I swept the herbaceous glade vegetation and didn’t get much, but after checking the second trap I swept along the roadside and got five more Agrilus impexus, effectively doubling the known series of this species! I was very happy to have collected more of this very rare species after the two that Bob and I collected yesterday at Mincy Conservation Area.
Hercules Glades Wilderness
The jug traps here didn’t produce much last time, and I wasn’t expecting much this time either. The ethanol/red wine trap had Plinthocoelium suaveolens, Eburia quadrigeminata, a few elaphidiines, one Cotinis nitida, several Euphoria fulgida, a couple of elaterids, and a clerid, while the ethanol-only trap had one cicada, one elaterid, and one miscellaneous beetle. I also collected Cicindela sexguttata and Cicindelidia rufiventris on the rocky-clay path through dry oak-juniper woodland; however, sweeping the herbaceous glade vegetation produced nothing. The area has been quite dry, but I believe the low trap numbers are also due to the lack of vegetational diversity here due to the lack of any management via prescribed burns.
There is lots of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) at this Mark Twain National Forest site along Hwy 160 in Taney Co., and last time I checked the jug traps here there was already Plinthocoelium suaveolens in them. As a result, I expected to see lots of them this time, and such was the case. The ethanol/red wine trap had nearly three dozen P. suaveolens along with Stenelytrana emarginata, Eburia quadrigeminata, a few elaphidiines, Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, and elaterids m. The ethanol-only trap had far fewer P. suaveolens (only 2) but similar numbers and diversity of other beetles. The area looks quite dry, but I swept the herbaceous glade vegetation anyway in hopes that I would find more Agrilus impexus. I did not, but I did collect about a dozen Taphrocerus “howardi” (the quotation marks are a story for another day), which was surprising to me given how crispy brown the vegetation looked.
Bald Hill Glade Natural Area
This was my best locality last time in terms of trap numbers (at least the ethanol/red wine trap, not so much the ethanol-only trap). This is also one of two localities where I have a Lindgren funnel trap, which had a nice diversity of cerambycids (Neoclytus scutellatus, Eburia quadrigeminata, Aegomorphus modestus, Xylotrechus colonus, an elaphidiine, and an undet. cerambycid), scarabs (Cotinis nitida, Anomala sp.), elaterids, (scolytines (C. mutilatus), and other miscellaneous beetles. The area looked quite dry—both in the glade proper and in the surrounding dry upland deciduous forest, but trap numbers (again, only in the former) were incredible. In fact, there were so many beetles in the ethanol/red wine trap that I skipped sorting them in the field and brought the whole unsorted catch back to the car to sort out later. Part of this decision was due to the dark line of clouds I noticed to the north and that seemed to be moving closer. I hustled to the ethanol-only trap and quickly sorted its much sparser contents (only three Plinthocoelium suaveolens and a few E. quadrigeminata, E. fulgida, and elaterids), all the time keeping an eye on the approaching front. As I started the half-mile hike back, the winds really started picking up and the temps began to drop, and it became clear it would be a race to reach the car before the skies opened up. There isn’t much that phases me when I’m out in the field, but bushwhacking a half-mile stretch of abandoned, overgrown 2-track under dark, ominous clouds and with increasingly gusty winds had me feeling a bit nervous. I almost made it to the car before the rain started but did get wet in the final stretch. Still, I was able to get out of the area and back onto asphalt before the real deluge started. All traps were re-baited with the same bait, and a pheromone lure (Fuscumol Lure MR, #P655-MR, Chemtica International) was added to the Lindgren funnel. Sweeping herbaceous glade vegetation leading to the ethanol-red wine trap produced only a single Exema sp.
That evening in the hotel room, I sorted the contents of the ethanol/red wine trap and recovered a nice diversity of cerambycids (Plinthocoelium suaveolens, Stenelytrana emarginata, Enaphalodes atomarius, Eburia quadrigeminata, Neoclytus scutellatus, Lepturges confluens, and elaphidiines), one Chrysobothris sp., numerous cetoniine scarabs (Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, E. herbacea, E. sepulchralis), elaterids, and Cnestus mutilatus, a mordellid, and two miscellaneous beetles.
Peck Ranch Conservation Area
I wasn’t optimistic about the jug traps here, since it was rather unremarkable dry-mesic upland deciduous forest—a last minute replacement locality for a dolomite glade that I could not access due to a closed gate. The area got a good rain last night and looked lush anyway, and as it turned out there were huge numbers of beetles in the ethanol/red wine trap. These included one Plinthocoelium suaveolens—unexpected, since I didn’t think there was any gum bumelia in the area, a nice series of Stenelytrana emarginata, lots of Eburia quadrigeminata, Cotinis nitida, and Euphoria fulgida, single specimens of Neoclytus scutellatus, Strangalia luteicornis, and Batyle suturalis, Euphoria sepulchralis, Trigonopeltastes delta, and Chrysobothris sp., and a handful of elaterids, Cnestus mutilatus, and other miscellaneous beetles. As at most previous spots, the ethanol-only trap had fewer numbers and lower diversity of beetles, although this did include one Lepturges sp. not caught yet in ethanol/red wine. Given the success with sweeping at previous spots (Agrilus impexus as two locations and Taphrocerus “howardi” at the last one), I decided sweep the herbaceous roadside vegetation in this dry mesic upland deciduous forest and got singletons of Taphrocerus nicolayi, Acmaeodera pulchella, and Exema sp.—the Taphrocerus definitely making the effort worthwhile.
Stegall Mountain Natural Area
I was not a fan of this spot when I set the traps in mid-May given the fact that the spot and a large surrounding area had been recently burned. Despite that, I did get Purpuricenus in one of the traps last time, so I was more optimistic about it this time. As with the previous spot the area looked lush and got good rain yesterday, and as with the previous spot there were huge numbers of beetles in the ethanol/red wine trap, the most exciting of which were Stenelytrana emarginata, Purpuricenus humeralis, and Knulliana “spinifera” (I think this may actually be an undescribed species). Other longhorns in the trap included lots of Eburia quadrigeminata, Neoclytus scutellatus (may include a few N. mucronatus), and elaterids and small numbers of Batyle suturalis, Enaphalodes atomarius, Lepturges sp., Chrysobothris/Actenodes, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, Cnestus mutilatus and other miscellaneous beetles. I was especially happy to see Purpuricenus once again—the first of this trip. Again, the ethanol-only trap had fewer numbers and lower diversity of beetles, but this did include a single specimen of Phaenops aeneola—only the second known Missouri specimen (I collected the first many years ago at this very location)! Sweeping herbaceous vegetation in the xeric rhyolite prairie around Trap A and dry oak/pine woodland around Trap B produced nothing, but doing so along the roadside in the oak/pibe woodland produced Microrhopala vittata and Exema sp.
Russell Mountain, Jakk’s Glade
This area also looked lush and got more good rains last night. The ethanol/red wine trap was down last time (not vandalized, I just failed to tie the knot on the carabiner securely), so I was anxious to see what it might produce. Like the previous spots on this side of the state, there were huge numbers of beetles in it, including Stenelytrana emarginata, Purpuricenus humeralis, Eburia quadrigeminata, Knulliana “spinifera”, Neoclytus scutellatus (may include a few N. mucronatus), Enaphalodes atomarius, Strangalia luteicornis, undetermined elaphidiines, Chrysobothris sp., Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, and undetermined elaterids (including many very tiny ones that I didn’t collect). The large series of Purpuricenus was unexpected and quite nice and means I’ve now collected species in this genus in all three of the igneous glades where I placed traps (but none in any of the dolomite glades—the opposite of what I expected given the number of individuals of this genus I’ve bait-trapped over the years at dolomite glades in Jefferson Co.). I was also surprised and happy to see the Knulliana, which I think is actually an undescribed species—they looked very similar coming out of the trap as the much more abundant Eburia, so I’ll have to check the collected specimens (both from here and other locations) more closely to see if there are other specimens that I’ve counted as Eburia. As expected, the ethanol-only trap again had far fewer numbers and lower diversity of the same species plus a single Lepturges sp. (same as the previous location). Both traps were re-baited with the same bait, though I started to doubt the value of continuing the bait comparison when ethanol/red wine already seemed far superior to ethanol-only. In the end, I decided to continue the continue the comparisons to allow for the possibility of other species later in the season that might show a different preference (and to allow publication of the study data even if this is not the case). Disappointingly, sweeping herbaceous vegetation in the xeric igneous prairie around both traps produced nothing.
Hughes Mountain Natural Area
Again, like the previous spots today, the area looks lush and got more rain last night, but the numbers of beetles in the ethanol-red wine trap was not quite as overwhelming as in other locations. Nevertheless, there still a lot and two very good species : Sphenostethus taslei and Purpuricenus paraxillaris! I’ve only seen the former once before in a bait trap at Victoria Glades, and I’m always happy to see more individuals of the latter (the first new species I ever discovered!). Other beetles in the trap were Eburia quadrigeminata, an undetermined elaphidiine, Strangalia luteicornis, Typocerus velutinus, Xylotrechus colonus, Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, and various elaterids (including many tiny ones that I didn’t collect). In what is becoming a familiar refrain, the ethanol-only trap again had lower numbers and diversity, with Cnestus mutilatus being the only species not also caught in the ethanol/red wine-baited trap. Sweeping herbaceous vegetation, both in xeric igneous prairie around Trap A and dry post oak woodland around Trap B, produced nothing. This was the last location I was able to visit this day because of the unexpectedly large amount of time it took to sort the large numbers of beetles in many of the traps, so I saved the last two locations for the next day.
St. Joe State Park
Like other areas on this side of the state, the vegetation was lush and got even more rain two nights ago. I’d been very anxious to see this spot, as there is lots of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in the small xeric dolomite glades remnants and extensive surrounding areas of restored dry post oak woodland, which promise to yield Plinthocoelium suaveolens. Unfortunately, the ethanol/red wine trap was completely missing—not fallen or pulled down by raccoons, but more likely stolen by humans (I probably should have placed this trap further away from the nearby paved bicycle trail). This is first case of trap theft I’ve experienced in a long time. If they had to steal one of the traps, I wish it would have been the ethanol-only trap rather than the ethanol/red wine trap—the former haven’t produced nearly as well as the latter, thus the loss of data would have been less. The ethanol-only trap had only a few beetles representing E. quadrigeminata, Batyle suturalis, Dichelonyx sp., Elateridae, and Cnestus mutilatus. I did not replace the ethanol/red wine trap, but instead re-baited the ethanol-only trap with ethanol/red wine. This means I will need to drop this location from the bait comparison analysis, but I wanted to give myself the best chance for trapping Plinthocoelium, and ethanol/red wine is clearly the better bait for accomplishing this. Sweeping herbaceous vegetation in the xeric dolomite prairie near Trap A and dry post oak woodland around Trap B produced nothing, but I did see an impressive Mydas tibialis (golden legged mydas fly) visiting flowers of Eryngium yuccifolium (rattlesnake master) in the dry post oak woodland.
Salt Lick Point Land & Water Preserve
This is the only locality in Illinois that I placed traps—specifically because last fall I saw good numbers of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia), host for Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer), and one in particular that showed signs of active infestation. Plinthocoelium has not been recorded from Illinois, so a voucher specimen will be important for publishing the record. The area apparently had gotten decent rains to this point, with vegetation in the woodlands looking lush and that in more exposed situations showing a tinge of wilt. Anticipation turned to disappointment when I looked inside the ethanol/red wine trap (placed right next to the infested bumelia tree) and saw lots of Eburia quadrigeminata and elaphidiines but only one Neoclytus acuminatus and no Plinthocoelium or other cerambycids. The infested teee was again churning out frass at the base of the trunk, so the infestation remains active—I will consider bringing screen with me next time so I can place a skirt around the base of the tree and check periodically for the adult once it emerges. In addition to the cerambycids noted above, the ethanol/red wine had Cotinis nitida, Enoclerus sp., Elateridae, Cnestus mutilatus, and other miscellaneous beetles. The ethanol-only trap had lower numbers of beetles, with Neoclytus scutellatus and Lepturges sp. being the only longhorns not represented in the ethanol/red wine trap. Interestingly, the trap also contained a few Buprestidae, which have been scarce in traps to this point (Actenodes sp.—prob. A. acornis or A. simi, Anthaxia sp.—prob. A. cyanella or A. dichroa, and Agrilus sp. Both traps were re-baited with ethanol-red wine to increase the likelihood of picking up P. suaveolens during the remainder of this season, and I will accordingly drop this locality from the bait comparison analysis (along with St. Joe State Park due to the ethanol-red wine trap being stolen) as well, thus limiting the analysis to the remaining 10 locations in Missouri.
Sweeping herbaceous vegetation in the dry hilltop prairie near the traps produced nothing, but I did find a dead Lucanus capreolus (reddish brown stag beetle) dead on the trail though the dry-mesic upland deciduous forest leading up the them.
Finally, after nearly 40 years, I’ve gotten my weevil collection organized and inventoried—nearly 1,000 specimens representing 160 species from the USA, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa. My sincere thanks to Bob Anderson, weevil specialist at the Canadian National Collection, for looking at my specimens and providing identifications.
At this past spring’s Missouri Native Plant Society Spring Field Trip, I was asked if I would be interested in writing an article for an upcoming issue of the Society’s newsletter, Petal Pusher. The planned theme for the issue was Latin and scientific nomenclature, though I was free to choose the precise subject. Being much more of an entomologist than I am a botanist, I was honored, and being a bit of a pedant, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about—the title of this post serving as an obvious clue.
Now, I don’t claim to have any special expertise in pronunciation of latinized nomenclature—in fact, I’ve never taken a single course in Latin. Nevertheless, I’ve probably studied and mulled over the subject a bit more than most, and age likely has also given me a bit of perspective on balancing adherence to “rules” (to the extent that they exist) and ease of use.
In that spirit, I offer the following article, which was just published in the newly-released July–August issue. It’s a light-hearted and (hopefully) fun read intended to provide readers with tips for making pronunciation of scientific names a little bit easier and a lot less intimidating. I’ll let you be the judge on whether I accomplished that goal.
p.s. The subtitle of the article is a nod to James Trager, who contributed another article in the issue dealing with the origin and use of Latin in botanical nomenclature… while explicitly side-stepping the question of pronunciation!