Bon appétit!

I collected this larva in northwest Nebraska during last year’s Fall Tiger Beetle Trip.  I collected an adult Cicindela lengi (blowout tiger beetle) at the spot – a species that greatly resembles but is much less common than the ubiquitous C. formosa (big sand tiger beetle – see my post Cicindela lengi vs. Cicindela formosa for a comparison of the two species).  Before finally finding that adult, however, I had fished out several larvae from the site in the hopes that they represented that uncommon species (see how I did this in my post Goin’ fishin’).  After collecting the larvae and placing them in a small terrarium with native sandy soil, they burrowed in but then closed up shop – I wasn’t sure whether they had survived or not.  In early December I put the terrarium in a 10°C incubator for the winter and brought it back out earlier this month.  Yesterday, happily, this larva and one other opened up their burrows again, so with any luck I’ll feed them well and they’ll complete their development.  While I do hope they represent C. lengi, other possibilities include C. scutellaris (festive tiger beetle), which would not be exciting, and C. nebraskana (prairie long-lipped tiger beetle), which would be VERY exciting.  One species I do not have to worry about it being is C. formosa, as the larvae of that species make very unique excavations in the sand with the burrow opening directed towards the excavation (I don’t believe I’ve posted photos of that here, yet – I’ll have to do so soon).

In the meantime, here is a closeup of the larva in the video prior to feeding. Those of you who have ever reared or photographed tiger beetle larvae will know just how easily “spooked” these larvae can be – any sudden movement will cause the larva to “drop” into its burrow and sit there for awhile. As a result, it was a real challenge to go through the whole process of taking first the photos and then the video while feeding it without causing it to drop.


Coming soon – lunchtime for adults!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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I Brake for Dung Beetles!

A few days ago I learned of a new campaign by The WILD Foundation called “Make a Big Impact with Small Change.” Founded in 1974, WILD seeks to protect intact wilderness areas and the wildlife and people who depend upon them. Their new campaign pays homage to dung beetles – usually overlooked by conservationists in favor of the so-called “charismatic megafauna,” but who nevertheless provide an important ecological service by tirelessly processing megafaunal dung. From the WILD website:

Here at The WILD Foundation, we realize that it is not just those large, charismatic animals that inspire conservation – it is often the small, typically unnoticed and vastly under-appreciated ones that inspire us the most….and that are an indispensible part of the ecosystem!

As a way of generating support for their work, WILD is giving away bumper stickers like the one pictured above. I have got to have one of these bumper stickers! It is the best entomology bumper sticker I’ve seen since “I fear no weevil!” The WILD website also features this amusing little video that shows some dung beetles in action:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “I Brake for Dung Beetles!“, posted with vodpod

The website doesn’t provide any clues as to the species of dung beetle or where it was recorded, but judging by its large size I’m guessing that it might have been recorded in Africa, perhaps representing a species of the genus Scarabaeus.  My most memorable dung beetle experiences occurred in Africa, which is blessed with a dizzying diversity of “dungers.”  Following is an excerpt from an article I wrote that appeared in the December 2008 issue of the SCARABS Newsletter, in which I discussed some of these marvelous beetles:

Chafers were not the only scarabs I encountered in abundance at Borakalalo [National Park], and I’ll give you one guess as to what other scarab group I encountered in abundance at this mammal game reserve. That’s right, dung beetles. Never before have I seen such an abundance and diversity of dung beetles in one spot, but then again, never before have I seen such an abundance of dung!  The ground was littered with the stuff – antelope such as gemsbok  and impala, warthogs, giraffes, and a host of other mammals thrive in the protected confines of the park, and the seasonally dry climate allows their dung to dry quickly and accumulate rather than breaking down and disappearing. It did, however, take a few days before I became aware of the area’s dung beetle diversity. Prior to our arrival in the park, the weather had been dry for some time, and so it remained for the first few days we were there. I collected a smattering of different dung beetles during that time, but it seemed like they should be more abundant considering the abundance of available resource. Our third day in the park was interrupted by heavy thundershowers that moved through during the afternoon. The next morning, as we arose and begin wandering away from the camp, the air seemed literally abuzz with dung beetles. They were flying everywhere and crawling all over the ground, frantically rolling and fighting over the reconstituted pieces of dung. Big, black scarabaeines proper such as Kheper clericus (Boheman) and Scarabaeus galenus Westwood (Photo 4), the small metallic


Photo 4: Scarabaeus galenus (Westwood).

Phalops ardea Klug, the attractive green iridescent species Garetta nitens (Olivier) and Gymnopleurus virens Erichson, their darkened relative Allogymnopleurus thalassinum (Klug) (Photo 5),
Photo 5: Allogymnopleurus thalassinum (Klug) individuals fighting over a mammal dung ball.

Photo 5: Allogymnopleurus thalassinum (Klug) individuals fighting over a mammal dung ball.

and the tiny little Sisyphus costatus (Thunberg),  standing tall on its elongated hind legs while pushing dung with its forward pairs of legs (opposite of what I’ve seen in any other dung beetle), all made their sudden appearance. I spent some time  watching one S. galenus individual excavating a burrow for the prized piece of poop it had snatched (Photo 6).
Photo 6: Scarabaeus galenus (Westwood) excavating a burrow.

Photo 6: Scarabaeus galenus (Westwood) excavating a burrow.

The most impressive dunger that I saw, however, was the enormous, flattened Pachylomera femoralis Kirby (Photo 7).
Photo 7: Pachylomera femorata Kirby.

Photo 7: Pachylomera femorata Kirby.

Looking like flying Tonka trucks and sounding like diesel engines from real trucks, their low-pitched, rumbling buzz filled the air as they searched among the freshly moistened turds. So loud was the noise caused by the beating of their wings that several times I ducked thinking one was about to collide with me. This sudden dunger super-diversity continued into the night, as Anachalcos convexus Boheman, Catharsius sp., Copris elphenor Klug, Metacatharsius sp., Pedaria sp., Scarabaeus goryi (Laporte), three species of Onitis, Caccobius ferrugineus (Fåhraeus), Digitonthophagus gazella (Fabricius), and nearly a dozen species of Onthophagus flew to our ultraviolet light-illuminated sheet.


MacRae, T. C. 2008. Dungers and chafers: A trip to South Africa. SCARABS 34:1-9.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Trees of Lake Tahoe – The Deciduous Trees

Alder, Maple, and Nuttall’s Flowering Dogwood make beautiful bowers over swift, cool streams at an elevation of from 3000 to 5000 feet, mixed more or less with willows and cottonwood; and above these in lake basins the aspen forms fine ornamental groves, and lets its light shine gloriously in the autumn months.–John Muir, The Mountains of California (1894).


This is the third installment of a “Trees of Lake Tahoe” series summarizing the trees of Tahoe Basin. The basin forests are, of course, dominated by a diverse assemblage of conifers – eleven species in all.  These were covered in parts 1 (Trees of Lake Tahoe – The Pines) and 2 (Trees of Lake Tahoe – The “Other” Conifers ) of this series.  Yet, despite this coniferous domination, the 14 species of deciduous trees¹ that occur in the Tahoe Basin is three more than the number of coniferous tree species.  These deciduous tree species will be covered in this third and final part, including the nine species I was able to locate on my recent visit to the area back in mid-March.  Because of the timing of that trip, the trees will be discussed from a decidedly wintertime perspective that makes species identifications a little more challenging compared to the coniferous species.

¹ Admittedly, I use the term “tree” in the broadest sense, since many of these species might better be described as “tree-like shrubs” or “shrubby trees,” often representing only the largest examples of genera whose members include a number of true shrubs.  Only a handful of these species routinely form large, unmistakably tree-like forms, the largest of which still pale in comparison to the coniferous giants that dominate the basin.


This family of dioecious plants (male and female flowers on separate plants) is represented in the Tahoe Basin by two genera.  Two species of Populus occur here, and both decidedly trees in form.  Most of the nine species of Salix that grow in the basin grow only as shrubs, while two of them sometimes form distinct trees.

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides)

…in winter, after every leaf has fallen, the white bark of the boles and branches seen in mass seems like a cloud of mist that has settled close down on the mountain, conforming to all its hollows and ridges like a mantle, yet roughened on the surface with innumerable ascending spires.–John Muir, Steep Trails (1918).


Quaking aspen is one of the most unmistakable trees of the Tahoe Basin – regardless of the season.  Famous for its shimmering foliage during summer and blazing fall colors, it is equally distinctive during winter when its smooth, creamy, greenish-white trunks stand in stark, leafless contrast to the dark green coniferous foliage that cloaks the landscape.  Thick stands of this species are common in moist meadows and stream margins, with stands typically representing clonal colonies of genetically identical trees sprouting from a common root mat.  Although another species of Populus does occur in the basin (black cottonwood – see below), that species is not nearly as abundant as quaking aspen and lacks its distinctive smooth bark.

The second photo above shows some of the few, still-clinging leaves that I found, unremarkable in senescence but showing the flattened petioles that cause to summertime leaves to flutter and quiver incessantly with the summer breezes, alternately flashing their bright green upper surface and silvery underside.

Black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa)


Black cottonwood is the largest American Populus and the tallest non-conifer in western North America.  Growing throughout the cool, moist Pacific Northwest, it is at its elevational limit in the Sierra Nevada along moist streams and lakeside habitats in the lower Tahoe Basin. The wonderfully knowledgeable Forest Service worker, who helped me greatly in my quest to locate all of the basin’s conifers, was skeptical about my chances of finding this species; however, while hiking the Rubicon Trail at Emerald Bay State Park I spotted the unmistakable, deeply furrowed, gray bark of this close relative of our own eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides).  Examining the twigs revealed the large, pointed buds, sticky with resin, and a few clinging leaves whose wide, ovate shape confirmed the species’ identity.  It was the only black cottonwood I saw in the basin, although surely others exist throughout the basin at lakeside elevations.

Willows (Salix spp.)


As a group, willows are easily distinguished from the other deciduous trees and shrubs that occur in the Tahoe Basin.  However, discriminating among the several species can be quite difficult, even for trained botanists.  Winter is not the best time to try to identify willows, as many species are distinguished by characters of the foliage and flowers.  In some cases, examination of both male and female flowers is required – frustrating since they are borne on separate plants!  Wintertime characters normally useful for other plants such as bark and twig color are rarely informative for different species of willow, and even growth habit as trees or shrubs can vary greatly within species depending on elevation and available moisture.  All of this is a long-winded way of saying I don’t know which or how many species of willow I observed in the Tahoe Basin.

p1020705_2p1020707_2According to Graf (1999), there are nine species of willow in the Tahoe Basin; however, only two of them are trees – the abundant shining willow (S. lucida spp. lasiandra), and the more drought-tolerant Scouler’s willow (S. scouleriana).  The remaining seven species are shrubs that rarely exceed 10-12 feet in height.  Indeed, one of them – arctic willow (Salix arctica) – grows no more than 4 inches tall, occurring in seepy slopes and along lake and stream margins in the subalpine zone at Carson Pass.  Most of the willows I observed were at lower elevation along the shore of Emerald Bay and in the wet meadows around South Lake Tahoe and Spooner Lake and were growing as large shrubs or small trees and exhibited either bright yellow or red bark on the year-old branches, turning to smooth gray on older branches.  I don’t know whether these represent one or more species, or if they even represent one of the two arborescent species, but I suspect the yellow-twigged species may represent Lemmon’s willow (S. lemmonii), one of the shub species and Tahoe’s most common willow.  Perhaps a stretch goal for next year’s trip could be to find and distinguish all nine Tahoe Basin willow species, but realistically I would settle for knowing for sure what species the plants in these photographs represent (although I definitely would like to find the diminutive arctic willow).


Like the Salicaceae, plants in this family have male and female flowers on separate structures called catkins, but the plants themselves are monoecious (both sexes on the same plant).  Two genera – Alnus and Betula – occur in the basin, each represented by one species.

Mountain alder (Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia)


Like the willows, mountain alder is another deciduous plant that straddles the line between tree and shrub, and as is typical of most species in these two plant families (Salicaceae and Betulaceae) the species shows a high affinity for moist sites along stream and lake margins and on seepy north- and east-facing slopes.  The largest specimens I saw, as pictured above left, were found growing on the granite sand beaches along the Rubicon Trail on the western shore of Emerald Bay in Emerald Bay State Park.  Like alders anywhere, this species is immediately recognizeable in winter due to the persistent woody cones that represent the previous year’s female catkins.  Another larger species of alder, white alder (A. rhombifolia), occurs in the Sierra Nevada, but it is not clear to me whether this species actually occurs in the Tahoe Basin proper.  Graf (1999) does not include it in his rather comprehensive treatment of Tahoe Basin plants, but Peterson & Peterson (1975) and Quinn (2006) both list it from the basin (although rare). 

Water birch (Betula occidentalis)

I did not observe this species, which Graf (1999) records from Carson Pass.  The only birch occurring in the Sierra Nevada, it is more common outside the basin proper on the eastern slopes above the burning sagebrush plains.  Like alder, separate male and female catkins are borne on the same tree; however, the female catkins of birch are solitary rather than clustered and disintegrate when ripe rather than persisting as woody cones.


This family contains the über diverse genus Quercus – represented in California by 20 species.  However, of the five arborescent oaks that occur in the Sierra Nevada, only one has successfully penetrated the high elevations of the Tahoe Basin. A second species of Quercus also inhabits this montane region but grows exclusively as a low shrub, and another shrub in the related genus Chrysolepis also grows here – these two latter species will be treated more fully in a future post.

Canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis)

The trunk was all knots and buttresses, gray like granite, and about as angular and irregular as the boulders on which it was growing—a type of steadfast, unwedgeable strength.–John Muir, The Mountains of California (1894).


This is one of North America’s most variable oaks, exhibiting extreme variability in leaves and fruit and developing as either a tree or a shrub, depending upon the site where it grows. Slow growing and solid, it does best in sheltered locations, where it can develop an impressive, spreading crown and live a hundred years or more. On exposed slopes, it takes on a shorter, shrubbier aspect (above left) or forms dense thickets (above right).  I saw most of this species at lower elevations within the basin – along the Vikingsholm Trail in Emerald Bay State park leading down to the west shore of Emerald Bay.


The leaves of this evergreen species are bluish green with numerous golden glandular hairs when young and becoming dull gray and smooth with age. Although there are no other arborescent oaks at this elevation with which it can be confused, I did find growing alongside it the strictly montane and shrubby huckleberry oak (Q. vaccinifolia).  The somewhat smaller, mostly entire leaves were the only indication it was not merely a shrub form of canyon live oak, and further study revealed that the two species can be distinguished by the presence of multiradiate glandular hairs on both leaf surfaces of canyon live oak.  These two species are closely related (both are in the Protobalanus – or “golden oak” – section of the genus), and widespread hybridization has apparently been documented in this part of the Sierra Nevada where the two species’ distributions overlap (Nixon 2002).


This large family of dioecious plants with usually pentamerous radial flowers is represented in the Tahoe Basin by nearly three dozen mostly perennial shrubs.  Six of these species, representing the genera Amelanchier, Cercocarpus, Prunus and Sorbus, sometimes develop a tree form.

Cherry (Prunus sp.)


Two species of Prunus – bitter cherry (P. emarginata) and western chokecherry (P. virginiana var. demissa) – occur in the Tahoe Basin, both growing as either shrubs or small trees.  I cannot say for sure which species is represented in these photographs (taken on the slopes above Emerald Bay at Emerald Bay State Park), as the two species are best distinguished by subtle differences in their flowers and foliage.  Bitter cherry is apparently common in the Tahoe Basin and has bark that is smooth and dark brown, while chokecherry is more of a foothill species that is uncommon on the western shore (where these photos were taken) and has more grayish brown and somewhat scaly bark.  I can go either way with bark color based on these photos, so I’ll forgo an ID for the time being and seek to follow up during my next visit.  A third species of Prunus, the strictly shrubby desert peach (P. andersonii), formerly occurred at low elevations around the south shore, but it is now considered to be extirpated from the basin.

Mountain ash (Sorbus californica)

While hiking the Rubicon Trail in Emerald Bay State Park, I spotted a single, small tree with distinctive, large winter buds that reminded me immediately of the ornamental species mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) from my former days as a nursery inspector.  This thought seemed to be confirmed when I found a senesced but still attached leaf, pinnately compound with nine ovate, toothed leaflets.  However, my pocket copy of Native Trees of the Sierra Nevada (Peterson & Peterson 1975) included no species of Sorbus, and I concluded it must be something else.  This lone tree was located in deep shade within the white fir forest near the western shore of Emerald Bay, so I opted to find another tree in better lit conditions for taking photos – unfortunately, no other trees of this species were found.  Once I got back home, I was happy to find Sorbus californica listed in my just purchased copy of Graf (1999).  This species has attractive white flowers in small panicles during the summer that give rise to bright red berries during fall and is apparently common in mid- to higher-elevation riparian communities around the lake.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
Curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)

I did not locate either of the two species of serviceberry that occur in the Tahoe Basin, the common serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) and the more localized glabrous serviceberry (A. alnifolia var. pumila).  Being highly familiar with our eastern species, A. arborea (just recently finished flowering), I suspect either of these species would be readily recognized, even in winter, by their smooth, silvery-gray bark and shrubby, small-tree form.  I also did not see curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), another species that barely qualifies as a small tree.  It is apparently more at home on the dry eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada but can be found within the basin proper sporadically in the southwest and along the southeastern lake shore and more commonly on dry slopes in the far north and south of the basin.  I have collected a number of woodboring beetles from mountain mahogany across the southwestern U.S. from the mountains of southern California to the Chisos Mountains of Texas.


The single North American genus, Acer, is represented in California by four species, three of which occur in the Sierra Nevada but only one occurring in the Tahoe Basin.  Plants in this family are closely related to the Hippocastanaceae, represented in the Sierra Nevada foothills by California buckeye (Aesculus californica).

Mountain maple (Acer glabrum var. torreyi)

As with mountain ash, I found a single small tree representing this species near the west shore of Emerald Bay while hiking the Rubicon Trail.  Despite lacking foliage, I recognized it immediately as a maple by its opposite, scaly buds.  Also like mountain ash, I assumed I would see more after finding the first one and thus didn’t photograph this particular tree growing in deep shade.  That’ll teach me.  This species sometimes grows as a multi-stemmed shrub in moist situations, and even when assuming tree form, as did the one I saw, it is at best a small tree with a maximum height of only around 15′.  With fall foliage in varying shades of pink to red, it must rather nicely compliment the blazing yellow cloak of the quaking aspen during September and October.  Tahoe Basin individuals are placed in var. torreyi due to their bright reddish twigs, while those on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada exhibit gray twigs and are placed in var. diffusum.

This concludes my “Trees of Lake Tahoe” series – at least until next year when I hope to locate some of the remaining species I did not find during this year’s visit.  However, I do have one more “flora of Lake Tahoe” post in preparation covering some of the many woody shrubs that occur within the basin.


Arno, S. F. 1973. Discovering Sierra Trees. Yosemite Association, Yosemite National Park, California, 89 pp.

Graf, M. 1999. Plants of the Tahoe Basin. Flowering Plants, Trees, and Ferns. A Photographic Guide. California Native Plant Society Press, Berkeley, 308 pp.

Muir, J. 1894. The Mountains of California. The Century Co., New York, xiii+381 pp.

Muir, J.  1918. Steep Trails. Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, ix+390 pp.

Nixon, K. C. 2002. The oak (Quercus) biodiversity of California and adjacent regions. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report PSW-GTR-184, 20 pp.

Peterson, P. V., and P. V. Peterson, Jr. 1975. Native Trees of the Sierra Nevada. University of California Press, Berkeley, 147 pp.

Quinn, C.  2006.  A Nature Guide to the Southwest Tahoe Basin: Including Desolation Wilderness and Fallen Leaf Lake: Trees, Shrubs, Ferns, Flowers, Birds, Amphibians, Reptiles, Mammals, and Fishes Inhabiting the Sierra Nevada Watershed Southwest of Lake Tahoe, California.  CraneDance Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 232 pp. 

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Library expansion


If there is anything that I love as much as beetles, it’s books! Pulling a handsome, leatherbound volume from its location on the shelf and smelling the aging paper while leafing through its pages quickens my pulse the way no electonic reprint ever can. That is not to say I don’t appreciate the convenience and increasing accessability of digital literature – especially with regards to searchability and the growing body of older, previously unobtainable works that can be downloaded and printed at will. Still, whenever I have a choice between pulling a real entomology journal from my shelf or accessing its electronic version on CD or online, I will opt for the real thing.

p1020884_3Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to obtain complete series of several journals key to my studies. The first, and most important of these, was The Coleopterists Bulletin. About 15 years ago I was able to purchase a nearly complete set of this journal previously owned by cicindelid icon Norman Rumpp. His set contained a few recent volumes overlapping with my own set, started in the early 1980’s, and dating back to all but the earliest of years. When I acquired the Rumpp set, I set about purchasing the missing volumes from the available stores of back issues still offered by The Coleopterists Society. However, a few of the earliest numbers were simply not available, so I borrowed copies of these from my good friend Gayle Nelson, carefully made 2-sided copies of each, and trimmed the papers to match the size of the originals. I then took the entire combined set of issues – Rumpp originals and Nelson photocopies – to the bindery and had them bound in antique burgundy, just as one would expect to see them in a university library. In the years since then, I have begun binding my other journal series as time and funds permit. Not only do these bound volumes look attractive, but they are eminently more functional – standing upright on their own and remaining nicely organized through heavy use.

p1020870_3This week I placed my newest complete journal series on the bookshelf – the exclusively tiger beetle-focused journal, Cicindela. I’ve actually had the complete set for awhile now, purchased last year when editor Ron Huber had a limited number of complete sets reprinted. Being a more recent convert to tiger beetles, I hadn’t started my series of Cicindela until around 2000, although I did obtain some older volumes from the library of the late Prof. Wilbur R. Enns, kindly given to me upon his passing in 2003 by his close friend Prof. Ben Putler. Ron made all of the remaining volumes of this fine journal available to me to complete my set, and I’ve finally gotten the set bound – all 40 volumes dating back to 1969.

While I was taking journal volumes to the bindery, I took advantage of the opportunity to bind a complete set of the SCARABS Newsletter. In keeping with the times, SCARABS is a completely virtual publication – all issues are created, distributed, and archived electronically, with the end user free to print a copy for themselves or not. p1020880_3I chose to print, again carefully generating 2-sided printed of each issue on a color laser printer, and had them bound in “volumes” of appropriate thickness. The example shown here is the “Frank T. Hovore” issue, produced as a memorial to one of our time’s most enthusiastic collector of beetles. Frank, known among scarab circles as “Mr. Pleocoma” for his dedication to rain beetles, died of a heart attack in 2006 while on a collecting trip to a remote part of Ecuador. There is something ironically satisfying about having a complete, bound set of a modern, electronic periodical.

Other complete sets that I have bound in my library include Insecta Mundi (vols. 1-18, subsequent volumes electronic only), Jewel Beetles (vols. 1-11), Consortium Coleopterorum (vols. 1-4), and Michigan/Great Lakes Entomologist (vols. 1-40). Also, while not complete, I have the last 21 volumes of The Pan-Pacific Entomologist, nicely bound in forest green.  Oh, and look at the first photograph again – the book on the right side of the photo is an original copy of Catalogue of the described Coleoptera of the United States, published by Frederick Ernst Melsheimer in 1853. It is the oldest book in my library – received as a gift from the family of the late Marshall Magner, a long-time member of our local Webster Groves Nature Study Society, upon his passing in 2005.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Winter botany quiz #5

This may be the last winter botany quiz for awhile, but I did come across this interesting little plant on my recent visit to Lake Tahoe that doesn’t fit neatly into any other category upon which I have (or will be) posting about. I was excited to see this plant, and I’ll be interested in seeing what others think about it. Hints: photograph taken on 03/17/2009 at Emerald Bay State Park, along Rubicon Trail, elev. 6,250′.  The host is ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa).


The usual rules – I’ll leave the photo up for a couple days to give people time to research their answer, with comment moderation turned on during that time. Whoever gets it right (or is closest in case nobody gets it right) wins, and being first is always good in case of a tie-breaker!

EDIT 04/20/2009 – Wow, congratulations to, well… almost everyone, for getting this one right. I guess it was not as hard as I thought it would be, since I’d never heard of dwarf mistletoe until I ran into this plant.

To be exact (something I’m fond of being), this is western dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium campylopodum, arse-youth-OH-bee-um cam-pie-low-POE-dum). The term dwarf mistletoe refers to the genus as a whole, while ponderosa pine dwarf mistletoe generally refers to what is now called southwestern dwarf mistletoe (A. vaginatum) from AZ and NM. Accordingly, Kirk deserves special mention for being the first to get both the common name (spelled correctly with lower case) and the scientific name, while Doug was the first to properly italicize the scientific name. I know, I’m being really picky – it’s my nature. Also, Adrian added a nice tidbit of information regarding the impact these plants can have on their hosts.

I can be fairly certain about the ID, but not 100%. According to Hawksworth & Wiens (1998), four species of dwarf mistletoe occur within the Tahoe Basin. Of these, only western dwarf mistletoe utilizes ponderosa pine as a principal host.  There is a small chance it could be lodgepole pine dwarf mistletoe (A. americanum), which occasionally utlizes ponderosa pine but is most often (as the common names suggests) associated with lodgepole pine. The two remaining species, fir dwarf mistletoe (A. abietinum) and hemlock dwarf mistletoe (A. tsugense), are restricted in the Tahoe Basin to white/red fir and mountain hemlock, respectively.


Hawksworth, F. G., and D. Wiens. 1998. Dwarf Mistletoes: Biology, Pathology, and Systematics. Diane Publishing Company, Darby, Pennsylvania, 410 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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An extendable handle for insect nets

For many years, my standard insect collecting gear has been a beating sheet and a short-handled aerial net (see small photo at right in “The Author” or the full-sized version under About). From the deciduous forests of the Ozark Highlands to the tropical bushveld of South Africa, these two pieces of equipment have been all that I’ve needed to collect the woodboring beetles that have dominated my interests. The beating sheet is, of course, an absolute necessity for anyone interested in jewel beetles (family Buprestidae), longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae), and the many other insects that tend to be found on tree branches. Woodboring beetles are most frequently, but not exclusively, found on dead branches of their host trees, but regardless of whether the branches are alive or dead, the concept for collecting beetles off of them is the same – a beating sheet is held underneath the branch, and the branch is given a decisive whack with a stick of some kind. This dislodges any beetles that may be foraging or resting on the branch and causes them to drop onto the sheet, where they can be spotted easily and picked off before (hopefully) they escape. For my “stick” I like to use the handle of an aerial net, as the net itself is quite handy to have in case I stumble upon some of the many flower-feeding species or for more general collecting (my inability to focus exclusively on any one taxon is by now well documented). Using a net handle as a beating stick, unfortunately, forces one to compromise on the length of the handle – the handle must be relatively short (no more than 3′ long) to be effective as a beating stick, but such a short handle severely limits reach when the net is being used.  This problem has become even more apparent during the past few years as I have become increasingly interested in tiger beetles (family Cicindelidae).  There is no way around it – you need a long-handled net to have any hope of collecting tiger beetles, and the longer the better (ideally about 6′).  Thus my quandary – I needed a short-handled net to best collect woodboring beetles, but a long-handled net to best collect tiger beetles.

Enter the extendable handle for insect nets, available from BioQuip Products.  This ingenious net handle consists of two telescoping aluminum tubes with a clutch-lock device.  When fully collapsed the handle measures only 36″ in length – perfect for use as a beating stick and when extra length is not needed.  When a longer net handle is needed, however, a quick turn of the clutch-lock frees the inner section, allowing the handle to be extended to nearly 6′ in length – perfect for those fast-moving tiger beetles. Once extended, another quick twist of the clutch-lock secures the handle in place, and that Cicindela is mine!  To cap it all off, the handle is fully compatible with standard insect net rings and bags, including the red “T” knob for ring attachment. It was almost as if the handle had been designed specifically for my purposes.

I purchased mine at the beginning of the last field season. While the design seemed a perfect solution for my short handle-long handle quandary, I wasn’t convinced it would be able to withstand the rigors of field use. Specifically, I questioned whether the inner section would remain firmly seated within the outer section after a few slams of the net against the ground with the handle fully extended (for example, when using the ‘slap’ method for those tiger beetles I hadn’t yet figured out). I expected that repeated flexing of the handle would eventually cause the joint to fail and the handle to lose its rigidity. I also wondered how quickly and easily the handle would extend – especially after seeing some wear and tear. Any difficulty in this regard would quickly negate the convenience offered by an extendable handle.

I was immediately impressed with this handle upon its very first use, and after one full season of heavy use, it appears my concerns about its durability were unfounded. Weighing only 12 oz, it is extremely lightweight and easy to carry, and I am also pleased at how easily the handle extends and collapses – the clutch-lock disengages completely with a single twist, and the inner section slides into and out of the outer section smoothly and quickly. The true test of its durability, however, came during last year’s annual fall tiger beetle trip – a test that it passed with flying colors. I really put the net handle to hard use, and despite repeatedly slapping the net ring against the ground with the handle fully extended, the joint remained solid and rigid. I was able to swing the net with just as much assertion at the end of the trip as at the beginning.

Even during those times when I wasn’t carrying a beating sheet, I found myself routinely preferring to carry the extendable handled-net rather than the long-handled net. It was easier to carry and use when a short handle was sufficient, yet it could be extended quickly and easily when the extra length was needed. At $22.95, I consider its cost to be rather modest compared to the convenience and versatility it offers. For those of you who need a long-handled net but don’t want to wield a long handle all the time (and for the one or two other people in the world who use their net handle as a beating stick), this is the handle for you.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle – range map

Those of you on RSS feed might be interested in revisiting my previous post, Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle on ARKive.  I’ve added a Google screen shot to the post that shows a visual perspective of the entire range of Cicindela albissima within a tiny inset of the state of Utah.  The image provides a sobering reminder of just how vanishingly small the range of this species is.  If we, as a society, cannot take the steps required to ensure the survival of a beautiful little species such as this one – living on only the tiniest sliver of the lands under our stewardship, it speaks ill of our ability to do so for other species with much greater habitat requirements.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle on ARKive

I’ve been meaning to write about ARKive for awhile now. ARKive is a unique collection of videos, images and fact-files assembled from among the world’s very best wildlife videographers and photographers in an attempt to create a centralized digital library of life on Earth. Their short to mid-term priority is the completion of audio-visual profiles for the 16,300-plus species on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, before moving on to profiling all species that have ever been filmed or photographed. With backing from many of the world’s leading conservation organizations, ARKive hopes to “promote public understanding and appreciation of the world’s biodiversity and the need for its conservation, through the power of wildlife imagery.”

With tiger beetle season almost now upon us, it seems appropriate to highlight the media collection that ARKive has assembled for one of North America’s most spectacularly beautiful and critically imperiled tiger beetles, Cicindela albissima (Coral Pink Sand Dune tiger beetle). This amazing species is not only stunning in appearance, with its nearly pure white elytra, but has perhaps the most restricted habitat of any tiger beetle species in North America – the entire population being restricted to 400 hectares within coral-pink-sand-dunes_3Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and the adjacent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) dune management area (Pearson et al. 2006). The Google screen shot at right shows the entire range of this species as a light pink swath (inset shown on larger map of the state of Utah).  Regarded initially as a subspecies of the widespread C. limbata (sandy tiger beetle), recent molecular studies showed this beetle to be only distantly related to that species and, thus, deserving of full species status (Morgan et al. 2000).

Unfortunately, the beetle’s highly restricted habitat continues to be adversely affected by ongoing, recreational off-road vehicle use, especially in the interdunal swales used by the larvae. Impacts occur not only by direct run-over mortality, but also through disruption of normal adult and larval activity, damage to vegetation, reduction of arthropod prey of C. albissima, and mixing of the upper soil layer which increases desiccation of the larval microhabitat (Knisley and Hill 2001). The species was nominated for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1996 (when it was still considered a subspecies of C. limbata), and two years later a Conservation Agreement between BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Department of Parks and Recreation and Kane County was established in an effort to protect the critically sensitive habitats in which this species lives. Despite these conservation measures, ongoing monitoring and research within the protected areas has documented a continuing decline in the population, suggesting that these areas may not be of sufficient size to enable the population to increase, and off-road vehicle use continues outside of the protected areas (U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 2008). While still only a candidate for federal listing as an endangered or threatened species, the FWS now considers the magnitude of the threat from off-road vehicles, in view of these recent findings, to be high and imminent. As a result, the FWS has increased the priority of the species’ candidacy from 8 to 2 (1 being the highest priority a candidate species can receive).

While I would dearly have loved to embed one of ARKive’s extraordinary videos or photographs of C. albissima within this post, copyright considerations do not allow that.  What I can do is provide hyperlinks directly to the site, and I encourage everyone to visit ARKive and see their images of this gorgeous species.

Photos by Christine Breton: adult beetle, dorsal view, adult beetle, adults mating, habitat

Videos by Ganglion Films: overview, adults mating, adult burrowing in sand, OHVs threatening protected habit.

In addition to the ARKive images, Chris Wirth, author of the blog Cicindela, has taken photographs of this species and presents stunning examples of both the larva and the adult in his post Cicindela albissima (Re-post). I myself am making plans to visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes – perhaps this season – to find and photograph this species for myself. When I succeed, rest assured those photographs will appear on this site.


Knisley, C. B., and J. M. Hill. 2001. Biology and conservation of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle, Cicindela limbata albissima Rumpp. Unpublished report.

Morgan, M., C. B. Knisley and A. Vogler. 2000. New taxonomic status of the endangered tiger beetle Cicindela limbata albissima (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae): evidence from mtDNA. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 93(5):1108-1115.

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley and C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York, 227 pp.

U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. 50 CFR Part 17. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; review of native species that are candidates for listing as endangered or threatened; annual notice of findings on resubmitted petitions; annual description of progress on listing actions; proposed rule. Federal Register 73(238) (December 10, 2008):75176-75244.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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