Triple Quiz

Photo Details: Canon EOS 50D w/ Canon 100mm macro lens, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/20, MT-24EX flash w/ Sto-Fen diffusers.

  1. Entomology Quiz: Name the beetle.
  2. Botany Quiz: Name the plant.
  3. History Quiz: Name the location (yes, attentive readers will be able to deduce this).

While you ponder these questions, please make note of two upcoming blog carnivals:

  • Circus of the Spineless – I’ve waited almost a year to host issue #47 of this venerable blog carnival – look for its appearance early next week.  Send me your submissions by January 31 if you want to be included in this issue – ossified homeotherms need not apply.
  • An Inordinate Fondness – The inaugural issue of this monthly blog carnival devoted to beetles is set to debut in mid-February at the home site.  Post submissions are already starting to come in, so don’t miss this chance to be a founding participant.  Submissions are due by February 15 – either by email or using this handy BlogCarnival submission form.

I’ve discovered a few more interesting blogs since my last blogroll update – the following are definitely worth a visit:

  • Biodiversity in Focus Blog – A new blog by graduate student Morgan Jackson.  Amazing photographs of stilt-legged flies (Diptera: Micropezidae).
  • BunyipCo – David Rentz writes about entomology from Queensland, Australia, with a focus on orthopteroid insects and the rain forest.
  • I Love Insects – Entomology student and insect enthusiast Erika Lenz really loves insects.
  • – A relatively new blog by a dragonfly/butterfly enthusiast in Denmark.
  • Forest Fragments – Just a stone’s throw from my backyard, the staff at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center has begun a blog about their 2,000-acre experiment.
  • Exploring the Remnants – A brand new blog from Aaron Brees, who explores Iowa’s natural history.  Drop by and give him a jump start.

For those really interested in exploring entomology-related blogs, Anna Miller has provided nice descriptions of her Top 25 Entomology Blogs.  Yes, I made the list, as did most of the other usual suspects, but you might find one or two that you didn’t know about.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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A matter of diffusion

In my Best of 2009 post, I mentioned four skills that, to me, seemed to be crucial for becoming a successful insect macrophotographer: 1) composition, 2) understanding lighting, 3) knowing how to use a flash, and 4) knowledge of the subject.  Of these, I’m most comfortable with the last – three decades of insect study have given me the chance to observe a tremendous diversity of insects in a variety of situations and habitats.  Many species are located only through understanding of their haunts and habits, and the ability to capture them relies upon successful approach techniques.  Collecting insects has been excellent preparation for photographing them.  I’m also reasonably satisfied with my compositional skills – at least in this early stage of my development as a photographer.  I don’t expect to win any photo competitions (yet), especially since my intent as a photographer is at least as much for scientific documentation as it is for artistic expression, but I’m satisfied that I’m on the right track and developing the eye I’ll need to make good progress.

What I’m not satisfied with yet are the middle two – understanding lighting and knowing how to use a flash.  Let’s face it, I was starting from square one here.  My only prior experience with insect photography were middlin’ attempts in the mid-1980’s using an Olympus OM-10 body, a Zuiko 50mm lens (maximum magnification 1:2), and natural light only.  I quickly lost interest (too distracting for the collecting), picking it back up only for my 1999 trip to South Africa.  Fast forward to May 2009 and my acquisition of a bona fide insect macrophotography setup, complete with Canon’s 100mm f/2.4 and 65mm 1-5X macro lenses and their MT-24EX macro twin flash.  Talk about giving a Ferrari to someone who had just received their learner’s permit!  I like a good challenge, however, and spent the rest of 2009 with camera in hand on several memorable field trips – shooting lots of frames, deleting many on the spot and more when I saw them on the computer, and occasionally stumbling onto a pretty good one.

While I still have much to learn, one thing I did realize is that lighting remains a challenge even with a decent setup such as mine.  The MT-24Ex flash unit, in particular, while seemingly the flash of choice among Canon-using amateur insect macrophotographers, produces a very harsh light.  The capabilities and shortcomings of this flash unit have been reviewed in great detail by several insect macrophotographers much more knowledgeable than I (e.g., Alex Wild, Dalantech, Kurt, etc.), so I simply refer you to their websites if you’re interested rather than try to summarize here.  However, the one thing they all emphasize with this flash unit is the need for diffusers.  Diffusing light is easy; a simple sheet of tracing paper will do.  However, diffusing light in a manner that is equally effective with both the 65mm and 100mm lenses (with their shorter and longer working distances, respectively) and also convenient for field-use is hard.  For most of the 2009 season, I tried using Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce Diffusers, and while they were marginally better than no diffusers at all, the results were still not satisfying.  More recently, I’ve been experimenting with the Gary Fong Puffers, which Dalantech has modified for use with the MT-24EX.  I hadn’t yet committed to constructing the diffusers as described and conducting controlled comparisons between the Puffers and Sto-Fens, but my initial tinkering with the Puffers has me impressed.  Below are two photos of Cicindela splendida (the aptly-named Splendid Tiger Beetle) – the first (which some of you may remember from this post) was taken in the field using the Sto-Fen diffusers and the 65mm lens (1X)…

…while the second was taken recently of this same beetle (in captivity on native soil) using the Puffers attached to the Sto-Fens and the 100mm lens (at slightly less than 1X).

Both photos have been cleaned up a bit with post-processing; however, neither has been altered dramatically.  While not a true one-to-one comparison due to different venues (field versus captivity) and lenses (65mm versus 100mm), the second photo is clearly superior to the first, with softer lighting resulting in richer colors and far fewer specular highlights on the insect body.   I had to bump the lighting up considerably for the second photo, since the Puffer combined with the Sto-Fens cut the light levels quite a bit, yet still the photo lacks any of the harshness and washed appearance of the first photo.  The use of the 100mm lens in the second photo also should have presented a greater challenge for the lighting due to the increased working distance (~8 inches, compared to only 2-3 inches for the 65mm lens).  I’m really quite pleased with the results of this initial experiment – enough to the point that I’ve ordered the necessary materials and am ready to dive into construction of my own set of “Dalantech-Puffers.”

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Friday Flower: Crystallofolia (“Frost Flowers”)

Crystallofolia (frost flowers) on dittany (Cunila origanoides).

While hiking the middle stretch of the Ozark Trail’s Wappapello Section, my friend Rich and I witnessed a bounty of crystallofolia, or “frost flowers”.  These fragile, yet exquisite formations are, of course, not flowers at all, nor are they true frost (which forms directly from water vapor without first condensing), but rather are thin layers of ice that form as water is drawn from cracks in plant stems and freezes upon contact with cold air.  As the water continues to be drawn from the plant by capillary action, newly forming ice pushes older ice further out, creating delicate, folded, curling ribbons of ice that resemble many-layered flower petals.  Air trapped within the ice upon freezing imparts a frothy white appearance.

Frost flowers are not an uncommon phenomenon, and I have seen them on more than a few occasions during my frequent off-season hikes.  However, never before had either Rich or I seen the numbers that we saw during our hike on this, the second day of the New Year.  Frost flowers are normally encountered during the first hard freezes of fall when the ground is not yet frozen.  Water in the stems of certain plants expands as a result of the freezing air temperatures, causing vertical cracks to form along the length of the stem through which the ice ribbons are extruded. The formations are rather ephemeral, usually melting or sublimating away by late morning in fall’s typically mild daytime temperatures.  As fall progresses to winter, water stores in the plant stems become depleted after several freezes or locked up when the ground itself freezes, and as a result frost flowers are rarely seen later than December in Missouri. However, it has been a wet and mild fall and early winter, and after an extended period of moisture during December, Missouri was finally gripped by a severe cold spell with lows in the single digits and daytime highs remaining down in the teens and 20s.  The saturated, yet unfrozen ground provided a good source of moisture for plant stems to draw upon, and continuous subfreezing air temperatures allowed frost flowers to persist throughout the days and attain remarkable size. The photo above was taken in late afternoon as a sinking sun shone brightly on the west-facing slope where this formation was seen, persisting in all its fragile glory.

In Missouri, frost flowers are primarily associated with dittany (Cunila origanoides), species of Verbesina (V. virginica, white crownbeard; and V. alternifolia, yellow ironweed), and camphor weed (Pluchea camphorata).  Frost flowers are rarely seen on any other plant in Missouri, and I don’t know what it is about these plants and not others that make them suitable for frost flower formation.  Dittany is a daintly little member of the Lamiaceae, and as such has square stems – perhaps the angles on the stem are prone to splitting.  However, there are many other lamiaceous plants and non-lamiaceous square-stemmed plant species in Missouri that do not form frost flowers.  Likewise, Verbesina and Pluchea belong to the Asteraceae and do not have square stems.  They are, however, larger, more robust plants with thick, pithy stems that may be capable of holding a large amount of water and mature late in the season after most other plants have already dried up, perhaps allowing them to retain sufficient moisture in the stem late enough in the season to allow frost flower formation when conditions are right.  The majority of the frost flowers we saw were on dittany – dainty, delicate, fragile formations 2-3 inches across. However, at the end of the hike, as we were exploring the area around the parking lot, we found a stand of Verbesina (I suspect V. alternifolia), with which some of the most enormous and robust frost flowers that I have ever seen were associated.  Following are additional views of some of the more impressive formations we saw and the plants they were associated with.

Frost flowers on dittany - shaded, protected areas produced the largest formations.

Partial thawing during ribbon formation causes exquisite twists and turns.

Like snowflakes, each frost flower is one-of-a-kind.

Dittany (Cunila origanoides) dried stem, leaves, and fruits.

Verbesina sp. frost flowers were enormous - this one was approx. 5 inches wide.

Dried fruits of Verbesina sp. (poss. alternifolia).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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House of Herps #2

House of HerpsWelcome to the 2nd issue of House of Herps, the monthly blog carnival devoted exclusively to reptiles and amphibians.  The brainchild of Amber Coakley, (Birder’s Lounge), and Jason Hogle (xenogere), this new blog carnival had an auspicious start with the inaugural issue and its 21 contributions – an impressive level of participation for a new carnival.  This month the carnival moves off-site, and I am honored to serve as the first off-site host.  The enthusiasm continues with issue #2, for which I received 22 submissions from 18 contributors.  Ever the taxonomist, I present them to you below grouped by traditional classification¹.

¹ It should be noted that modern classification has “evolved” substantially from this traditional classification due to the advent of DNA molecular analyses. For example, lizards are a paraphyletic grouping, and even the class Reptilia has been subsumed within a broader class containing dinosaurs and birds. I stick with the traditional classification here for reasons of familiarity and convenience.

Class AMPHIBIA (Amphibians)
-Order CAUDATA (Salamanders)

California Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus).  At the nature of a man, Ken talks about not one, but two close encounters last fall with this otherwordly-looking creature.  The first one he saw was a monster of a salamander, measururing a whopping 12 inches (30 cm) in length as it brazenly lounged on a mountain bike trail.  Remaining docile for photographs, imagine Ken’s surprise when the salamander started barking at him when he picked it up to move it to safer ground!  In his second encounter, he got to watch one chomp down on a banana slug – mmm tasty! 

-Order ANURA (Frogs)

Upland Chorus Frog (Pseudacris feriarum).  At Anybody Seen My Focus?, Joan normally only gets to hear the breeding season calls of the chorus frog and his friends who have taken up residence in the water-filled bathtub that serves as a planter in her greenhouse, usually bobbing under the water upon any approach.  But on this occasion, he agreed to photographs, even allowing a final closeup.

Gulf coast toad (Bufo nebulifer).  At Dolittle’s Domain, Dr. Doolittle marvels at one of the many toads that she has found parked under the outside light all night (along with the bats and armadillos) during the cold darkness of December.  Rather than fleeing the camera flash in the face, he simply hunkered down trying to make himself flatter, apparently thinking that would make him invisible and not realizing that he just looked fatter!

Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans).  HoH‘s own Jason weaves artful writing with stunning photographs to distinguish one of the smallest land vertebrates in North America at xenogere.  Despite their ubiquity, these little frogs often go unnoticed due to the smallness of their size, their impressive leap, and their extreme variability.  Get a good look at one, however, and you might notice a key feature or two.

American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana).  At Willow House Chronicles, barefootheart looks at frogs on the opposite end of the size spectrum, in fact North America’s largest frog living in an increasingly naturalized man-made pond in eastern Ontario.  These behemoths are more frequently heard than seen by their distinctive “yelp” and splash in response to being approached.  If you are lucky enough to get as good a look as barefootheart did, you might be able to distinguish male from female by looking at its eyes, ears, and throat.

Class REPTILIA (Reptiles)
-Order TESTUDINES (Turtles)

Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina).  We have three contributions dealing with these grizzled, ancient, grotesquely beautiful reptiles.  The first one comes from Michelle at Rambling Woods, who shows us how it is possible to tame your pet common snapper (but only to a certain degree).  If her story isn’t enough, she also presents a short video clip on the common snapping turtle (Baby snapping turtleREMEMBER – don’t ever try to catch or hold a snapping turtle with your bare hands!).  In another post, HoH‘s own Amber talks about her attempts to rescue a snapping turtle at Birder’s Lounge.  Fortunately for Amber, the little guy was just a tot – not nearly big enough to prune a digit and thwart Amber’s display of compassion.  It’s amazing how a creature so dinosaurian at maturity can still be so cute as a youngster.  In the third contribution about these fascinating creatures, Marge at Space Coast Beach Buzz talks about her snap (get it?) decision to adopt one of these animals, only to change her mind after discovering its true identity (and before losing any fingers).

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas).  David at Living Alongside Wildlife notes that while green iguanas falling from trees were a popular news report from the unusual cold snap experienced in the southeatern U.S. last month, they were not the only reptiles so adversely affected.  Sea turtles, populations of which have already been compromised by loss of nesting sites, fishing practices, and trash pollution, also found the coastal waters too cold for normal function.  While natural hardships may be nature’s way, he argues (quite effectively) that it is our responsibility to help mitigate their effects considering the perilous position in which we’ve placed these majestic animals to begin with.

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina).  Two contributors submitted posts about these lovable oafs.  At A DC Birding Blog, John posted a photo of a box turtle seen at Brigantine Beach.  He wonders if their always disgruntled look is a result of him disturbing from their activities.  These turtles are easily identified by their bright markings – usually dark brown or olive-colored with bright orange or yellow patterns, dome-shaped carapace, and hinged plastron (bottom part).  Individual turtles have unique designs on their shells, making them identifiable in the field.  Turtles can get worms, believe it or not, and Celeste at Celestial Ramblings adds them to the growing list of animals that she has had to de-worm (including herself, ick!).  Step-by-step instructions and explicit photos combine to show that this is not an easy job, requiring no less than three people – “just another day at the office.”  Hmm – cats look easier!

Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin).  The diamondback terrapin is the only species of turtle in North America that spends its life in brackish water (salty but less so than sea water).  At Kind of Curious, John describes efforts by The Wetlands Institute to prevent vehicle mortality caused by terrapins crossing roads in their attempt to reach higher ground for laying eggs.

–Suborder LACERTILIA (Lizards)

Common collared lizardCommon Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris).  From Jill at Count Your Chicken!  We’re Taking Over! comes this delightful encounter with one of North America’s most charismatic lizards.  I’ve had my own experiences with these guys, but I’ve never gotten one to crawl on my hat or – even better – gotten one to pose with me for a photograph!

Prairie Lizard (Sceloporus consobrinus).  Near my backyard, Marvin at Nature in the Ozarks presents a nice compendium of this species complimented with beautiful photographs.  Marvin not only discusses identification, distribution, life cycle, habitat, and food, but also comments on the recent DNA molecular analyses that have resulted in a reclassification of the former polytopic “fence lizard” and split up the many subspecies into full-fledged species – a man after my taxonomic heart!

“Culebrilla ciega” (Iberian Worm Lizard) (Blanus cinereus).  Javier at macroinstantes writes an artful blog focusing on natural history of the Iberian Peninsula (it is written in Spanish, but Google can easily translate to English for those who need it).  In this post, he presents extraordinary photographs of this subterranean reptile that is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula.  Traditionally classified in the family Amphisbaenidae, it is now considered to belong to its own family the Blanidae.

“Lagartija de Valverde” (The Spanish Algyroides) (Algyroides marchi).  Javier (macroinstantes) also writes about this small lizard that was only discovered in 1958.  With a global range limited to a few mountain streams in a mountainous area of southern Spain covering less than 2,000 km², it is clasified as endangered on the IUCN Red List.  Like so many of the world’s reptiles, its severely fragmented population is suffering declines due to continuing habitat degradation.

–Suborder SERPENTES (Snakes)

Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis).  On the Colorado front range, Sally at Foothills Fancies had three encounters with this aggressive species on her property.  Fortunately, Sally has a “nonagression treaty” with rattlesnakes and allows them to go about their business as much as possible.  Those that get too close for comfort are humanely relocated rather than simply dispatched.  Sadly, many of Sally’s neighbors are not quite so understanding.

Texas Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais erebennus).  These snakes do not have any such nonaggression treaty, and David at Living Alongside Wildlife contributes another piece illustrating the rattlenake-eating capabilities for which Indigo snakes are famous.  The photographs in the post show a large individual consuming a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. David explains how these snakes are often identified as blacksnakes and reveals the characters visible on predator and prey that allow their correct identification.

Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta).  Right here in my home state, Shelly at Natural Missouri characterizes black rat snakes as one of the most commonly encountered snakes in Missouri.  Large snakes reaching up to 6 feet in length, they often end up in basements and cellars in the fall in search of a place to spend the winter – just in time for Halloween!  These snakes are often needlessly killed because of their resemblance to the venomous cottonmouth or water moccasin that they superficially resemble.  However, Shelly has the same nonaggression treaty with these snakes that Sally has with rattlesnakes (although her husband is not quite so sympathetic). 

-Order CROCODILIA (Crocodilians)

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).  David at Living Alongside Wildlife also contributed two pieces on North America’s largest reptile.  In his post Gatorzilla, he examines commonly e-mailed pictures and text about so-called “giant” alligators, debunking myths about 25 foot long monsters, clarifying the identity of misidentified Nile crocodiles, and exposing cases of camera trickery.  In his post Mommy Dearest, he recounts his nervewracking experience when he stumbled upon an alligator nest while knee deep in a south Georgia swamp at night.  Worse, the babies had hatched!  Read the post to see if David got out of there with both of his legs.


Sometimes simply the act of looking for herps is as enjoyable as the herps that are found.  However, it has been a tough January for Bernard at Philly Herping.  A particularly cold snap in the first half of what is already the coldest month of the year made herping at his favorite cemetary a lesson in futility.   I hope you notice the irony – cemetary?, no sign of life?, cold-bloodedness (okay, okay – ectothermic)?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this issue of House of Herps.  The February issue moves over to xenogere, where Jason’s considerable carnival hosting talents are sure to be on full display.  Submit your slimy, scaley, cold-blooded contributions by Febrary 15, and look for the issue to appear by February 18.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Me and my buds!

Those of you who have followed this blog for any length of time have seen repeated references to my friends and colleagues, Chris Brown and Rich Thoma. Rich and I have been collecting insects together for almost 25 years now (since shortly after we bothed first moved to the St. Louis area), and Chris has joined us in the fun for the past ten years as well. It is rare when all three of us can get out in the field together – meshing hectic professional and family lives with the sometimes coincident, sometimes divergent insect collecting goals of three fathers can be challenging. Nevertheless, at least once or twice a year we manage to converge on a date and enjoy each other’s company out in the field. I don’t think I’m ever happier than when I’m in the field (well, except when one of my daughter’s nestles into my lap to watch a movie!), and the chance to share that experience with close friends of like interest is especially gratifying.

Chris is quite an accomplished insect photographer himself, having been at it for much longer than I’ve known him and providing me great coaching as I’ve begun testing the waters myself. Recently, he sent me some photos from our 2009 field trips to the lowlands of southeastern Missouri and the Loess Hills of northwestern Missouri. Those were two exciting trips, revealing new localities for Cicindela scutellaris, the discovery of Cylindera celeripes in Missouri, the rediscovery of Ellipsoptera macra, and even a new state record robber fly.  The sharing kind of guy he is, he’s granted me permission to post them here (plus one taken by Rich Thoma).

Rich (left) and Ted scan 2-track through sandy ground in the southeastern lowlands looking for tiger beetles.

Ted and Chris take a break from looking for tiger beetles in a sand prairie relict. Photo by Rich Thoma.

Ted attempts to extract an adult tiger beetle from its daytime burrow in a sand prairie relict.

Ted scans the open sand in a sand prairie relict for adult tiger beetles.

Ted fishes for a tiger beetle larva in a sand prairie relict.

Ted photographing the robber fly, Ospriocerus abdominalis, at Star School Hill Prairie in the Loess Hills of northwest Missouri.

Distant view of Ted (small spot in center) photographing Ospriocerus abdominalis at Star School Hill Prairie.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Habitat Partitionining in Tiger Beetles

Cicindela willistoni estancia

Cicindela willistoni estancia. Photo by David Melius.

ResearchBlogging.orgThe latest issue of CICINDELA (December 2009, vol. 41, no. 4) contains an interesting paper by David A. Melius titled, “Post-monsoonal Cicindela of the Laguna del Perro region of New Mexico.” This paper continues a theme that I have touched on a few times in recent posts regarding the partioning of resources by multiple species of tiger beetles utilzing the same habitat. The author reports on the results of two visits to the Laguna del Perro salt lake region of New Mexico (Torrance County) in July 2009, during which time he recorded a total of eight tiger beetle species in the area. As in many other parts of the arid west, tiger beetles in this region are highly dependent upon summer monsoonal rains to trigger adult emergence (Pearson et al. 2006), resulting in multiple species occupying a given habitat during the relatively short post-monsoonal period. However, according to the competitive exclusion principle (Hardin 1960), two species cannot stably coexist in the same habitat and compete for the same resources—one of the two competitors will always overcome the other unless resources are partitioned to avoid competition.

Cicindela willistoni estancia

Cicindela willistoni estancia. Photo by David Melius.

Tiger beetles that occupy the the same habitats employ a variety of mechanisms for avoiding direct competition. One of these is partitioning the environment into different “microhabitats.” One of the earliest reports of this was by noted American ecologist Victor Shelford, who reported that adult tiger beetles on the southern shores of Lake Michigan occupied different habitats from water’s edge to oak forest floor (Shelford 1907). Similarly, Choate (2003) found three sympatric species of tiger beetles in a coastal mudflat region in South Carolina, each of which utilized a different portion of the salt marsh. I myself have noted multiple species occupying the same habitat in Oklahoma’s Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, on a coastal salt marsh in Florida, and in the White River Hills of southwestern Missouri.

In the present study, the author noted distinct preferences among the eight species for different microhabitats within and adjacent to the salt flats, including 1) thick, wet mud immediately adjacent to the water, 2) damp, soft sand 10-20 m from the water and devoid of vegetation, and 3) dry to damp sand further away from the water with salt-tolerant plants. Nearby roadside habitats were also noted as an additional microhabitat. The species found and their preferred niches were:

  • Cicindela fulgida rumppii, exclusively in vegetated dry sand areas around the salt flats.
  • Cicindela (Cicindelidia) nigrocoerulea, mostly 10-20m from the water’s edge, a few also in roadside habitat.
  • Cicindela (Cicindelidia) punctulata chihuahuae, exclusively in roadside habitats.
  • Cicindela (Cicindelidia) willistoni estancia, mostly along the water’s edge.
  • Cylindera terricola cinctipennis, exclusively in dry grassy areas away from the water.
  • Ellipsoptera nevadica, exclusively along the water’s edge.
  • Eunota togata fascinans, unvegetated areas near and 10-20m from the water’s edge.
  • Habroscelimorpha circumpicta johnsoni, limited to roadside habitats and vegetated dry sand areas around the salt flats.

These microhabitat partitions can be visualized below. Note that although eight total species were collected, only 2-4 occur within each particular microhabitat and that all eight species were limited to just 1 or 2 microhabitats, resulting in unique species-guilds for each.

Some differences were also noted in species present during the different trips, suggesting that species occurring within the same microhabitat are also utilizing differences in temporal occurrence to further minimize competition. Differences in size among the different species were noted as well – for example, of the four species occurring in the vegetated, dry-damp sand microhabitat, Cylindera terricola is notably smaller and Habroscelimorpha circumpicta notably larger than the others. Since mandible length of adult tiger beetles is highly correlated with preferred prey size (Pearson et al. 2006), this likely results in utilization of different prey, further partioning resources within the different microhabitats.

I thank David A. Melius (Albequerque, New Mexico) for allowing me to include his stunning photographs of Cicindela willistoni estancia in this post.


Choate, P. M., Jr. 2003. A Field Guide and Identification Manual for Florida and Eastern U.S. Tiger Beetles.  University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 224 pp.

Hardin, G. 1960. The competitive exclusion Principle. Science 131:1292-1297.

Melius, D. A. 2009. Post-monsoonal Cicindela of the Laguna del Perro region of New Mexico. CICINDELA 41(4):81-89.

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.

Shelford, V. E. 1907. Preliminary note on the distribution of tiger beetles (Cicindela) and its relation to plant succession. Biological Bulletin of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole 14:9-14.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Mass Grave

My friend Rich and I have begun hiking the Wappapello Section of the Ozark Trail this winter in our quest to eventually hike all 350 miles of the Ozark Trail in Missouri (to this point we had completed ~230 miles).  The Wappapello Section is the southeasternmost of all the sections, lying almost entirely in Wayne County and traversing rugged terrain in the Mark Twain National Forest along the west side of Wappapello Lake as it courses north to Sam A. Baker State Park.  The U.S. Corps of Army Engineers built and manages Wappapello Lake primarily for flood control in the rich farmlands the lie just downstream in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain in extreme southeastern Missouri.  Because of this, stretches of the Ozark Trail are subject to frequent inundation.

Such was the case the day after Thanksgiving, when Rich and I tackled the northernmost 10-mile stretch of this section. Because of the flooding, we had to bushwhack to higher ground for a significant portion of the hike. This sounds easier than it was—elevational relief in this rugged southeastern portion of the Ozark Highlands is as much as 500 ft, with steep grades and thick leaf litter atop loose, cherty soils. We did our best to stay oriented using a basic contour map and the experience we’ve gained over the years in judging terrain.

Sometimes, diversions from the trail lead to unexpected discoveries. On an earlier hike, we had gotten lost trying to find our starting point (not a designated trailhead)—we drove through hill and dale and ended up on a losing 2-track that was quite obviously not where we wanted to be. While turning the vehicle around in the tight space between the trees, we noticed something white peeking out from under a black plastic tarp, and upon investigation discovered the clean and nearly complete skeleton of a horse (or mule? These are the Ozarks, afterall). A shattered left occiput and lead projectile protruding through the right maxilla of the skull told the story of this sad beast’s demise. Despite its gruesome origins, I simply cannot resist clean, whole skulls of any kind, so I placed it in the vehicle before we resumed our search for the trail. It now rests permanently in my “museum” and has been named Horace (sitting next to an even cleaner skull of a feral hog that I found a few years earlier—named Boris. Get it? Horace the horse and Boris the boar?).

On this day, as we blazed our own trail on higher ground roughly parallel to the actual trail, we happened upon the gruesome scene shown in these two photographs. Natural historians that we are, we began conducting our own “crime scene” reconstruction—first determining the identity of the remains, then hypothesizing the reason for their placement there based on what we could observe about them. As far as we could tell, the remains of at least three individuals were present, each in a different state of decay from the others and with no apparent evidence of trauma. Rich and I are pretty sure we know what these are, and we have our own ideas about how they got here and why, but I’d be interested in hearing what others think (click photos to embiggen).

This scene made me a little nervous—not because skeletons give me the creeps, but because the Ozark Highlands have a reputation for harboring what many people insultingly refer to as “hillbillies.” The stereotype that this term engenders—i.e., a barefoot man with a long beard and ragged clothes, banjo in one hand and shotgun in the other—may be an extreme and unfair caricaturization. Nevertheless, the presence of this mass grave, with apparently no effort to conceal it, made at least the shotgun part of that image seem a little too real for comfort.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Publications Available

Just a quick note for those of you that have been waiting with baited breath—my Publications page has been completed, with papers previously not in electronic format now available as scanned PDFs.  These include some of my earliest papers (I know everyone is dying to read about leafhopper life histories), as well as more recent papers published in journals that, as yet, have not transitioned into the electronic era.  Of these, the Biography and Memories of my mentor and friend, Gayle Nelson, is perhaps the most useful and will provide the greatest degree of interesting reading.  Also interesting, I think, will be a number of newsletter articles that I wrote in 2004-2006 for Nature Notes (the Journal of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society) that chronicle some of my earlier entomological exploits (before starting this blog as an outlet for such).  Read about:

You may notice my more recent Nature Notes articles contain familiar titles.  The tables have now been turned, with BitB now providing a source of articles for Nature Notes.  These articles are essentially as they appeared on this site (condensed in a few cases).

For those who like antiquities, actual reprints of most refereed journal articles are still available—just ask.

Another website feature that I’ve added is a complete Bibliography containing citations and, if available, links to online sources for all of the books and papers that I’ve cited in my posts.  A link is found on the Contents page, and I’ll make an effort to keep it up-to-date.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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geological history