Brazilian Bike Adventure

Atlantic Forest

Atlantic Forest in Serra do Mar.

Yesterday I joined my Brazilian colleagues on a bicycling tour from the outskirts of São Paulo to the beaches of the Atlantic Coast. To say that the tour was an ‘adventure’ is an understatement—it was epic! For those not familiar with São Paulo, its 20 million inhabitants make it not only the largest city in Brazil, but also one of the five largest cities in the world. Yet, despite the explosive growth it has seen during the past century, it remains isolated from the Atlantic Coast of southeastern Brazil by the Serra do Mar, a 40-kilometer wide swath of rugged, mountainous terrain and part of the Great Escarpment that runs along much of the eastern coast of Brazil. It is here where some of the last tracts of Atlantic Forest, the second largest forest ecotype in South America after the Amazon, remain. Atlantic Forest once stretched along much of Brazil’s Atlantic coast, turning inland in its southern reaches to Paraguay and the northern tip of Argentina. However, much of the forest, especially in populous southeastern Brazil, has fallen victim to the axe. Only the ruggedness of the Serra do Mar has allowed the Atlantic Forest to survive in such close proximity to one of the world’s most populous cities. Understandably, travel between São Paulo and the coast has been difficult. In former years, vehicles had to snake their way through the mountains along a treacherous 2-lane highway with steep grades and hairpin turns. That highway has since been circumvented by an elevated, double, 4-lane highway of alternating spans and tunnels, and the old highway, now closed to vehicles, is instead used by maintenance crews for the new highway and cyclists who yearn to experience the Atlantic Forest up close and personal.

Our van dropped us off in the outskirts of São Paulo, from where we rode along the main highway a short bit before accessing the old highway. Dropping into the Atlantic Forest was like being magically transported into virgin wilderness. The pavement was so encroached by the forest, steep and slippery in places, that it was hard to imagine it ever served as a link between Brazil’s largest city and its largest port. Heavy rains the previous night made the forest moist and gave it an earthy aroma, and moisture-laden air hung heavy with fog and intermittent drizzle. For a time it seemed we would have an uninterrupted, 40-km downhill freeride; however, just a few kilometers into the ride we encountered the first of what would be many landslides blocking the route. I can honestly say that I’ve never portaged a bike through as rough and tumble a pile of trees, rocks, and mud as I did on this day. Still, perhaps encouraged by the fresh bike tracks that lay before us, we soldiered on. After picking our way through a half-dozen such landslides we came upon a work crew who said there were another 30–40 landslides further down along the route. We were at a tunnel that connected with the main highway, so we decided to play it safe and take the main highway the rest of the way down. That, too, was an adventure, made feasible only by the fact that traffic was crawling at a snail’s pace due to the popularity of the Atlantic beaches with the citizenry of São Paulo. It was enjoyable to swish past the cars as they idled their engines, but we had to navigate about seven kilometers worth of shoulderless tunnels. That would have been impossible in normal traffic, but the congestion made finding room to squeeze by large trucks and buses the biggest problem (and I guess breathing exhaust!). Eventually we made it down into Santos, the largest port city in Brazil, and after picking our way through the center of the city, took a ferry to the beach city of Guarujá. Rain, landslides and traffic had thrown everything they had at us, but we persevered the 53-km trek and watched the sun break through while enjoying our just rewards in a beachside restaurant.

Following are a few more of my favorite photos from the day, and you can see all of them in my Facebook album Brazilian Bike Adventure.

Descending into the forest.

Descending into the forest.

Magical vistas such as this were around every turn of the road.

Magical vistas such as this awaited us around every turn of the road.

Manacá da Serra (Tibouchina mutabilis) was abundant in the forest.

Manacá da Serra (Tibouchina mutabilis) flowered in abundance in the forest.

Elevated roadways bypass the beauty of the forest below them.

Why did the ‘hellgramite’ (order Megaloptera, family Corydalidae) cross the road? (Thanks to dragonflywoman for the ID.)

The first of many landslides that blocked our path.

The first of many landslides that blocked our path.

The new elevated highway snakes through the Serra do Mar. This portion was closed due to landslides.

The new elevated highway snakes through the Serra do Mar. This portion was closed due to landslides.

Outside of the cicada killer, this digger wasp (family Crabronidae) on the  beach at Guarujá is the largest that I have ever seen.

A large digger wasp (family Crabronidae) greets us on the beach at Guarujá.

My Brazilian colleagues and I enjoy some well-deserved refreshments after our 53-km trek!

My Brazilian colleagues and I enjoy some well-deserved refreshments after our 53-km trek!

I may have looked like a nerd still in my cycling clothes, but the wave experience was unforgettable.

I may have looked like a nerd still in my cycling clothes, but the wave experience was unforgettable.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

T.G.I.Flyday: Argentine robber

I’m back in South America for the next 2+ weeks, and though it will be another week before I actually make it into Argentina, I am celebrating my return to that lovely country with photos of Argentinian insects taken during last year’s extended visit but that I haven’t had a chance to share before now. Earlier this week I featured Camponotus sericeiventris (though I prefer the literal translation, “silky-bellied humpbacked ant“)—easily among the most handsome ants that I’ve ever seen and which I encountered in the remnant quebracho forests at Chaco National Park in northern Argentina. Today’s feature is an equally handsome robber fly (order Diptera, family Asilidae), also seen at the park and which landed on a dead log just long enough to allow one good lateral profile shot of the beast in all its hairy splendidness! (Probably it zipped off to impale an Odontocheila tiger beetle in the back of the neck!)

Triorla sp. | Chaco National Park, Argentina

Triorla sp. | Chaco National Park, Argentina

I sent this photo to a few fly guys looking for a more authoritative opinion about its identity, mentioning its resemblance to some of our North American species of Efferia. Herschel Raney agreed that it belonged to at least that group, while Eric Fisher suggested a species in the genus Triorla (an early segregate of Efferia that is now widely regarded as a valid genus). The most recent checklist of robber flies from Argentina (Artigas & Hengst 1999) lists three species in the Efferia group (all in the genus Nerax); however, both Herschel and Eric confirmed my suspicion that Argentina, and especially the north, is not well studied for Asilidae. Eric further suggested that there could be as many as several times the number listed, mainly undescribed but also described from adjacent countries and occurring in Argentina but not yet recorded from there. Also, I had presumed this individual to represent a female since it lacked the distinctly swollen genital capsule (e.g. see this post, presumably another Efferia-group species), but Herschel thought the terminal structure was odd and did not look female.


Artigas, J. N. & M. B. Hengst. 1999. Clave ilustrada para los géneros de asílidos argentinos (Diptera: Asilidae). Revista Chilena de Historia Natural 72:107—150.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

The “silky-bellied humpbacked” ant

Last year during my extended work stay in Argentina, I was able to slip away from my duties during the first week of April and spend some time in the city of Corrientes in the northeastern part of the country. The city is one of my favorites in Argentina, but what I love most about it is its convenience as a base camp for exploring some of the habitats in the Grand Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina. One day I had a chance to visit Chaco National Park about 100 km northwest of the city, site of some of the last remnants of the great quebracho forests that once covered much of northern Argentina. The forest preserved at Chaco NP takes its name from the quebracho colorado chaqueño (Schinopsis balansae) trees that dominate it, standing in defiant contrast to the vast, hot sea of cotton fields and mesquite fence-rows that surrounds it. While hiking a trail through the heart of the forest, I looked down to see a most impressive ant crawling across the forest floor:

Camponotus sericeiventris

Camponotus sericeiventris | Chaco National Park, Argentina

Because of its black color and the striking, silky sheen of the abdomen, I was immediately reminded of the Camponotus mus ants that I had photographed a year earlier further south in Buenos Aires. However, this fellow (er, fella…) was considerably larger than that species, and looking at the photographs later I was also struck by the acute spines at the humeral angles of the pronotum (in C. mus the humeral angles were obtuse) and the flattened legs. All of this combined to make it one of the most handsome ants that I had ever seen! I posted the above photo on my Facebook page asking for ID help, and James Trager quickly responded that the ant represents Camponotus sericeiventris, which translates roughly to “silky-bellied humpbacked” ant. Now there’s a common name I can get behind.

Camponotus sericeiventris

Of course, it turns out that I could have easily determined the species on my own using the characters I had already noted—primarily the acute spines. Googling “camponotus acute spines” retrieves as its first result a paper by Wheeler (1931) that discusses this ant and a newly discovered (at the time) cerambycid beetle, Eplophorus velutinus [now Euderces velutinus] mimicking the ant (Fisher 1931). As soon as I read Wheeler’s first paragraph I knew I had the right species:

Camponotus (Myrmepomis) sericeiventris, owing to its size, wide distribution and dense covering of silver or golden pubescence, is one of the handsomest and most conspicuous ants of the American tropics.

Apparently this ant is a popular choice of models for mimics in a number of insect groups. Lenko (1964) reported another cerambycid beetle, Pertyia sericea, as a mimic of C. sericieventris (the similarity of species epithets being no coincidence), and friend and colleague Henry Hespenheide has not only described a zygopine weevil, Copturus paschalis, from Costa Rica as a mimic of this ant (Hespenheide 1984) but also postulated mimicry by Apilocera cleriformis [now Euderces cleriformis] and three other species of Cerambycidae collected by him in central Panama. Henry further noted mimics in the families Cleridae and Mutillidae and the fact that all of the beetle mimics of this arboreally foraging ant are themselves woodborers or predators of woodborers as larvae.

It is interesting that Fisher (1931), in his description of E. velutinus, made no mention of the mimicry, while Wheeler (1931) in his paper about C. sericeiventris discussed this in great detail. He further noted the diversity of cerambycids here in our North American fauna that mimic ants. These include species in the genera Clytoleptus, Euderces, Cyrtophorus, Tilloclytus and—most strikingly—Cyrtinus pygmaeus, our smallest species of Cerambycidae which occurs on dead wood among small ants such as Lasius americanus, and Michthisoma heterodoxum which resembles small Camponotus pennsylvanicus workers. I’ve not yet encountered M. heterodoxum, which seems restricted to the southeastern Coastal Plain, but I have beaten C. pygmaeus from dead branches and can personally attest to the effectiveness of their mimicry—some slight something about the way they moved made me question my immediate assumption that they were ants and caused me to take a closer look at them before I shook them off the beating sheet. I wonder how many times before that I collected this species without realizing it!


Fisher, W. S. 1931. A new ant-like cerambycid beetle from Honduras. Psyche 38:99–101.

Hespenheide, H. A. 1984. New Neotropical species of putative ant-mimicking weevils (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Zygopinae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 38(4):313–321.

Lenko, K. 1964. Sobre o mimetismo do cerambicideo Pertyia sericea (Perty, 1830) com Camponotus sericeiventris (Guerin, 1830). Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia (São Paulo) 16:89–93.

Wheeler, W. M. 1931. The ant Camponotus (Myrmepomis) sericeiventris Guérin and its mimic. Psyche 38:86–98.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Featured Guest Photo: A Spectacular Case of Mimicry

On occasion I receive photos from readers that are so remarkable I simply must share them (with the owner’s permission, of course). Recently I received a note from Len de Beer in Maputo, Mozambique, who was looking for help identifying a tiger beetle he had photographed on the beaches of the Maputo elephant reserve. My knowledge of Afrotropical tiger beetles is rudimentary, so I had to tap the expertise of fellow cicindelophile Dave Brzoska for the ID (many thanks, Dave), but in the ensuing correspondence Len sent me the following photograph that he took of another tiger beetle species while living in Madagascar:

The mimic: Peridexia hilaris

The mimic: Peridexia hilaris | Anzojorobe, Madagascar (photo © Len de Beer) 

A spectacular species to be sure, but the story behind its appearance is even more remarkable. This tiger beetle is one of two species in the Madagascan-endemic genus Peridexia, both of which exhibit color patterns that are a near-perfect match for that of the local pompilid wasp, Pogonius venustipennis (see photo below). According to Pearson & Vogler (2001), not only do these tiger beetles share the wasp’s bright yellow and black color pattern, but they also run in constant small circles (rather than the distinct, straight-line sprints that are more typical of tiger beetles) and fly readily when frightened, only to land again on the forest floor. These running and flying behaviors more closely resemble the foraging movements of the wasp than the movements of a typical tiger beetle, resulting in mimicry so effective that even tiger beetle collectors have been fooled and stung on the fingers when they attempted to collect their first Peridexia!

The model: Pogonius venustipennis

The model: Pogonius venustipennis (photo © Len de Beer)

Camouflage is the most widely observed predator avoidance mechanism in tiger beetles, with numerous species known whose color patterns closely resemble or otherwise allow them to blend in with the color and texture of the soils found in their preferred habitats. Nevertheless, mimicry is common enough (although anecdotal evidence still far outweighs true experimental evidence). Pearson & Volgler (2001) list examples of tiger beetles resembling mutillid wasps (commonly called “velvet ants”) from North and South America, as well as India, and also mention a South American tiger beetle species, Ctenostoma regium, that is the same size and shape as Paraponera clavata (or “bullet ant”), a large solitary species that is purported to pack the most painful of all insect stings (that this is true, I am inclined to agree). Tiger beetles can also serve as models—there is a katydid in Borneo whose immatures bear a remarkable resemblance to arboreal species of tiger beetles in the genus Tricondyla (Pearson & Vogler 2001, Plates 26 and 27). It has also been suggested that mimicry in tiger beetles might not be restricted to Batesian associations (unprotected mimic and harmful model) but may also include Müllerian associations (both model and mimic are distasteful or harmful).

My sincere thanks to Len de Beer for allowing me to post his photographs of this remarkable tiger beetle and the wasp it mimics.


Pearson, D. L. & A. P. Vogler.  2001. Tiger Beetles: The Evolution, Ecology, and Diversity of the Cicindelids.  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, xiii + 333 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013 (text)

A jewel of a beetle

I really wish I had a photomicrography setup like the one that Sam Heads has at the University of Illinois for imaging preserved specimens. Alas, insect taxonomy is “just a hobby” for me, and any specimen photography I wish to do must be done with my field camera equipment. Of course, poverty prompts creativity (not that I consider a Canon 50D with an MP-E 65mm macro lens and MT-24EX twin flash unit a sign of poverty), and after a bit of tinkering and fiddling I’ve figured out a way to setup the specimen and flash units to create images of pinned specimens that I think are more than adequate for publication in taxonomic papers.

Here is one I did recently of the jewel beetle Actenodes calcaratus (family Buprestidae). This species is broadly distributed from the southwestern U.S. through Mexico and into Central America, where it breeds in dead branches of a variety of mostly fabaceous trees such as Acacia and Prosopis. During several trips to southern Mexico in recent years, Chuck Bellamy and I collected two new species of Actenodes that look very similar to A. calcaratus but differ in several important characters, primarily surface sculpture, the form and male coloration of the face, and male genitalia. A manuscript describing these two species and containing this and similar images of the new species was recently submitted for publication. Though not quite as razor-sharp as images created through focus-stacking processes, it still shows good detail and even lighting. What do you think?¹

¹ For those who find the pin head distracting, I am not a proponent of cloning out pin heads, debris, or other imperfections on images of preserved specimens in taxonomic papers. Other enhancements such as levels, sharpness, contrast, etc. are fine since these are all influenced greatly by lighting, but otherwise I believe the specimen needs to be presented exactly as it appears. A possible alternative is to remove the pin for imaging, but this presents a risk of damage to the specimen that is of questionable benefit in the case of non-type specimens—and downright irresponsible for primary types. Another alternative is to thoroughly clean and image the specimen prior to mounting, but this is rarely feasible as in most cases it is only after the specimen is mounted and studied further that its status as a new species is realized.

Actenodes calcaratus | MEXICO: Guerrero, Hwy 95, 5 km S Milpillas, 7.vii.1992, "big dead tree", G. H. Nelson [FSCA]. Male plesiotype.

Actenodes calcaratus | MEXICO: Guerrero, Hwy 95, 5 km S Milpillas, 7.vii.1992, “big dead tree”, G. H. Nelson [FSCA]. Male plesiotype.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Raining spit

Cephisus siccifolia

Cephisus siccifolia 3rd instar nymph | Buenos Aires, Argentina

Even though it was November (and thus spring in Argentina), conditions were already unusually dry—a portent of the worst drought that would hit Argentina in 70 years. Because of this, I found the occasional wet spot on the pavement as I walked the trails in La Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur rather odd. At first I thought they were spit—the trails were popular on this day for runners and bike riders, but I quickly realized that those would have to be some truly ginormous spit wads based on the size of the splatter. It wasn’t long before I thought to look up, and this is what I saw on the branch directly above me:

Cephisus siccifolia

Cephisus siccifolia spittle mass on unknown species of tree.

I knew right away this was the work of a froghopper, or “spittlebug,” a true bug (order Hemiptera) in the family Cercopidae. Spittlebugs are common in the eastern U.S. where I live and are famous for the spit-like wads of froth (“cuckoo spit” to some) within which the nymphs conceal themselves until they reach adulthood. Our eastern U.S. species, however, are most commonly seen on herbaceous plants rather than in trees, and the frothy masses they produce are fairly small—about the size of a real wad of spit (at least, according to my direct comparison when I was 12 years old). The spittle masses I was seeing today were enormous, frothy, liquid masses that literally dripped from the trees by their own weight—raining spit!

Cephisus siccifolia

Nymphs produce bubbles by siphoning air into a channel under the abdomen.

I was about to move on when I noticed some movement in the spittle mass. A closer look through the macro lens revealed the tip of the abdomen of a nymph slowly circling around near the surface of the spittle and creating new bubbles as it did this. As one can imagine, living inside a mass of bubbly liquid presents a challenge to breathing, and the nymphs get around this problem by protruding the tip of the abdomen outside the spittle mass and taking in air through a tubelike canal below the abdomen (Hamilton & Morales 1992). Strong contractions of the abdomen inside the spittle mass eject air from the canal, resulting in bubble formation.

Cephisus siccifolia

Nymphs partially exposed by removal of spittle mass.

I sent these photos to Andy Hamilton (Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes), specialist in world Cercopidae, to see if there was any chance he might recognize the genus or species based on these photos. I noted that these were the biggest spittlebug nymphs I had ever seen (the individual in the first photo measuring ~10mm in length). Not only did he recognize them as belonging to the genus Cephisus, but he was actually in the process of finishing up a revision of the New World members of the tribe Ptyelini—Cephisus being the sole New World genus to represent the tribe. Based on its white coloration and occurrence as far south as Buenos Aires, Argentina, he suggested this must be C. siccifolia—a species that can sometimes achieve economic pest status (Ribeiro et al. 2005) but which still apparently needs to be properly recorded from Argentina (Hamilton 2012). Based on degree of wing pad development, Andy surmises the individual in Photo #1 represents a 3rd instar (if the 3rd instar measures 10 mm, can you imagine the size of the 5th instars?!). Andy asked me if I would grant him use of the photos in his soon-to-be-published revision (of course I agreed), and here is the plate with the photos (as well as an adult photographed by someone else) as it appears in his paper:


As Andy notes in his paper, it seems rather unusual that Cephisus is the only tribal representative in the New World despite having successfully colonized all of its tropical and subtropical mainland areas. There are several other genera in the tribe in Africa, which would suggest that the Ptyelini arose prior to the late Cretaceous rifting that separated South America and Africa into two continents. It is thus puzzling why the tribe went on to further diversify in Africa but not in the New World.

A tight crop of Photo #3 above was featured in , for which Ben Coulter was the hands-down winner. Honestly I thought this might end up being a slam dunk challenge—people have gotten very good at designing Google search strings to come up with answers that in pre-internet days might have been impossible to find. Nobody stumbled upon the magic search string for this challenge—”MacRae Cercopidae” which pulls up the Hamilton paper and above plate as the very first result. Still, Ben used good old fashioned intuition based on the locality tag to correctly surmise the species and take the early lead in BitB Challenge Session #7. Congratulations, Ben!


Hamilton, K. G. A. 2012. Revision of Neotropical aphrophorine spittlebugs, part 1: Ptyelini (Hemiptera, Cercopoidea). Zootaxa 3497:41–59.

Hamilton, K. G. A. & C. F. Morales. 1992. Cercopidae (Insecta: Homoptera). Fauna of New Zealand 25, 40 pages.

Ribeiro, G. T., M. da Costa Mendonça, J. Basílio de Mesquita, J. C. Zanuncio G. S. & Carvalho. 2005. Spittlebug Cephisus siccifolius damaging eucalypt plants in the State of Bahia, Brazil. Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira 40(7):unpaginated.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Backyard gems

I’ve been fortunate to have the chance to travel far and wide in my searches for insects—from the Gypsum Hills of the Great Plains and Sky Islands of the desert southwest to the subtropical riparian woodlands of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, tropical thorn forests of southern Mexico and veld of southern Africa. No matter how far I travel, however, I’m always happy to return to the Missouri Ozarks. It is here where I cut my entomological teeth so many years ago, and though I’ve now scrabbled around these ancient hills for more than three decades it continues to satisfy my thirst for natural history. Though not nearly as expansive as the Great Plains, there are nevertheless innumerable nooks and crannies nestled in the Ozarks, and I find myself constantly torn between looking for new spots (it would take several lifetimes to find them all) and going back to old favorites. Living in the northeastern “foothills” in the outskirts of St. Louis provides an ideal vantage for exploration; however, sometimes I am truly amazed at the natural history gems that can be found within a stone’s throw from my house. Some examples I’ve featured previously include Shaw Nature Reserve, home to a hotspot of the one-spotted tiger beetle, Castlewood State Park, where I found a gorgeously reddish population of the eastern big sand tiger beetle, and Victoria Glades Natural Area, site of the very first new species (and perhaps also the most beautiful) that I ever collected.

Englemann Woods Natural Area | Franklin Co., Missouri

Today I found another such area—Englemann Woods Natural Area, and at only 5 miles from my doorstep it is the closest natural gem that I have yet encountered. One of the last old-growth forests in the state, its deep loess deposits on dolomite bedrock overlooking the Missouri River valley support rich, mesic forests on the moister north and east facing slopes and dry-mesic forests on the drier west-facing slopes dissected by rich, wet-mesic forests with their hundreds-of-years-old trees. A remarkable forest of white oak, ash, basswood and maple in an area dominated by monotonous second-growth oak/hickory forests.

Englemann Woods Natural Area

Steep north-facing slopes border the Missouri River valley.

It is not, however, the 200-year-old trees that will bring me back to this spot, but rather the understory on the north and east-facing slopes. Here occur some of the richest stands of eastern hornbean (Ostrya virginiana) that I have ever seen. This diminutive forest understory inhabitant is not particularly rare in Missouri, but as it prefers rather moist upland situations it is not commonly encountered in the dry-mesic forests that dominate much of the Ozarks. Stands of this tree, a member of the birch family (Betulaceae) are easy to spot in winter due to their habit of holding onto their dried canopy of tawny-brown leaves (see photo below).

Englemann Woods Natural Area

Rich stands of eastern hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) dominate the north- and east-slope understory.

Why am I so interested in this plant? It is the primary host of the jewel beetle species Agrilus champlaini. Unlike most other members of the genus, this species breeds in living trees rather than dead wood, their larvae creating characteristic swellings (galls, if you will) on the twigs and stems as they spiral around under the bark feeding on the cambium tissues before entering the wood to pupate and emerge as adults in spring. This species is known in Missouri from just two specimens, both collected by me way back in the 1980s as they emerged from galls that I had collected during the winter at two locations much further away from St. Louis. The presence of this rich stand of hornbeam just 5 miles from my home gives me the opportunity to not only search the area more thoroughly to look for the presence of galls from which I might rear additional specimens, but also to look for adults on their hosts during spring and (possibly, hopefully) succeed in photographing them alive.

Englemann Woods Natural Area

Inside the “hornbeam forest.”

Another “draw” for me is the restoration work that has begun on some of the west-facing slopes in the areas. Pre-settlement Missouri was a far less wooded place than it is today, as evidenced by the richly descriptive writings penned by Henry Schoolcraft during his horseback journey through the Ozarks in the early 1800’s. At the interface between the great deciduous forests to the east and the expansive grasslands to the west, the forests of Missouri were historically a shifting mosaic of savanna and woodland mediated by fire. Relatively drier west-facing slopes were more prone to the occurrence of these fires, resulting in open woodlands with more diverse herbaceous and shrub layers. At the far extreme these habitats are most properly called “xeric dolomite/limestone prairie” but nearly universally referred to by Missourians as “glades”—islands of prairie in a sea of forest! I have sampled glades extensively in Missouri over the years, and they are perhaps my favorite of all Missouri habitats. However, it is not future glades or savannas that have me excited about Englemann Woods but rather the availability of freshly dead wood for jewel beetles and longhorned beetles resulting from the selective logging that has taken place as a first step towards restoration of such habitats on these west-slopes. The downed trees on these slopes and subsequent mortality of some still standing trees that is likely to result from the sudden exposure of their shade adapted trunks to full sun are likely to serve as a sink for these beetles for several years to come. I will want to use all the tools at my disposal for sampling them while I have this opportunity—beating, attraction to ultraviolet lights, and fermenting bait traps being the primary ones. It looks like I’d better stock up on molasses and cheap beer!

Englemann Woods Natural Area

Restoration efforts on the west-facing slopes begins with selective logging.

Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is native to Missouri, but in our time it has become a major, invasive pest tree. The suppression of fire that came with settlement also freed this tree from a major constraining influence on its establishment in various habitats around the state, primarily dolomite/limestone glades. Nowadays most former glade habitats, unless actively managed to prevent it, have become choked with stands of this tree, resulting in shading out of the sun-loving plants that historically occurred much more commonly in the state. Untold dollars are spent each year by landscape managers on mechanical removal and controlled burns to remove red-cedar and prevent its reestablishment in these habitats. There is one habitat in Missouri, however, in which eastern red-cedar has reigned supreme for centuries or possibly millenia—dolomite/limestone bluff faces.

Juniperus virginiana

Craggly, old Eastern red-cedars (Juniperus virginiana) cling tenaciously to the towering dolomite bluffs.

With little more than a crack in the rock to serve as a toehold, red-cedars thrive where no other tree can, growing slowly, their gnarled trunks contorted and branches twisted by exposure to sun and wind and chronic lack of moisture. Some of the oldest trees in Missouri are red-cedars living on bluffs, with the oldest example reported coming from Missouri at an incredible 750–800 years old. There is something awe-inspiring about seeing a living organism that existed in my home state before there were roads and cars and guns. These ancient trees are now an easy drive from my house (though a rather strenuous 300-ft bushwhacking ascent to reach the bluff tops)—they seem ironically vulnerable now after having endured for so long against the forces of nature. For me, they will serve as a spiritual draw—a reason to return to this place again regardless of what success I might have at finding insects in the coming months.

Juniperus virginiana

This tree may pre-date Eurpoean settlement.

Aplectrum hyemale

Adam-and-Eve orchid (Aplectrum hyemale).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013