Hiking at Hughes Mountain Natural Area

Even though I ended the bait trapping season last weekend, I still plan to get out on a weekly basis to explore some areas that I haven’t been able to visit yet this season. Tops on the list for me is Hughes Mountain Natural Area, an exposed rhyolite dome in the St. Francois Mountains that features dry oak-hickory woodlands surrounding xeric igneous glades.

Hughes Mountain summit.

The main thing I was hoping to see was Tragidion coquus, a spectacular longhorned beetle that seems common in some areas (e.g., Texas) but is rarely seen in Missouri. I saw one here three years ago in late September at the woodland/glade interface, and a recent conversation with fellow cerambyciphile Dan Heffern, who mentioned that they seem to prefer recently burned oak woodlands, makes me think that is why I saw it here (the surrounding woodlands are managed with periodic prescribed burns to stave off woody encroachment of the glade proper).

Columnar fracturing of rhyolite dome.
Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana) on the glade.

I hiked along the trail through the forest leading to the main glade, noting an abundance of many-rayed aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum) in bloom and a few persisting blooms on now-rank plants of slender false foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia).

Many-rayed aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum). Note the photobombing ambush bug (Phymatodes sp.) on the stem in the lower left corner.
Slender false foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia).
Slender false foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia).
Common dittany (Cunila origanoides).

After reaching the main glade, I stayed along the interface around its entire perimeter, hoping to see one of the beetles either resting on foliage or in flight. It was a good day to look—sunny and relatively warm, but no beetles were seen. In fact, even though we haven’t yet had any frost, there was not a lot of insect activity in general with the exception of marvelously cryptic lichen grasshoppers (Trimerotropis saxatilis), which were common on the glade along with a variety of other grasshoppers.

The remarkably cryptic lichen grasshopper (Trimerotropis saxatilis).

There was also little blooming on the glade, which made the chances of seeing the beetle even lower since they are known to be attracted to flowers such as thoroughwort (Eupatorium spp.) and blazingstar (Liatris spp.). I did find a few persisting blooms of the hot-pink largeflower fameflower (Phemeranthus calycinus), but most other plants were well past bloom. Eventually I completed the walk around the glade perimeter and worked my way back.

Largeflower fameflower (Phemeranthus calycinus) flower.
Largeflower fameflower (Phemeranthus calycinus) basal leaves.

At one point, I found a clump of small shagbark hickories (Carya ovata) that were oozing sap at several points along the main trunks and noted a variety of insects feeding at the sap flows. I checked carefully, thinking that they might include T. coquus, but none were seen—just flies, butterflies, and a wheel bug assassin bug (Arilus cristatus). Shortly afterwards, I reached the car—my bottles empty but my soul nourished by another day surrounded by nature.

An abnormal fall-blooming serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

2 thoughts on “Hiking at Hughes Mountain Natural Area

  1. Loved reading about your trip to this area. Sounds wonderful! Thanks for your photos of the lichen grasshopper and fameflower which I love to see in our Arkansas glades down here. Keep up you great work Ted!

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