2018 New Mexico/Texas Insect Collecting Trip “iReport”

This is the fifth in a series of Collecting Trip “iReports”—so named because I’ve illustrated them exclusively with iPhone photographs (see previous articles for 2013 Oklahoma2013 Great Basin, 2014 Great Plains, and 2015 Texas). Note that I continue to use my “big” camera for specific insect targets—and these will be featured from time to time on this site. However, I use my iPhone camera much more during these trips for general photography to document habitats, landscapes, and miscellaneous subjects because it is so small and handy and because it is also capable of capturing reasonably good photographs (see this post for tips on making the most of the iPhone camera’s capabilities). This allows me to spend more time looking for and collecting insects—usually my primary objective on these trips! Collectively, these iPhone photos (which are usually posted real time on Facebook, along with short narratives) form a nice trip synopsis when assembled into a single post.

This report covers a collecting trip I made with Jeff Huether from June 2–9, 2018 to southeastern New Mexico and west Texas. I’ve dabbled in this area before, primarily just a quick stop at Mescalero Sand Dunes many years ago, but not specifically targeted this area for any systematic collecting. Thus, most of the locations that we visited were new to me, which automatically means that I would find at least a few things of interest—and more probably a lot (as long as the insects are active). We had great success at many localities, having found areas where sufficient rain had occurred to trigger insect emergence despite the drought that was plaguing much of the area. Highlights were the areas along Hwy 380 between San Antonio and Bingham, the Mescalero Sand Dunes, and the dunes near Kermit, Texas. I haven’t yet tallied the number of species collected, as much of the material is still waiting to be mounted and identified. However, I estimate that it is in the neighborhood of about three dozen buprestids and maybe half that many cerambycids, including some quite charismatic species that I’d not collected previously (e.g., Prionus arenarius and Tragidion armatum).

Stay tuned, because I made a second insect collecting trip during 2018, this one with Art Evans to southeast Arizona during late July and early August.


Day 1 – Sandia Mountains, New Mexico
We flew into Albuquerque this afternoon and, after getting the car, supplies, and something to eat we came up to Sandia Crest Recreation Area looking for Cicindela longilabris (long-lipped tiger beetle). This was the first place I stopped on the first day of the trip for the first species I wanted to look for, and I found it in the first five minutes I was here!

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View from near the summit of Sandia Mountain.

We stopped at the Capulin Picnic Ground on the way down the mountain. There were some oaks with fresh-looking foliage that I beat – no Buprestidae but a nice series of a treehopper (Telamonthe?) and a few odds and ends. There was also Robinia off which I beat a series of what is surely Agrilus egenus.

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Penstemon sp. ID by George Yatskievych.


Day 2 – Walking Sands Rest Area, New Mexico
Quick stop to check the lights – later in the season Jeff has collected Prionus palparis here, but this time we saw nothing. Also checked the nearby vegetation, there was Dalea in bloom but no beetles on the flowers.

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Hwy 380 between San Antonio & Bingham, New Mexico
We saw a few things in bloom at the Rio Grande bridge crossing so decided to stop. I took a fair series of what must be Acmaeodera mixta off of the Thelesperma flowers (along with a few mordellids for Enrico and one meloid for Jeff). Otherwise not much activity at the spot.

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Bone dry Rio Grande!

There were some cool looking red sand dunes on Hwy 380 east of San Antonio, so we stopped to see if there might be any tiger beetles. There weren’t any, but I found yucca stems infested with cerambycid larvae, likely Tragidion. I collected 6–8 stems to bring back and try to rear out the adults. Jeff also found a single Chrysobothris sp. on sage, otherwise we saw few beetles.

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Going east on Hwy 380 we went into an area of higher elevation with junipers. We stopped to check the Thelosperma flowers, but there were no bups on them. I collected a few noisy cicadas and some Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides on Opuntia flowers. I then started beating the junipers, however, and got a fair series of a small green Gyascutus plus two tiny Chrysobothris. They were extremely difficult to collect – winds were very stiff and the beetles were very active. I probably lost as many as I collected. To finish off I found a mating pair of Moneilema sp. on cholla.

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Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides in a flower of Opuntia sp.

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Yours truly standing next to a cholla (Opuntia imbricata).

In addition the the Tragidion larvae that I collected two stops back, Jeff saw one adult at the previous stop. So, when we saw thick stands of yucca along the roadsides just a few miles down the road we stopped to take a look. They were out and not uncommon on the flower stalks and down in the basal rosettes. I collected about a dozen of them and also another Gyascutus.

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A Tragidion female on a yucca flower stalk.

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Tragidion sp. mating pair on yucca flower stalk.

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Tarantula hawk (family Pompilidae) on yucca flower stalk. This must be a mimicry model for Tragidion.

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I believe this is a cactus dodger cicada (Cacama sp.).

At the last stop we noticed a lot of emergency vehicles rushing to the east. Just a couple of miles down the road we ran into an accident blockade. Since we were stopped I was tempted to look at the Rick shop, but then I started looking at the cholla and found several Moneilema sp. adults on the plants.

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Walking Sands Rest Area, New Mexico
We came back up to the rest stop because of the dunes – there are Prionus spp. that live in the dunes, so we put out some pheromone to see if we could attract the males which fly at dusk and early nighttime. In the meantime we walked around looking for nocturnally active beetles – found a few skin beetles (Omorgus sp.) feeding in dried dog poop and a huge tenebrionid (Eleodes sp.) strangely perched up in a bush. Also photographed a cool little sun spider (Solifugida). When we went back to check the pheromone there was one male Prionus arenarius running around under the lure!

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Skin beetle (Omorgus nodosus) feeding on dried dog poop at night. ID by Bill Warner.

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A sun spider (Solifugida) pauses briefly from its frantic search for prey.


Day 3 – Valley of Fire National Recreation Area, New Mexico
We came over the hill and saw a huge black area in the valley below. I thought it was just an area of thick woody vegetation, but it was actually a lava field! Very cool. There were tons of cicadas, I think also cactus dodgers (Cacama spp.) but look different from the one we saw yesterday. I beat a lot of Celtis and only got one Chrysobothris sp. (looks like analis), and there was nothing on the junipers. We also didn’t see any Moneilema on the abundant cholla. I did catch two Acmaeodera mixta on an unidentified white flower. I think yesterday’s rains must have missed this area!

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Malpais Lava Beds.

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A tarantula hawk (family Pompilidae) on flowers of milkweed (Asclepias sp.).

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I believe this is another species of cactus dodger cicada (Cacama sp.).

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Malpais Lava Beds.

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Lead-footed bugs (family Coreidae) on cholla cactus (Opuntia imbricata).

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Malpais Lava Beds.

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Cactus dodger cicada (Cacama sp.)?

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Male cactus dodger (Cacama sp.) on cholla cactus in mid-song.

We drove a couple miles down the road and made just a quick stop to check flowers along the roadsides. No beetles seen – seems to be super dry, but I did photograph one of the tiniest butterflies (something in the family Lycaenidae) I’ve ever seen.

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Western pygmy blue (Brephidium exilis). ID by Doug Taron.

Sierra Blanca Mountains, New Mexico
Jeff wanted to look for an Epicauta up here, but the whole drive up the mountain we could only comment on how dry it was and how extensively the area had burned. I only found two wood borers – an Anthaxia (Melanthaxia) and a lepturine cerambycid, both on iris flowers. We did find the Epicauta though, also on iris flowers.

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Atop the Sierra Blanca.Mescalero Sand Dunes.

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Perhaps Erysimum capitatum (Brassicaceae). ID suggested by Erik Emanuelsson.

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Flower longhorn (subfamily Lepturinae) on flower of iris.

Vicinity Sunset, New Mexico
There were some mallow in bloom along the roadsides, so we stopped to see if there were any Acmaeodera on them. There weren’t, just a few meloids that Jeff was interested in. I found a a single Euphoria kerni on a flower of Acacia greggii and, of course, large numbers of them on thistle flowers. The area seems to have gotten some rain, but not much activity to speak of yet.

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Euphoria kernii in their typical “buried-butt-upwards” post on a thistle flowerhead.

Mescalero Sand Dunes, New Mexico
This area got rain last night, so we suspected there would be a lot of insect activity, and we were right! The place was alive when we got here at ~6 pm. I walked the area while we waited for dusk to set out pheromone. I collected a series of Enoclerus zonatus off of yucca blooms, beat an Actenodes sp. (something new for me), a Chrysobothris octocola, and a nice series of treehoppers off of mesquite, and found 3 Batyle suturalis ssp. on an unidentified yellow comp.

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Mescalero Sands Recreation Area.

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A skin beetle (Omorgus nodosus) makes tracks in the sand.

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Enoclerus zonatus on yucca.

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Another Enoclerus zonatus individual on yucca. Note the larger spots on this one compared to the other, an example of intraspecific variation.

As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, I hiked around to the backside of the dunes and then bushwhacked across them to get the perfect perspective for photographs when the sun hit the horizon – spectacular sunset!

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Sunset on the dune.

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What a sunset!

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I’m happier than I look! 

By the time I got back to the car, Jeff had already placed three lures out, so we started making the rounds and found at least one or two Prionus arenarius males running frantically in circles under each one. At the second lure, I started searching the area nearby and found a female walking on the ground! (Females are very rarely encountered, and it seems a little more than coincidental to me that for each species of Prionus, whenever we have collected good numbers of males with lures we have also found at least one or a few females in the same area – maybe cheaters [in the ecological sense]?).

As we made the rounds we picked up an amazing diversity of tenebrionids and a few carabids walking in the sand, and we finished off by picking up Jeff’s light trap, which had attracted one more Prionus male and a very light-colored Polyphylla sp. male.

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Incredible huge blue spider on the dune at night.


Day 4—Mescalero Sand Dunes, New Mexico

We noticed a stand of soapberry (Sapindus drumondii) along the sides of the road just west of the entrance to Mescalero Sands Recreation Area last night, and I immediately thought of Agrilus sapindi, so this morning on our our way to the dunes we stopped by. I started beating the flowering branches of the larger soapberry trees but wasn’t really getting anything. Then I noticed an A. sapindi flying to a low non-flowering plant, so I caught it and resumed beating – now with more gusto knowing they were here. I still wasn’t getting anything and, again, saw another adult fly and land on a low non-flowering plant. Lesson learned – I started sweeping the low plants and started getting them. I worked all five stands in the area and got about 3 dozen adults, plus a few A. ornatulus, one A. limpiae, and spectacular Neoclytus.

After finishing with the soapberry, Jeff had noticed some tiny Acmaeodera on an unidentified white-flowered composite. We started searching in earnest and collected several dozen adults. I’m not sure what they are, but they are tiny and vittate (maybe A. quadrivittatoides). We also did a lot of sweeping of the short shrubby oak also and came up with a couple of Brachys. Overall a great morning/early afternoon in the field!

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The only thing cooler than this abandoned homestead was the squawking ravens hanging out on it!

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Soapberry (Sapindus drummondii) stands along Hwy 380 – host for Agrilus sapindi.

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Host for unidentified Acmaeodera sp.

We next went into the Recreation Area proper to each lunch, after which we explored the rest of the area accessible by vehicle and saw a stand of cottonwood back in the dunes. We got out to see if there might be any Buprestidae on them (e.g., Poecilonota), but they were devoid of insects. The midday heat on the dunes was extreme! I did find, however, a single Prionus elytron lying on the sand beneath the cottonwoods, so we know they are further back in the dunes as well.

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Mescalero Sands Recreation Area.

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Mescalero Sands Recreation Area.

We worked the variety of blooming plants in the vicinity of the entrance. I collected ~22 of the small Acmaeodera that were on the white-flowered plant at the soapberry spot on two blossoms of a single yellow-flowered pad Opuntia sp., a couple of Acmaeodera spp. on Gaillardia sp. flowers, a few more Acmaeodera spp. on Prosopis, and several Acmaeodera mixta on another as-yet-unidentified white flower. It was hotter than bejesus we later learned 103°F!) – I had wanted to check out one more stand of soapberry at the entrance, but we were exhausted and dehydrated and had to quit!

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Some kind of wasp on some kind of flower.

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There are four separate bird nests in the cholla plant – a veritable avian apartment!

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Cholla (Opuntia imbricata) blossom.

Vicinity Hobbs, New Mexico
We got a hotel in Hobbs and grabbed a sandwich for dinner, then went out west of town to see if we could find some good habitat for evening collecting. We found a spot of open rangeland about 8–9 miles west of town, set out the pheromone lures, and began beating the mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa). We had high hopes because there was still standing water, meaning that the area had gotten good rains on Sunday night. Boy were we correct! Beating the mesquite was amazing. For buprestids I got 10 individuals of an Actenodes sp., 4 individuals of a Paratyndaris sp., 4 Chrysobothris spp., 4 Acmaeodera spp., and 1 Agrilus sp. I also got several tiny cicadas, a couple treehopper species, and a few clerids and other odds and ends. We setup a blacklight and the scarabs were quite diverse, but the only thing I took was a tiger beetle (Cylindera lemniscata). I also picked up a Phyllophaga cribrosa and a tenebrionid walking on the ground at night. No Prionus came to the lures, any my searches of the ground at night turned up no Amblycheila.

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Tiny scarab beetles in the genus Diplotaxis congregate on low plants to “catch” pheromone trails in search of mates.

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Giant millipedes (genus Orthoporus) were common at night, a sure sign of recent rains. ID by Derek Hennen.

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Ted of Arabia and Jeff.


Day 5—Sand Dunes near Kermit, Texas
We stopped just outside the Kermit Sand Dunes to beat the mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) to see what might be out. I collected 8 species of Buprestidae: nice series of an Acmaeoderopsis (hoping A. prosopis), 1 sp. Actenodes, 2 spp. Chrysobothris, 1 sp. Paratyndaris, 1 sp. Agrilus, and 2 Acmaeodera spp. We eventually gave up – the heat had not only wilted us, but the Acmaeoderopsis were flying away immediately upon hitting the sheet.

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Updated field pic (the last one was taken in 1999!).

We drove a little further towards the heart of the dunes and found a spot where there were some blowouts and classic sand flora. Immediately upon starting out we noticed Acmaeodera mixta adults flying around commonly, so I swept through the vegetation a bit and collected a representative series. On Oenethera sp. flowers I found a single A. immaculata and later several A. mixta and a very small Acmaeodera (looked like the one we collected yesterday at Mescalero). In one spot I found a few plants of an unidentified yellow composite with a few more A. mixta, and on Baccharis I found one A. obtusa(?) along with A. mixta. Coming back to the car Jeff and I noticed huge numbers of A. immaculata flying to an unidentified shrub, from which we each swept a nice series. Eventually the heat (103°F) again overwhelmed us, and we had to get in the car, eat, and cool down for a bit on the way to another spot.

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The dunes are part of an extensive series of dunes stretching from West Texas through southeastern New Mexico.

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Acmaeodera mixta on flower of an unidentified yellow composite.

We returned to an area with stands of soapberry (Sapindus drummondii) that we had seen when we first arrived in the area. I swept all of the small plants on the east side of the highway and got a single Agrilus sapindi – not nearly as abundant as we had seen at Mescalero Sands.

On the west side of the highway there were some larger mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa). I found one Chrysobothris octocola on the trunk, then Jeff and I noticed Acmaeoderopsis flying to the tips of the high branches. I got my aerial net and just started betting them as they flew in while we stood and watched. I caught them from several trees, but a majority from a single tree. That worked much better than beating this morning – I probably lost as many as I collected because they flew so quickly upon hitting the sheet.

Underneath one large mesquite I found several prionid elytra – couldn’t tell if they were Prionus or Derobrachus, but then I noticed burrows in the ground very similar to those we saw for Prionus integer in Colorado (see photo). We dug a few out but found nothing. Something to keep in mind.

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The high plains of west Texas.

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Burrows like this one look suspiciously like those of Prionus integer in Colorado – did another Prionus make this one?

We returned to the dunes for some evening collecting. I beat the two large mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) trees by the parking area and got an Actenodes and a few Chrysobothris octocola – no Acmaeoderopsis, I guess they hide elsewhere for the night. Once dusk fell we began checking the pheromones and light – only a single male Prionus arenarius came to the pheromone, but we got several individuals of two Polyphylla spp. (P. monahansensis – larger, and P. pottsorum – smaller) at the light. Walking around the dunes at night there were significantly fewer tenebrionids and other insects walking around, but I did pick up two cool “concave” tenebs and a Pasimachus ground beetle.

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I’ve never seen a mourning dove make a nest in the ground before.

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I always thought these oil pumps looked like dinosaurs bobbing up and down.

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“Bobbing dinosaurs” dot the landscape.

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Bull nettle (Cnidoscolus texanus)—something tells me I should not touch this plant!

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A very small (<1.5” in length) scorpion visits the light looking for a meal.

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Face-to-face with a scorpion!


Day 6—I-10 Rest Area at mile marker 162, Texas
Just a quick stop to use the facilities, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to photograph these three Reakirts blues all on one flower (a fourth flew away before I could snap).

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Reakirts blue (Echinargus isola). ID by Doug Taron.

San Felipe Park, near Fabens, Texas
We took a chance on going further west to the dunes near Fabens, since we’ve had such good luck with rains in the area. However, when we got here and started looking around it was apparent that nothing was happening here – dry, dry, dry with temps just over 100°F. I saw a few insects but only a single buprestid – Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides, and I missed it! We decided to cut bait and head back east and north towards Carlsbad – we should be able to get to the area in time for some late afternoon and evening collecting. You can’t win ‘em all!

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This roadrunner was rather annoyed with us for intruding in his spot of shade under a Siberian elm.

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A broad-nosed weevil.

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A mating pair of walkingsticks. Note the great size difference between the male (smaller) and female (larger).

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I think I found our retirement home!

Vicinity Carlsbad, New Mexico
After getting lost in the Fabens Sand Dunes and then a whole lot of driving back east into New Mexico, we arrived in Carlsbad with just enough time to grab a sandwich and head out to some promising habitat we’d noticed on the way in for some evening/night collecting.

The area contained a ribbon of woodland with mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), black acacia (Acacia rigida), and catclaw acacia (A. greggii). I beat only one tiny Chrysobothris sp. off the mesquite, but off the black acacia I beat three individuals (four actually, one got away) of a large, chunky Chrysobothris sp. that I do not recognize, plus an undetermined cerambycid and a few clytrines. Actually, before I collected the Chrysobothris I had given up on the lack acacia until I was walking by one plant and saw the first one sitting on a branch. I popped it in the vial and started beating the other plants in the area with renewed enthusiasm the find the other two (three!).

We setup the lights and the pheromones, but not much came to the former and nothing to the latter (expected, since there was no sand habitat nearby). The sunset beforehand, however, was magnificent, and I did find a couple of miscellaneous beetles walking around at night.

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Day 7—vicinity Loco Hills, New Mexico
We saw an area with stands of soapberry (Sapindus drummondii) alongside the road so stopped to sample it for Buprestidae. I got 3 Agrilus limpiae on trees right around the car but nothing on all the rest of the three stands nearest the car on either side of the road. I hope the south area of Mescalero Sands is not as dry as it still appears around here.

Soapberry (Sapindus drummondii).

Mescalero Sand Dunes, New Mexico
We found the central dunes of the southern area and immediately found several Acmaeodera mixta adults on mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) flowers. I started beating the mesquite and picked up a nice series of Acmaeoderopsis, one Actenodes, and a few other miscellaneous Acmaeodera off the larger trees. There was some soapberry (Sapindus drummondii) in bloom around the dunes, but beating it produced no Buprestidae.

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A lone windswept soapberry tree hangs on precariously to life in the dunes.

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Acmaeodera mixta on flowers of mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa).

We stopped at a spot outside the dunes because it looked pretty green with a number of plants in bloom suggesting recent rain. I saw but did not take Acmaeodera mixta on white flowers of undetermined composite. I did collect a small series of bright red and black clerids on a small blue-green euphorbiaceous plant. Also saw a little horned lizard, who cooperated just enough to get a few snaps!

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A young Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) tries to make himself look big!

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White-flowered composite blooming in the desert.

Vicinity Carrizozo, New Mexico
We stopped at a thick stand of yucca that we’d noted on the way past here earlier in the week, the hope being that we would find Tragidion armatum on the stems. Sadly we did not see any, nor did we see more than just a couple of the pompilid wasps that the beetles mimic. Surely this is a result of the lack of rain in the area, which the hotel clerk confirmed during our earlier check in. Cicadas, on the other hand, were everywhere!

The low sun illuminates the yuccas, while the higher clouds shade the mountains behind.

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The low sun illuminates the yuccas, while the higher clouds shade the mountains behind.

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How many cicadas do you see on this single yucca stem?

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Promising clouds tease a thirsty landscape.

For the final stop for the day we returned to Valley of Fire Recreation Area – not really to collect insects, but to look about this fascinating landscape. The Lava Beds are thought to be 5,000 years old, having formed over a 30-year period when lava poured from Black Peak to the north (not a volcano, but a volcanic vent) at a rate that would fill 15 bathtubs every second! It was a serene and otherworldly walk in the falling darkness – nice way to cap off an evening.

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Towering clouds try to squeeze out some moisture.

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Lots of virga, little rain.

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A 400-year old juniper watches another sunset.


Day 8—vicinity Bingham, New Mexico and west on Hwy 380
We stopped at another yucca stand very near where we’d found the Tragidion armatum last weekend – no problem finding them here either. I got plenty of photographs of the beetles (despite having to go ‘au natural’ with the lighting – my flash unit had died!), as well as of cicadas, wasps, and other insects on the yucca stems and pods. Otherwise I only collected two Acmaeodera (looks like A. immaculata) on flowers of Sphaeralcea sp., what looks to be A. disjuncta/paradisjuncta on Ephedra sp., and a single Moneilema sp. on Opuntia imbricata. Nice stop!

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Variety of wasps on yucca.

We then stopped by “the juniper spot” again to see if I could get a better series of the Gyascutus (G. carolinensis?) that we found on the junipers (Juniperus monosperma). Boy, did I ever! I collected about 30 specimens this time, made easier by the fact that it was cooler and not nearly as windy! I also again collected two small Chrysobothris sp. on the juniper, a single Moneilema sp. on cholla (Opuntia imbricata), and a single Acmaeoderopsis sp. beating mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa).

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One of the more exciting finds of the trip – a jewel beetle in the genus Gyascutus on Juniperus monosperma (I believe this is G. carolinensis).

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The greenish waxy bloom that covers the body must help the beetle blend into the foliage on which they perch.

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A cactus beetle in the genus Moneilema on its host, cholla (Opuntia imbricata).

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A multi-tool comes in very handy for collecting cactus beetles!

We stopped at another spot further west on Hwy 380, where last weekend when we were here we saw few beetles but I did collect yucca stems infested with Tragidion armatum larvae. It rained here later that day, so we stopped by again on our way back to see if the rains had prompted more insect activity. It didn’t seem to, but I did find a Tragidion armatum adult feeding on a yucca flower and photographed a big-as-heck katydid.

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Tragidion armatum adult female feeding on a yucca flower.

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Big katydid. You can tell this is a brachypterous adult because the anterior wings are on top and their costal margins oriented outside (in nymphs the posterior wings are on top and their costal margins oriented inside).

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Perfect camouflage!

“The Box”, vicinity Socorro, New Mexico
Last stop of the trip – we just wanted to find some habitat to beat around in before finding a hotel in Socorro for the night. I beat a couple of small Chrysobothris sp. from the Juniperus monosperma – no Gyascutus – and a couple of treehoppers from Prosopis glandulosa – no Acmaeoderopsis, then turned my attention to the cholla (Opuntia imbricata), in what must have been the thickest stand of this plant I’ve ever seen. There were two species of cactus beetles on them – Moneilema sp. and Coenopoeus palmeri, the latter a first for the trip. After hiking up to the canyon overlook, I realized that the collecting and fun were finally over (until Arizona in August!).

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Cactus beetle (Moneilema sp,) on a cholla (Opuntia imbricata) skeleton.

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The “other” cactus beetle (Coenopoeus palmeri).

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How many cactus beetles can you count?

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Last selfie of the trip. That wry smile is the satisfaction of knowing that the trip was success, I collected lots of great beetles, and I learned a ton!

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

Do you think I’m tasty?

As I hiked the upper stretch of the Shut-Ins Trail at Sam A. Baker State Park in southeastern Missouri, I encountered this 2-inch long millipede slowly making its way across the rocks.  Many millipedes, of course, produce hydrogen cyanide (HCN) as their primary method of defense against predation, and the bright yellow markings of this individual were an obvious sign that this particular species is no exception.  The wrinkled dorsal surface and black coloration with yellow wedge-shaped posterolateral markings identify it as a species of Pleuroloma (BugGuide), and of the four species known from North America (Shelley 1980) only the widespread Pleuroloma flavipes (literally meaning “yellow legs”) occurs as far west as Missouri (Shelley et al. 2004).  A similar pattern of coloration is seen in a number of related genera, e.g. Apheloria, Boraria, and Cherokia—all belonging to the order Polydesmida, presumably functioning across the group as an aposematic (warning) signal to predators that they should be left alone.  Another feature shared by the members of this group is the lateral expansion of the dorsal segments into “paranota,” giving the species a much more flattened appearance than other millipedes with the more typical cylindrical shape.  While all millipedes exhibit diplosegmentation (embryonic fusion of paired body somites and associated legs, spiracles, and ventral nerve cord ganglia), members of the Polydesmida have taken this condition to its culmination with no evidence of external sutures (Myriapoda.org).

The bright coloration of this species was an interesting contrast to the cryptic invisibility of the copperhead snake I had seen just a few moments earlier during the hike—opposite strategies with identical goals.  Defense compounds are, of course, widely employed by many plants and animals; however, only millipedes and a few insects have developed the ability to utilize HCN, a highly toxic compound that halts cellular respiration in most animals through inhibition of the mitochondrial enzyme cytochrome c oxidase.  Evidence suggests that Pleuronota flavipes and other millipedes can tolerate HCN because they possess a resistant terminal oxidase that makes their mitochondria insensitive to the effects of HCN (Hall et al. 1971).

Perhaps some of you will be interested in this recent checklist of the millipedes of North and Central America (Hoffman 1999).

Update 6/13/11: My ID as Pleuroloma flavipes must be considered tentative, as Rowland Shelley has sent me an email with the following comment:

It could be Pleuroloma flavipes Rafinesque, 1820, or it could be Apheloria virginiensis reducta, I can’t really tell from the photos.

 

REFERENCES:

Hall, F. R., R. M. Hollingworth and D. L. Shankland. 1971. Cyanide tolerance in millipedes: The biochemical basis. Comparative Biochemistry 34:723–737.

Hoffman, R. L.  1999.  Checklist of the millipedes of North and Middle America. Virginia Museum of Natural History Special Publication No. 8, 584 pp.

Shelley, R. M. 1980. Revision of the milliped genus Pleuroloma (Polydesmida: Xystodesmidae). Canadian Journal of Zoology 58:129–168.

Shelley, R. M., C. T. McAllister, and S. B. Smith. 2004. Discovery of the milliped Pleuroloma flavipes in Texas, and other records from west of the Mississippi River (Polydesmida: Xystodesmidae). Entomological News 114 (2003):2–6.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Answers to ID Challenge #5 – Artrópodes em casca de árvore morta

Dead tree in Campinas, Brazil

After checking into my hotel in Campinas, Brazil I couldn’t wait to start exploring the grounds to see what insect life I might be able to find.  Almost immediately, I encountered this dead tree in back of the hotel.  To a beetle collector, a dead tree is an irresistible draw – especially one that is still standing and with loosely hanging bark, as in this one.  I approached the tree, gave it a look up and down the trunk to see if any beetles or other insects might be found on the outer surface of the bark, and when none were seen began carefully peeling sections of the bark away from the trunk.  Out from beneath the first section darted a small, black lizard – it reminded me in general form of our North American fence lizards (genus Sceloporus), but honestly it darted so fast up the trunk that I didn’t get a good look at it (much less even the chance to attempt a photograph).  Peeling the bark further away from the wood revealed a goodly number of what I took to be beetle larvae, although they were unlike anything I’d ever seen before.  They were fairly good-sized – about 25mm in length, and although there are a number of beetle families whose larvae may be encountered under the bark of dead trees, there aren’t many with larvae of this size.

Coleopteran larva (Tenebrionidae?) under bark of dead tree.

Despite their odd appearance, their basic gestalt suggested to me that they might be something in the family Tenebrionidae (darkling beetles).  Sadly, the state of beetle larval taxonomy is far from complete, especially in the tropics, and given the extraordinary diversity of the order as a whole I knew it could be difficult to impossible to identify them.  This task was further complicated by the fact that I did not collect any voucher specimens.¹

¹ Insect collecting permits are required in Brazil and are exceedingly difficult to obtain.  Although enforcement is lax, a few unlucky foreigners have been caught and suffered tremendous inconvenience at the hands of notoriously unsympathetic authorities.  This being a business trip, I had no desire to tempt fate for the sake of a few larvae in a group I don’t even study.

Despite a millipede-like appearance, six legs and loose cluster of ocelli indicate its true identity.

After consulting all of the print and online resources at my disposal and failing to find a convincing match at even the family level, I began to second guess not only whether these were tenebrionids, but larvae or even beetles.  I’m not aware of any tenebrionids with larviform adult females, but such are common in the Lampyroidea.  That didn’t seem to fit, however, as the latter tend to be much more flattened and armored in appearance, and the round head is really unlike the elongate and narrow head so often seen in that group.  The actually began to wonder if it was even a beetle – most xylophagous beetle larvae are light-colored and rarely so heavily sclerotized, and the antennae are unlike the typical 3-segmented antennae seen with most xylophagous beetle larvae.  In fact, the antennae and the shape of the head actually reminded me of a millipede, but the obvious presence of six legs (and no more) made this untenable (even though 1st instar millipedes are hexapod, the large size of these individuals precludes them from being 1st instar anything).  Eventually, I could only conclude that they were coleopteran – possibly a larviform adult, but more likely larval.  As a last resort I sent photos to Antonio Santos-Silva, a coleopterist at the University of São Paulo.  Although he specializes in Cerambycidae, I reasoned this might be a fairly common species since I had found good numbers on a single tree in an urban area near São Paulo, and as such it might be something he would recognize.  Antonio quickly replied saying that he agreed it was the larva of a species of Tenebrionidae, with an appearance similar to the larvae of Goniodera ampliata (a member of the Lagriinae, formerly considered a separate family).  I’ve not been able to find photos of the larva of Goniadera or related genera, but these do bear a striking (if more glabrous) resemblance to these presumed tenebrionid larvae from Australia.  Until a more convincing opinion is forthcoming, Tenebrionidae seems to be the consensus.

Polyxenid millipedes and two types of Collembola (several Poduromorpha and one Entomobryomorpha)

Three tiny adult coleopterans (family?) surround a large larval coleopteran

Although nobody zeroed in on Tenebrionidae for this challenge (#5 in the ID Challenge series), I must say that I enjoyed the diversity of opinion about what it might represent.  Moreover, congratulations to those who ‘took nothing for granted’ and noted the presence of several other organisms in the photo – this is where the big points were to be earned, and several participants successfully ID’d what I take to be a number of poduromorph collembolans, a single entomobryomorph collembolan, a central cluster of polyxenid millipedes, and several indistinct but clearly coleopteran adults (see super crops above).  David Hubble got the most correct answers to earn 15 points and the win in this inaugural post of BitB Challenge Season #2, while Dave and Troy Bartlett earned 13 and 10 points, respectively, to complete the podium.  Seven other participants got in on the fun and earned some points – I hope you’ll join the fun next time, too!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Millipede assassin bug

Ectrichodia crux

I continue the hemipteran theme begun in the last post with this photograph I took in South Africa below the Waterberg Range in Northern (now Limpopo) Province. I recognized them as members of the family Reduviidae (assassin bugs), and since to my knowledge species in this family are exclusively predaceous (except for the so-called “kissing bugs” of the mostly Neotropical subfamily Triatominae, large distinctive bugs that feed exclusively on vertebrate blood), I found what I took to be a case of scavenging on a dead millipede to be rather curious.  It had rained the previous evening, resulting in a burst of millipede (and insect) activity that night, and this scene was rather commonly encountered the following morning. Of course, appearances can be deceiving, and it turns out that I actually was witnessing predation – and a most unusual case at that.  The individuals in this photo represent Ectrichodia crux (millipede assassin bug), a common species in many parts of southern Africa.  Although nearly 500 species of assassin bugs are known from the region (Reavell 2000), E. crux is easily recognizable due to its large size (adults measure up to 22 mm in length), stout form, and coloration – shiny black, with a distinctive black cross incised on its dull yellow thorax and with yellow abdominal margins (Picker et al. 2002). The nymphs as well are distinctive – bright red with black wing pads. Clearly, these insects are advertising something.

Ectrichodia crux belongs to the subfamily Ectrichodiinae, noted for their aposematic coloration – often red or yellow and black or metallic blue, and as specialist predators of Diplopoda (Heteropteran Systematics Lab @ UCR).  Species in this subfamily are most commonly found in leaf litter, hiding during the day under stones or amongst debris and leaving their shelters at night in search of millipedes (Scholtz and Holm 1985). They are ambush predators that slowly approach their prey before quickly grabbing the millipede and piercing the body with their proboscis, or “beak.”  Saliva containing paralytic toxins and cytolytic enzymes is injected into the body of the millipede to subdue the prey and initiate digestion of the body contents, which are then imbibed by the gregariously feeding assassin bugs.

Millipedes employ powerful chemical defenses – primarily benzoquinones and sometimes hydrogen cyanide gas as well, which are discharged from specialized glands along the millipede’s body – to protect themselves from predation.  Thus, specialized predation of millipedes is a niche that has been exploited by relatively few predators, and little is known about the mechanisms used for circumventing these defenses. The recently reported millipede specialist, Deltochilum valgum (order Coleoptera, family Scarabaeidae), has been observed killing its prey by violently decapitating and disarticulating it before feeding on the body contents (Larsen et al. 2009, summary here); however, the exact manner by which the beetle avoids or withstands the millipede’s chemical discharges remains unknown.  For ambush predators such as Ectrichodia crux and other ectrichodiines, a strategy similar to that described for another millipede specialist predator, larvae of the phengodid beetle, Phengodes laticollis (order Coleoptera, family Phengodidae), might be employed. This species subdues its millipede prey by piercing thinner regions of the millipede’s integument (e.g., intersegmental membranes on the ventral surface) with its hollow sickle-shaped mandibles and apparently injecting gastric fluids that abruptly paralyze the millipede, thereby preventing it from discharging its gland contents (Eisner et al. 1998).  These undischarged benzoquinones remain confined to the glands and are prevented from diffusing into the body cavity by the glands’ impervious cuticular lining, thus allowing the phengodid larva to safely imbibe the liquified systemic contents of the immobilized millipede.

REFERENCES:

Eisner, T., M. Eisner, A. B. Attygalle, M. Deyrup and J. Meinwald. 1998. Rendering the inedible edible: Circumvention of a millipede’s chemical defense by a predaceous beetle larva (Phengodidae).  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 95(3):1108–1113.

Larsen, T. H., A. Lopera, A. Forsyth and F. Génier. 2009. From coprophagy to predation: a dung beetle that kills millipedes. Biology Letters DOI:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0654.

Picker, M., C. Griffiths and A. Weaving. 2002. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 444 pp.

Reavell, P. E. 2000. The assassinbugs (Hemiptera: Reduviidae) of South Africa. http://oldwww.ru.ac.za/academic/departments/zooento/Martin/reduviidae.html#ectrichodiinae.

Scholtz, C. H. and E. Holm (eds.). 1985. Insects of Southern Africa. Butterworths, Durbin, South Africa, 502 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Done with dung, meat please!

ResearchBlogging.orgNo feces for this species.” “Carnivorous dung beetle shuns dung and decapitates millipede.” “Little dung beetle is big chopper.” “Dung beetle mistakes millipede for dung.” These were some of the clever headlines that I had to compete with in coming up with my own opener for a remarkable beetle that titillated the science blogosphere last week. At the risk of being redundant, I’d like to revisit that beetle and offer a few (hopefully novel) thoughts of my own. I can say that I have a unique and special treat for those willing to read further.

First the background. Deltochilum valgum is a so-called “dung beetle” in the family Scarabaeidae that lives in the lowland rain forests of Peru. As suggested by its common name, it belongs to a group of beetles that are well known for their dung feeding habits. Over 5,000 species of dung beetles are known throughout the world, all of which carve out balls of dung and bury them as provisions for larval development – or so it was thought.  As reported by Trond Larsen of Princeton University and colleagues in Biology Letters, D. valgum has apparently abandoned its ancestral dung ball-rolling behavior in favor of a predatory lifestyle. Its prey – millipedes! Moreover, the species exhibits several distinct morphological traits that appear to have evolved as a direct result of their predatory behavior. Adult beetles were repeatedly observed killing and eating millipedes, and their disdain for dung was rather conclusively demonstrated by an exhaustive, year-long trapping program in which pit-traps were baited with a variety of bait types known to attract dung beetles (e.g., various kinds of dung, carrion, fungus and fruit) – and millipedes.  In all, over 100,000 dung beetles representing 132 species were trapped (what a nice collection!), 35 of which were found to scavenge on dead millipedes, but only five of these dared tackle live millipedes.  Of these, only D. valgum ignored all other foods – it only came to traps baited with live millipedes.

Larsen et al. determined that adults of D. valgum are opportunistic hunters and were much more likely to attack injured millipedes than healthy ones, even those weighing 14 times as much as the beetle.  Ball rolling behavior was never observed by D. valgum.  Most dung beetles have wide, shovel-shaped heads used to scoop and mold dung balls, but D. valgum has a much narrower head with sharp “teeth” on its clypeus (Fig. 1A vs. 1B).  The teeth apparently aid in killing the millipede by piercing the ventral surface behind the head and prying upwards (decapitating it), and the narrow, elongate head facilitates insertion into the millipede body for feeding.  Further, the hind tibia are elongate and curved, which are used to “grip” millipedes by holding them up against the dorsally reflexed pygidium (Fig. 1C vs. 1D).  This allows the beetle to drag its coiled up victim with one hind leg while walking forward on the other five (Fig. 1E).  Once killed, the beetles proceeded to break their prey into pieces and consume their meaty innards, leaving the disarticulated millipede exoskeletons licked clean (Fig. 1F).  One of these “attack” episodes was filmed (using infrared lighting so as not to affect their nocturnal behavior) and can be seen in this BBC News video.

Deltochilum valgum

Figure 1. (a) Dorsal view of D. valgum head. Sharp clypeal teeth and angled clypeus act as a lever to disarticulate millipede. Narrow, elongate head permits feeding inside millipede; (b) dorsal view of Deltochilum peruanum head, lacking characters described in (a), head used to mould dung balls; (c) lateral view of D. valgum pygidium and hind tibia. Dorsally reflexed pygidial lip is used to support millipede during transport. Elongate, strongly curved hind tibia is used to grip millipede. (d ) Lateral view of D. peruanum pygidium and hind tibia, lacking characters described in (c), hind tibia used for rolling dung balls. (e, f ). Predation strategy by D. valgum. (e) Dragging live, coiled millipede with one hind leg, walking forwards; ( f ) feeding on killed millipede with head inside
segments; disarticulated empty millipede pieces nearby.
Credit: Larsen et al. (2009).

Much has been made about this remarkable shift from coprophagy to predation, which Larsen et al. speculate was driven by competition for limited resources with the many other dung beetle species that occur in the Peruvian rainforests. In fact, adult dung beetles are known to feed on a variety of resources besides dung, as exemplified by the range of baits used in their survey. Thus, my first thought after reading the coverage was actually a question: “Has this species abandoned dung provisioning completely as a reproductive strategy?” Everything I had read focused exclusively (quite understandably) on the bizarre feeding habits of the adults, but there was no mention of what the species’ larval provisioning strategies were. Wanting more information about this, I contacted Trond Larsen, who graciously sent me a PDF of the paper. Unfortunately (though not a criticism of the paper), no further insight about this was found in the paper either. Indeed, in all of the observations recorded by Larsen et al., millipedes killed by D. valgum were consumed entirely by the adults, and no mention was made of how or whether millipedes were utilized for larval provisioning. I wondered if D. valgum had truly abandoned dung provisioning for larval development (a remarkable adaptive switch), or if in fact the species might still utilize the strategy for reproduction (perhaps having specialized on a dung type not included in their survey), while also exploiting millipede predation as adults for a nutritional advantage. I asked Trond about this, to which he replied with this juicy tidbit (I told you I had a special treat!):

Yes, I would very much like to know what the reproductive/nesting behavior of D. valgum is. My best guess is that they also use millipedes as a larval food source, but as you say, we haven’t observed that behavior yet. I have observed other generalist dung beetle species rolling balls out of dead millipedes, presumably to bury for the larvae, so I certainly think it would be an adequate food source. Many dung beetle species use carrion for their larvae.

I am quite confident that D. valgum does not use any kind of dung. I have sampled these dung beetle communities very thoroughly, with many dung types and other bait types, and also with passive flight intercept traps that catch all beetles. Every dung beetle species that feeds on dung is at least sometimes attracted to human dung (this is not the case in African savannahs though, but is in neotropical forests – that is a whole different story). There are still a small handful of species we catch in flight intercept traps that we don’t know what they eat, although some of these mysteries have recently been solved – many of them live in leaf-cutter ant nests for example.

While predation of millipedes by a dung beetle is itself a fascinating observation, demonstrating the abandonment of dung provisioning in favor of captured prey for larval development would be a truly remarkable example of an ecological transition to exploit a dramatically atypical niche. I hope Trond (or anybody for that matter) actually succeeds in observing millipede/prey utilization for larval provisioning by this species.

Many thanks to Trond Larsen for his delightful correspondence.

SOURCE:
Larsen, T. H., A. Lopera, A. Forsyth and F. Génier. 2009. From coprophagy to predation: a dung beetle that kills millipedes. Biology Letters DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0654.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Rockwoods Reservation, Lime Kiln Loop Trail

Rockwoods Reservation, in western St. Louis Co. is one of the oldest Conservation Areas in Missouri (est. 1938). It contains nearly 2,000 acres of high quality upland forest and a small prairie restoration plot. Despite its proximity to St. Louis and the numerous hiking trails it offers, I haven’t explored this area very much. We had a winter storm move through the area yesterday, dumping about 7 inches of snow over the area. Deep snows are not common in St. Louis, which typically has more open winters, so today offered the perfect opportunity to start exploring this area in a rare wintery setting. My daughters came with me to explore the 3.25-mile Lime Kiln Loop Trail.


The first half mile of the trail follows alongside a spring-fed creek. As we enjoyed the serenity of the snowy landscape, a belted kingfisher flew into a nearby tree, where it paused briefly before zipping off in a chatter. The spring itself offered a beautiful contrast between the green aquatic plants that populate the spring’s exit and the surrounding white blanket.


After the spring, the trail started traversing up the hillside into a mesic upland forest dominated by oaks and hickories. The high canopy of this mature forest resulted in a sparse understory, affording spectacular views back down through the draws from which we came.


The girls were full of energy at this point, so they kept running ahead on the trail and then waiting for me to plod my way back up to them. Eventually they learned their lesson though – everytime they ran up ahead they would get hot and want to take their coats off, then they would get cold and have to put them back on.


There were some drier forest types closer to the bluffs where eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) became more abundant. I coaxed them to pass underneath this one, then whacked it with my hiking stick as they did so. Shocked indignation soon gave way to tenacious efforts on their part to ‘get me back’. Failing that, they redirected their efforts to ‘getting’ each other.


The games eventually gave way to quiet enjoyment of the astounding beauty of the forest. Existing tracks in the snow told us we were not the first to enjoy the trail today, but we didn’t see a single soul all day – it was easy to pretend that we were the only people in this wood. These snow-covered, hollow tree stumps reminded us of tubular sponges.


As the trail descended back down into the valley it passed through these dolomite outcrops supporting a dry upland forest dominated by eastern red cedar and blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica).


Near the end of the trail, we ran across this little spider – actively crawling on the surface of the snow with temps in the mid-20s. I half-jokingly suggested that maybe this was some kind of ‘snow spider’. My 8-yr old daughter thought that seemed likely, then suggested that when we got home we could get online and go to http://www.spider.com/ and type ‘snow spider’ to see what it said. I told her I thought that was a great idea! Alas, that website (and http://www.spiders.com/) lead to a couple of IT company websites, so that was no help. Fortunately, I was able to find something that looked similar – a wolf spider in the genus Gladicosa – on BugGuide. I told Madison her suggestion worked 😉


The lime kiln for which this trail is named was built in the mid-1800’s by a wealthy businessman, who used it to produce lime for mortar construction of homes in nearby St. Louis. The kiln, 12-ft wide at the base and 40-ft high, was built next to the hillside to allow limestone (quarried nearby) to be dumped in at the top. Locally cut firewood was loaded into the arches at the bottom on each side, which heated the kiln to 800°F, converting the stone to lime which was removed from the opening at the bottom in front. Vertical expansion joints on each side in the center allowed for expansion of the stone during heating.


This was the second hike in the past few weeks that I’ve taken with the girls, and like last time they had an absolute ball! Of course, naturalist that I am, it pleases me that they enjoy the outdoors so much, and I’m quite impressed that they hiked such a distance with no complaint. The area offers several additional hiking trails ranging from 1.5 to 2.2 miles in length. At only a 15-minute drive from our house, I look forward to exploring the rest of Rockwoods trails with them.