2021 West Texas Insect Collecting Trip iReport

Alternative title: Rich and Ted’s “Excellenter” Adventure.

This is the ninth “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a 10-day trip to western Texas from April 27 to May 6, 2021 with friend and local collecting buddy Rich Thoma. Rich and I have done many shorter collecting trips (up to five days) throughout Missouri and in the neighboring states of Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma (in fact, our first joint trip was to Barber County, Kansas way back in May 1986!). This trip, however, was our first truly long one together—10 days of collecting plus a travel day on each end. To take full advantage of the amount of time we had, we chose western Texas; an area that I have visited several times from the mid-90s through 2004 but not since. We wanted to make the trip during early to mid-May, but scheduling conflicts forced us to go earlier. I reasoned that even if it was a bit too early in the season, I could still collect infested wood for rearing—as I did with great success during my April 2004 trip. For Rich, who is more of a general insect collector, the trip provided him an opportunity for extended collecting in an area that he’d not previously spent a lot of time.

As with all previous “iReports” in this series, this report is illustrated exclusively with iPhone photographs (thus the term “iReport”), with previous versions including the following:
2013 Oklahoma
2013 Great Basin
2014 Great Plains
2015 Texas
2018 New Mexico/Texas
2018 Arizona
2019 Arkansas/Oklahoma
2019 Arizona/California


Day 1 – Monahans State Park, Shin Oak Picnic Area
First stop of the trip. I was hoping to see beetles on flowers and maybe some tiger beetles, but unfortunately the area hasn’t had any rain yet this spring (according to the ranger). The mesquite was in bloom, but the only beetles I beat from it were a few tiny weevils. A few other plants were in bloom, but only one—Hymenopappus flavescens—had beetles on it (mordellids, which I picked up for Enrico Ruzzier). After a lot of walking I noticed Quercus havardii (shin oak) with flagged branches of dead leaves—a bit of investigation revealed it had been attacked by what must be Chrysobothris mescalero, so I collected as many flagged branches as I could find (7 total) and will bring them back for rearing.

Monahans Sandhills State Park.
Oenethera berlandieri (Berlandier’s sundrops).
Penstemon buckleyi (Buckley’s beardtongue).
Hymenopappus flavescens (collegeflower)—host flower for mordellids).
Chaetopappa ericoides (rose-heath).
Quercus havardii (shin oak) attacked by buprestid, presumably Chrysobothris mescalero.

Monahans State Park, Sandhills Picnic Area
The big dunes are in this area. We didn’t expect to see any insects but brought our nets anyway. As we were walking the ridge we saw two grouse-like birds in the distance. We tracked them for a bit before I decided to go back and get my binoculars. They kept us at bay, but eventually I was able to get close enough to get a good look at them—they turned out to be scaled quail, a new bird for me. We continued tracking them and eventually they were joined by two more individuals. Handsome birds!

Rich scans the vast sand dunes.
Endless dunes!

Monahans State Park, Shin Oak Picnic Area
After going into town and picking up some dinner, we came back out to the park and setup the ultraviolet lights. I didn’t have much optimism based on the lack of insect activity we saw during the day, but the temperatures were still plenty warm (well into the 80s) and we had nothing better to do. We returned to the Shin Oak Picnic Area since it had a mix of open and more vegetated dunes. Glad we did because two male Prionus arenarius, one Megacyllene antennata, and a tiny, unidentified elaphidiine came to the lights. I also found two small darkling beetles crawling on the sand nearby. I searched the surrounding sand hoping to find more males looking for females, or perhaps even a female herself, but found none. Wolf spiders, however, were common on the sand, their glowing eyes drawing attention beyond their abundance. I guess they are a species of Hogna, but I’m not certain—I photographed two individuals. Also got a large bostrichid (Apatides fortis?) at the light. Before we took down the lights, Rich called me over to see a tiny, slender, worm-like snake that we eventually determined was one of the blind snakes (Leptotyphlum sp.)—definitely a first for me.

Blacklights setup and humming.
Prionus arenarius male in front of the blacklight. This species is restricted to sand dune systems in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
Megacyllene antennata at ultraviolet light.
Hogna sp. (burrow-living wolf spider)—individual #1. This one appears to be a large female.
Hogna sp. (burrow-living wolf spider)—individual #2.
Hogna sp. (burrow-living wolf spider)—individual #2.

Day 2 – Toyahyale
We stopped here on a tip from Jason Hansen and Tyler Hedlund, who swept good numbers of Agrilus cochisei off of Ambrosia psilostachya (western ragweed)—albeit, a few weeks later during May. I found the plants, but they were very small and low to the ground. Nevertheless, adults could be swept abundantly from the plants, and I was able to take good photos of singles and a mating pair with the big camera (iPhone photo here just to show what they loook like). Also got a single specimen of an apparently undescribed Acmaeodera sp. while sweeping for A. cochisei and one of two A. cochisei adults that I saw on flowers of Sphaeralcea sp.

Ambrosia psilostachya (western ragweed).
Agrilus cochesei mating pair on Ambrosia psilostachya (western ragweed).

Davis Mountains, 15.8 mi NE Ft. Davis
We stopped here to look for the undescribed species of Acmaeodera, which Jason had found in good numbers during May on blooms of Lygodesmia and Convolvulus. Both plants were present, but neither was in bloom. Still, I found one adult on flowers of Verbina sp. and swept another from roadside vegetation. Ambrosia polystachia (western ragweed) was also present—I looked visually for Agrilus cochisei and did not see any, but I did get one adult and a couple of cryptocephalines in the sweeping that produced the second Acmaeodera.

Verbina sp. (host for Acmaeodera sp.).
Verbina sp. (host for Acmaeodera sp.).

Day 3 – Point of Rocks Roadside Park
The weather turned decidedly cool in the Davis Mountains—first time I’ve ever frozen camping out on a collecting trip. The high temps are expected to stay in the 50s to 60s with a chance of rain for the next few days, so we decided to head down to the Big Bend area where there is still a chance of rain but warmer temps (up to the high 70s). Maybe we’ll come back to this area next week. Before leaving, however, I wanted to check the Quercus vasseyana (vassey oak) at Point of Rocks, where in the past I collected a good series of Mastogenius texanus even earlier in April (it was actually undescribed at the time). I’ve also collected Elytroleptus lycid-mimicking cerambycids on soapberry flowers here in June, although I knew the soapberry would not be in bloom. There was nothing on the oaks, but I did collect a few miscellaneous beetles beating Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) and found one vassey oak branch with evidence of wood-boring beetle larval feeding and which I collected for rearing.

Point of Rocks Roadside Park.

17 mi S Alpine
This is the first of two picnic areas along Hwy 118 going south from Alpine towards Big Bend National Park. There are lots of big Quercus vasseyana and Q. grisea here, so I stopped to see if I could find any infested wood. Bingo—one of the Q. grisea had a dead branch hanging from it that looked recently dead, and breaking apart a few of its smaller branches revealed fresh larval workings of some kind of buprestid (perhaps Polycesta arizonica). I cut of the branch and will bring back the bundle for rearing.

Dead Quercus grisea (gray oak) cut and bundled for rearing.

26 mi S Alpine
This is the second of two picnic areas south of Alpine on Hwy 118 towards Big Bend National Park. Rich and I have both stopped here before, and Rich brought back infested wood (apparently Juglans sp.) from which I reared Chrysobothris comanche, so that was the plan again unless we saw active insects. We did not, so I scanned the trees and found a small Celtis laevigata (sugarberry) that had recently died—the bark was peeling, but there were no emergence holes that I could see. I started chopping into the trunk wood and quickly encountered a large buprestid larvae in its “pre-pupal fold”. This could be Texania fulleri based on host and location, so I cut a couple of bolts from the trunk to bring back for rearing. The branches also showed fresh larval workings, so I cut up one along with its smaller branchlets to also bring back for rearing.

Texania sp. prob. fulleri larva in trunk sapwood of dead Celtis laevigata (sugarberry).

3.3 mi W of Hwy 118 on Agua Fria Rd.
Last stop of the day, which I was told could have water with tiger beetles. The creekbed was bone dry, and I collected but a single Chrysobothris sp. beating Prosopis glandulosa in flower—amazing given the proliferation of wildflowers that were in bloom. We did find a nautiloid/ammonite-type fossil in the bone-dry creekbed, which Rich says is of Cretaceous origin based on clam fossils in the underlying layer, and I tracked a common poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) for a little bit, eventually getting close enough for the rare iPhone bird photo. Interesting position it assumed upon landing with its wings outstretched above its back.

Amazing wildflower displays in the area.
Seam in sedimentary layer of bedrock. I’m not sure if it is of volcanic provenance.
Nautiloid/ammonite-type fossil—large (about 8” diameter).
Common poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) feigning injury.

Big Bend Ranch State Park, West Contrabondo Campground
We arrived in Study Butte with just enough time to check into a motel and get dinner before heading out to Big Bend Ranch State Park. The drive through the park was incredible as we searched for a spot to setup the lights. After finding such spot, however, we were greeted as we got out of the car by a stiff, chilly wind. I knew there was no point in going through the trouble to setup, so instead we drove further down the 2-track to an amazing scenic overlook into an impressive box canyon. Words cannot describe the contortions this acrophobiac took to find good position for these photos, but it was well worth the views.

Dusk along Hwy 170 approaching Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Sunset over canyon near West Contrabondo Campground.
The closest I will ever get to the edge of a canyon!

Day 4 – Big Bend National Park, Boquillas Canyon Trail
Well, the rain and cold continue to follow us. Rather than trying once again to drive somewhere else to escape, we decided to just sit this day out and visit the national park (not a bad Plan B!). Boquillas Canyon is an amazing slice through the rocks along the course of the Rio Grande River, and we hiked as far into the canyon as we could before sheet rock on the left and deep water on the right prevented any further progress. We saw only two insects—a tiger beetle larva that I “fished” out of one of the many larval burrows we saw (definitely Tetracha, and likely T. carolina) and a velvet ant (black head and pronotum, red abdomen).

Rio Grande River from Boquillas Canyon Trail.
Tetracha sp. prob. carolina (Carolina metallic tiger beetle) larva extracted from its borrow.
Mouth of Boquillas Canyon.
Mouth of Boquillas Canyon.
Cobblestone view of Boquillas Canyon.
Rio Grande River in Boquillas Canyon.
Rich contemplates emigration.
Still contemplating.

Big Bend National Park, near Panther Junction
Driving towards the Chisos Mountains after hiking the Boquillas Canyon Trail, we encountered this fine adult male Aphonopelmis hentzii (Texas tarantula) crossing the road.

Male Aphonopelmis hentzii (Texas tarantula).

Big Bend National Park, Chisos Basin, Window Trail
After lunching at Panther Junction, we headed up the into the Chisos Mountains towards Chisos Basin. Heavy clouds shrouded the peaks, so we weren’t sure what we would encounter up there, and once in the cloud zone and then heading down into the basin we could hardly see anything. Suddenly the western side of the basin came into view, still overcast and drizzly but at least free from the heavy fog that shrouded the eastern half of the basin. That made our decision of which trail to hike easy—the Lost Mines Trail under heavy fog versus the Window Trail with semi-clear views. I’ve hiked the Window Trail several times, but the last time was 17 years ago, and Rich in his single attempt a year or two later did not make it to the “Window” due to an impatient 10-year old son in tow. The views on the way down the canyon were spectacular—not despite the rain and clouds but because of it. It is a rare opportunity to see richly moist desert mountains shrouded in mist. At one point on the way down, a Woodhouse’s scrub jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii) caught our attention—sitting very nearby in a tree before hopping down to the ground and nonchalantly pecking for bugs. Another soon joined him, first landing on a branch just a few feet above me and returning my captivated stare for a few moments before joining his mate on the trail ahead of us… followed shortly by a third individual. Their soft chirpings were a charming contrast to their more familiar raucous calls, and Rich and I soaked in the moment until they moved on. The trail is not an easy hike—nearly 7 miles round trip, dropping over a thousand feet on the way down, and then gaining over a thousand feet on the way back. The “Window,” however, is a sight to behold—a narrow gap in the rocks soaring high overhead with a view out onto the desert floor almost a thousand feet below. There is tempting danger at the window—its smooth, water-carved rocks are deceptively slippery even in dry conditions, and with the rain of the day they were especially so. I would not be surprised to learn that at least one person had made a fatal error in judging how close to the window one can get. They would have had plenty of time to think about that mistake on the way down! The views on the way back up were even more breathtaking, as fog enshrouded the high peaks towering above us. Periodically the sun attempted to push through the clouds, creating surreal lighting in a battle of sun versus rain, but eventually the rain won out and fell steadily on us for the last, switchback-laden mile back to the trailhead. As for insects, we actually did see some despite the rain—a few blister beetles resting torpidly on yellow composite flowers.

Window Trailhead.
Chisos Mountains’ South Rim from Window Trail.
Chisos Mountains east rim from Window Trail.
Beginning the descent to the “Window.”
Rich photographs a Woodhouse’s scrub-jay.
Yellow composites bloom en masse.
Resting point halfway down—Rich’s prior turnaround point.
The descent steepens!
Steps carved into the rock aid the traverse across slippery rocks.
The “Window” from as close as I was willing.
The author (left) and Rich document their arrival at the “Window.”
Looking back at the “Window” from a bit further back up the trail.
Beginning the rugged, 1,000-ft ascent back up to the basin.
Clouds and mist shroud the surrounding peaks.
A rainy last few miles provides a spectacular last look at from whence we came.

Day 5 – Big Bend National Park, Sotol Overlook
We’re on our way to Santa Elena Canyon and stopped at this overlook. From a distance of 14 air miles, the canyon entrance looks like a tiny split in the rocks, belying the 1000-foot canyon walls that await us. Cacti were nicely in bloom, if a bit rain battered—two species of yellow-flowered Opuntia (pricklypear) and the always extraordinary pink flowers of Cylindropuntia imbricata (tree cholla). No insects were to be found, but we did find a live Orthoporus ornatus (desert millipede)—the first that we’ve seen on this trip—who obliged us by coiling into its classic defensive pose.

View towards Santa Elena Canyon—some 15 miles to the south—from Sotol Vista Overlook.
Orthoporus ornatus (desert millipede).
Cylindropuntia imbricata (tree cholla).

Big Bend National Park, Santa Elena Canyon
From 14 air miles away, Santa Elena Canyon looks like a tiny split in a little cliff (see previous post). Up close, however, it’s soaring walls tower 1000 feet overhead! The hike into the canyon features a tortuous staircase to bypass a narrows, followed by a leisurely stroll along the canyon bottoms along the Rio Grande River. Rain last night has triggered an en masse millipede emergence, and even a few insects were seen: velvet ant; Acmaeodera mixta, Trichodes sp. and Gnathium sp. on yellow composite flowers; and Omorgus sp. crawling in the sand.

Undetermined yellow composite in Rio Grande River floodplain.
Euodynerus pratensis on flower of undetermined yellow composite.
Mouth of Santa Elena Canyon.
The Rio Grande River spills forth from Santa Elena Canyon.
Agave lechuguilla (lechuguilla).
View of Mexican side of Santa Elena Canyon from the U.S. side.
The Santa Elena Canyon Trail probes deeper into the canyon.
Narrowing canyon walls.
No more land!

Big Bend National Park, Cerro Castellan (Castolon Peak)
The layers visible in Cerro Castellan reveal millions of years of volcanic events. Stacked in this tower are several lava flows and volcanic tuffs (ash deposits), with layers of gravel and clay from periods of erosion between eruptions. Cerro Castellan’s cap rock is the same lava that formed the Chisos’ South Rim. The lighter orange and gray layers beneath are tuffs.

Cerro Castellan (Castolon Peak).
A smaller peak northwest of Cerro Castellan rises above volcanic tuffs (ash deposits) in the foreground.
Cerro Castellan (Castolon Peak).

Big Bend National Park, Tuff Canyon Trail
Some of the oldest layers of volcanic rocks lie at the bottom of Tuff Canyon. It is dry most of the time, but summer thunderstorm runoff churns through the canyon, cutting it deeper. This canyon is narrower and deeper than most others in Big Bend, partly because the light gray volcanic tuff is relatively cohesive. Swift, powerful floodwaters will cut down through any kind of bedrock, but the tuff is better able to resist the widening effects of sideward erosion.

Looking down into Tuff Canyon.
Northern branch of Tuff Canyon.
Northern branch of Tuff Canyon.
Southern branch of Tuff Canyon.
Fouquieria splendens (ocotillo).
Entering the south end.
Chilopsis linearis (desert willow).
Rich entering the southern end of the canyon.
Deeper into the canyon.
Deeper still.
Eucnide bartonioides (rock nettle, yellow stingbush).
Eucnide bartonioides (rock nettle, yellow stingbush).
Cairns (not a natural feature).

4.6 mi W of Langtry
After leaving Big Bend National Park we started making our way towards the Del Rio area in Val Verde Co., where we plan to meet up tomorrow with a few other beetle collectors (Dan Heffern, Brian Raber, and Ed Riley). I noted that our path took us right by the type locality of the recently described tiger beetle, Amblycheila katzi. I didn’t have much hope of actually seeing the species, given that the season seems to have even really started yet and the earliest record of the species is the 23rd of May. Nevertheless, since we happened by the spot right as dusk was falling it seems a good idea to at least try. First we walked the limestone 2-track just to see what was out and about (just a few darkling beetles), then we started checking the limestone ledges where the tiger beetle can be found. We checked about 100 m of ledge without seeing any, and I was about ready to call it a night when we finally spotted one. It was running in a seam about 2 m above the ground and was unmistakable. My attempt tiger an in situ photo failed at first, and it almost escaped deep into a crevice before I pulled out my long forceps and pulled him out by a tarsus. It gave me a healthy pinch when I grabbed it while fumbling in my pack for a bottle, but eventually I prevailed. Later on I placed it back on the ledge and covered it with the Nalgene bottle cap, waited for it to calm down, then carefully lifted the cap and got a couple of shots before it began scurrying again. We checked another 50 m of ledge without seeing any and decided to call it a night.

Rich scanning the ground at dusk for nocturnal insects.
A wolf spider in the subfamily Lycosinae.
Amblycheila katzi (Trans-Pecos giant tiger beetle).
Amblycheila katzi (Trans-Pecos giant tiger beetle).
Selenops actophilus, one of the so-called “flatties.”

Day 6 – Comstock (prologue)
The owner of the motel in which we stayed was super friendly and kind enough to leave a key in the door for our very late arrival last night. Settling up this morning, I saw this on the wall (right next to his vaccination card—two doses) and just had to get a pic. He was only too happy to oblige when I told him how awesome it was and could I get a picture. Hey, no reason to reveal true political leanings if it means we can all just get along.

Trump Lost LOL!
Illegal tender.

Amistad National Recreation Area, Spur 406 Campground
A quick stop here on the way to meet up with Dan, Brian, and Ed near Devil’s River. There were lots of dead and dying Acacia constricta (whitethorn acacias), off of which I beat a diversity of cerambycids and buprestids from both the dead and dying branches. I found one small sapling of the same with evidence of fresh woodboring beetle larval feeding, so I collected it as well for rearing. Other than that I just collected a few weevils off of living Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) for weevil-specialist Bob Anderson.

Apiomerus spissipes, one of the bee assassins, in flower of Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s pricklypear)

Devils River near Dry Devils River
We met up with Dan, Brian, and Ed north of Del Rio and, after exchanging peasantries, followed them into a private resort surrounding a stretch of the Devils River*—considered by some to be the most unspoiled river in Texas. Dan had arranged for access after befriending Dave Barker, a commercial herpetologist who had built a home on property overlooking the Devils River and also a guest cabin on property overlooking nearby Gold Mine Canyon. We met up at the cabin and then carpooled to a spot along the Devils River where Dan and Brian had placed a variety of traps that needed servicing. While they took care of that, Rich, Ed, and I collected in the area around where the traps had been placed. I started off beating dead branches of Vachellia farnesiana (huisache), sweeping blooming Salvia sp. (sage), and beating dead branches of Acacia rigidula (blackbrush acacia) down by the river but collected only a smattering of beetles. I then clambered up the rocks and found good numbers of Acmaeodera spp. visiting flowers of Echinocereus enneacanthus (strawberry cactus) and Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s pricklypear). After collecting my fill of those beetles, I returned to the riverbanks and noticed some large Carya illinoensis (pecan), from which I beat a few Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) sp. (hoping they are one of the recently described taxa). By then, Dan and Brian had finished servicing their traps and gave me a few specimens that had been collected in their ethanol-baited Lingren funnel trap.

* The accepted usage of the name is without an apostrophe, although the reason for this is a matter of debate.

Dan (right) and Brian service a malaise trap.
Echinocereus enneacanthus (strawberry cactus).

After finishing along the Devils River, Dave invited us to his home for a few post-collecting beers. Spectacular views overlooking the river.

The author (left) with (L-R): Dan Heffern, Brian Raber, Dave Barker, Rich Thoma, and Ed Riley.

Gold Mine Canyon
We setup a variety of light stations at Dave’s cabin a little east of the river. It was warm and dry, so conditions were good, if a bit windy. My two ultraviolet light stations a bit north of the cabin ended up catching the lion’s share of cerambycids, although it was mostly elaphidiines and a Lepturges sp. We also picked up a few tenebrionids and a Carabidae crawling on the ground near the lights. Ed’s mercury vapor/ ultraviolet station on the road west of the cabin attracted a few more cerambycids, including a Lagocheirus sp. Dan, however, got the catch of the night—a Goes that came to Dan’s $6 battery-powered lantern on the road south of Ed’s station. We at first thought it might be G. novus, but that Dan later decided it was just a very lightly marked G. tesselatus. Zephyranthes chlorosolen (Brazos rain lily) blossoms were beautiful at night, their stark whiteness catching the beam of the headlamp.

Zephyranthes chlorosolen (Brazos rain lily).

Day 7 – Gold Mine Canyon
Rich and I spent the morning walking the grounds around Dave’s cabin while the others packed up and got ready to leave. I found some oak (Quercus vasseyana) saplings infested with cerambycid larvae, which I cut and bundled to bring back for rearing. Acmaeodera were already coming to the flowers—a couple of small ones on an undetermined white composite, three different species on Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s pricklypear) and Echinocereus enneacanthus (strawberry cactus) flowers, and a couple on Coreopsis? flowers. I beat some of the Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon) looking for Spectralia robusta but did not find any. It got hotter than blazes real quick!

Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s pricklypear).

After Dan, Brian, and Ed left, Rich and I went down to the canyon entrance to beat on the oaks and Texas persimmons that dot the sides of the canyon. Nothing was on either plant, however, and I ended up again concentrating on the diversity of Acmaeodera that were coming to flowers of Coreopsis sp., Opuntia engelmannii, and an unidentified yellow composite. I did beat a single Cleridae off a dead branch of mesquite.

Gold Mine Canyon.

Devils River near Dry Devils River
After finishing at Gold Mine Canyon, we came back to the Devils River crossing near the first stop we made here for our final stop of the day. Temperatures had maxed out at 99°F! and I wasn’t too motivated to collect much more today, but when we arrived at the spot I noticed some declining Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore) with large emergence holes suggestive of Mallodon dasystomus and old fallen branches with the same suggestive of Polycesta elata. The tree with the Mallodon holes was much too large to cut (and embedded within a thicket of poison ivy), so I occupied myself by collecting a few more Acmaeodera off of Opuntia engelmannii flowers. As I walked the roadway I noticed more sycamore with some smaller trees in the grove that looked recently dead. One was dead from about three feet up and had buprestid workings under loose, peeling bark. I cut just above the live portion (3–4” diameter) and took three 4-ft sections of the trunk above that point, each cut showing internal galleries. If P. elata emerges from these pieces of wood I will be “elated” [Later edit: I did rear the species!].

Devils River crossing.
The water was too deep for my Ford Escape.
Next time I’ll have a higher-clearance vehicle.

Gold Mine Canyon
For blacklighting tonight we decided to bring the lights down to the mouth of the canyon where we collected this afternoon so we could have acces to anything associated with the oaks. Unfortunately it was a much slower night than last night and cooled off quickly despite the high heat earlier in the day. I only got three cerambycids (one Ecyrus and two Aneflomorpha) and a few clerids at the lights. I also walked the jeep track leading to the mouth of the canyon and the main road outside and didn’t see anything until I almost got back, when I noticed a beetle sitting on the trail that looked a bit odd. When I picked it up I realized it was a buprestid in the genus Melanophila—what the heck?! Totally unexpected to see this beetle at night and especially on the ground instead of on a tree. I suppose it is one of the juniper-feeding species (since pine doesn’t occur here).

Sinking sun over Gold Mine Canyon.

Juniper cadaver in late-evening light.

Day 8 – Gold Mine Canyon
Our plan today was to head over to some spots further west in Val Verde Co., but before leaving the cabin we did a bit of walking around and took a last few photographs.

Gold Mine Canyon in the morning.
Epithelantha micromeris (button cactus).

22 mi N Del Rio
I had noted a few scattered plants of Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna) at this spot a couple of days ago when meeting up with Dan but didn’t have the chance to sample them for Agrilus obtusus—one of my target species for the trip. I found one on the second plant I checked, so I went back to the truck to get my big camera hoping to photograph one in situ. I didn’t see anything on the next plant, but when I tapped it over my net there was another one! I did that for the next hour or so—inspecting and tapping—and never saw another one. Rich did get one sweeping the S. roemeriana (in an area I’d already worked) and was gracious enough to give it to me. There were also tiny bruchids and clerids on the plant. Other than that I got a couple of Acmaeodera mixta sweeping, a couple of Canthon sp. in flight, and a Euphoria kerni on the flower of Zephyranthes chlorosolen.

Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna).

Hwy 90 at Del Rio River
I first visited this spot nearby 30 years ago based on a tip by Dan Heffern, who had reared a Polycesta elata from Fraxinus greggii (Gregg ash). I found the ash on that visit, though I didn’t find any wood infested with that species here, but what I did find was Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon) infested with Spectralia robusta and managed to rear out a few individuals. That was my quarry today, but when I arrived the abandoned road on the northwest side of the bridge was fenced and posted. I took a look on the southwest side and found open access up top and decided to hike down towards the ravine from that point. Things seems to be about as far along here as they were at Devils River, with not much activity except for Acmaeodera coming to the Opuntia engelmannii flowers, albeit not quite the diversity. I found a few more also on flowers of an undetermined yellow composite, Coreposis sp., and an undetermined white composite. Closer towards the ravine I found just a single large F. microphylla (with no signs of infestation) and several D. texana—two of which had the half-live/half-dead branches in which S. robusta larvae live and showing the emergence holes of adults. I collected both branches and will bring them back for rearing.

Hwy 90 bridge over Pecos River.
Adult emergence hole of Spectralia robusta in live/dead trunk of Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon).

Amistad National Recreation Area, Pecos River Access Nature Trail
Just a quick stop at the Pecos River Access on the east side to walk the short nature trail and gaze at the 300-ft high, 100 million-year-old (Cretaceous Period) limestone bluffs that the Pecos River has cut near the junction with the Rio Grande River (the latter can be seen on the left side of photo 2). The first photo also shows the old road that was originally used to cross the river snaking down the west bluff—traffic today uses the tall bridge in the right side of the photo.

Limestone bluffs over the Pecos River
Pecos River junction with the Rio Grande River.
Pecos River Access Nature Trail.

Seminole Canyon State Park, Canyon Rim Trail
We came here looking for oak potentially infested with Spectralia roburella. We didn’t find any oak on this trail, but I did find a Acacia rigidula (blackbrush acacia) showing signs of infestation by buprestid larvae (difficult to find such this year because the freeze in February apparently killed or severely knocked back most of this species). I cut up and bundled the wood to bring back for rearing.

To insects, the collectors’ shadows loom large.

Amistad National Recreation Area, Spur 406 Campground
We got to Seminole Canyon State Park too late to check with the supervisor about setting up our blacklights at the park, so we came back to Spur 406 Campground where we’d collected a few things two days earlier. Temps were okay and there was no moon or wind, but it was still a very slow night—for me just a couple of elaphidiines, two trogids, two Digitinthophagus gazella (why do I continue to pick these things up?), and a bostrichid.

Ready for another night of blacklighting.

Day 9 – Seminole Canyon State Park, Windmill Trail
We came back to the state park since we ran out of time to look for oak yesterday. The park staff were extraordinarily helpful—both in getting me checked in with my permit and in directing me to the spots where I might be able to find oak. Their first tip—along the Window Trail—paid off, where we found a nice cluster of Quercus fusiformis (plateau live oak) clinging to the upper canyon walls. Most of them had dead branches on them, and I did some beating to see if by some chance the beetles would be out already. They were not, but on the second tree that I examined I found a main branch from near the base with the outer 4–6 ft dead but the bark not peeling and small living sprouts about 2 ft from the base. Pulling apart the dead portion revealed buprestid larval workings, likely my quarry—Spectralia roburella, but these could be old. I cut the branch at the base, however, and found fresh larval galleries in the sapwood of the still-living portion even extending into the trunk—success! I’ll bring this back for rearing and will hopefully get S. roburella out of it. Further along the trail I found a single Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna), inspected it carefully and didn’t see anything, then tapped the plant over my beating sheet and a single Agrilus obtusus fell onto it to add to the three that I got yesterday. I really wish I could see these things before I beat them off the plants so I could take an in situ photo!

The Maker of Peace, a bronze sculpture by Texas artist Bill Worrell.
View of Seminole Canyon to the east.
View of Seminole Canyon to the west. The Fate Bell rock shelter is on the right at the bend.
A vulture soars overhead.
Panoramic view of Seminole Canyon.
The author admires a fine stand of Quercus fusiformis (plateau live oak). No oaks were harmed in the making of this photo!😊
My souvenir for the trip!

Seminole Canyon State Park, Canyon Rim Trail
Another place the park staff recommended to find oaks was along the Canyon Rim Trail. We hiked that trail yesterday for a bit and didn’t see any oaks, but it turns out they were farther down the trail then we went. We headed back out on the trail to find them, along the way checking Opuntia engelmannii flowers for Acmaeodera and seeing only one for the time being. Just past the first of two east-facing ravines where we expected to find oaks, we found one on the canyon edge that looked rather bedraggled. There were some completely dead branches with bark already sloughed but also one large fresher-looking dead branch that had one live branchlet coming out of it about a third of the way up (meaning there was at least a strip of live wood within the branch). I broke of one of the dead branches near the live/dead junction, and there in its gallery was a smallish buprestid larva that almost certainly is Spectralia roburella! I took the entire branch and cut it up to bring back for rearing. We continued hiking along the canyon rim and saw the most amazing views—sheer Cretaceous limestone walls towering 300 feet above the narrow canyon bottoms! Farther down the trail we finally started seeing Acmaeodera on O. engelmannii flowers. By then we’d hiked more than a mile and a half down the trail and temps were beginning to soar, so we turned back, picked up the wood we’d cut as we came back by, and finished the long, hot slog back to the truck.

A mirid bug (Oncerometopus sp.) on flower of Viguiera dentata.
View of cave dwelling area.
Top of a Canyon!
Seminole Canyon stretches from one side to the other.
Seminole Canyon walls.

Comstock
As Rich and I were lunching after our last stop, I got a text from Ed Riley about a spot near Comstock where he’d collected what he believed to be Acmaeodera starrae—a species I’ve never encountered. It just so happened that we would be passing by Comstock on our way back east this afternoon, so we stopped to see if we could find it. Bingo—right where and in the flowers he said it would be (an undetermined white composite that I later determined to be Aphanostephus ramosissimus [lazy daisy]). Together we found about 15 specimens, and interestingly about 25% have red rather than yellow elytra markings. [EDIT: I’m not convinced these are A. starrae, but I do not yet know what they are.]

Aphanostephus ramosissimus (lazy daisy).
Aphanostephus ramosissimus (lazy daisy).

Day 10 – Garner State Park, Wild Horse Creek/Highway/Campos Trails
It’s the final day of collecting for the trip, and for our last stop we picked Garner State Park along the Frío River. I was last here back in the mid 90s—nearly 30 years ago, Acmaeodera ornatoides and Polycesta elata being the two species of note that I remember finding. I remember during that first visit that the area reminded me of my beloved Ozark Mountains, especially the White River Hills region in southwestern Missouri—scraggly forests of oak and juniper on steep, rocky slopes over craggy hill and lazy dale. It still does, although the species are a bit different—Juniperus ashei (Ashe juniper) dominates instead of J. virginiana (eastern red-cedar), and a variety of other oaks replace the familiar Ozarkian Quercus stellata and Q. marilandica (post and blackjack oaks, respectively). We hiked a series of trails on the western side of the park, thinking the west-facing slopes would tend to be drier and result in more open, glade-like habitats, and for the most part this was true. Almost immediately after reaching the first glade along Wild Horse Creek Trail, we found A. ornatoides and at least two smaller congeners on flowers of Coreopsis sp. Flowers of Viguiera dentata have been uncharacteristically depauperate of buprestids on this trip, but I picked up a couple of Acmaeodera neglecta/neoneglecta nearby as well. On the Highway Trail a good series of Acmaeodera was found on flowers of an undetermined small white composite, and a few were also found on flowers of Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna)—though no Agrilus obtusus. The Campos Trail ascended steeply and ruggedly to a nice overlook, where I found one Acmaeodera sp. on the flower of Zephyranthes chlorosolen and then the mother-load—the biggest diversity and abundance of Acmaeodera I’ve ever seen on cactus flowers occurred nearby in a single flowering Opuntia engelmannii. The final specimen of the day’s “Acmaeodera-a-thon” was taken a bit further up the trail on the flower of Echinocereus enneacanthus (strawberry cactus). Fortunately, the trail was all downhill from there (albeit a bit too steep and rocky at times for these no-longer-nimble legs!). We finished off the hike back along the Wild Horse Creek Trail by collecting a branch off a fallen oak that I hope proves fruitful in the rearing box back home and had some lunch. As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed most of the trees in the camping area were Carya illinoensis (pecans)—a great host for buprestids (especially Xenorhipis brendeli), so I picked up several fallen branches from under the trees to complete the wood collecting portion of the trip.

Acmaeodera ornatoides on flower of Coreopsis sp.
Overlook from atop the Campos Trail.
Xeric limestone prairie (glade) habitat.
Echinocereus enneacanthus (strawberry cactus).
Echinocereus enneacanthus (strawberry cactus).

Garner State Park, Brazos River (epilogue)
We visited the nearby Frio River for one last look at the park, took a shower, and settled in for the 15-hour trek back to St. Louis.

Brazos River at Garner Stare Park, Texas.

Postscript!

Somewhere near Rising Star, Texas.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

2019 Arkansas/Oklahoma Insect Collecting Trip iReport

Alternative title: Rich and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

This is the seventh “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a 5-day trip to Arkansas and Oklahoma from June 7–11, 2019 with my friend and local collecting buddy Richard Thoma. As with all previous “iReports” in this series, this one too is illustrated exclusively with iPhone photographs.

Previous iReports include the following
2013 Oklahoma
2013 Great Basin
2014 Great Plains
2015 Texas
2018 New Mexico/Texas
2018 Arizona

Image may contain: 2 people, including Ted MacRae, people smiling, people standing, beard, tree and outdoor
…and so it begins!

Day 1 – Ozark National Forest, vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas
It’s been many years since I’ve visited these sandstone glades overlooking the White River near Calico Rock. Conditions were partly sunny when we arrived, but water on the ground suggested rain earlier in the day. We had only a short time to start exploring before the wind started blowing up and the smell of rain filled the air. I did manage to beat one Amniscus sexguttata from a branch of living Pinus echinata and collect a couple of Strigoderma sp. from Coreopsis lanceolata flowers before steady rain forced us to retreat.

Image may contain: cloud, sky, mountain, outdoor, nature and water
White River near Calico Rock, Arkansas—before the rain.
Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and nature
White River near Calico Rock, Arkansas—rain’s a comin’!

Day 2 – Ouachita National Forest, Winding Stair Campground & Ouachita Trail, Oklahoma
We walked the trail from the campground S about 2½ miles and back. I started off with Acmaeodera tubulus on Krigia sp. flowers, eventually finding a lot of them on this plant at higher elevations along with a single Acmaeodera ornata, and I beat a few Agrilus cepahlicus off of Cornus drummondii. This had me thinking it would be a good buprestid day, but it wasn’t, the only other species collected being some Chrysobothris cribraria off of small dead Pinus echinata saplings and Pachyschelus laevigatus on Desmodium sp. Also beat a few miscellaneous insects off of Cercis canadensis and Vaccineum arborea and swept some from grasses and other herbaceous plants. Back at the campground I collected Chrysobothris dentipes on the sunny trunks of large, live Pinus echinata trees.

Emerald Vista, along the Talihema Scenic Drive.
Acmaeodera tubulus on flower of Rosa carolina.
Acmaeodera tubulus on flower of Rosa carolina.
Canthon sp.
Apheloria virginiensis reducta (ID by Derek Hennen).
The biggest cairn I’ve ever seen.

Ouachita National Forest, Talimena Scenic Dr at Big Cedar Vista, Oklahoma
There were lots of native wildflowers like Coreopsis tinctoria and Ratibida columnifera in bloom, so we stopped to check them out. There were lots of butterflies, however, I found only a single Typocerus zebra on Coreopsis lanceolata.

View south from Talimena Scenic Drive at Big Cedar Vista.
Coreopsis tinctoria (plains coreopsis).
Ratibida columnifera (upright prairie coneflower).

Ouachita National Forest, Winding Stair Campground, Oklahoma
We returned to the campground in the evening to do some blacklighting. I had high hopes, but only five cerambycids came to the lights, all represented by a single individual: Monochamus carolinensis, Acanthocinus obsoletus, Amniscus sexguttatus, Eutrichillus biguttatus, and Leptostylus tranversus (the first four are pine-associates). I also picked up a few other miscellaneous insects.

Rich processes the day’s catch as the blacklight hums in the background.

Day 3 – Medicine Park Primitive Campground, Oklahoma
There wasn’t much insect activity going on in eastern Oklahoma, so we drove out west to the Wichita Mountains for hopefully better luck. We found a small park with a primitive campground in the city of Medicine Park—my first thought was to beat the post oaks dotting the campground, but when I went into the native prairie between the campground and the creek I never came out! Right away I found what must be Acmaeodera ornatoides on flowers of Opuntia sp., then I found more on flowers of Gallardia pulchella along with Acmaeodera mixta. The latter were also on flowers of Thelesperma filifolium along with Acmaeodera neglecta—took a nice series of each, and I also got a few of the latter on flowers of Coreopsis grandiflora. Strangalia sexnotata were on flowers of C. tinctoria and Torilis arvensis, and then on the latter plant I saw a male Strangalia virilis—a Texas/Oklahoma specialty that I’ve never collected before! I spent the next hour looking for these guys and ended up with 3 males and 2 females along with a few Trichiotinus texanus—another Texas/Oklahoma specialty—and a single Agrilaxia sp. nr. flavimana (could be A. texana). One single Typocerus octonotatus was on flowers of Achillea millefolium. I think we may come back here tomorrow—I’d like to look for more S. virilis and beat the post oaks (the reason we stopped here to begin with).

A cacophony of native wildflowers!
An orgy of Euphoria kernii (Kern’s flower scarab) in Opuntia sp. flower. Multiple color forms exist for this species.
At first I thought this was a type of hover fly (family Syrphidae), but eventually I determined it to be Esenbeckia incisuralis, a horse fly (family Tabanidae)—incredible emerald green eyes!
Papilio polyxenes asterius (black swallowtail) caterpillar.
Echinocereus reichenbachii baileyi (lace hedgehog cactus).

Lake Lawtonka nr. Ma Ballou Point, Oklahoma
We stumbled into this area while looking for stands of Sapindus drummondii (soapberry)—found a small stand along the road, but it was too inaccessible. The same diversity of blooms were present as at the previous spot, so I picked a few longhorns off flowers of Coreopsis grandiflora and Gaillardia pulchella. Super windy, so we didn’t stay long.

View across Lake Lawtonka from Ma Ballou Point.
Neochlamisus sp. (case-bearing leaf beetle) larvae inside their “casas de caca” on Monarda fistulosa (bee balm).
I believe this is Harrisina coracina, a leaf skeletonizer in the family Zygaenidae. Both BugGuide and the Moth Photographers Group show records only from Texas.

Day 4 – Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Before starting the day’s collecting, we wanted to go into the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge to have a look around. On the way into the refuge we some American bison near the road and had to stop, take photos, and simply admire these massive, majestic beasts. We then went to the Cedar Plantation, where I had visited before back in 2012 and photographed black individuals of Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina (prairie tiger beetle). No tiger beetles were out now (they come out in the fall), but I’d hoped to maybe see Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle) along the 2-tracks in the area. No such luck—nevertheless, we saw a myriad of interesting insects, including several more Esenbeckia incisuralis (green-eyed horse flies) and a beautiful Trichodes bibalteatus (checkered beetle), the latter of which I photographed on flowers of Ratibida columnifera and Achillea millefolium with the big camera. Afterwards we visited the “prairie dog town” and got marvelous views and photographs of black-tailed prairie dogs.

Native American wildlife on a native American landscape.
American bison (Bison bison bison).
Wichita Mountains from Cedar Plantation.
Acmaeodera mixta on flower of Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan).
Typocerus octonotatus on inflorescence of Achillea millefolium (yarrow).
Strangalia sexnotatus on flower of Ratibida pinnata (gray coneflower)
Trichodes bibalteatus on flower of Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan).
Trichodes bibalteatus on flower of Ratibida pinnata (gray coneflower)
The author walks a bison trail through the Cedar Plantation.
Black-tailed prairie dog at its burrow entrance.
“Watch you lookin’ at, Willis?!”
Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus).

Medicine Park, Jack Laughter Park, Oklahoma
We’d noticed this spot yesterday because of the old post oaks and wealth of wildflowers blooming up the mountainside. There wasn’t much going on today, however—just a few Acmaeodera mixta on flowers of Gaillardia pulchella. I did find an Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) sp. on my arm! Otherwise I spent some time photographing the landscape and some geometrid larvae on flowers of Gaillardia pulchella.

Opuntia sp. (prickly-pear cactus) amidst rocky exposures.
Small Oncoptus fasciatus (large milkweed bugs) nymphs colonize seed pods of Asclepias asperula (antelope-horns).

Medicine Park Primitive Campground, Oklahoma
We returned to this spot since we had so much luck yesterday. I was hoping to collect more Acmaeodera ornatoides and Strangalia virilis, but there was much less going on today than yesterday—basically didn’t see anything for the first hour and a half. I didn’t give up, however, and kept checking the area where we saw most of the S. virilis yesterday, and eventually I saw another male in the same area as yesterday on the same stand of Torilis arvensis. I found two more males in the same area over the next hour, so three males on the day was a good reward for the time spent looking for them. I also collected Trichodes apivorus and Trichiotinus texanus on flowers of Allium sp. Interestingly, beating the post oaks—the reason why I originally wanted to stop here—produced nothing. So, not very many specimens on the day, but happy with those I did get.

Thelesperma filifolium (stiff greenthread).
Coreopsis grandiflora (large-flowered tickseed).
Gaillardia pulchella (firewheel).
Coreopsis tinctoria (plains coreopsis).
Torilis arvensis (erect hedge parsley), introduced.
Opuntia sp. (prickly-pear cactus).
Opuntia sp. (prickly-pear cactus).
Allium sp. (wild onion).

Medicine Park, Jack Laughter Park, Oklahoma
I was pretty much done for the day after spending all morning at the refuge and most of the afternoon at the previous spot, but Rich wanted to take another look at Jack Laughter Park because he’d found some interesting grasshoppers there. As with earlier in the day there were few beetles of interest to me, but I did collect a couple of Trichiotinus texanus on flowers of Cirsium undulatum. I checked out some large post oaks with large dead branches thinking that might be what Strangalia virilis was breeding in but never saw any, and eventually I turned my attention to photographing a few interesting native plants that I found along the way.

Krameria lanceolata (trailing krameria).
Cirsium undulatum (wavyleaf thistle or gray thistle) inflorescence.

Cirsium undulatum (wavyleaf thistle or gray thistle) can be distinguished by its wavy leaves that are gray-green on both upper and lower surfaces.

Day 5 – Epilogue
We were tempted to do one last little bit of collecting on the way back to St. Louis, but since had pretty good luck during the last couple of days and the drive alone would take more than nine hours we decided to leave well enough alone and get home at a reasonable hour. A walk with Beauregard when I got home to stretch the post-drive legs was the perfect way to end the mini-vacation.


©️ Ted C. MacRae 2019

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 and the short narratives accompanying them 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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides in a flower of Opuntia sp.

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.

A Tragidion female on a yucca flower stalk.
Tragidion sp. mating pair on yucca flower stalk.

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

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 rock shop, but then I started looking at the cholla and found several Moneilema sp. adults on the plants.

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!

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

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!

Malpais Lava Beds.

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

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

Malpais Lava Beds.

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

Malpais Lava Beds.
Cactus dodger cicada (Cacama sp.)?
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.

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.

Atop the Sierra Blanca.

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

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.

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 three Batyle suturalis ssp. on an unidentified yellow comp.

Mescalero Sands Recreation Area.

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

Enoclerus zonatus on yucca.

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!

Sunset on the dune.

What a sunset!

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.

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!

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

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

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.

Mescalero Sands Recreation Area.

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!

Some kind of wasp on some kind of flower.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

The high plains of west Texas.

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.

I’ve never seen a mourning dove make a nest in the ground before.
I always thought these oil pumps looked like dinosaurs bobbing up and down.

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

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

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).

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!

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

A broad-nosed weevil.

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

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.


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.

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

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!

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

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.

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

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

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.

Towering clouds try to squeeze out some moisture.

Lots of virga, little rain.

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!

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).

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

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

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.

Tragidion armatum adult female feeding on a yucca flower.

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).

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!).

“The Box.”

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

The “other” cactus beetle (Coenopoeus palmeri).

How many cactus beetles can you count?

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

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

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

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

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.