Last week I went on the first collecting trip of the 2023 season, which was actually the second phase of a study initiated last year to evaluate the efficacy of “jug traps” and baits for trapping longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae). In the first year of the study, I set out 24 traps at 12 locations across southern Illinois and Missouri—one trap at each location baited with “pure” (99.5%) ethanol (EtOH), and the other baited with a 50:50 mixture of ethanol and sweet red table wine (SRW). The traps proved to be highly effective at trapping not only a diversity of Cerambycidae, but also Cetoniidae and Elateridae. Additionally, and in what was a bit of a surprise, the 50:50 mixture (EtOH/SRW) proved to be much more efficacious than EtOH alone. The reasons for this are not clear—-perhaps SRW contains other volatiles besides EtOH that are also attractive to the beetles, or possibly the sugars in SRW permit additional fermentation and, thus, extended volatilization of EtOH. Either way, the ability to substitute at least a portion of relatively expensive EtOH with cheap SRW without negatively impacting trap efficacy (actually improving it) allows cost savings and begs the question: how effective are traps baited with SRW alone?
To answer that question, I decided to conduct a second season of trapping, this time comparing three possible baits: SRW alone, 50:50 SRW/EtOH, and EtOH alone. I also wanted to conduct the study in a different area where a different longhorned beetle fauna might be expected to increase the diversity of species shown to be attracted to the traps, and for that I could not think of a better place than northwestern Oklahoma. The insect fauna of the area is decidedly more “western” than southern Missouri, and in fact I have collected several species of beetles in the area that represent new records for the state—most of which are more typically found further southwest in New Mexico and/or Arizona (manuscripts containing these records are currently in progress). Most importantly, I can reach the area from my home near St. Louis, Missouri in less than a day of driving, allowing me to make the repeated visits over the course of the season that will be necessary to service the traps and collect the data. Since three traps will be deployed at each location (instead of two as in 2022), fewer locations (six) were chosen, resulting in 18 total traps. The traps were set out May 16–18, during which time my good friend and collecting buddy Rich Thoma joined me, and I will return every five weeks to check the traps until early October, when they will be taken down.
Note: all field identifications are preliminary pending confirmation.
Day 1—Gloss Mountain State Park (Major Co.)
This is one of my favorite spots in northwestern Oklahoma, though not quite west enough to be considered part of the “panhandle.” The gypsum-capped mesas atop red clay soils have a decidedly “New Mexican” look, and I have collected several beetles here that represent new state records for Oklahoma, including Plionoma suturalis, Chrysobothris octocola, C. quadrillineata, and Paratyndaris prospopis. I decided to set two set of jug traps here because of the two distinctly different habitat types: one on/near the top of the mesa in copses of gum bumelia, netleaf hackberry, soapberry, and/or eastern red-cedar, and another in the mesquite chaparral along south border in isolated mesquite trees.
Things were still a bit early in the season, and I did not spend anytime beating the newly leafed out trees, but I did find one Phyllophaga cribrosa on the ground and several Plionoma suturalis (gave a mating pair to Rich), one Trichodes bibalteatus, and one Monophylla terminalis on living Neltuma glandulosa [= Prosopis glandulosa].
Other sightings of interest were an eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) at the edge of the mesa and a Manduca quinquemaculata (five-spotted hawkmoth) getting an early start on its evening pollination rounds on still unopened Oenethera macrocarpa (Missouri primrose) blooms.
Day 2—Alabaster Caverns State Park (Woodward Co.)
There is no camping at Gloss Mountain State Park, and we were hungry as well, so we drove to Woodward to grab some dinner and backtracked up to Alabaster Caverns State Park. Arriving at the campsite after sunset and setting up a new, never-before-erected tent in the dark was an interesting experience; however, the tent went up quickly enough that Rich and I were able to relax and enjoy a beer and conversation before turning in for the night. In the morning, after getting a good look at the canyon forest, I decided this might be a good spot to hang one of my Lindgren funnel traps before hanging the jug traps further up in Cedar Canyon. There are many very large gum bumelia trees in addition to hackberries and red-cedars—surprising to me given the riparian nature of the forest, and I found a nice secluded spot to hang the trap, which was baited with 50:50 SRW/EtOH, before breaking camp and heading to Raptorroost Trail to access the upper reaches of Cedar Canyon.
Cedar Canyon represents a collapsed cave system, now appearing as a jagged, forested gash cutting deeply into the gently rolling gypsum landscape. The area first came to my attention in 2009, when I “discovered” a healthy population of Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle)—then considered one of North America’s rarest tiger beetles—living in the sparsely-vegetated gypsum exposures above the canyon. Checking in with the park office to show them our permit, we were surprised to learn that I should have also contacted them ahead of time to apply for a “separate, park-specific” permit, which after a bit of wrangling and cajoling we were able to convince them to grant on the spot (the vagaries of state park permits, where “some” park managers have a tendency to want to demonstrate the fact that they have ultimate authority over their piece of the earth). While we waited, we enjoyed looking at the Saurophaganax maximus skull found somewhere in northwestern Oklahoma and on display in the park office. A relative of the smaller but better-known Allosaurus, S. maximus lived during the late Jurassic (150 mya) and was, at that time, the largest meat-eating dinosaur in North America.
After receiving our “re-permit,” we headed for Cedar Canyon to hang three jug traps in the canyon forest. This was eventually done, with traps hung at three points in the forest of mostly red-cedar, hackberry, and gum bumelia. Hanging the traps in the canyon was quite difficult—the trail into and out of the canyon was steep and technical, and finding places to hang the traps where they were unlikely to be seen and disturbed by park visitors while still being accessible to me was even harder. Before accessing the canyon via Raptorsroost Trail and hanging the traps, however, we quickly became distracted by goings on in the gypsum/red clay shortgrass prairie above the canyon. We first noted Moneilema armatum (cactus beetles) on Opuntia macrorhiza (prairie pricklypear cactus), collecting about a dozen individuals.
As we searched the cactus and the morning sun warmed things up, I also began noticing adults of Acmaeodera tubulus coming to the flowers in bloom, mostly Tradescantia occidentalis (western spiderwort) but also Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus (smallflower desert-chicory) and a yellow-flowered Oenethera sp. (primrose). I was rather surprised to see this eastern U.S. species occurring this far west in such a decidedly “western” habitat—surely this must be near the western limit of distribution for the species!
At any rate, hanging the traps and indulging our distractions burned about three hours (and finding/photographing a beautiful female collared lizard [Crotaphytus collaris] and a few other interesting things burned even more time), so we went back down to our previous night’s campsite, ate a quick lunch, and then headed towards our next stop.
Beaver Dunes City Park (Beaver Co.)
Beaver Dunes is a former state park, now a city park managed by the nearby city of Beaver primarily for ORVs. Despite the impacts on the dunes, there remain vast areas of the dunes that are closed to traffic and, thus, not impacted by ORV traffic and boasting a unique dune flora and fauna. Bordering the dunes on the east is a riparian zone boasting large Populus deltoides (eastern cottonwood) trees and smaller Celtis reticulata (netleaf hackberry) and Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust) trees. Notably, some years ago I collected a nice series of Poecilonota cyanipes (family Buprestidae) off the stunted cottonwoods in and around the tent campground—the only time I have collected this species other than a single individual up in Michigan even more years ago. We first drove through the tent campground and then the picnic area to scope out a camping spot and decide exactly where I wanted to hang the traps. Ultimately, I decided neither location was suitable for the traps as the wooded areas were adjacent to either dunes or prairie with little woody vegetation and where prevailing winds were likely to carry most of the scent emanating from the traps. Instead, I decided to hang them in a strip of woodland stretching north off the RV campground (Pioneer Campground).
Afterwards we explored the dunes, immediately finding several Batyle ignicollis apparently bedded down on the inflorescence of Styllingia sylvatica (Queen’s delight). I have seen this species doing the same thing on a previous visit some years ago, and in that case many individuals were found on many plants. In this case, however, beyond the three individuals seen on this first plant (two of which escaped as I tried to photograph them!), only one more individual on one other plant was seen.
A couple of tenebrionids crossing the road were picked up before working our way to the picnic area and exploring the dunes in their vicinity. There was surprisingly little in bloom—primarily S. sylvatica and just a few sparsely blooming Penstemon fendleri (Fendler’s penstemon). We checked the former, finding only a few Euphoria kernii (all three color forms), one E. sepulchralis, and the one additional B. ignicollis on the former and nothing on the latter. The only other insects seen, or at least collected, were a large(ish) weevil on a grass stem and a Cicindela formosa (big sand tiger beetle). After exploring for a while and not seeing much activity, it seemed that further searching was “beating a dead horse,” so we started back towards the car. Along the way, I decided to beat once again the Celtis reticulata (netleaf hackberry) trees dotting the roadside and, unlike my earlier (limited) attempts, was immediately rewarded with a couple of Chrysobothris purpureovittata (family Buprestidae). Further beating continued to produce additional specimens as well as a few Agrilus lecontei and/or A. paracelti, and by the time I finished beating the last tree I had collected perhaps 12–15 C. purpureovittata and 6–8 Agrilus spp. I felt this was a happy note on which to end the day’s collecting, and we decided to run into town to look for dinner (we ended up bringing carry-out pizza back to the campground and enjoying it with a beer!).
Day 3—Beaver Dunes City Park (cont.)
Overnight it rained heavily (which I did not hear, despite being in a tent), so before heading off to the Black Mesa area we checked out the dunes to see if we could find fresh tracks. We found a few deer tracks, a nice long stretch of wild turkey tracks, and some small tracks that most likely belong to red fox.
Black Mesa State Park (Cimarron Co.)
Black Mesa State Park and Preserve are tucked into the extreme corner of northwestern Oklahoma, and it is here where “east” truly turns to “west.” Miles of shortgrass prairie suddenly give way, shortly before the park, to chaparral dotted with Cylindropuntia imbricata (cholla) and Juniperus monosperma (one-seed juniper). Arriving in the park after our 3½-hour drive straight west, we checked in at the office to show our permit (no hassle or “extra” permit needed), reserved our spot in the tent campground, and ate a quick lunch before heading to the Scenic Overlook where I’d planned to hang a set of traps in the hackberry/soapberry wooded ravine below the overlook. This was eventually done, but again we were distracted right off the bat when we noticed plants abundantly in flower around the parking lot. I quickly found a few Acmaeodera that I could not immediately identify—obviously members of the A. mixta/pulchella/immaculata group, but they are tiny, much smaller than any of those species! Most were on flowers of Tetraneuris acaulis (stemless four-nerve daisy), a few were on flowers of Melampodium leucanthum (blackfoot daisy), and one was on flower of Xanthisma spinulosum (spiny goldenweed). I’ll be anxious to get a better look at them once I return home. Traps successfully hung, we then headed to the next spot a short drive north of the state park.
1.6 mi E Kenton on Hwy 325 (Cimarron Co.)
I’ve visited this sandstone outcropping colonized by an interesting oak identified on iNaturalist as Quercus × undulata (wavyleaf oak)—a naturally occurring hybrid between Q. gambelii and Q. turbinella and that occurs more typically in Utah and the Intermountain West. This seems to be the easternmost occurrence of this hybrid, and while I’m in no position to vouch for the veracity of the identification, I do think there could be some interesting beetles associated with it. The outcropping is also colonized by two other decidedly western trees—Pinus edulis (Colorado pinyon) and Juniperus monosperma (one-seed juniper), both of which seem to be at their eastern natural limit here and which could host some interesting western insects as well. Unfortunately, my previous visits (early May through mid-June) all seemed to be at the wrong season (too dry), although on my last visit (early June last year) I did manage to collect a nice number and variety of Acmaeodera, including a new state record (A. quadrivittatoides)! Once again, there seemed to be little going on—just a few Nemognatha blister beetles and some tiny flies on the various yellow composite flowers found in bloom—despite the series of Acmaeodera collected down the road within the state park. Perhaps it was more due to the thick cloud cover with distant rain showers that had moved into the area than the time of season, but the oaks very recently leafed out and just now flowering still suggests it is early in the season here. Nevertheless, I hung the last set of traps in the oak/pine/juniper woodland atop the outcropping and look forward to seeing what might turn up in them later this season.
Dinosaur Tracks (Cimarron Co.)
Hanging traps at the state park and the sandstone outcropping just north of the park took a few hours but still left us with some time to explore the area and I wanted to show Rich the famous dinosaur tracks found just across the road from Black Mesa Preserve. There is no signage, and 10 years having passed since the last time I saw them, so I wasn’t sure I would be able to find them. Fortunately, a little Google sleuthing paid off and we came right to the spot. The tracks—apparently made by a theropod (one of the carnivorous groups)—were discovered in the early 1980s and are on private land but are open to the public during daylight hours. We were fortunate that it had rained the previous night, which filled the tracks with water and made them especially visible in the sandstone rock at the bottom of the creek in which they were exposed. The largest, deepest, and best-preserved of the dozen or so tracks that are still visible (many are covered by mud) measure approximately 16” across and clearly show the 3-toed footprint typical of theropod dinosaurs. Given their size, perhaps they were made by Saurophaganax maximus!
Black Mesa Preserve (Cimarron Co.)
I had considered hanging a set of traps adjacent to this location, but I saw little suitable habitat in the area, save possibly for the ribbon of large cottonwoods lining nearby Carrizo Creek. Regardless, since I had already placed two other sets at the nearby sandstone outcropping and a bit further south at the state park, I felt my coverage of the area was sufficient. To pass the remaining time, Rich and I hiked through the juniper chaparral on the north side of the mesa. The area still had an “early spring” feel to it, with yucca and cholla barely beginning to throw up or develop their flower stalks/buds and the whole area looking like it needed a good rain. Correspondingly, there was almost no insect activity to speak of—we found lone individuals of Leptinotarsa decemlineata (Colorado potato beetle) and Eleodes sp. (clown beetle) crawling on the trail, and I collected a single Omorgus sp. (skin beetle). Whatever thoughts we had of ascending the mesa and hiking to the High Point Monument were dashed when our legs—already tired from the day’s previous hikes—began to protest and cried “Enough!” Turning around before the kiosk leading to the mesa top turned out fortuitous, as suddenly plummeting temperatures and the threat of rain caused us to make our way back to the car with some sense of urgency. It began raining as soon as we reached the car, and we were ecstatic to find “The Merc” open and serving up dinner in nearby Kenton (the only Oklahoma City in the Mountain Time Zone!).
After dinner, we returned to the campground and enjoyed what turned out to be only a brief respite from the rain—long enough to enjoy a beer—before getting chased into the tent as it picked back up again. It would rain most of the night and all the next day as we made the long drive back to St. Louis, but with 18 traps hung in six distinct habitats and some interesting beetles in the bottles it was hard to be disappointed. Stay tuned for updates as I begin checking the traps next month.
©️ Ted C. MacRae 2023