2021 Texas/New Mexico/Arizona Insect Collecting Trip iReport

This is the 10th “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering 13 days of collecting in western Texas, southern New Mexico, and southeastern Arizona July 19–31, 2021. This trip was a “two-parter”—the first week with frequent field mate Jeff Huether (our seventh joint collecting trip) as we made our way from western Texas through southern New Mexico and into southeastern Arizona on our way to a memorial celebration for Jim Wappes at the home of Steve Lingafelter and Norm Woodley (for which I took the day off from collecting), and the second week visiting various locations in the “Sky Islands” of southeastern Arizona with several other entomologists.

As with all previous “iReports” in this series, this report is illustrated exclusively with iPhone photographs (thus the term “iReport”). Previous iReports in this series include:
2013 Oklahoma
2013 Great Basin
2014 Great Plains
2015 Texas
2018 New Mexico/Texas
2018 Arizona
2019 Arkansas/Oklahoma
2019 Arizona/California
2021 West Texas


Day 1 – Monahans State Park, Texas
This was my first stop on the previous trip back in late April and early May, and what a difference a couple of months with good rains makes—dry as a bone then but bursting with a great variety of wildflowers now. Like last time we stopped at the Shin Oak Picnic Area first, and almost immediately Jeff got an Acmaeodera gibbula on living Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite). I started beating the trees and got a good series of that species along with a good series of an Actenodes sp. (prob. A. mendax). There were also some mesquites that had been killed (apparently by herbicide), and when I started beating them I got several more A. gibbula and one Paratyndaris sp. It went from blazing hot when we arrived to raining about an hour later, and for a while after the rain moved through it stayed cloudy and quite comfortable. Eventually we decided to look for another spot with more mesquite to beat.

Monahans Sandhills State Park with rain moving in!
Poecilanthrax arethusa (family Bombyliidae) on flower of Thelosperma megapotamicum (rayless greenthread).
Acanthochalcis nigricans (family Chalicididae) female looking to oviposit on dead Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite).
Palafoxia sphacelata (othake).
Palafoxia sphacelata (othake).
Asclepias arenaria (sand milkweed).
Asclepias arenaria (sand milkweed).
Penstemon ambiguus (gilia beardtongue).

We found an area closer to the entrance (Equestrian Area) with lots of mesquite and also sunflowers, which Jeff was interested in looking at to search for meloids (blister beetles). Before I even reached the first mesquite I saw an Acmaeodera sp. (maybe A. obtusa) sitting on the flower of Thelosperma megapotamicum (rayless greenthread) and later found another plus one A. immaculata. Off the mesquite I beat just one Actenodes sp. prob. mendax and a few treehoppers, while another and a Chrysobothris sp. got away (it was by now quite hot and they bolted!). I continued beating mesquite but just wasn’t seeing anything, so we decided to take a look at the area around the main dunes and another picnic area.

Helianthus petiolaris (prairie sunflower).

At the Pump Jack Picnic Area, we saw a lot of Thelosperma megapotamicum (rayless greenthread) in bloom and decided to check the flowers for Acmaeodera. We each got a nice series of what appear to be A. obtusa and A. immaculata. Also, I finally found a single Acmaeodera immaculata on the flower of Hymenoppapus flavescens (collegeflower), which I’d been looking at all day thinking it must be a good Acmaeodera flower host. On the way back to the vehicle, I scared up a cicada that had been singing on a nearby plant—I’d been hearing them all day but assumed they were grasshoppers or katydids. I listened for another and saw it perched on the stem of Mentzelia nuda (bractless blazingstar), and netted it—a fine male, smallish and with a very white venter. I wanted to find one more—catching another A. gibbula in flight, and saw one singing in a mesquite tree. This time I took some photos of it (working carefully not to alarm it) and then hand-caught it (later identified as Diceroprocta texana). A nice end to the visit.

Male Diceroprocta texana singing on Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite).
Mentzelia nuda (bractless blazingstar).
Mentzelia nuda (bractless blazingstar).

After dinner, we returned to Shin Oak Picnic Area for night collecting. I setup my new Mercury-vapor (MV) station (first time using the gas-powered generator and tripod—slick setup) and my two ultraviolet (UV) stations. Jeff set out three prionic acid lures. Large numbers of Polyphylla monahanensis (which came mostly to the UV stations) and P. pottsorum (which came mostly to the MV station), but otherwise few beetles showed up and not a single longhorn. Other insects were also limited mostly to large numbers of ground-nesting bees and several big grasshoppers. No Prionus came to the lures—not surprising since we are in the tail end of the season for P. arenarius (April to July) and too early for P. spinipennis (mostly August). I’ve only gotten a few P. monahanensis and P. pottsorum before now, so it’s nice to have good series of each, but I would have preferred to collect some longhorns.

Blacklights humming as dusk settles over the dunes.
Polyphylla pottsorum at the MV sheet.

Day 2 – Toyahvale, Texas
We’re on our way to the Davis Mountains, and along the way I decided to stop at the “Agrilus cochisei” spot we found (on a tip from Jason) back during the April trip. I swept the roadsides—not just the host plant (Artemisia occidentalis, western ragweed) but a variety of other plants in bloom but did not find any A. cochisei. I did collect a few meloids (which were on Solanum eleagnifolium) and Zygogramma leaf beetles but nothing else.

Proboscidea parviflora (family Martyniaceae)—doubleclaw or red devil’s-claw.

A bit further down the road from the last stop, we noticed this memorial to the many horses that have been transported along this highway on their way to slaughter.

Davis Mountains, Ft. Davis, Texas
Another roadside stop for one of the places where I collected during last April’s trip. I was hoping we would not be too late for Acmaeodera—there were plenty of plants in bloom but we did not see any. Senegalia greggii (formerly Acacia greggii, commonly called cat-claw acacia) and Vachellia constricta (formerly Acacia constricta, commonly called whitethorn acacia) were both in bloom, and off the former I got the obligatory Stenaspis solitaria male/female pair as well as a Lampetis drummondii, but I collected nothing off the latter. Tried for a couple of cicadas and missed ‘em both!

Stenaspis solitaria male on flowering Senegalia greggii (cat-claw acacia).
Lampetis drummundii captured on flowering Senegalia greggii (cat-claw acacia).
Eurema nicippe (sleepy oranges) on yellow asteraceous flower.

Davis Mountains, Boy Scout Rd, Texas
This looked like a good spot, with water in the creek and lots of butterflies flying around. Beating, however, yielded nothing but lots of lep larvae. It seems we are in the mid-summer lull—too late for spring things, but too early for late summer-fall species. I think we’ll try some higher elevations and see what it is like.

Argemone aenea (golden prickly poppy).
Argemone aenea (golden prickly poppy).
Argemone albiflora (white prickly poppy).
Argemone albiflora (white prickly poppy).

We were headed back towards the highway when I spotted a stand of Thelosperma megapotamicum along the road. We got out so I could take a look at them and immediately encountered this Texas horned lizard who seems to be saying “WTF?!” I swept through the Thelosperma and picked up two Batyle sp., one Enocleris sp., and a couple of species of meloids. There were lots of other plants in bloom, too, including several that are typically attractive to beetles such as Sphaeralcea and Ratibida. However, nothing was seen on them, further reinforcing our desire to go to higher elevations to see if that would improve the collecting.

Phrynosoma cornutum (Texas horned lizard).

Davis Mountains, Madera Canyon, Texas
We wanted to get up to higher elevation to see if that might improve the insect collecting. It is strange—the Davis Mountains are greener than I’ve ever seen them, yet there are almost no insects, no flowers. Jeff and I were wondering if the deep freeze Texas experienced this past winter might have knocked out insect populations. We beat along the way but just we’re not seeing anything on the beating sheets. We hiked our way up to the overlook, and up there I ran into a few species of tenebrionids running along the trail and doing their famous “headstands” when we disturbed them. On the way back down I saw a few large, red and black clytrine chrysomelids on what I take to be a fall-flowering helianthoid aster (old flowering stalks were 5–6 feet tall), so I picked up a few for Shawn (my scope of insects that I’ll collect expands greatly when I’m not finding anything in the groups that I study). I think we’ve had it with the Davis Mountains, and tomorrow we’ll travel further west and try our luck around Fabens.

Lower part of the Madera Canyon Trail.
The trail at upper elevations.
A small Eleodes sp. doing the headstand.
The larger Eleodes carbonaria doing the headstand.
Same individual as in the previous photo.

Day 3 – Van Horn, Texas
Just a quick stop along the highway when we saw a variety of plants in bloom. Things are different at these lowers elevations compared to the Davis Mountains. Sweeping yielded a number of Agrilus sp. (vittate) and two Agaeocera gentilis—I suspect they were on the Sphaeralcea angustifolia (narrow-leaved globemallow), along with an Acmaeodera sp. and assorted other beetles. On a much taller globemallow I found two Tylosis jiminezi (male/female) perched on the foliage—a first for me! I did a little more sweeping further to the south but came up with only a few melyrids and a blister beetle (Epicauta segmenta). Nice stop!

Tylosis jiminezi on Sphaeralcea angustifolia (narrowleaf globemallow).
Sphaeralcea angustifolia (narrowleaf globemallow).
Sphaeralcea angustifolia (narrowleaf globemallow).

San Felipe Park, El Paso Co., Texas
When we first arrived, we were not at all optimistic—it looked like it hadn’t rained in years. However, the Larrea tridentata (creosote) and Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) were both in full bloom, so we began looking about. Almost immediately I saw Stenaspis solitaria in the mesquites, which in itself is not exciting, but two of the first three I saw were the form that has the distinctly reddish-brown pronotum, which I’ve never seen before. I saw a couple more and tried to get photographs, but they were too skittish. As I searched for them, I caught one Aethecerinus latecinctus (a second got away), one Plionoma sp. (not sure if it’s suturalis or rubens), one Chrysobothris sp. (prob. C. octocola) and one Acmaeodera gibbula. The real fun began, though, when I walked by a creosote and saw a Gyascutus planicosta (should be subsp. obliteratus in this area) take flight. I tracked it to see where it landed, caught it, and then put most of my effort into getting a decent series of individuals. I succeeded, but it took more than four hours with the heat maxing out at 96°F! In addition to the Gyascutus, Jeff was quite excited to see the bright green and orange blister beetle Eupompha fissiceps abundant on the creosote in mating pairs and feeding on the petals of the flowers. I finished off the blister beetle fun by finding Cysteodemus wislizeni (black bladder-bodied meloid) crawling in the sand, which, despite the common name, was decidedly bluish.

The author looks out over the vast creosote/mesquite scrub.
Eupompha fissiceps on Larrea tridentata (creosote).
Eupompha fissiceps feeds on Larrea tridentata (creosote) as “Mr. Meloid” (Jeff Huether) looks on.

After going into town to restock on supplies and catch some dinner, we returned to the park to do some lighting and night collecting. The moon is almost full, which generally puts the kibosh on longhorns coming to the lights, but we decided to try anyway because of the high amount of activity during the day in a rarely-visited location. I set up the Mercury-vapor (MV) light only and skipped going through the trouble to put up the ultraviolet lights also. I also wanted to beat the mesquite since I didn’t have much chance during the day, spending most of my time hunting Gyascutus with an aerial net, and once I got the MV setup going I started whacking the mesquite. Almost immediately, I got three Aethecerinus latecinctus, which came off the first two plants I beat. This motivated me further and caused me to commit to beating for the next hour or so—never even getting a single beetle of any kind! By then the lights had been going for awhile, and I was pleased to see several Derobrachus hovorei (palo verde root borer) crawling on the sand near the light. Even though it is a common species, I’ve not seen many myself, so I was happy to have a nice series to take up beaucoup room in one of my prionid drawers. Otherwise, very few beetles came to the lights, or most other insects as well—the sheet being covered primarily by dozens of white-lined Sphinx moths and lots of wasp/bee-type things. We did enjoy the evening, however, as we sat in our chairs and drank a cold brew between checkings of the light.

Mercury-vapor light setup at dusk.
Mercury-vapor light just turned on at sunset.
Mercury-vapor light going strong as darkened settles.
Derobrachus hovorei (palo verde root borer).

Day 4 – Chaparral, New Mexico
We had planned to take NM-213 north to White Sands, but public access was blocked at Ft. Bliss. While backtracking, I spotted Sphaeralcea angustifolia (narrow-leaved globemallow) growing along the roadside and stopped to check it out. There was nothing on any of the plants, despite good growth and appearing to be coming into flowering. I did a little beating on Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) as well—again very little going on, just a few treehoppers, tiny blister beetles, and one weevil. Larrea tridentata (creosote) was in full bloom, just like at Fabens, and here too there were many Eupompha fissiceps on the flowers and in mating pairs. I couldn’t resist collecting just a few and even made a short video of a mating pair engaged in some interesting behavior. I did see one Gyascutus planicosta as it flew by, but I could not track it to see where it landed. Otherwise all I picked up was another Cysteodemus wislizeni (black bladder-bodied meloid)—along with a photo, and a male cicada (maybe Diceroprocta texana) singing on a dry yucca stalk (hand-collected!).

Cysteodemus wislizeni (black bladder-bodied meloid).
Eupompha fissiceps mating pair engaged in some interesting behavior.

Point of Sands, New Mexico
Jeff wanted to stop here to look for Pleurospasta mirabilis, a really cool-looking blister beetle that looks unlike anything else. He found just one by disturbing the host plant (small purple blooms), and I found none—seems we are right at the tail end of their activity period. I looked around for other things also, but there was not much out. I did catch a couple more cicadas (males singing), and near an Ephedra sp. bush I found a mostly-intact carcass of Sphaerobothris ulkei. The most interesting find, however, was a couple of apparently lost pitfall traps—the barriers had fallen over, and the cops were filled with sand and the carcasses of numerous tenebrionids that had fallen into the traps and never been retrieved. I pulled up the cups and filled in the holes to prevent further loss, finding a few live tenebrionids and trogids and one Pasimachus sp. ground beetle that had not yet succumbed in the process.

Point of Sands, New Mexico.
“Lost” pitfall trap.

Hatch, New Mexico
While passing through the town of Hatch, I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to stop and photograph some interesting town characters.

An interesting take on the Sinclair dinosaur.
Chili Pepper Man!
Cast of characters.

Deming, New Mexico
Another roadside stop in an area that was green with flowers and also had Yucca (to look for Tragidion) and Ephedra (to look for Sphaerobothris). Neither of those insects were found, and no buprestids or cerambycids were seen on or swept from any of the many composite flowers about including Thelosperma megapotamicum. I did find a couple of the meloid Lytta biguttata, one on flowers of Cirsium sp. and another on an unidentified yellow composite flower, and Jeff found a huge aggregation of another meloid, Epicauta costata, on herbicide-treated Kali tragus (prickly Russian thistle). I finished off the stop by finding a spectacular ridged tenebrionid beetle walking about after the sinking sun went behind some clouds.

Lytta biguttata on yellow composite flower.
Epicauta costata on herbicide-treated Kali tragus (prickly Russian thistle).
Epicauta costata on herbicide-treated Kali tragus (prickly Russian thistle).

Day 5 – Sunshine, New Mexico
We saw a nice stand of what proved to be Picradeniopsis absinthifolia (formerly Bahia absinthifolia, hairyseed bahia) and stopped to check them for buprestids/meloids. None were seen, just a few bees and lots of bee flies (genus Geron?). We did find a fair number of Cysteodemus wislizeni (black bladder-bodied meloid) crawling on the roadsides in a patch of Solanum elaeagnifolium (silverleaf nightshade).

Geron? sp. (family Bombyliidae) on flower of Picradeniopsis absinthifolia (hairyseed bahia).
Geron? sp. (family Bombyliidae) on flower of Picradeniopsis absinthifolia (hairyseed bahia).

Columbus, New Mexico
We found a moist drainage along the roadside with plants blooming in abundance, including Isocoma tenuisecta (burroweed) and Sphaeralcea angustifolia (narrow-leaved globemallow); however, insects were very scarce. I didn’t see any buprestids or cerambycids at all on any of the plants, only picking up one Lytta biguttata and one Cotinis mutabilis on the Isocoma and sweeping single examples of a small black/red Cleridae from the latter and a yellow-flowered composite.

Pepsis thisbe (Thisbe’s tarantula-hawk wasp) on flowers of Isocoma tenuisecta (burroweed).

Animas, New Mexico
We drove a fair distance west hoping to get into a different rainfall system in hope that insects would be present and saw a roadside in good bloom with the surrounding creosote scrub also green and blooming. As soon as we got out of the car we saw big beetles flying overhead and tracked them back to several creosote bushes very near the car with an aggregation of yet another blister beetle, Pyrota postica, which were mating and feeding on the flowers and leaves. After taking a few photos (and collecting my small series), I started sweeping through the variety of plants in bloom along the roadsides. I did not see anything on the flowers themselves (including Baileya multiradiata, pretty good buprestid flower) but collected a series of clytrine chrysomelids and one Dectes sp. While sweeping through Sphaeralcea hastulata (spear globemallow), I got one Agaeocera gentilis, and sweeping though a mix of S. hastulata and S. angustifolia (narrow-leaved globemallow) I got three Agrilus sp. (perhaps the same as I collected south of Van Horn, Texas). Finally, on the latter, I found one more A. gentilis perched on the leaf.

Pyrota postica female on flowering Larrea tridentata (creosote).
Pyrota postica female feeding on the flowers of Larrea tridentata (creosote).
Sphaeralcea hastulata (spear globemallow).

Portal, Arizona
Finally made it to Arizona, and for the first stop I wanted to try a spot below Portal where I’ve had limited success finding Sphaerobothris ulkei on Ephedra. Last time I was I here I found a few, but not until after being distracted by Gyascutus caelatus and Hippomelas sphenicus in the acacias and mesquites. I vowed not to let that happen this time and weaved a zigzag pattern looking at every Ephedra I could find. While I was doing that. I did see one G. caelatus take flight and then caught another that I saw sitting on Vachellia constricta (white-thorn acacia) but remained focused on looking at the Ephedra. Eventually, after not seeing any S. ulkei, I started looking for other buprestids. The acacias were just beginning to flower—only a few plants had open flowers, and Jeff noticed the tiny silhouette of an insect in flight approaching the flowers. He netted it and showed it to me, and to my surprise it was one of the species in the A. stigmata group (black with two red apical spots)—none of which I have ever collected before but which I believe could be A. davidsoni. We spent the next hour watching for and netting the silhouettes on the few trees we could find with flowers, and then I got the beating sheet out and beat more off of the trees (whether in flower or not) to end up with a nice little series. I’ll be anxious to confirm whether these are A. davidsoni.

Mozena arizonensis on Vachellia constricta (white-thorn acacia).
Vachellia constricta (white-thorn acacia).

South of Willcox, Arizona
We got to Willcox around dusk, and the cool, breezy conditions told my gut that it would be pointless to set up the lights. Still, I couldn’t let myself not try, and without much opportunity to look for a good place to set up I just went down Blu Sky Rd to E Moonlight Rd and hoped for the best. My optimism waned rapidly, as conditions continued getting colder and breezier, and not a single insect came to the light—I should’ve listened to my gut!

Moonrise. A twilight zone moment occurred when I realized that I had taken this photo on Moonlight Rd!😮

Day 6 – Jim Wappes Celebration, Hereford, Arizona
Fun day with lots of fellow coleopterists at the home of Steven Lingafelter and Norm Woodley in memory of Jim Wappes. We got there in the early afternoon and enjoyed eats, conversation, and war stories from the field.

Min, Sangmi Lee, Lisa Lee, Candy Kuckartz, the author, Margarethe Brummermann, Jason Botz, & Andrew Johnston (photo by Steven Lingafelter).
The author, Andrew Johnston, Norm Woodley, & Ed Riley (photo by Margarethe Brummermann).

It was a good day for a party, as rain made insect collecting a no-go. As dusk settled, I admired the incredible view from Steve’s and Norm’s back patio!

Low clouds hang over the Huachuca Mountains.

The fun extended well into the evening hours. My thanks to Steve and Norm for hosting the celebration—what fun to see and talk to so many entomologists in one place.

Steve Lingafelter, Gino Nearns, “Kira Brummermann,” & the author (photo by Margarethe Brummermann).
Bill Warner, Norm Woodley, Paul Skelley, Jeff Huether, Steve Lingafelter, Andrew Johnston, & the author (photo by Margarethe Brummermann)

Day 7 – Superstition Mountains, Weaver’s Needle Vista Viewpoint, Arizona
We awoke to rain yesterday morning in Willcox, and it has stayed with us since—first on our way to Hereford for the Wappes Celebration, then up to Phoenix this morning—our efforts to escape the rain by coming north thus proving futile. I came to this spot on a tip that I might find Agrilus cavifrons on Celtis pallida (spiny hackberry) (although maybe a bit early), and I’d hoped despite the light rain I would still be able to find it. I did not—though I found the plants, but I did get a Chrysobothris sp. that I don’t recognize while beating Senegalia greggii (formerly Acacia greggii, cat-claw acacia). Of course, it was on the first plant that I beat, so I ended up beating for another hour with nothing to show for it! While walking the short paved trail, I found Cercidium sp. (palo verde) tree that had been cut up and showed evidence of buprestid infestation in one of the larger branches, so I retrieved and cut it up for rearing.

Water… water… everywhere!
Cylindropuntia fulgida (chain-fruit cholla, jumping cholla, hanging chain cholla).

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
We made a quick stop here to admire its incredible scenery before heading back south.

Superstition Mountains as seen from Lost Dutchman State Park.
Stands of Cylindropuntia fulgida (chain-fruit cholla) frame this view of the Superstition Mountains from Lost Dutchman State Park.
Carnegiea gigantea (saguaro) in front of the Superstition Mountains.
Carnegiea gigantea (saguaro).

Upper Tanque Verde Falls Trailhead, Tucson, Arizona
The rain finally moved out and it was sunny for the drive back to Tucson, but with still-cool temps we weren’t sure if lighting would be worthwhile. We decided to try this spot—not too high (based on a tip by Bill Warner), and I setup the lights using a technique recommended by Roy Morris that involved placing one ultraviolet (UV) light on each side of the sheet, extending the Mercury-vapor lamp above to the top of the sheet, and periodically shutting off the latter to allow the UV lights the pull in the “shyer” insects before turning it back on. While I waited for the lights to started pulling things in, I did some beating around the area. I only collected one specimen, but it was a Cleridae that I don’t recognize, which was beaten off of Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite). Temps ended up in the lower 70s to upper 60s, but at the lights we still got a few longhorned beetles (Aneflomorpha sp.), a few melolonthine scarabs, and a nice series of two species of Pachybrachis (that I will send to Bob Barney).

Jeff looks for beetles at the light sheet.
Lethocerus medius at ultraviolet/mercury-vapor light in mesquite/acacia scrub.

Day 8 – Atascosa Mountains, Ruby Rd near Atascosa Lookout Trailhead, Arizona
The primary quarry here was Acmaeodera chuckbellamyi, a species I described in 2014 from a single specimen collected by my friend and hymenopterist, Mike Arduser, at this location on flowers of Aloysia sp. Several people have tried to find it since—without success, and in June 2011 the area was severely burned by the 27,550-hectare Murphy Fire. I was hoping enough time has passed to allow the area (and beetle population) to recover in this, my first attempt, at finding the species myself. I knew it was a long-shot, and long sorry short I did not find either the beetle or it’s Aloysia host flowers. I did collect a number of other beetles, however, including Lycus lorises, a few longhorned beetles and pachybrachine leaf beetles, and one Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides on flowers of Eysenhardtia orthocarpa (desert kidneywood), several Aneflomorpha sp. and a few pachybrachines on Quercus oblongifolia (Mexican blue oak), and more pachybrachines on Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia), Mimosa dysocarpa (velvetpod mimosa)—the latter also yielding a few tiny Chrysobothris spp. (one looking like C. lucanus), and Propopis glandulosa (mesquite). Jeff also collected and gave to me a couple of Acmaeodera parkeri on flowers of Talinum aurantiacum (orange flameflower). I hiked 0.7 mi E on Ruby Rd to a spot where I swept a few beetles from low vegetation, and on the underside of a large, fallen branch of Q. oblingifolium I found a large female Polycesta arizonica. Finally, about halfway back to the trailhead I encountered a few tiger beetles on the road near standing puddles of water from the recent rains.

View from Ruby Rd looking south toward Mexico.
View from Ruby Rd looking southwest toward Mexico.
Lycus loripes on flowers of Eysenhardtia orthocarpa (desert kidneywood).
Lycus loripes on flowers of Eysenhardtia orthocarpa (desert kidneywood).
Talinum aurantiacum (orange flameflower).

Atascosa Mountains, Peña Blanca Lake, Arizona
We came here to look for Deltaspis tumacacorii, which like many rare beetles the odds are against finding it despite it having been taken in the area on several occasions. Again, this would not be one of those occasions, but I was happy to find a tiny tiger beetle (Cylindera viridisticta arizonensis) along the creek and even happier to beat a series of two species of Paratyndaris, one large Lampetis webbii (only my fifth specimen). and one Aneflomorpha sp. from mostly dead Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia).

Leptinotarsa lineata on Ambrosia monogyra (cheeseweed burrobrush)—adult.
Leptinotarsa lineata on Ambrosia monogyra (cheeseweed burrobrush)—larvae.

Huachuca Mountains, lower Carr Canyon, Arizona
After dropping Jeff off at his hotel in Tucson (he flies home in the morning), I high-tailed it down to Carr Canyon to do some light collecting. It has been a long time since I’ve seen my sheet covered so quickly and thoroughly with insects! My quarry was longhorned beetles—of which I got a nice variety, but who can resist also the variety of scarabs, ground beetles, tenebrionids, blister beetles, and even planthoppers that flock to the lights in the mountains of southeastern Arizona? I’ll have to control myself a little better in the coming nights! Walking about along the roadsides (hoping to see Amblycheila giant tiger beetles), I encountered a gorgeous male Aphonopelma chalcodes (Arizona blonde tarantula).

Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light setup.
Enaphalodes cortiphagus at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Parabyrsopolis chihuahuae at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Phileurus truncatus (triceratops beetle) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Chrysina beyeri (Beyer’s jewel scarab) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Chrysina gloriosa (glorious jewel scarab) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Pachysphinx occidentalis (western poplar sphinx) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Manduca florestan (Florestan sphinx) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Aphonopelma chalcodes (Arizona blonde tarantula) on ground in in oak/juniper woodland.
Aphonopelma chalcodes (Arizona blonde tarantula) on ground in in oak/juniper woodland.
Aphonopelma chalcodes (Arizona blonde tarantula) on ground in in oak/juniper woodland.

Day 9 – Huachuca Mountains, Copper Canyon, Arizona
I met Steve Lingafelter and Norm Woodley at their house, and together we drove to the famed Copper Canyon on the south side of the Huachucas. On the way I got a nice primer about the species that have been collected there and the plants they have been collected on. Steve and I started out walking the trail up the canyon while Norm swept the area down below. I pretty much beat every oak along the way, for a while only getting a smattering of beetles—Agrilaxia sp. on Quercus emoryi (Emory oak) and also on Q. arizonica (Arizona white oak) along with Sternidius decorus?. About a half-mile up the trail I beat dead branches of Q. hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) and, not seeing anything at first, said “I’m going back; I’m literally not getting anything.” Right then, a small black beetle on the sheet caught my eye. I looked at it closely and realized it was a Mastogenius (prob. M. robustus)! I popped it in the bottle and beat more dead branches from the same tree and got not only another Mastogenius but also Tigrinestola tigrina. Freshly motivated, I spent the next half-hour working all the oaks in the area—and, as often happens, did not see another beetle! Nevertheless, it was hard not to be happy with the beetles that I’d gotten.

An unidentified treehopper nymph, likely something in the subfamily Smiliinae, tribe Telamonini, on twig of Quercus arizonicus (Arizona white oak).

I walked back down the trail and met Norm, who was just starting up. He filled me in on the results from below, which included sweeping a few Agrilaxia hespenheidei—one of my target species—and an Agrilus sp. on Bouvardia ternifolia (firecrackerbush). I decided to work the slope under the road, reasoning that Norm had likely already worked the flat ground below. On the first B. ternifolia I approached, I saw an A. hespenheidei on the flower, gave the plant a sweep, and caught not only the A. hespenheidei but also an Agrilus sp. (maybe A. latifrons). Over the next hour I would sweep a nice series of A. hespenheidei from B. ternifolia (but not another Agrilus sp.). While I was doing that, I also swept the numerous stands of Acaciella angustissima (formerly Acacia angustissima, prairie acacia) looking for the large, spectacular Agrilus cavatus. I would find two, and considering that I swept perhaps 50 or more stands they were well earned. Also, in the meantime, I noticed Acmaeodera parkeri on small blue flowers that I eventually identified as Evolvulus arizonicus (Arizona blue-eyes). The flowers were few in number and the beetles difficult to catch, so I only ended up with two specimens. Further down the slope the flowers much more abundant, but there was not a beetle to be found on them. In the waning moments of my visit, I encountered two Trichodes peninsularis horni on flowers of Lasianthaea podocephala (San Pedro daisy).

Bouvardia ternifolia (firecrackerbush), flower host for Agrilaxia hespenheidei.
Acaciella angustissima (prairie acacia), host for Agrilus cavatus.
Evolvulus arizonicus (Arizona blue-eyes), flower host for Acmaeodera parkeri.
Lasianthaea podocephala, flower host for Trichodes peninsularis horni.

Eventually we all met up at the car, compared our catches (not surprisingly, Norm did very well with buprestids and Steve did very well with cerambycids), and I did okay in both counts. We headed back over Montezuma Pass and were greeted with stunning views looking down into the Coronado National Monument!

Coronado National Monument from near Montezuma Pass.

Huachuca Mountains, Miller Canyon, Arizona
After dropping Steve off, Norm and I went to nearby Miller Canyon to look at a spot where he has collected three species of Taphrocerus (I’ve only collected two, but only once way back in 1987 at a spot in the lower canyon). We thought it might be too late in the season, but it was at least worth a shot. The sedges were lush and green, but the “sedgy wedgies” were absent. Looks like I’ll have to just come back out in April or May!

After striking out with Taphrocerus, I went back down to the lower elevations of the canyon to look for Tragidion on the stand of Baccharis sarothroides (desert broom) that occurs there. Once again, I was likely too late to find them, but as with Taphrocerus it was certainly worth a shot, and again I would not find any despite looking and most of the large plants in the area. I did find a few Euphoria leucographa feeding on the sap flows and a very large red/black clytrine, so it wasn’t all for naught. Just another reason to come out earlier in the season.

Euphoria leucographa feeding on a sap flow on stem of Baccharis sarothroides (desert broom).

Day 10 – Santa Rita Mountains, upper Box Canyon, Arizona
After getting reports of buprestid activity near Madera Canyon, I decided to head to the Santa Rita Mountains today instead of continuing in the Huachucas. The shortest route to this most famous of canyons in the Santa Ritas goes down Box Canyon, a less-well-known but still-fantastic canyon in its own right and where I’ve had good luck collecting the two previous times I’ve been there (August 2018 w/ Art Evans, Steve Lingafelter, and Norm Woodley; and September 2019 w/ Jeff Huether). I stopped at the “dry falls” and worked my way back up the road to a point where I’ve collected the majority of my insects there. Along the way, I beat the flowering Eysenhardtia orthocarpa (desert kidneywood)—insects were not numerous on the plants, but over the course of the trips up and back I got Acmaeodera gibbula, A. cazieri, two Aneflomorpha sp., and a few Lycus sp. I also swept the just-beginning-to-flower Mimosa dysocarpa (velvetpod mimosa) but got just a single Sphaenothecus bivittatus. When I reached the top of the canyon, I looked for a small patch of Allionia incarnata (creeping four-o’clock) in the steep road bank, off the flowers of which I have previously collected Acmaeodera cazieri, A. parkeri, and A. yuccavora. I found the patch, but the plants were not yet in flower. What was in flower on the flats above the bank, however, was Talinum aurantiacum (orange flameflower), off which I collected all three species (A. cazieri being the most abundant and only a single A. cazieri). As at previous stops this week, it seems that insect activity is beginning but is still a bit shy of coming into full peak.

Larva of Euscirrhopterus gloveri (purslane moth), which was present in outbreak numbers on a portulacaceous plant growing amongst Talinum aurantiacum.

While I was collecting, a caravan of cars came by. They turned out to be filled with entomologists attending the Invertebrates in Education Conference, one of whom I knew—Tad Yankoski of the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in my hometown of St. Louis. He handed me a vial containing a large, live individual of Polycesta aruensis. I was excited to see this, especially when he told me he found it and saw many more in the flats below Madera Canyon, where I had planned to go next!

Santa Rita Mountains, flats below Madera Canyon, Arizona
It was a frustrating afternoon on several fronts. Starting off, I had trouble finding the Polycesta aruensis locality, and when I finally did find it there was nary a Polycesta to be seen. Perhaps they sleep during the heat of the day.🤷 After that, there was little time to go anywhere but Madera Canyon, where I spent a half-hour beating Quercus oblongifolia (Mexican blue oak) hoping to see Chrysobothris chalcophoroides (I didn’t) and another two hours checking out Baccharis sarothroides (desert broom) in the area where I collected Stenaspis verticalis and Tragidion deceptus two years ago (also fruitless). Of course, the dreadfully common Stenaspis solitaria was everywhere, but all I ended up collecting was a tenebrionid on the 2-track, a clytrine beaten from Cercidium aculeata (retama), and one Euphoria leucographa along with a nondescript cerambycid (Heaperophanini maybe) on B. sarothroides. On the way back to the vehicle, I encountered a dead, mostly skeletonized deer, and while I rarely collect from carcasses, I noticed a little green beetle crawling on the jaw bone. I figured it must be the cosmopolitan clerid, Necrobia rufipes—something I’d not seen before, so I collected it and tried to collect but missed another one.

Rain clouds gather over Madera Canyon.
Another view of the mouth of Madera Canyon.
Magusa sp. (one of the narrow-wings) caterpillar feeding on Sarcomphalus obtusifolius (lotebush).

Santa Rita Mountains, lower Florida Canyon, Arizona
I suppose I can credit my frustrating afternoon for one of my best nights of lighting ever. I stumbled upon this spot at the bottom of Florida Canyon during this afternoon’s Polycesta wild-goose chase and immediately thought, “Wow, what a perfect spot to set up a light!” A nice place to pull off the road with a small, level clearing embedded within low-elevation oak woodland. There was even a babbling creek in the background! It was close to dark by the time I returned and set up the lights (would’ve been even later if I’d gone into town for a “real” dinner). Ironically, there were neither the diversity nor quantity of beetles as two nights ago in lower Carr Canyon. But the cerambycids brought it… and kept bringing it! It seemed like every time I got up to check the sheet there were another 4–5 individuals. I ended up leaving the sheet up for four full hours and collected perhaps 40–50 specimens representing a dozen or more species. A few I don’t recognize, and most of those that I do recognize have resided in my cabinet in precious few numbers until now. It’s been years literally since I’ve had a night like this, and it’s a nice shot of motivation leading into the last few days of what is starting to feel like a long trip.

Sometimes circumstances dictate an unusual dinner.
Enaphalodes niveitectus at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Tigrinestola tigrinus at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Coenopoeus palmeri at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Syssphinx hubbardi (Hubbard’s silk moth) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Eacles oslari (Oslar’s imperial moth) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.

Day 11 – Madera Canyon Rd, Continental, Arizona
I came back to the spot where Tad Yankoski had seen Polycesta aruensis so abundantly yesterday morning but which was completely absent by the time I got there in the afternoon. I did not see any adults on the trees this morning either and was about to give up when I spotted a few partially dead trees with very large, apparently fresh emergence holes in the main trunks that were the perfect size for P. aruensis—good thing I brought my chainsaw! I cut a trunk with its branches and segregated the cut up wood into age (fresh dead versus older) and size (twigs, medium branches, and main trunk) classes. While I was doing this, a Polycesta adult dropped off one of the fresh-dead, medium-sized branches! I beat the remaining branches on the tree and on nearby trees but did not see any more, so whatever Tad witnessed yesterday morning must have been an ephemeral event, perhaps related to synchronized emergence from the very trees among which I collected the wood. NOTE: don’t let anyone tell you that cutting up wood for rearing beetles is anything but a sweaty, exhausting endeavor, even with temps still in the mid-80s and decent cloud cover!

This camouflaged tanker marks the spot—trees on the W side of the tanker.
Job half-done—wood cut up.
Job complete—wood segregated and bundled.

Santa Rita Mountains, lower Florida Canyon, Arizona
I had such good night collecting here last night that I thought I’d come back and see what I could find during the day in this ribbon of riparian oak/hackberry woodland. Almost immediately I beat a Paratyndaris sp. off of dead Celtis reticulata (netleaf hackberry). The tree was very dead, but I knew Paratyndaris spp. like old, dead wood, so I split open some of the branches and found larvae inside and also a dead and unemerged but perfectly intact adult of a very tiny Chrysobothris sp. inside one of the smaller branches. Beating on other plants in the area was, in general, fruitless, but occasionally (and just often enough) I encountered something of interest that motivated me to continue working: Paratyndaris sp. and Agrilus sp. on Quercus oblongifolia (Arizona white oak), a small red/brown elaterid on Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite), and Acmaeoderopsis sp., Paratyndaris sp., and a few clytrines on Senegalia greggii (cat-claw acacia).

Lower Florida Canyon.
Celtis reticulata (netleaf hackberry).

Santa Rita Mountains, Gardner Canyon, Arizona
Last night, I got a message from fellow buprestophile Robert Velten, who told me that he would be in Gardner Canyon the next day, so after finishing at Florida Canyon I drove over to Gardner Canyon to meet up with him. Despite being longtime correspondents, Rob and I had never actually met face-to-face, so I was thrilled to have the chance to do so and spend some time with him in the field. Joining him were his mothing buddies Steve McElfresh and Paul Tuskes, and a little later our mutual friend and Arizona coleopterist-extraordinaire, Margarethe Brummermann, also joined us for a night of lighting. It was great to spend time at the lights with so many like-minded folks! There were three light stations between us, but the weather was less than cooperative—a persistent cool breeze accompanied constant lighting and thunder in the mountains above. Eventually, the threat was realized when the skies opened up, prompting a hasty dismantling and storage of all my lighting equipment safely inside the vehicle. Nevertheless, in the time that I was able to collect, I got a small number of longhorned beetles (half of which came to my light in the moments I was taking it down—longhorns typically become very active right before a storm) along with a variety of showy scarabs and clerids. The rain ended as quickly as it began, so the socializing continued. The entire evening I was continuously taunted, however, by a large prionid sitting inside its emergence hole on the trunk of a large Quercus emoryi (Emory oak). It only showed its jaws and antennae, and if I even touched the tree to boost myself up for a closer look it withdrew deep into the hole. I’m convinced it was Nothopleura madericus—a species I’ve never collected. I can still hear it laughing at me! My attempt to find one out and about by scanning the trunks and branches of of the other oaks in the area with my headlight was not successful, although I did collect another elaphidiine longhorn in such manner.

Polyphylla decemlineata (or perhaps a new species) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Lucanus mazama (cottonwood stag beetle) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Xyloryctes thestalus (western rhinoceros beetle) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Hemiphileurus illatus at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Cymatodera horni at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Manduca rustica (rustic sphinx) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.

Day 12 – Santa Rita Mountains, Gardner Canyon, Arizona
Rob had noticed a stand of Anisacanthus thurberi (desert honeysuckle)—a host for Spectralia cuprescens—along the road into Gardner Canyon, so together (after morning coffee!) we checked the spot on the way out. The plants were in the early stages of leafing out, and after visually inspecting them for a while and not seeing anything I decided to get out the beating sheet to sample the stand more thoroughly. My eyes did not deceive me—neither one of us found any. Too early? Low population? Who knows! I did beat one clytrine off the plants and collected a few weevils by beating Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) before finding Acmaeodera parkeri and A. cazieri on the flowers of Allionia incarnata (creeping four o’clock). The flowers were common in the area around the road, but no Acmaeodera were seen until I started scaling the steep hillside nearby—a similar situation in which I’ve found these species on this flower in Box Canyon.

Rob Velten and the author enjoying morning coffee (photo by Margarethe Brummermann).
Dense stand of Anisacanthus thurberi (desert honeysuckle) in Gardner Canyon.
Gardner Creek running full after last night’s rain.
Yours truly with buprestophile extraordinaire Rob Velten.

Huachuca Mountains, upper Carr Canyon, Reef Township Campground, Arizona
I’ve been wanting to explore the higher reaches of Carr Canyon ever since I arrived in Arizona a full week ago. It is the only high canyon in the Huachucas that has a road leading all the way into its upper reaches. At these high elevations the forest is Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine) and Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak). There are many species of woodboring beetles at these high elevations that simply aren’t found down below. Another reason is the recent discovery up here of one of the rarest and most enigmatic of North American longhorned beetles, Placoschema dimorpha. Not even know to science until it was described from Mexico in 2007, it has since popped up here and a few other places in southeast Arizona—some of which have been heavily studied by coleopterists or many decades. Now, I didn’t actually <u>expect</u> to find such a rare thing, but maybe I could get lucky or at least find some other unusual species. The specimen at this location was photographed on a burned pine tree; however, I do not think that is the host (as far as I am aware, no species in the tribe utilizes gymnosperms as larval hosts). I think the host must be oak, as is the case for many trachderines. So, while I kept an eye out for burned pine trees, I also looked for oak, and especially recently dead oaks showing signs of woodboring beetle infestation. I did some of beating on Q. hypoleucoides and had collected just a clerid (Enoclerus bimaculatus) when I came upon a recently fallen Q. hypoleucoides that showed a few buprestid(ish) emergence holes and looked to be “the right age.” Cutting away the bark of the trunk revealed galleries, and chopping into sapwood revealed buprestid larvae in their galleries. I tagged it for retrieval, eventually cutting it up and segregating the trunk sections from the branches. Very nearby, I found another dead Q. hypoleucoides, this one much smaller and apparently cut rather than fallen. Unlike the previous one, however, this one showed the round holes with ejecting frass that indicated infestation by cerambycid rather than buprestid larvae. Cutting into the wood confirmed the presence of such, and so this one also was later cut up and bundled for bringing back. I saw no beetles on the trunks of any of the many fire-scarred pines lofting overhead, but at one point I spotted in the distance the telltale brown flagging of a recently died pine up the slope. Hiking up to it took some effort, but when I reached it the first thing I saw was a giant click beetle—Chalcolepidius apacheanus (Apache click beetle)—nestled against the ground at the base of the trunk (apparently ovipositing?). Inspecting the trunk of the tree itself, I noted just a few buprestid emergence holes that seemed fresh. Once again, chopping away the bark revealed the frass-packed galleries, and chopping into the heartwood revealed a large pre-pupal buprestid larvae. This was put into a vial, and I noted the location so I could return with the chainsaw and “bring ‘er down.” As I was cutting up the oaks, I found some small, recently cut pine branches near where I had parked the car. I found (and accidentally killed) a woodboring beetle larva of some type (I mangled it pretty good, but I think it was a buprestid) in one of them, so that was good enough to earn a spot in the rearing tubs. Unfortunately, I was not able to retrieve the dead pine tree—cutting up the oaks took a fair bit of time, during which darkening clouds gathered over the nearby peaks. Eventually cracks of thunder began piercing the air. It was all I could do to get the oaks into the car and all of the equipment put away before heavy rain drops began pelting the car. I had no idea what the storm would bring, but the last thing I wanted to be was stranded on the top of a mountain on my last full day of field collecting. As it turned out, the storm was more bark than bite (although the sharp drop in temperatures would kill lighting later in the evening). Perhaps I’ll be able to get back up the mountain in the morning and retrieve the pine tree.

Chalcolepidius apacheanus (Apache click beetle) on trunk base of dead Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine).

Huachuca Mountains, lower Carr Canyon, Arizona
It seems like forever ago that I began this trip, and now the last night of collecting has arrived. I decided to come back to this spot where I’d had such good luck earlier this week, but I wasn’t optimistic given how rain chased me out of the canyon earlier. My pessimism was warranted, and while I did picked up a variety of things, it included only two longhorns—both rather pedestrian species. No, the real charm of the night came not from collecting insects, but after the lights were down and my mind was free to wander as I leaned back in my chair and gazed into the crisp, dark, starry Arizona sky—its perimeter along the horizon bound by a craggy silhouette of nearby oak trees and distant peaks; from listening to the sounds of the night, alternately focusing on the individual cricket or distant coyote versus the chorus as a whole. Only to the north could I see the faint glow of city lights—the only sign that anything beyond me and this moment exist. These moments happen only once on a trip (maybe twice), and they are to be savored; indelibly stamped into the memory banks for future enjoyment; one of those experiences that, when recalled, is guaranteed to trigger euphoric recall.

Campground set for a final night of lighting.
Manduca sexta (Carolina sphinx) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Sphinx dollii (Doll’s sphinx) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.
Sphinx dollii (Doll’s sphinx) at Mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light in oak/juniper woodland.

Day 13 – Huachuca Mountains, upper Carr Canyon, Reef Township Campground, Arizona
I went back up to the top of Carr Canyon to retrieve the dead Pinus ponderosa that I found yesterday. Good thing I did, as I also found my favorite hatchet (which I’d inadvertently left behind yesterday). The 9” diameter trunk was almost too big a job for my Stihl MiniBoss chainsaw, but I kept at it and finally felled the the 25’ tall tree. It took three trips up and down the steep slope—each round trip almost a half-mile—to haul out the upper 10 ft of trunk and associated branches, which I segregated into three batches for rearing: trunk, 1–2” día. branches, and <1” dia. twigs. Now let’s hope the effort was worth it and I get some good species out of the wood.

Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine) dominates the high elevations in the Huachuca Mountains.

Huachuca Mountains, near Carr Canyon, Waterfall, Arizona
One last stop to take in the terrifyingly magnificent views from atop Carr Canyon! You can see the road that I traveled up this morning snaking back down the right side of the mountain. The massif to the left is the highest point that you can see from the valley below, but there are much higher peaks behind me.

Terrifyingly steep, magnificently endless drop!
Carr Canyon Rd snakes up the right side of the mountain.
This massif is the highest point visible from the mouth of the canyon.

Epilogue
Sadly, I could squeeze no more stops into the trip—I’d allowed myself two days to make the 24-hour drive back to St. Louis, and it was already almost noon on the first of the two days. I left, however, with a rack full of vials filled with insects and a renewed love for Arizona and the desert southwest that first captured my heart some 37 years ago!

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Botanizing at Salt Lick Point Land & Water Reserve

Bluff tops of Salt Lick Point Land & Water Reserve.

Today the WGNSS Botany Group ventured into Illinois for its Monday field trip to explore the limestone bluffs and hilltop prairies of Salt Lick Point Land & Water Reserve. This being the first day of autumn, goldenrods and other fall-blooming plants in the great family Asteraceae were expected to dominate the flora, which indeed was the case. Along the steep, rocky trail leading up to the prairies, Solidago buckleyi (Buckley’s goldenrod) and S. ulmifolia (elmleaf goldenrod) bloomed together in the dry-mesic deciduous forest. The former is a near-Missouri specialty, extending just barely into nearby portions of four adjacent states, and can be distinguished by its relatively larger flowers on columnar inflorescences with recurved involucral bracts and its relatively broad leaves with distinct teeth.

Solidago buckleyi (Buckley’s goldenrod).
Solidago buckleyi (Buckley’s goldenrod).
Solidago buckleyi (Buckley’s goldenrod).
Solidago buckleyi (Buckley’s goldenrod).

As we walked the trail, I heard several cicadas singing, starting with Megatibicen pronotalis pronotalis (Walker’s annual cicada) near the bottom and Neotibicen robinsonianus (Robinson’s annual cicada) as we ascended, the latter eventually joined also N. lyricens (lyric cicada). Carcasses of the latter two were also seen along the trail (confirming my IDs based on their songs), and as we reached the second of three significant hilltop prairie remnants Kathy found a live male M. pronotalis in the low vegetation. It’s noisy, rattling alarm screeching as I held it attracted a crowd of gawkers within the group and a flurry of photographs before I secured the specimen in a pill bottle and recorded the location. Like most cicadas, only the males are capable of making sound, which they do by rapidly expanding and contracting hard membranes called tymbals that reside under distinctive plates found on the venter at the base of the abdomen.

Megatibicen pronotalis pronotalis (Walker’s annual cicada).
Megatibicen pronotalis pronotalis (Walker’s annual cicada)—male ventor showing plates tha core the tymbals.

Goldenrods were blooming profusely in the prairie, attracting numerous insects including Lycomorpha pholus (black-and-yellow lichen moths)—a mimic of netwinged beetles in the genus Lycus.

Lycomorpha pholus (black-and-yellow lichen moths) on flowers of Solidago ulmifolia (elmleaf goldenrod).

As the trail continued along the blufftops, we found a true bluff specialty—Solidago drummondii (bluff or Drummond’s goldenrod). Like S. buckleyi, this species also is very nearly a Missouri endemic and is found exclusively on or very near limestone/dolomite bluffs. It’s habitat and very wide, toothed leaves on short petioles easily distinguish this species from other goldenrods.

Solidago drummondii (bluff or Drummond’s goldenrod).
Solidago drummondii (bluff or Drummond’s goldenrod).
Solidago drummondii (bluff or Drummond’s goldenrod).

In the interface between the dry-mesic deciduous forest and another hilltop prairie, we saw a nice patch of Agalinis tenuifolia (slender false foxglove), distinguished by its thin, branching stems, opposite, linear leaves with long, thin pedicels, and small flowers with upper lip arching over and enclosing the stamens.

Agalinis tenuifolia (slender false foxglove).
Agalinis tenuifolia (slender false foxglove).

As I photographed the plant, I heard others in the group on the prairie saying “We need an entomologist,” and as I approached the group I found them surrounding a Brickellia eupatorioides (false boneset) hosting two individuals of the large, black planthopper, Poblicia fulginosa. Although normally very wary, both individuals cooperated nicely for photos, and I succeeded in capturing a photo showing the bright red markings on their abdomen in obvious contrast to the otherwise dark, somber coloration of the insect. In fact, the dorsal portion of the abdomen is entirely bright red, presumably serving a “flash coloration” function similar to the brightly colored abdomen of jewel beetles or hind wings of underwing moths to confuse potential predators by its high visibility in flight and sudden disappearance when the insect lands and folds its wings over the abdomen.

Poblicia fulginosa on Brickellia eupatorioides (false boneset).

As we continued past the hilltop prairie, several individuals of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia or woolly buckthorn) were found along the dry ridgetop trail. Whenever I see S. lanuginosum, I look for signs of Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer)—arguably North America’s most beautiful longhorned beetle. No signs were seen at the first tree, but at the second the telltale frass (digested sawdust ejected by the larvae that bore through the main roots of living trees) was easily spotted at the base of the trunk. This beetle is distributed across the southeastern and south-central U.S. wherever it’s host can be found, occurring reliably as far north as the dolomite glades south of St. Louis; however, I am unaware of any records of this beetle from Illinois.

Frass at trunk base of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia or woolly buckthorn) indicating active infestation by Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer).

After a long, steep, rocky descent back down, we found many more S. drummondii perched poetically on the vertical limestone bluff face at the bottom.

Solidago drummondii (bluff or Drummond’s goldenrod).
Solidago drummondii (bluff or Drummond’s goldenrod).
Solidago drummondii (bluff or Drummond’s goldenrod).

The walk back to the parking lot gave us the opportunity to study several additional fall-blooming asters including Solidago altissimum (tall goldenrod), S. gigantea (giant goldenrod), Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke), and Smallanthia uvedalia (bearsfoot). While H. tuberosus is easily recognized by gestalt, John Oliver pointed out the main identifying characters that distinguish the species from the mutitude of other sunflowers such as leaves becoming alternate at the upper reaches of the stem, the rough, scabrous stem, and the basal “wings” on the distal portion of the leaf petioles, particularly the lower leaves.

Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke).
Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke).
Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke).
Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke).
Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke).

Smallanthia uvedalia, on the other hand, is much less common but immediately recognizable by its unique flower heads with few, well-spaced ray florets and large, maple-like leaves.

Smallanthia uvedalia (bearsfoot).
Smallanthia uvedalia (bearsfoot).
Smallanthia uvedalia (bearsfoot).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

2019 WGNSS Nature Photo Contest

Last night the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) held their 2019 Nature Photo Contest, and I was fortunate to have a 1st place winner in the ‘Plants and Fungi’ category! This photograph of grassleaved lady’s tresses orchid (Spiranthes vernalis) flowers was taken at Taberville Prairie Natural Area in St. Clair Co., Missouri. Like other species of lady’s tresses orchids, their tubular flowers are arranged in a spiral along the inflorescence and cross-pollinated primarily by long-tongued bees (e.g. bumblebees, Bombus spp., and megachilid bees) (van der Cingel 2001).

Spiranthes vernalis (spring lady's tresses)

Grassleaved lady’s tresses orchid (Spiranthes vernalis), Taberville Prairie Natural Area, St. Clair Co., Missouri.

Spiranthes is one of the more complex genera of North American orchids, with seven species known to occur in Missouri (Summers 1985), and like almost all orchids, their pollination biology is fascinating! The flowers are “protandrous”, i.e., they are functionally male when they first open and become functionally female as they age. Since they open sequentially from the base of the inflorescence as it grows, this results in female flowers on the lower portion of the inflorescence and male flowers on the upper portion.  Thus, bee pollinators tend to act as pollen donors when visiting lower flowers and pollen recipients when visiting upper flowers.  Male pollinia are attached to the bee’s proboscis as it tries to access the nectar secreted into the base of the floral tube and then come in contact with the female stigma in the next flower that the bee visits.  Bees generally start at the bottom of an inflorescence when visiting a plant and then spiral up to the top before flying to the next plant.  Such “acropetal movement” is likely a result of the tendency for nectar rewards to be greater in the lower flowers, and it ultimately promotes cross-fertilization between neighboring plants.

This was the 4th edition of the contest, which has been held every other year since the inaugural edition in 2013. I’ve earned 2nd and 3rd place honors in the plants category each time before; however, this was my first win in that category. In addition to plants, I also had entries in the ‘Invertebrates’ (restricted to photos taken in Missouri or one of its contiguous states) and ‘Travel’ (open to photos taken anywhere in the world) categories, with one photo each making it to the final round of judging. You’ve seen them both before—Neotibicen superbus (below left—photographed at Mincy Conservation Area, Taney Co., Missouri) and Agrilus walsinghami (below right—photographed at Davis Creek Park, Washoe Co., Nevada). In the end, however, they both got beat out by the competition, so I only had the one winning photograph this time. Nevertheless, it was a 1st place winner, so I am very satisfied.

The WGNSS Nature Photo Contest has quickly become one of the organization’s marquee events, with the number of entries, caliber of competition, and attendance all exceeding the previous three editions. My thanks to the judges who volunteered their time, the attendees who supported the event, and especially to Bill Duncan, Chair of WGNSS’s Nature Photography Group (and an expert nature photographer in his own right), who worked hard to make this event the success that it was (and took home some well-deserved wins of his own). I look forward to the next competition in 2021!

REFERENCES:

Summers, B.  1981.  Missouri Orchids.  Missouri Department of Conservation, Natural History Series No. 1, 92 pp.

van der Cingel, N. A.  2001.  An Atlas of Orchid Pollination: America, Africa, Asia and Australia. A. A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 296 pp.

© 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

A “superb” southwestern Missouri cicada

Back in the summer of 2015, I made an early August trip to the White River Hills region of extreme southwestern Missouri. I was actually looking for one of Missouri’s more uncommon cerambycid beetles – Prionus pocularis, associated with shortleaf pine in the mixed hardwood/pine forests across the southern part of the state. I did not encounter the beetle in either my prionic acid-baited pitfall traps or at the ultraviolet lights I had set up the evening before, but while I was in the area I thought I would visit one of my favorite places in the region – Drury-Mincy Conservation Area in Taney Co. Sitting right on the border with Arkansas, the rolling hills of this area feature high-quality dolomite glades and post oak savannas. I’ve had some excellent collecting here in the past and hoped I would find something of interest this time as well. I didn’t arrive until after midnight, and since there are no hotels in the area I just slept in the car.

Neotibicen superbus

Neotibicen superbus

The next morning temperatures began to rise quickly, and with it so did the cacophony of cicadas getting into high gear with their droning buzz calls. As I passed underneath one particular tree I noticed the song was coming from a branch very near my head. I like cicadas, but had it been the song of a “normal” cicada like Neotibicen lyricen (lyric cicada) or N. pruinosus (scissor grinder cicada) I would have paid it no mind. It was, instead, unfamiliar and distinctive, and when I searched the branches above me I recognized the beautiful insect responsible for the call as Neotibicen superbus (superb cicada), a southwest Missouri specialty—sumptuous lime-green above and bright white pruinose beneath. I had not seen this spectacular species since the mid 1980s (most of my visits to the area have been in the spring or the fall rather than high summer), and I managed to catch it and take a quick iPhone photograph for documentation. A species this beautiful, however, deserves ‘real’ photos, so I spent the next couple of hours attempting to photograph an individual in situ with the big camera. Of course, this is much, much easier said than done, especially with this species—their bulging eyes give them exceptional vision, and they are very skittish and quick to take flight. Most of the individuals that I located were too high up in the canopy to allow a shot, and each individual that was low enough for me to approach ended up fluttering off with a screech before I could even compose a shot, much less press the shutter. Persistence paid, however, and I eventually managed to approach and photograph an unusually calm female resting – quite conveniently – at chest height on the trunk of a persimmon tree.

Sanborn-Phillips_2013_Fig-16

Source: Sanborn & Phillips (2013).

According to Sanborn & Phillips (2013, Figure 16 – reproduced above), Neotibicen superbus, is found in trees within grassland environments primarily in eastern Texas and Oklahoma, although records of it exist from each of the surrounding states – especially southern Missouri and northern Arkansas (Figure 16 below, Sanborn & Phillips 2013). Later the same day I would see the species abundantly again in another of the region’s dolomite glades – this one in Roaring River State Park further west in Barry Co., suggesting that dolomite glades are the preferred habitat in this part of its range. Interestingly, I think the Missouri records at least must be relatively recent, as Froeschner (1952) did not include the species in his synopsis of Missouri cicadas. This was all the information I had back in the 1980s when I first encountered the species in southwestern Missouri, its apparent unrecorded status in the state making it an even more exciting find at the time.

Neotibicen superbus

Neotibicen superbus

REFERENCES:

Froeschner, R. C.  1952. A synopsis of the Cicadidae of Missouri. Journal of the New York Entomological Society 60:1–14 [pdf].

Sanborn, A. F. & P. K. Phillips. 2013. Biogeography of the cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) of North America, north of Mexico. Diversity 5(2):166–239 [abstractpdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2018

Summer Insect Collecting iRecap

At the beginning of the season I was planning to spend the first week of June collecting insects in southeastern New Mexico. Family issues intervened, however, and left me with a week of vacation time and no plans on how to use it. I’ve never been one to not use vacation time, so I quickly came up with a backup plan—a Friday here and a Monday there to create several 3–4 day weekends. Long weekends may not allow travel to far off and exotic places, but they do allow me to travel a bit further than I would for a regular weekend. I also took advantage of my frequent travel for work to stop off at favorite collecting sites for an evening of blacklighting (much more fun than sitting in a hotel room) or a half-day in the field before getting back home. I always have my big camera with me for serious insect photography when the opportunity arises, but I also take frequent iPhone snapshots to document the “flavor” of my time in the field. In previous years, I’ve collected snapshots from my extended trips into “iReports”, which were later followed by posts featuring subjects that I spent “quality camera time” with (see 2013 western Oklahoma, 2013 Great Basin, and 2014 Great Plains). I’ve decided to do the same thing now, only instead of a single trip this report covers an entire summer. I realize few people have the patience for long-reads; nevertheless, enough readers have told me that they like my trip reports and all of their gory details to make this a worthwhile exercise. If you’re not among them, scan the photos—all of which were taken with a stock iPhone 5S and processed using Photoshop Elements version 11—and you’re done!


Searching for the Ghost Tiger Beetle
Central/Northwest Missouri (12–14 June 2015)

In mid-June my good friend, colleague, and fellow cicindelophile Chris Brown and I followed the Missouri River Valley across the state and and up along its northwestern border to visit previously known and potentially new sites for Ellipsoptera lepida—the Ghost Tiger Beetle. We first saw this lovely white species back in 2000 while visiting some of the large sand deposits laid down in central and east-central Missouri by the 1993 flood. In the years since these sites have become increasingly encroached by forests of eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), making them less and less suitable for the beetle (it also remains one of only two tiger beetles known to occur in Missouri that I have not yet photographed). In the meantime several new sand deposits have been laid down in northwestern Missouri by flooding in 2011, so the question has come up whether the beetle has yet occupied these new sites. We started out at a couple of potentially new sites in east-central Missouri (and did not find the beetle), then went to one of two known sites in central Missouri. We did not find the beetle there either, but we did find this eastern hognose snake  (Heterodon platirhinos).

Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) | vic. Eagle Rock Conservation Area, Boone Co.

Hognose snakes are well known for their vaired repertoire of defensive behaviors—from flattening of the head and hissing to rolling over and playing dead (a behavior called thanatosis)—the latter behavior often accompanied by bleeding from the mouth and even defecating onto itself. This one, however, was content to simply flatten its head and hiss, its tongue constantly flickering.

Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

The flattened head is an attempt by the snake to make itself appear larger and more imposing.

Standing its ground as tenaciously as it did, I took advantage of the opportunity to close in tight and take a burst series of photos, which I used to create this animated gif of the snake’s constantly flickering tongue.

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

After an evening of driving to northwest Missouri and a stay in one of our favorite local hotels (eh hem…), we awoke to find the scene below at our first destination.

Ted MacRae & Chris Brown look out over a flooded wildlife refuge

Ted MacRae & Chris Brown look out over a flooded Thurnau Conservation Area, Holt Co.

No tiger beetles there! What to do now. One thing I love about modern times is the ability to pull out the smart phone and scan satellite images of the nearby landscape. Doing this we were able to locate a large sand deposit just to the south and navigate local, often unmarked roads to eventually wind up at a spot where we could access the area on foot. But before we did this we needed gas, and the only gas station for miles was a Sinclair station with a bona fide, original green dinosaur—one of the most potent and iconic corporate symbols ever! I remember these from my childhood, but this is the first one I’ve seen in years.

Authentic Sinclair dinosaur

An authentic Sinclair dinosaur guards the only gas station for miles.

Rain the night before had made the roads muddy, and it was only with some difficulty that we finally located a way to access the sand deposits we had seen on the satellite images. Even then we needed to hike a half-mile to access the sand plain, but once we got there this is what we saw:

Sand plain deposited 2009

Sand plain deposited 2011 along Missouri River, Thurnau Conservation Area, Holt Co.

At first we were optimistic—the habitat looked perfect for not only E. lepida but also the more commonly seen Cicindela formosa generosa (Eastern Big Sand Tiger Beetle) and, at least in this area, C. scutellaris lecontei (LeConte’s Tiger Beetle). We saw no adults however, as we searched the plain, and we wondered if the cool, cloudy conditions that lingered from the previous evening’s storms were suppressing adult activity. After awhile, however, we noted that we hadn’t even found evidence of larval burrows, and that is when we began to think that maybe four years wasn’t long enough for populations to establish in such a vast expanse of new habitat. Eventually Chris did find a single E. lepida adult—a nice record but certainly not evidence of a healthy population.

Sand plain deposited 2009

Seemingly perfect habitat, but void of active adults or evidence of larval burrows.

The next sand plain we visited was a little further north at Corning Conservation Area, also in Holt Co. and also laid down by the 2011 flood. Once again we saw no active tiger beetles in the area, and by this point we were convinced that the species were not just inactive but had not yet even colonized the plains. It should be noted that large sand expanses such as these actually are not exactly a natural process, but rather the result of river channeling and the use of levees to protect adjacent farmland. Before such existed, the river existed as an intricate system of braided channels that rarely experienced catastrophic flooding. Nowadays, with the river confined to a single, narrow channel, the river valley doesn’t experience a normal ebb and flow of water. Only when water levels reach such extreme levels in the narrow channel that they breach a levee does the adjacent valley flood, with the area immediately downstream from the levee breach receiving huge amounts of sand and mud scoured from the breach zone. Tiger beetle species adapted to ephemeral sand plain habitats along big rivers probably

Sand plain deposited 2009

Another sand plain deposited in 2011 at Corning Conservation Area, Holt. Co.

Cottonwoods and willows were already colonizing the edge of the plain, and the latter were heavily infested by large blue leaf beetles. As far as I know the only species of Altica in Missouri associated with willow is A. subplicata, although admittedly it is a large, diverse genus and there could be other willow-associates within the state that I am unaware of. The beetles seemed especially fond of the smaller plants (1–3′ in height), while taller plants were relatively untouched.

Altica bimarginata (willow flea beetle)

Altica subplicata? (willow flea beetle) | Holt Co., Missouri

Altica bimarginata (willow flea beetle)

Beetles congregated heavily on smaller willow plants.

Altica bimarginata (willow flea beetle)

Despite the heavy adult feeding we could find no larvae on the foliage.

Few other insects were seen. I did see a large, standing, dead cottonwood (Populus deltoides) and checked it out hoping hoping to find a Buprestis confluenta adult or two on its naked trunk (a species I found for the first time last year and still have yet to find in Missouri, although it is known from the state). No such luck, but I did collect a couple of large mordellids off of the tree. Let me say also that there were some interesting other plants in the area…

Wild hemp (Cannabis sativa)

Wild hemp (Cannabis sativa)

After satisfying ourselves that Corning also was not yet colonized by the tiger beetles, we drove further north into Atchison Co., the northwesternmost county in the state, to check out one more sand plain deposited by the 2011 flood at Nishnabotna Conservation Area. The sand plain at this area was much smaller than the two previous plains we had visited, and it was also far less accessible, requiring a bushwhacking hike through thick vegetation that was quite rank in some areas. Nevertheless, we soldiered on, motivated by the hope that maybe the third time would be a charm and we would find the beetles that we were searching for. The hike was not all bad—eagles were abundant in the area, and in one distant tree we could see a female perched near her nest with two large nestlings sitting in it. The passing storm system and sinking sun combined to create a rainbow that arched gracefully over the tree with the nest, resulting in one of the more memorable visions from the trip.

Rainbow over eagle's nest

Rainbow over eagle’s nest (tree is located at left one-third of photo).

By the time we got close enough to get a better photograph of the nest the female had departed, but the two nestlings could still be seen sitting in the nest. Sadly, the rather great effort we made to hike to the sand plain was not rewarded with any tiger beetles, and in fact the sand plain was little more than a narrow, already highly vegetated ridge that will probably be completely encroached before the tiger beetles ever find it.

Eagles in nest

Eagles in nest

Ellipsoptera lepida was not the only tiger beetle we were hoping to see on the trip. The Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle, E. macra, has also been recorded from this part of the state, and being members of the genus Ellipsoptera both species can be attracted to lights at night. In one last effort to see either of these species, we went to Watson Access on the Nishnabotna River, near its confluence with the Missouri River. Thunder clouds retreating to the east were illuminated by the low hanging sun to the west, creating spectacular views in both directions. Unfortunately, the insect collecting at the blacklights after sunset was not near as interesting as the sky views that preceded it.

Sunset lit thunderclouds

Sunset lit thunderclouds to the east…

Sunset on the Nishnabotna River

… and a bright colored sunset to the west on the Nishnabotna River, Atchison Co.

The next day we had to start making our way back to St. Louis. But while we were in the area we decided to check on the status of one of Missouri’s rarest tiger beetlesParvindela celeripes (formerly Cylindera celeripes)—the Swift Tiger Beetle. Not known to occur in Missouri until 2010, this tiny, flightless species is apparently restricted in the state to just three small remnants of loess hilltop prairie in Atchison and Holt Counties. We were close to one of these—Brickyard Hill Conservation Area (where Chris and I first discovered the beetles) so stopped by to see if adults were active and how abundant they were. To our great surprise, we found adults active almost immediately upon entering the site, and even more pleasantly surprising the adults were found not just in the two small areas of the remnant where we had seen them before but also in the altered pasture (planted with brome for forage) on the hillside below the remnant (foreground in photo below). This was significant in our minds, as it was the very first time we have observed this beetle in substantially altered habitat. The beetle was observed in relatively good numbers as well, bolstering our hopes that the beetles were capabale of persisting in these small areas and possibly utilized altered pastureland adjacent to the remnants.

Loess hilltop prairie

Brickyard Hill Conservation Area, loess hilltop prairie habitat for Parvindela celeripes

As we made our way back towards St. Louis, there was one more site created by the 1993 flood where we observed E. lepida in the early 2000s that we wanted to check out and see how the beetle was doing. In the years since we first came to Overton Bottoms, much of its perimeter has converted to cottonwood forest; however, a large central plain with open sand exposures and bunch grasses persists—presumably providing acceptable habitat for the species. Chris had seen a few beetles here in a brief visit last summer, but this time we saw no beetles despite a rather thorough search of the central plain. It seemed untenable to think that the beetles were no longer present, and we eventually decided (hoped) that the season was still too young (E. lepida is a summer species, and the season, to this point, had been rather cool and wet). The photos below show what the central plain looks like—both from the human (first photo) and the beetle (second photo) perspective. I resolved to return later in the month to see if our hunch was correct.

Sand plain (people view)

Big Muddy NFWR, Overton Bottoms, south unit, sand plain habitat for Ellipsoptera lepida

Sand plain (tiger beetle view)

A tiger beetle’s eye view of its sand plain habitat

It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I get caught by rain while out in the field, and this time we got caught by a rather ominous thunderstorm. The rain didn’t really become too heavy until shortly before we reached the car, but the lightning was a constant concern that made bushwhacking back more than a mile through thick brush one of the more unnerving experiences that I’ve had to date.


Trying for Prionus—part 1
South-central Kansas (26–29 June 2015)

Last summer Jeff Huether and I traveled to several locations in eastern Colorado and New Mexico and western Oklahoma to find several Great Plains species of longhorned beetles in the genus Prionus using recently developed lures impregnated with prionic acid—a principal sex pheromone component for the genus. These lures are extraordinarily attractive to males of all species in the genus, and on that trip we managed to attract P. integerP. fissicornis, and P. heroicus and progress further in our eventual goal to collect all of the species in the genus for an eventual molecular phylogenetic analysis. One species that remains uncollected by pheromones (or any other method) is P. simplex, known only from the type specimen labeled simply “Ks.” A number of Prionus species in the Great Plains are associated with sand dune habitats, so we had the idea that maybe P. simplex could be found at the dunes near Medora—a popular historical collecting site, especially with the help of prionic acid lures. Perhaps a long shot, but there’s only one way to find out, so we contacted scarab specialist Mary Liz Jameson at Wichita State University, who graciously hosted Jeff, his son Mark Huether, and I for a day in the field at Sand Hills State Park. We didn’t expect Prionus to be active until dusk, during which time we planned to place lure-baited pitfall traps and also setup blacklights as another method for attracting the adult males (females don’t fly). Until then, we occupied ourselves with some day collecting—always interesting in dune habitats because of the unique sand-adapted flora and the often unusual insects associated with them.

"Medora" Dunes

Sand Hills State Park (“Medora Dunes”), Kansas

Milkweeds (genus Asclepias) are a favorite of mine, and I was stunned to see a yellow-flowered form of butterfly milkweed (A. tuberosus). Eventually I would see plants with flowers ranging from yellow to light orange to the more familiar dark orange that I know from southern Missouri. I checked the plants whenever I saw them for the presence of milkweed beetles, longhorned beetles in the genus Tetraopes (in Missouri the diminutive T. quinquemaculatus is most often associated with this plant), but saw none.

Asclepias tuberosus "yellow form"

Asclepias tuberosus “yellow form”

In the drier areas of the dunes, however, we began to see another milkweed that I recognized as sand milkweed (A. arenicola). I mentioned to Jeff and Mary Liz that a much rarer species of milkweed beetle, T. pilosus, was associated with this plant and to be on the lookout for it (I had found a single adult on this plant at a dune in western Oklahoma a few years back). Both the beetle and the plant are restricted to the Quaternary sandhills of the midwestern U.S., and within minutes of me telling them to be on the alert we found the first adult! During the course of the afternoon we found the species to be quite common in the area, always in association with A. arenicola, and I was happy to finally have a nice series of these beetles for my collection.

Tetraopes pilosus

Two Sandhills specialties—Tetraopes pilosus on Asclepias arenaria

Milkweed beetles weren’t the only insects associated with sand milkweed in the area—on several plants we saw Monarch butterfly larvae, some nearing completion of the larval stage as the one shown in the photo below. Monarchs have been in the news quite a bit lately as their overwintering populations show declines in recent years for reasons that are not fully understood but may be related to recent droughts diminishing availability of nectaring plants for migrating adults and reduction of available food plants as agricultural lands in the U.S. become increasingly efficient.

Danaus plexippus larva

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) larva on Asclepias arenaria

We found some other interesting insects such as the spectacular Plectrodera scalator, cottonwood borer, and the southern Great Plains specialty scarab, Strigoderma knausi, both of which I took the time to photograph with the big camera—separate posts on those species will appear in the future. Sadly, no Prionus came to either our lures or our lights that evening, but some interesting other insects were seen during the day and even at the lights despite unseasonably cool temperatures and a bright moon. I’ll post photographs of these insects, taken with the “big” camera, in the coming weeks. In the meantime, my thanks to Mary Liz for hosting us—I look forward to our next chance to spend some time in the field together.

Ted MacRae, Mark Huether, Jeff Huether, Mary Liz Jameson

Ted MacRae shows Mark Huether, Jeff Huether, and Mary Liz Jameson how to take a panoramic selfie.

The following day, Adam James Hefel—at the time a graduate student at Wichita State University—and I traveled northwest of Wichita to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Adam has recently become interested in tiger beetles and had observed several interesting species on the margins of the salt marshes at Quivira. Several of these species were on my “still to photograph” list (and one even on my “still to see” list), so I was happy to have access to some local knowledge to help me

Salt marsh

Quivira NWR – salt marsh habitat for halophilic tiger beetles

The saline flats of the central U.S. are hyperdiverse for tiger beetles. Adam has seen six species in the saling flats of Quivira, including the saline specialists Cicindela fulgida, C. wllistoni, Ellipsoptera nevadica knausi, Eunota togata, and E. circumpicta johnsonii (formerly Habroscelimorpha) (both red and green forms) and the ubiquitous Cicindelidia punctulata. We managed to find all of these except C. willistoni, which is a spring/fall species—unusual for a saline specialist, but the extreme heat of the day made them exceedingly difficult to approach (and virtually impossible to photograph).

Salt marsh

Tiger beetles are found most often in alkaline flats with sparse vegetation

Salt marsh

The wide open central flats are devoid of not only vegetation but tiger beetles (and life in general!).

Ever fascinated by the diversity of milkweeds to be found in the central U.S., an unfamiliar Asclepias growing in the higher, drier areas around a salt marsh caught my attention. Of course, I checked them for milkweed beetles and quickly found a number of Tetraopes tetraophthalmus individuals. John Oliver kindly identified the milkweed from my photos as Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed), which does not occur in Missouri (hence the reason I was not familiar with it) but that gets common in the Great Plains and foothills of the Rocky Mountain.

Asclepias speciosa

Asclepias speciosa, or showy milkweed.

Asclepias speciosa

The specific epithet “specioosa” refers to the large, showy flowers.

Tiger beetles were not the only wildlife encountered on the saline flats. Killdeer and western snowy plover adults were abundant in the area, and we found this next with eggs along the lightly vegetated edge of a saline flat around Big Salt Marsh. Cheryl Miller suggested they are probably plover eggs, since killdeer don’t usually scrape out a cup or put debris around the eggs, while snowy plovers are known to nest on or near salt flats and frequently surround their eggs with twigs, small bones or other debris.

Western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) eggs

Western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) nest with eggs at the edge of an open flat

During the drive into the refuge, I noted several stands of large cottonwood (Populus deltoides), many of which were half- or completely dead. To some, these trees may be just ugly, half-dead trees. For me, however, they offer an opportunity to look for the gorgeous and rarely encountered Buprestis confluens, a species which I found for the first time just last year (not too far from hear in north-central Oklahoma). After getting our fill of tiger beetles, we drove to a parking lot surrounded by some of these trees, and even before I got out of the car I could see an adult B. confluens sitting on the trunk of a large, dead tree at the edge of the parking lot! I quickly secured the specimen, then spotted the half-dead tree in the photo below and walked towards it to look for more. I did not see any adults sitting on the trunk, but what I did see was truly incredible—two adults just beginning to emerge from the trunk! Waiting for one of the adults to emerge naturally (we “helped” the other one along) and photographing the sequence would occupy the next hour, but what an experience (and, of course, photos to come in a separate post).

Populus deltoides surrounded by hemp

This large, half-dead Populus deltoides “screams” Buprestis confluenta!

Wild hemp (Cannabis sativa)

Wild hemp (Cannabis sativa) fills the are with a pungent aroma.

After a break from the heat and something to eat in the nearest town (20 miles away), I returned to the cottonwoods, broke out the hatchet, and began chopping. Cottonwood is an amazingly soft wood compared to hardwoods such as oak and hickory, but dead cottonwood is still tough, and only after much effort did I manage to chop out two pupae (one of which later successfully emerged as an adult) and two unemerged adults, resulting in a nice, if still rather small, series of a species that until last year was not represented in my collection and until this time by only a single specimen.

Chopping Buprestis confluenta unemerged adults/pupae

Chopping Buprestis confluenta unemerged adults/pupae

Buprestis confluenta pupa

Exposed Buprestis confluenta pupa in its pupal chamber.

With the setting sun illuminating distant thunderclouds, I returned to the salt marshes to setup blacklights for the evening in hopes of attracting some of the tiger beetles that we had seen earlier in the day—not in attempt to collect more specimens, but rather to take advantage of their attraction to the lights and reduced skittishness in the cool, night air in an attempt to photograph them (I already had live specimens for studio photographs if necessary, but I prefer actual field photographs whenever possible). Eunota togata was not attracted to the lights, but both E. nevadica knausi and E. circumpicta johnsonii came to the lights in numbers (both red and green forms of the latter), and I succeeded in getting some real nice photographs as a result.

Thundercloud illuminated by setting sun

Thundercloud illuminated by setting sun

On the way back home, and again with the sun dropping close to the horizon, I stopped by Overton Bottoms again to look for Ellipsoptera lepida. Chris and I hadn’t see it here two weeks ago, and I was thinking (hoping) that it might have still a bit early in the season. This time I found them, and although they were not numerous and were apparently confined to the southernmost exposures of the central sand plain, they were still plentiful enough to allow me to get the field shots that I’ve wanted of this species for so long (and providing fodder for yet another future post). This species never seems to be encountered in great numbers, and although I have seen them on a number of occasions it always amazes me just how difficult they are to see!

Sand plain

Another pass through Overton Bottoms looking for Ellipsoptera lepida, this time with success!


Tryin’ for Prionus—part 2
South-central Kansas (11–12 July 2015)

Although our long-shot effort for Prionus simplex at the dunes near Medora, Kansas didn’t pan out, another species we hoped to see was P. debilis—a rather uncommonly collected species that occurs in the tallgrass prairies of the eastern Great Plains and, to our knowledge, had not yet been demonstrated to be attracted to prionic acid. I’d only seen this species once myself, some 30 years ago when I collected four males at lights near the southwestern edge of Missouri. As it happens, longtime cerambycid collector Dan Heffern grew up in P. debilis-land near Yates Center—not too far from where we were just a few weeks ago. When I mentioned my search for the species, he told me how commonly he used to see it around his home—especially around the 4th of July—and put me in contact with a friend who still lives in the area and has several tallgrass prairie remnants on his land. I made arrangements to visit the following weekend, and with prionic acid impregnated lures in the cooler and blacklights and sheets in the cargo area I set off. As I passed south through eastern Kansas I began to see nice tallgrass prairie remnants about 20 miles from my destination, so I took a chance and set a trap as a backup in case things didn’t pan out near Yates Center.

Trap baited with prionic acid lure

Trap baited with prionic acid lure

Things did pan out, however, although for a long time it did not appear they would. Dan’s friend kept me company while I placed a couple of traps and setup the blacklights, and for a couple of hours after sunset no beetles were seen (although we did enjoy good beer and better conversation). Just when I was ready to throw in the towel I saw a male crawling on the ground near one of the lights, and over the course of the next hour I found nearly a dozen males crawling on the ground in the general area around the lights but never actually at the lights. Interestingly, no males were actually seen in flight, nor were any attracted to the trap placed near one of the lights; however, after I took down the lights and checked the other trap there were five males in it. This likely represents the first demonstration of attraction to prionic acid by males P. debilis. I brought a couple of live males home for photography, taking this iPhone shot of a sleeping beetle in the meantime.

Prionus debilis "sleeping"

Prionus debilis “sleeping”in its cage after being taken near an ultraviolet light

One the way back home the next morning, success already “in the bag”, I stopped to check the trap I had placed the previous day. Filled with anticipation as I approached the trap, I was elated to find 21 males in the trap!

Prionus debilis

Prionus debilis in prionic acid lure-baited trap

The male antennae of this and other Prionus species show numerous adaptations that are all designed to maximize the ability to detect sex pheromones emitted into the air by females. They are both hyper-segmented and flabellate, providing maximum surface area for poriferous areas filled with chemical receptors. Larval habits for this species remain unknown, but Lingafelter (2007) states “Larvae may feed in living roots of primarily Quercus and Castanea, but also Vitis, Pyrus, and Zea mays.” I am not sure of the source of this information and don’t really believe it, either, as I think it much more likely that they feed on roots of bunch grasses such as bluestems (Andropogon spp.) and other grass species common in the tallgrass prairies.

Prionus debilis

Prionus debilis “looking” out over its tallgrass prairie habitat

Before reaching St. Louis, I decided to stop off at the last two known sites for Missouri’s endangered (possibly extirpated), disjunct, all-blue population of Eunota circumpicta johnsonii (Johnson’s Tiger Beetle). This didn’t go well—I first tried Blue Lick Conservation Area in Cooper County, where Chris Brown and I made the last known sighting of this beetle in the state 12 years ago at a salt spring about 500 yards further down the road in the photo below. I’m unsure what adaptations adults and larvae may have for surviving prolonged flooding, but it certainly cannot be helpful for the beetle. I then visited nearby Boone’s Lick State Historic Site in Howard County, and while the site was not flooded the two small areas where salt springs were located during our survey were even more heavily encroached by vegetation than before. Not only were no beetles seen, there did not even seem to be the slightest possibility that beetles could occur there. I keep hoping that the beetle will, someday, be seen again, but in reality I think I am just having trouble accepting the fact that I may have actually witnessed the extirpation of this incredibly beautiful and unusual population of beetles.

Flooded road leading to saline lick tiger beetle habitat

Flooded road leading to last known Missouri site for Eunota circumpicta johnsonii


Chillin’ after work
Sand Prairie – Scrub Oak Preserve, central Illinois (15 July 2015)

By the time mid-July rolls along, temperatures are not the only thing heating up. My travel for work also reaches a fever pitch as I begin traveling to research plots in Illinois and Tennessee every  two weeks. It takes three days to make the +1,000-mile round trip, which means that I have two nights and an occasional afternoon stop to collect insects—much more fun than checking into hotel right after work, eating dinner at Applebee’s, and spending the evening switching back and forth between FOX and MSNBC to see who can make the most outrageous statement because IFC just isn’t offered. One of my favorite spots along this route to set up a blacklight is Sand Prairie – Scrub Oak Preserve in Mason County, Illinois. Nothing too spectacular showed up at the lights there this season, but as they say a bad day (or night) of bug collecting is better than a good day of just about anything else.

Ted MacRae at the blacklight

Calling all insects—the blacklight awaits you!

On this particular night a number of hawk moths (family Sphingidae) came to the lights, among the prettier of which included this Paonias excaecata (blinded sphinx) (kindly identified by Robert Velten).

Blinded Sphinx, Paonias excaecata

Paonias excaecata (blinded sphinx) | Sand Prairie – Scrub Oak Preserve, Mason Co., Illinois


More chillin’ after work
Pinewoods Lake, southeast Missouri (28 July 2015)

Another species of Prionus that I hadn’t seen for many years was P. pocularis, a species found in the pineywoods across the southeastern U.S. and, thus, reaching its northwestern distributional limits in the shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) forests of the Ozark Highlands in southern Missouri. Like P. debilis, I had only seen this species once before—two males at a blacklight at Pinewoods Lake National Forest Recreation Area in Carter County many years ago. Unlike P. debilis, however, these were seen later in summer, as were a few other specimens known from the state. That being the case, I decided to try the prionic acid lures at Pinewoods Lake while traveling back up from Tennessee. I arrived at the lake shortly before sunset and, after getting the traps put out and the lights setup, had the chance to look out over the lake and its surrounding forests where I had collected so many insects back in the 1980s as a young, eager, budding coleopterist.

Pinewoods Lake at dusk

Pinewoods Lake at dusk

Quite some time passed and no Prionus beetles were seen at the light or in the trap (but several other longhorned beetles did occur). Recalling my experience with P. debilis in Kansas a few weeks earlier, I remained hopeful, and eventually my optimism was rewarded when I found this single male floating in the trap’s ethanol preservative. Curiously, it would be the only male seen that night, although several individuals of the related and much more common P. imbricornis were attracted to the prionic acid lures.

Prionus pocularis

Prionus pocularis in prionic acid lure-baited trap | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri

Several other insects did come to the blacklights, among the more photogenic being this underwing moth (genus Catacola, family Noctuidae) identified by Mathew L. Brust as Catocala neogama.

Catocala neogama

Catocala neogama at ultraviolet light | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri

Even more photogenic than underwings are royal moths (family Saturniidae), including this imperial moth, Eacles imperialis.

Eacles imperialis (imperial moth)

Eacles imperialis (imperial moth) at ultraviolet light | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri

Among the longhorned beetles I mentioned that did come to the lights was this Orthosoma brunneum (brown prionid). This species is closely related to prionid beetles (both are in the subfamily Prioninae). However, it is not a member of the genus Prionus, and, thus, is not attracted to prionic acid. It is perhaps no coincidence that males of this species do not exhibit the hypersegmentation and flabellate modifications of their antennae possessed by males in the genus Prionus, though they may still rely on sex pheromones for locating females.

Orthosoma brunneum

Orthosoma brunneum at ultraviolet light | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri

Even spiders were coming to the blacklights, perhaps attracted not by the light itself but by the ready availability of potential prey.

Black widow spider (Latrodectus mactans) female

Latrodectus mactans (black widow) at ultraviolet light | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri


Cicadamania!
White River Hills region, southwest Missouri (1–2 August 2015)

Although I had succeeded in finding Prionus pocularis earlier in the week at Pinewoods Lake, I wasn’t satisfied with having found just a single individual. I had nothing on the calendar the following weekend, so I decided to make a run down to one of my favorite areas in all of Missouri—the White River Hills of extreme southwest Missouri. The only other record of the species in Missouri is from that area, with its abundance of shortleaf pine forests (the species breeds in decadent pines), and I though how nice it would be to find more individuals in a part of the state that I love so much. The plan was to drive down, set a prionic acid trap or two once I got into the pine forests of the area, and then find a good spot to setup some blacklights with one more prionic acid trap that I could monitor. The plan was executed perfectly, and I ended up setting up the lights on a ridge just south of Roaring River State Park; however, the beetles never came. Nevertheless, like I said earlier a bad day/night of bug collecting is still better than just about anything else, and there was plenty at and near the lights to keep the night interesting. Once was this tiny walkingstick nymph that I found hanging out at the tip of a blade of grass. I was intrigued by the rather peculiar position adopted by the resting animal, with its forelegs and antennae extended straight out in front of the body with their tips resting on the grass blade.

Undet. juvenile walkingstick

Undetermined walkingstick nymph | Mark Twain N.F., Barry Co., Missouri

One thing I love about blacklighting for insects is the sounds of the night—katydids fill the black night with raspy calls while Whip-Poor-Wills and their country cousins the Poor-Will’s-Widows hoot and cluck in the distance.

Undet. adult katydid?

Undetermined katydid | Mark Twain N.F., Barry Co., Missouri

As I was photographing the walkingstick, I felt something crawling on my neck. After many years of doing this, I’ve learned not to freak out and slap wildly at something crawling on my neck, because 1) more often than not it is something interesting and 2) even if it isn’t particularly interesting it’s almost never capable of biting or stinging. Still, I don’t want to just grab it unseen or pin it against my neck—instead I kind of “scoop” it away with my fingers and toss it onto the ground beside me in one swift, assertive movement. This night’s mystery neck crawler was about as interesting as they get—Dynastes tityus (eastern Hercules beetle), the largest beetle in eastern North America. This one is a female by virtue of its lack of any horns on the head and pronotum.

Dynastes tityus female

Female Dynastes tityus (eastern Hercules beetle) | Mark Twain N.F., Barry Co., Missouri

After pulling the lights down for the night, I drove to Mincy Conservation Area, one of the many dolomite glades in the area in the next county over and one that I had not visited for some time. There are no hotels in the area, and my bones are a little too old to be sleeping on the ground, so I just pulled into the campground, took off my shoes, changed into PJs, and laid the driver’s seat all the way back for a surprisingly comfortable night’s sleep. My frugalness would have its reward, although I did not know it until I awoke early the next morning to a hauntingly beautiful fog. I’d never seen the glades in such manner—so serene. I knew the rising sun would quickly burn off the fog and and the moment would be lost if I didn’t act quickly, so I grabbed both big camera and iPhone and, put on some shoes (didn’t bother with changing out of my PJs), and walked the glade taking as many photos as I could. While the quality of the iPhone snaps doesn’t compare with those taken with the big camera, they nevertheless convey the quiet beauty of the glade.

Morning fog over the dolomite glade

Morning fog over the dolomite glade | Mincy Conservation Area, Taney Co., Missouri

Missouri coneflower (Rudbeckia missouriensis) is a characteristic plant of limestone and dolomite glades in the Ozark Highlands of southern Missouri.

Morning fog over the dolomite glade

Missouri coneflower (Rudbeckia missouriensis) | Mincy Conservation Area, Taney Co., Missouri

Morning dew makes spider webs abundantly conspicuous.

Morning fog on a spider web

Morning fog on a spider web | Mincy Conservation Area, Taney Co., Missouri

Eventually the rising sun began to burn through the cool, damp fog, portending another day of searing heat in the xeric glade landscape.

Morning fog over the dolomite glade

The rising sun begins to burn off the fog | Mincy Conservation Area, Taney Co., Missouri

Heading back to my car as temperatures began to rise quickly, I was struck by the cacophony of cicadas that were already getting into high gear with their droning buzz calls. As I passed underneath one particular tree I noticed the song was coming from a branch very near my head. I like cicadas, but I was there to look for the spectacular Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer), a glade species associated with gum bumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum). Had it been the song of a “normal” cicada like Neotibicen lyricen (lyric cicada) or N. pruinosus (scissor grinder cicada) I would have paid it no mind. It was, instead, unfamiliar and distinctive, and when I searched the branches above me I recognized the beautiful insect responsible for the call as Neotibicen superbus (superb cicada), a southwest Missouri specialty—sumptuous lime-green above and bright white pruinose beneath. I had not seen this spectacular species since the mid 1980s (most of my visits to the area have been in the spring or the fall rather than high summer), so I spent the next couple of hours attempting to photograph an individual in situ with the big camera. This is much, much easier said than done—the bulging eyes of cicadas give them exceptional vision, and they are very skittish and quick to take flight. I knew I had the iPhone photo shown below if all else failed, and for some time every individual I tried to approach ended up fluttering off with a screech before I could even compose a shot, much less press the shutter. Persistence paid off, however, and I eventually succeeded in locating, approaching, and photographing an unusually calm female resting at chest height on the trunk of a persimmon tree. Along the way I checked the gum bumelia trees hoping to spot one of the beautiful longhorned beetles associated with that tree, but none were seen.

Neotibicen superbus

Neotibicen superbus

It was already high noon by the time I finished up at the Mincy glades, so I began to retrace my steps to check the prionic acid traps that I had set out the day before. Along the way I stopped by Chute Ridge Glade Natural Area in Roaring River State Park, another place where I have seen bumelia borers, so I stopped to try my luck there before continuing on to pick up the traps. Again, none were seen, but in addition to numerous individuals of N. superbus I found another species of cicada, still undetermined by more robust and nearly blackish and with a throatier call that sounding a bit like a machine gun (or table saw hitting a nail!). Despite the lack of bumelia borers, I enjoyed my time on the glade immensely and eventually had to call it quits if I was to get to all of my traps before nightfall.

IMG_6373_enh_1230x720


Still more chillin’ after work
Pinewoods Lake, southeast Missouri (11 August 2015)

Two attempts at Prionus pocularis in the past two weeks had netted me but a single specimen—this species was becoming my summer nemesis. So when I found myself back in Tennessee for field trial work and the timing still right I decided to spend the evening at Pinewoods Lake once again before heading back to St. Louis and see if the third time would be a charm. I found a new restaurant in the tiny nearby town of Ellsinore, and the dinner special that evening was fried catfish—hoo boy! My belly was in a good place after that, filling me with optimism that I would have success tonight. I got to the lake at dusk, quick setup the blacklights and put the prionic acid traps in place, and waited for the bugs to come in.

Pinewoods Lake at dusk

Pinewoods Lake at dusk, again!

The evening’s first visitor to the lights was a parandrine cerambycid—Neandra brunnea. Believe it or not, this was the first time I have ever seen the species alive (once before finding a dead specimen in a Japanese beetle trap waaaay back in the mid-1980s!)—a pretty nice find. In fact, Pinewoods Lake produced a number of good finds during those days back in the 1980s when I was collecting here regularly—longhorned beetles such as Acanthocinus nodosus, Enaphalodes hispicornis, and the aforementioned Prionus pocularis, male Lucanus elaphus stage beetles, the jewel beetle Dicerca pugionata on ninebark in the draws, and the seldom seen tiger beetle Apterodela unipunctata (formerly Cylindera unipunctata), just to name a few.

Neandra brunnea

Neandra brunnea | Mark Twain N.F., Pinewods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri

Seeing N. brunnea and the prospects of collecting P. pocularis weren’t the only things putting me in a good mood…

Blacklighting w/ beer

Blacklighting is better with beer!

My optimism, unfortunately, would eventually prove to be unfounded, as not only did P. pocularis never show up—either at the blacklights or the prionic acid traps, no other beetles showed up as well, longhorned or otherwise. When that happens, I have no choice but to start paying attention to other insects that show up at the lights. It was slim pickings on this night for some reason, making this already striking moth identified by Alex Harman as Panthea furcilla  (tufted white pine caterpillar or eastern panthea) in the family Noctuidae stand out even more so. 

Panthea furcilla

Panthea furcilla | Mark Twain N.F., Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri

While walking between the blacklights and the prionic acid traps, something suspended between two trees caught my eye. I recognized it quickly as some type of orb weaver spider (family Araneidae), but I couldn’t exactly figure out exactly what was going on until I took a closer look and saw that there were actually two spiders! I’d never seen orb weaver courtship before, so I excitedly took a few quick shots with the iPhone and then hurried back to the car to get the big camera.

Neoscona sp. courtship

Be very, very careful boy!

Sadly, the male had already departed by the time I got back, so the quick iPhone photos I took are the only record I have of that encounter. Still, I got some good photos of just the female with the big camera, along with the quicker, dirtier iPhone shots—one of which is shown below. According to Eric Eaton these are likely a species in the genus Neoscona.

Neoscona sp.

Neoscona sp. | Mark Twain N.F., Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri


Checking out a fen
Coonville Creek Natural Area, southeast Missouri (3 September 2015)

On yet another trip back to St. Louis from Tennessee, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit Coonville Creek Natural Area in St. Francois State Park, an area I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years and the outstanding feature being the calcareous wet meadow, or “fen”, that dominates the upper reaches of the creek drainage. Fen soils are constantly saturated, a result of groundwater from surrounding hills percolating through porous dolomite bedrock before hitting a resistant layer (in this case, sandstone) and seeping out onto the lower slopes. Constantly saturated soils and occasional fires (at least historically) have kept the fen open and treeless, with the cool groundwater allowing “glacial relicts” (i.e., plants common when glaciers covered the area) to persist. 

Calcareous wet meadow

Calcareous wet meadow | Coonville Creek, St. Francois State Park, St. Francois Co., Missouri

I saw a few Cicindela splendida (Splendid Tiger Beetles) on the rocky, clay 2-track leading to the area—a sure sign that fall was just around the corner, a female cicada on herbaceous vegetation in the fen (small, I think it’s not a species of Neotibicen), and a huge, fecund black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia)—I love seeing the latter at this time of year when they have grown to their largest and the females are full of eggs. In reality, however, this visit turned into more of a botanical than an insect collecting experience. Insect activity in general was low, and my attention drifted instead to the diversity of wildflowers that were present on the fen—most new to me. False dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana), great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), and Spiranthes lacera (slender ladies’-tresses orchid)—its tiny white blossoms spiraling up the leafless spike were the most interesting, resulting in lots of time spent looking at them through the big camera.

Argiope aurantia

Argiope aurantia | Coonville Creek, St. Francois Co., Missouri


The always exciting amorpha borer
Otter Slough Conservation Area, southeast Missouri (23 September 2015)

As the dog-days of summer gave way to bright, blue skies and crisp, fall air, a distinctive insect fauna takes advantage of the explosion of goldenrod that blooms across a landscape morphing from shades of green to orange, yellow, and tawny. Many of these insects are widespread and super-abundant—soldier beetles, tachinid flies, bumble and honey bees, and scoliid, tiphiid, and vespid wasps are among the most conspicuous. Megacyllene robiniae, longhorned beetles commonly called locust borers  are also common on goldenrod during fall, but much less common is a closely related species that breeds in false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa)—Megacyllene decora, or the amorpha borer. I’ve seen this species several times, yet uncommonly enough that I still target it when I get the chance. One such place is Otter Slough Conservation Area—yet another interesting place along the way between Tennessee and St. Louis. On one of my final trips back this way I stopped by to see if these spectacular beetles would be out. My attention was first caught by egrets congregating in a mud flat exposed by recent dry weather. However, they were not what I was looking for.

Egrets congregating on mud flats

Egrets congregating on mud flats | Otter Slough, Stoddard Co., Missouri

There is no shortage of interesting insects to look at as I begin scanning the goldenrod flowers growing along the roadsides and around the edges of the shallow pools managed for fishing and shore birds. A fat, female Stagmomantis carolina (Carolina mantis) sat on one of the first inflorescences that I checked, but she also was not what I was looking for.

Undet. mantid

Stagmomantis carolina | Otter Slough, Stoddard Co., Missouri

After a bit of searching, I found what I was looking for! Over the course of the next two hours (all the time I had left before sundown) I would a total of three adults on goldenrod flowers at three disparate locations within the area—again not very many, making those that I did see a real treat.

Megacyllene decora

Megacyllene decora on goldenrod | Otter Slough, Stoddard Co., Missouri

As dusk fell over the area, insects began bedding down for the night. I was lucky to find the last amorpha borer in the dwindling light as it bedded down next to a bumblebee—perhaps the likely model for the beetle apparent mimetic coloration.

Megacyllene decora

Megacyllene decora and a bumble bee bed down together | Otter Slough, Stoddard Co., Missouri

The sun sinking over the horizon behind the wetlands put an end to the collecting, not only for the day but for the season, at least here in Missouri and surrounding states. It would not be the final day of collecting for me, however, as I managed to scrape together some free time amidst my hectic travel schedule and spend a week in eastern Texas for the Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Hunt. I’ll save that trip for another report and close this one out here, but be on the lookout for higher quality photos over the coming months of the really interesting insects that I encountered over this past season. Let me also say that if you’re still reading at this point, you have my deepest admiration for having the persistence to wade through all 8,376 of the words contained within this post!

Dusk over Plover Pond

Sunset over Plover Pond | Otter Slough, Stoddard Co., Missouri

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

A cicada that snaps, crackles, and pops!

Last summer during a collecting trip through the western Great Plains, field partner Jeff Huether and I made a quick stop in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just a few miles north of the Colorado/New Mexico state line. Most of the woody vegetation turned out to be New Mexico locust (Robinia neomexicana), which can be a good host for certain species of jewel beetles and longhorned beetles, and since it was mid-late June the timing was also right (assuming there had been good rains in the area). We began beating branches, picking up regular numbers of small longhorned beetles in the genus Sternidius and jewel beetles in the genus Agrilus—nothing unexpected. As I was beating I happened to notice a cicada sitting in a branch in a nearby tree. Usually I don’t see cicadas until they take flight after I unknowingly approach them—more often than not also letting out a metallic screech as they take flight if they are male, and even if I do see them beforehand I rarely am able to get close enough to attempt capture, much less photography. Perhaps the morning temps still had not risen to a point sufficient for the more active behaviors with which cicadas are usually associated.

Platypedia putnami

Platypedia putnami | Las Animas Co., Colorado

The slender, hairy, black body, orange highlights and pronotal collar, and black eyes identify this as a member of the genus Platypedia, and while the genus is large—21 species and four subspecies in western North America (Sanborn & Phillips 2013), its gestalt and occurrence in south-central Colorado make P. putnami the likely choice. Cicadas, of course, are famous for their singing abilities, which is most commonly accomplished through the use of structures at the base of the male abdomen called timbals (or ‘tymbals’). These paired, ribbed membranes make a loud click when buckled, and the male uses musculature to rapidly and rhythmically buckle/unbuckle the timbals to produce their characteristic song (Young & Bennet-Clark 1995). Cicadas of the genus Platypedia, however, belong to a group of genera that have lost the ability to produce sound through timbal organs, instead communicating through an alternate mechanism of sound production called crepitation where the wings are snapped together above the body or banged against the body or on vegetation (Sanborn and Phillips 1999). (Think of the snapping sound that some grasshoppers make as they fly, which is produced by the same mechanism.) You can hear the sound (I can’t really call it a ‘song’) and see a collection of videos of these cicadas at Cicada Mania.

Of course, replacement of one sound production mechanism by another begs the question—is there a selective advantage to sound production by crepitation over timbals? The fact that females also produce sound by crepitation hints at one possible advantage—2-way communication between males and females may provide another mechanism for minimizing the chance of interspecies mate selection, in contrast to the one-way communication (from males to females) that occurs in species that use timbal organs. It is also possible that crepitation is metabolically more efficient than timbal singing, although experimental comparisons of the energetic cost of crepitation versus timbal singing in cicadas are lacking (Sanborn & Phillips 1999).

REFERENCES:

Sanborn, A. F. & P. K. Phillips. 1999. Analysis of acoustic signals produced by the cicada Platypedia putnami variety lutea (Homoptera: Tibicinidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 92:451–455 [pdf].

Sanborn, A. F. & P. K. Phillips. 2013. Biogeography of the cicadas (Hemiptera: Cicadidae) of North America, north of Mexico. Diversity 5(2):166–239 [abstractpdf].

Young, D. & H. C. Bennet-Clark. 1995. The role of the tymbal in cicada sound production. The Journal of Experimental Biology 198:1001–1019 [pdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

Best of BitB 2014

Welcome to the 7th Annual “Best of BitB”, where I pick my favorite photographs from the past year. Before I do this, however, let me briefly recap the year 2014. The trend of increasing travel each year continued, with more days spent on the road than in any prior year. Travel for work over the past few years has settled into a familiar routine—touring soybean fields in Argentina in late February and early March, working in my own field trials at (previously three, now four) sites in Illinois and Tennessee from late May through late September, touring more soybean fields at sites across the southeastern U.S. during mid-September, returning to Argentina in October to finalize plans for field trials in the upcoming season, and—finally—attending/presenting at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) Meetings (this year in Portland, Oregon). This heavy travel load makes scheduling my own insect collecting trips a bit tricky, but I’m a persistent sort! In late May I traveled to Tennessee and Georgia with fellow buprestophile Joshua Basham and lab mate Nadeer Youseff to collect several rare jewel beetles, then in late June I collected prionids and jewel beetles in Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma with Jeff Huether. In addition to these longer trips, I also managed to take advantage of my work travel to check out interesting natural habitats along the way to and from my field sites. I continue to give the occasional entomology seminar as well, speaking in March at “Day of Insects” in Ames, Iowa and here in St. Louis to the Entomology Natural History Group of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society in April and the Missouri Master Naturalists Confluence Chapter in December. On top of all this, I still managed to vacation with my family in Lake Tahoe during March and in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico during late July.

I say all this to highlight the fact that after all these years I still consider myself an entomologist with a camera rather than a bona fide insect photographer. The reason for this is that the science of entomology itself remains my primary focus—photography is simply one of the tools that I have come to use in my pursuit of the discipline. I don’t mean to imply that I don’t continue to work on my photography style and technique—because I do. But my style and technique are not goals in of themselves; rather, they are means to an end—that end being my entomological studies. With that said, I present my favorite BitB photographs from 2014. As in previous years, my photos are largely hand-held, in situ field shots that are intended to tell a natural history story in a (hopefully) aesthetic manner. Links to original posts are provided for each photo selection, and I welcome any comments you may have regarding which (if any) is your favorite and why—such feedback will be helpful for me as I continue to hone my craft. If you’re interested, here are my previous years’ picks for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Once again, thank you for your readership, and I hope to see you in 2015!


Paraselenis tersa? female guarding her eggs | Cordoba Prov., Argentina

Paraselenis tersa (Boheman, 1854) | Cordoba Prov., Argentina

From Tortoise beetles on the job (posted April 20). This photograph of a tortoise beetle female over her egg mass illustrates maternal guarding behavior—rare in insects. The perfect lateral profile shot and clean, blue sky background also give the photo a pleasing aesthetic quality.


Who likes mole crickets?

Scapteriscus borellii Giglio-Tos, 1894 | Emanuel Co., Georgia

From Who likes mole crickets? (posted June 6). This has to be the most comical expression ever on the face of an insect!


Chrysobothris orono Frost, 1920 | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee

Chrysobothris orono Frost, 1920 | South Cumberland State Park, Grundy Co., Tennessee

From Chrysobothris orono in Tennessee (posted July 29). I found this rare jewel beetle for the first time this year with the help of Josh Basham and Nadeer Youseff. The beetle itself is beautiful enough, but photographing it on a pine root with a presumed adult emergence hole adds considerable natural history interest to the photo. Rock substrate behind the root adds a pleasingly blurred background.


Buprestis (Stereosa) salisburyensis Herbst, 1801 | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee.

Buprestis (Stereosa) salisburyensis Herbst, 1801 | South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee.

From The Buprestis tree (posted August 10). This was another of several jewel beetles that I found for the first time after more than three decades of collecting this group. I like the value contrast in this photo from the striking, metallic colors of the beetle against the nicely blurred cinnamon-colored pine bark of the tree on which it is sitting.


A "super moon" watches over a parasitized hornworm caterpillar.

A “super moon” watches over a parasitized hornworm caterpillar.

From A time of reckoning (posted August 13). I fully admit this is a composite photograph. Nevertheless, it is a faithful recreation of a true sight, and I don’t consider the use of composite techniques to overcome equipment shortcomings to be unethical. There is a haunting symmetry between the blood red moon—considered by some as a sign of the second coming—and the sad, parasitized caterpillar waiting for its inevitable demise.


The greatly expanded palps are thought to mimic beetle mandibles or spider pedipalps.

Phyllopalpus pulchellus Uhler, 1864 | Hickman Co., Kentucky

From My, what busy palps you have! (posted September 2). I’ve become quite fond of insect photos with the subject “peering” at me, the photographer”, from some unusual vantage point. The “pupils” in the eyes of this red-headed bush cricket give the insect an almost quizzical look.


Acmaeodera immaculata Horn, 1881 | vic. Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado.

Acmaeodera immaculata Horn, 1878 | vic. Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado.

From Sunset beetles (posted September 30). Taking photos of insects at sunset is a challenging and ephemeral experience—one has only a few minutes to take advantage of the unusual and serene colors it offers, while at the same time trying to determine the best camera and flash settings to use in the rapidly fading light. Of the several that I’ve tried, this one is my favorite because of the softly complimentary colors of the beetle, the flower upon which it is sitting, and the dying orange sky behind it. If I had to choose, I would probably pick this one as my favorite of the year because of the unusual and serene colors.


Megacyllene decora (Olivier, 1795) | Stoddard Co., Missouri

Megacyllene decora (Olivier, 1795) | Stoddard Co., Missouri

From Amorpha borer on goldenrod (posted October 5). I featured this very same species in Best of BitB 2012 but can’t resist choosing this second attempt at photographing the spectacularly beautiful adult—this time on goldenrod. As with the previous version this is a true in situ field photograph, hand held and using the left-hand technique to achieve precise composition against a clear blue sky—difficult to do with an insect of this size and using a 100-mm lens, but well worth the effort.


Buprestis (Knulliobuprestis) confluenta Say, 1823 | Woods Co., Oklahoma

Buprestis (Knulliobuprestis) confluenta Say, 1823 | Woods Co., Oklahoma

From A Buprestis hat-trick! (posted October 14). I didn’t take near as many of the classic “frontal portraits” this year, but this one of a jewel beetle that had eluded me for more than 30 years until this past June is perhaps my favorite of them all.


Agrilus concinnus  Horn, 1891 | Stoddard Co., Missouri

Agrilus concinnus Horn, 1891 | Stoddard Co., Missouri

From North America’s Most Beautiful Agrilus Jewel Beetle (posted October 19). There was a time when this beetle was considered one of North America’s rarest species of jewel beetle. Several years worth of hunting by me and others revealed this beetle’s association with mallow and its unusually late adult activity period—the two combining to make this beetle “seem” rare. This year I succeeded in photographing the spectacular adult beetle.


Cacama valvata female ovipositing

Cacama valvata (Uhler, 1888) | Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado

From Scorching plains, screaming cactus (posted December 5). Insect photos are always better when they also show some aspect of the subject’s natural history. I was lucky to find this female cactus dodger cicada in the act of ovipositing into the dry stem of cholla cactus—in a position where I could get a perfect lateral profile with a clean, blue sky background.


Moneilema armatum LeConte, 1853 | Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado

Moneilema armatum LeConte, 1853 | Vogel Canyon, Otero Co., Colorado

From Cactus beetle redux (posted December 20). Cactus beetles can be difficult to photograph, but sometimes they cooperate by nicely posing on a pleasing pink flower bud with a blue sky in the background and the cactus spines forming a nice, fuzzy “halo” around the jet black beetle. There were surprisingly few cactus spines impaled in the control unit of my flash after this photo session.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this 2014 version of “Best of BitB” and look forward to seeing everyone in 2015.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2015