2022 Six-State Insect Collecting Trip iReport

Welcome to the 12th “Collecting Trip iReport” covering a 22-day insect collecting trip (my longest in more than 20 years!) encompassing six states from May 15 to June 6, 2022. The trip started out with two days of setting traps in southern Illinois and across southern Missouri, continued with nine days of collecting in western Texas, three days of collecting in southeastern New Mexico and five days of collecting in southeastern Arizona, and ended with a day of collecting in extreme northwestern Oklahoma at the halfway point during the long drive back to St. Louis. Along the way, I teamed up with six different people during different parts of the trip—Jason Hansen, Joshua Basham, and Tyler Hedlund in Texas and New Mexico and Norm Woodley, Steve Lingafelter, and Paul Kaufman in Arizona.

This report assembles the field notes generated during the trip, which are presented in “semi-rough” form—i.e., they have been lightly polished but not further modified based on subsequent examination of collected specimens. 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
2021 Texas/New Mexico/Arizona
2022 Oklahoma

Packed and ready to go!

Day 1 – Setting out jug traps

Salt Lick Point Land & Water Preserve
Monroe Co., Illinois

I’m on my way to west Texas for a couple of weeks and southern Arizona for another week afterwards, but it’ll take a few days to get there while I hang insect traps here in southern Illinois and at a bunch of localities in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. The traps are based on an idea from fellow cerambycid specialist Dan Heffern, who calls them “jug traps”. The traps utilize 8-oz bottles of 200 proof ethanol suspended inside a 1-G milk/water jug. A hole is drilled in the lid of the 8-oz bottle and a wick inserted to moderate release of the ethanol, which attracts the beetles. 500 mL of a 50:50 mixture of polypropylene glycol and water is placed in the bottom of the jug to act as a killing agent and preservative for beetles that are attracted to the trap and fall into the it. Early testing by Dan suggests the ethanol bait can last up to 4–6 weeks and the beetles that fall into the traps don’t decompose within that time period, enabling them to be placed at much more remote locations than the fermenting bait traps that I have been utilizing for many years now in the glades of Jefferson Co. just south of St. Louis but which need to be checked weekly. For my part, I am placing two traps at each location—one with pure 200 proof ethanol and another with a 50:50 mixture of ethanol and red wine (the latter is cheaper and works well as a beetle attractant on its own). If the mixture works as well as pure ethanol (remains to be seen), it would be a way to reduce cost.

Assembled jug trap with 50:50 red wine:ethanol in inner bait bottle and 500 mL 50:50 polypropylene glycol:water in the reservoir of jug.

I chose this location based on a visit last fall with the WGNSS Botany Group, during which we found Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia)—host of the strikingly spectacular Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer) and one tree in particular that showed evidence of active larval infestation by the telltale pile of frass at the base of the living tree. The trees are growing in dry hilltop forest adjacent to a renovated hilltop prairie remnant, and the beetle has not been formally reported from Illinois. I’ve had good luck trapping this beetle in the glades south of St. Louis, so I am hopeful these traps will also be effective and that I can document the occurrence of bumelia borer in Illinois.

Jug trap bait bottle hanging mechanism.

It was a tough hike—mostly uphill and I was trying to get in and out quickly. I had a bit of trouble locating the infested tree that we’d seen last fall (even with the location GPS recorded), but eventually I found it. At first, I had trouble throwing the carabiner and rope over a high branch—my slingshot idea with the rope tied to the carabiner did not work, so I ended up just throwing it and succeeded only after many attempts to develop my “technique.” Then, horrors… somehow the bottle carrying the mixture of red wine and ethanol broke and spilled much of the contents into my backpack. Fortunately, there was just enough remaining in the bottle to mostly fill the 8-oz bait bottle. From that point, the rest of the trap went together as planned, and I hoisted it high above eye level before assembling the ethanol-only trap and placing it about 100 feet from the first. The longer-than-I-remembered hike and problems with the first trap already had me close to an hour off schedule, so I hoofed it back to the car as quickly as I could, stopping only briefly to pick up a tiny Glaphyrocanthon viridis (one of our tiniest dung beetles) that I saw land on the trail. When I got back to the car and checked my recorded track, I noticed that I had made it about three-fourths of the way around the trail and could have saved time had I simply completed the circuit rather than doubling back! Ugh—an inauspicious start to a long trip!

Papilio glaucus (eastern tiger swallowtail).

St. Joe State Park
St. Francois Co., Missouri

This is another location that I visited recently with the WGNSS Botany Group and noted the occurrence of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in the dry post oak woodland bordering the bicycle trail south of the Harris Branch Trailhead. I hung a wine:ethanol trap not far from the parking lot on the west side of the trail and an ethanol-only trap about 300 feet further south on the east side of the trail.

Acmaeodera ornata (ornate yellow-marked buprestid) on flower of Coreopsis lanceolata (lance-leaved coreopsis).

When I returned to the car, somebody had used a sparkly wrist strap to tie a bicycle key chain to my door handle. I’m not sure if it was a gift from a fellow cyclist who recognized my “Share the Road” license plate or simply a random act of kindness—either way, I think I’ll hang the bicycle from my rear view mirror!

Gifts for me!

Hughes Mountain Natural Area
Iron Co., Missouri

This area features dry post oak woodlands surrounding xeric igneous prairie (glades). I’m not aware of the presence of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in these (or any other) igneous glades, but the post oak woodlands could support many other longhorned beetles that are attracted to ethanol and fermenting bait traps (especially species of Purpuricenus). I placed a wine:ethanol trap at the north end of the first glades and an ethanol-only trap just past the south end about 1/10 of a mile away.

Acmaeodera tubulus (family Buprestidae) on flower of Rubus sp. (wild blackberry) in dry-mesic upland deciduous forest.

Russell Mountain Trailhead
Iron Co., Missouri

This is another area with igneous glades surrounded by dry post oak woodland. I hung a wine:ethanol trap at the north end of the first glade and an ethanol-only trap at the south end about 400 feet away. While I was hanging the first trap, I saw a ground beetle (family Carabidae) crawling over the moss-covered rocks under the tree. I believe it is a species in the genus Dicaelus (notched-mouthed ground beetles).

Dicaelus sp. (notched-mouth ground beetle) in xeric rhyolite prairie.
Silene virginica (fire pink) in igneous post oak woodland.
Tradescantia longipes (wild crocus) in dry rhyolite forest.
Phemeranthus calcyinus (large-flowered fameflower) in xeric rhyolite prairie.

Peck Ranch Conservation Area
Stegall Mountain Natural Area
Carter Co., Missouri

This area has some of the most extensive igneous glades in southeastern Missouri, and it’s remote location makes it an attractive spot for placing traps. Unfortunately, the entire natural area —glades and surrounding woodlands—has been subjected to a recent prescribed burn. I’ve never had much luck collecting in recently-burned habitats, so I had little hope that placing traps here would be worth the effort. Nevertheless, I was there and figured if nothing else it would be a chance to gather some objective data comparing a recently-burned area with similar non-burned areas. I hung a wine:ethanol trap at the north end of the glade next to the fire tower and an ethanol-only trap in the dry post oak woodland about 400 feet to the southwest.

Recently-burned xeric igneous prairie (glade).
Fire tower.
I cannot claim those stairs.

Peck Ranch Conservation Area
Cater Co., Missouri

I had originally planned to hang these traps at Mule Hollow Glade Natural Area—also in Peck Ranch Conservation Area but distinct from Stegall Mountain by the fact that the glade substrate is limestone rather than rhyolite. This results in a calcareous versus acidic environment and a completely different (and richer) glade flora—including potentially Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) and its beetle associate Plinthocoelium suaveolens. Sadly, after driving from Stegall Mountain through this enormous conservation area for about half an hour, I encountered a gate that prevented access to the glades. It was late in the day, and rather than drop the location, I decided to just hang traps where I ended up—a dry-mesic upland deciduous forest apparently with a chert substrate. I hung a wine:ethanol trap near the car on the east side of the road leading south behind the gate and an ethanol-only trap also on the east side of the road about 230 feet further south.

Penstemon pallidus (pale beardtongue).

Day 2 – Setting out more jug traps!

Mark Twain National Forest
Bald Hill Glade Natural Area
Ripley Co., Missouri
I’d hoped to make it here yesterday, but the day just ran out and I ended up spending the night in Doniphan. A great little coffee shop in town put me in the right frame of mind this morning to make the trek into this—one of the most beautifully remote high-quality glades in all of Missouri. The Forest Service roads leading to the glade become increasingly rough the closer one gets, and the final 1-mile spur required a bit of log/branch removal to pass through and even bushwhacking around and under fallen trees before an impassable blockage about halfway down. The last half-mile has been abandoned for at least 10 years, and walking it by foot required a keen sense of reading the forest to discern the barely visible remnant path.

Ethanol-baited jug trap in Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in xeric dolomite prairie remnant.

At last, I made it to the glade proper—a gorgeous tract of remnant xeric dolomite prairie (glade) with dry post oak woodlands interspersed within and surrounding the glades. I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a post oak on the east side of the main glade (past the first small glade) and an ethanol-only trap in a gum bumelia tree at the opposite end of the glade about 1/10 of a mile to the southwest. Along the way, I photographed and collected Nemognatha nemorensis (a blister beetle—family Meloidae) on a flower of Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf coreopsis).

Nemognatha nemorensis (family Meloidae) on flower of Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf coreopsis) in xeric dolomite prairie remnant.

As with the first stop yesterday, I underestimated the time needed to hike to the glade, hang the traps, and get back to the car, so by that time I was already off schedule. Nevertheless, considering the quality of the area, I decided to hang one of the two Lindgren funnel traps (baited with ethanol) near the car.

Shortly after turning off the spur onto the Forest Service road, I passed by a branch that looked suspiciously “pruned” (i.e., cut from the inside by a cerambycid larva). I stopped and walked back to the branch, which turned out to be Carya alba (mockernut hickory), and the size of the branch at the cut (~1” diameter) suggested it could be the work of Purpuricenus axillaris, a beautiful orange and black species that is very uncommonly encountered. I pruned off the excess twigs and collected the branch for rearing.


Caney Mountain Conservation Area
Long Bald Glade Natural Area
Ozark Co., Missouri

After finishing up at Bald Hill Glade, I blasted two hours west to Caney Mountain Conservation Area at the eastern edge of the White River Hills region in southwestern Missouri. The White River Hills is perhaps my favorite area in Missouri—I have collected insects at many spots here over the years, a number of which occur in Missouri only in this part of the state. Caney Mountain is only one of the sites I’ve selected for placing traps, but like the previous site it contains some of the highest quality and most beautifully remote xeric dolomite prairie remnants (glades) in the state—especially on the far west side of the area in and around Long Bald Glade Natural Area.

Acmaeodera neglecta (family Buprestidae) on flower of Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf coreopsis) in xeric dolomite prairie remnant.

As before, I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree on the west side of the first glade and an ethanol-only trap in another gum bumelia tree on the north side of the main glade about 1/8 of a mile west of the first trap. I also hung a second Lindgren funnel trap here—when I arrived at the site, I’d noticed a large area of post oak woodland on the other side of the road had recently been thinned (via chainsaw). With all the dead wood laying around (in a cool natural community), it almost screamed for a trap, so I baited it with ethanol and hung it right smack in the middle of the renovated area.

Ethanol-baited Lindgren funnel trap in dry post oak woodland.

By this time, the day was starting to get away and I still had four locations that I wanted to hang traps. With six hours of daylight left, it would be a stretch to get to all four, so I avoided the temptation to spend any more time poking around in this fantastic site and headed to the next location further west.

Mark Twain National Forest
“Blackjack Knob

Taney Co., Missouri
I’ve been to this knob several times and collected good numbers of Missouri’s disjunct population of the spectacular Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina (prairie tiger beetle) as well as discovered the larva of Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer) in the root of a living Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree. There is lots of gum bumelia at this spot, and since it is right along the highway and I could hang traps here quickly, I added the spot to my list of locations. I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a gum bumelia tree on the south side of the knob and an ethanol-only trap in another gum bumelia tree on the north side of the knob about 300 feet north of the first trap.

Sisyrinchium campestre (prairie blue-eyed grass) in xeric dolomite prairie remnant.

Mark Twain National Forest
Hercules Glades Wilderness
Taney Co., Missouri

Hercules Glades Wilderness contains some of the largest intact remnants of xeric dolomite prairie in the entire White River Hills region. Unlike those of other areas managed by state and federal conservation agencies, this designated wilderness has a “no management” mandate. As a result, there has been no effort to remove woody vegetation, either by chainsaw or by prescribed burning. While plenty of intact glade habitat remains, the margins and surrounding dry post oak woodlands are heavily colonized by Juniperus virginiana (eastern red-cedar)—a native tree that was historically restricted to bluffs and ledges but has since adapted to encroaching in glades and prairies as a result of fire suppression over the past one and a half centuries. I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a red-cedar near a Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree at the north end of the first glade and an ethanol-only trap in another red-cedar near gum bumelia about 450 feet to the southeast.

Oenothera macrocarpa (bigfruit evening primrose, Ozark sundrop, Missouri evening primrose) in xeric dolomite prairie remnant.

Along the trail in the dry oak-juniper woodland before reaching the glade, I found a Geotrupes splendidus (splendid earth-boring beetle) on its back waving its legs in the air. I flipped it over, took a photograph, and popped it in a vial.

Geotrupes splendidus (splendid earth-boring beetle) on trail in dry oak-juniper woodland.

Mincy Conservation Area
Taney Co., Missouri
Mincy Conservation Area is another area in Taney Co. with high quality remnant xeric dolomite prairie (glades). I have been here many times, and I couldn’t imagine placing traps in the White River Hills and not including this place. I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree at the north end of the glade across the road from the campground area and an ethanol-only trap in another gum bumelia at the southwest end about 1/8 mile from the first trap.

A marvelously cryptic Dolomedes albineus (whitebanded fishing spider) on the trunk of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in xeric dolomite prairie.
Ethanol-baited jug trap in Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in xeric dolomite prairie remnant during late evening.

Roaring River State Park
Chute Ridge Glade
Barry Co., Missouri

I got here right at sunset, so I knew I would have to work quickly to get two traps hung before I completely ran out of daylight. This high-quality xeric dolomite prairie remnant (glade) has undergone extensive renovation over the past 25 years since I first began coming here, and it’s character is now much improved compared to those early days. I hung a red wine:ethanol trap in a Quercus stellata (post oak) tree near some Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in the treeline about halfway up the slope at mid-glade. It was at that time that I noticed the bait bottle was missing from the second trap, so I had to hustle back to the car in the waiting light to retrieve another trap. It was too dark by then to wander back up into the main glade, so I walked the 2-track near the road to the north end of the glade and then east up the slope until I encountered an area where gum bumelia was growing, hanging an ethanol-only trap in a nearby hickory tree about 1/6 mile north of the first trap.

Psellidotus cf. hieroglyphicus (family Stratiomyidae) on flower of Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf coreopsis) in xeric dolomite prairie remnant. ID by Martin Hauser.

As I walked the 2-track, I heard the call of nighthawks flying overhead—a familiar sound during the day and early evening when in the glades. Once I started hanging the trap, the oncoming cloak of darkness was announced by the whip-poor-wills (a relative of the nighthawk, both species belonging to the “goatsucker” family). If that was not enough, a Chuck-wills-widow—yet another nighthawk relative—joined the chorus! It was a magical moment of pure natural history to celebrate the completion of my trap placing effort, after which I pointed the car towards west Texas (or at least Fort Smith, Arkansas) for the night before the long drive tomorrow.

Xeric dolomite prairie remnant at sunset!

Day 3 – Travel to West Texas

Fire southwest of Abilene, Texas.

Gold Mine Canyon
Val Verde Co., Texas

Today was a long, lonely, 11-hour drive from Ft. Smith, Arkansas to Dave Barker’s cabin above Gold Mine Canyon. I first came here last year a bit earlier in May with Rich Thoma to meet up with Dan Heffern, Brian Raber, and Ed Riley. Dave has been kind enough to make his cabin available to naturalists interested in studying the flora and fauna of the area around his cabin, and after getting a taste of the area last year I wanted to come back again and see it a tad bit later in the season. This time I met up with Jason Hansen, Joshua Basham, and Tyler Hedlund. The area got some rain in late April but has been dry since—and looked it. Nevertheless, insect activity at the lights (mercury-vapor and ultraviolet) was fairly high, although mostly moths and blister beetles. I did pick up one elaphidiine, a series of Hybosorus illigeri, and a few photogenic robber flies.

Efferia sp. male (family Asilidae) at mercury-vapor light in juniper chaparral.
Efferia sp. female (family Asilidae) at mercury-vapor light in juniper chaparral.
Brachynemurus sackeni (Sacken’s antlion) at mercury-vapor light in juniper chaparral.

Eventually the wind picked up to the point where I was worried about my light setup being blown down, so I took down the setup and searched (unsuccessfully) for Moneilema cactus beetles on the nearby Opuntia sp. (pricklypear cactus).


Day 4 – Devils River Area

Gold Mine Canyon
Val Verde Co., Texas

We stayed in the vicinity of the cabin to see what we could find. I wasn’t optimistic because of how dry everything looked but headed up the 2-track leading east of the cabin. Even though I was here earlier in May last year, things didn’t seem as far along—the Diospyros texanus (Texas persimmon) trees were just beginning to leaf out, and I didn’t see any of the plants in bloom that I’d seen last year such as Coreopsis or Opuntia. As I walked the 2-track, I noted a persimmon with emergence holes in the trunk that matched the size and shape expected for Spectralia robusta. The holes appeared fresh, suggesting there could still be some beetles inside, so I flagged the branch for later collection and rearing. Having flagged the tree, I decided I should beat the branches just in case, and a fresh adult landed on the sheet—sweet! I’ve collected this species before, but it was many years ago and I’d forgotten how pulverescent the adults are and how (unfortunately) the pulverescence rubs off when touched or placed in the kill vial, making it almost impossible to preserve. I focused on beating persimmons for the next hour, ending up with seven specimens, all of which were collected in the immediate vicinity of the tree that I’d originally flagged.

Hemiargus ceraunus (Ceraunus blue).

I had beaten a few other trees as well but wasn’t seeing anything, and by now temperatures were starting to soar, so I went back to the cabin to rehydrate and trade my aerial net for my sweep net so I could do some general sweeping. I worked my way back to the farthest point I’d gone before and shortly afterwards encountered Echinocereus enneacanthus intermedius (strawberry cactus) in bloom. To my surprise, I saw several Acmaeodera adults on the blossom, so I collected them with my aspirator and immediately thought of the larger clump of strawberry cactus blooms I’d checked earlier and not seen anything and then passed by this time. Again, there were quite a few Acmaeodera adults on the blossoms. As I collected the adults, others continued to fly in to the flowers, so I roamed back and forth between the two clumps collecting the adults until no more were seen. There were at least four species—the commonly encountered A. quadravittatoides and A. neoneglecta, the much rarer A. starrae (which I collected for the first time last year in Comstock) [Edit: I now regard these as A. robigo, also quite rare], and a fourth species that I didn’t immediately recognize. In shuffling through the possibilities in my mind, A. riograndei came up based on my recollection of Nelson’s illustration of the species in the original description. I walked further east down the 2-track and encountered another cluster of plants in bloom, allowing me to increase my series of all four species. By then, temperatures were approaching 100°F and I was also hungry, so I returned to the cabin to rehydrate, eat, and rest to avoid pushing myself too hard. When Jason returned to the cabin later, he had also found the same four species on cactus flowers, and we both agreed the mystery species was A. riograndei—the first time either of us had seen this very rarely collected species.

Echinocereus enneacanthus intermedius (strawberry cactus) in juniper chaparral.
Echinocereus enneacanthus intermedius (strawberry cactus).
Acmaeodera robigo on flower of Echinocereus enneacantha intermedius (strawberry cactus).
Acmaeodera riograndei on flower of Echinocereus enneacantha intermedius (strawberry cactus).

Once I felt energetic enough, I braved one more trip even further down the 2-track to where it crosses the canyon, the latter in which Joshua had seen strawberry cactus flowers in bloom and collected all four species himself. I hoped to find a few more A. riograndei, as I had only a handful of specimens of that species. Joshua came along, and together were located and worked as many plants in bloom as we could find. It was hard work—the plants were very sparsely distributed and mostly on the steep-sloped portions of the canyon walls or up on top where footing was precarious. Most plants had the two common species, and I managed to collect several more A. starrae as well, but I never saw another A. riograndei until after we’d been out there for a couple of hours and I was almost ready to collapse from the heat (temps were by then ~105°F!). On the same flower that I finally found A. riograndei, I also found a fifth species—A. gillespiensis, a west Texas specialty. That was one of the last plants in bloom that I found before working my way back down into the canyon and heading back to the canyon. I really thought I was going to collapse from the heat before I got there, and I needed the rest of the afternoon to rehydrate and all evening to recover. It was too windy to blacklight, which was probably fortunate because I really needed to take it easy during the evening and let myself recover.

Bee fly (subfamily Bombyliinae) in juniper chaparral.
Crotaphytus collaris (eastern collared lizard) in juniper chaparral.

Day 5 – Devils River area (cont.)

Devils River near Dry Devils River
Val Verde Co., Texas
We carpooled to a spot along the west side of Devils River that required fording the river and then traversing some of the roughest, rockiest roads I’ve ever traveled (my new Bronco Sport Badlands, chosen for just such roads, handled everything perfectly). There is a stand of mature Carya illinoiensis (pecan) along the river that Joshua and I headed straight for, suspecting they might harbor Anthaxia caryae. We spent a fair bit of time beating the lower reachable branches, and I spent even more time afterwards using the extensible net to sweep the upper branches. A single adult—on one of the first few branches that I beat—was all we got for our efforts. I also collected a little chlamisine chrysomelid by sweeping Salvia sp., but otherwise I saw little insect activity. Joshua had been beating the nearby oaks while I was working the pecans, and when I passed by he said he hadn’t gotten anything off the oaks either. I walked back up to the bluffs overlooking the river to see if I could find cacti in bloom but found no Opuntia (pricklypear cactus) and only the infrequent Echinocereus enneacantha intermedius (strawberry cactus) in bloom. Despite the generally poor condition of most of the flowers, I still managed to collect the same four Acmaeodera that we collected yesterday—including several A. starrae and two A. riograndei. While I looked for cacti, I also beat any Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon) that I encountered hoping to find more Spectralia robusta or the small Agrilus sp. that Tyler collected yesterday off the same at Gold Mine Canyon (I’m thinking it must be A. lautuellus), but all I collected was a single weevil and a single tenebrionid. By this time it was getting hotter than blazes, and we all returned to the car, drank some fluids and ate a bit, and decided the best way to spend the next two hours—the hottest part of the day—was by sitting in the river. We had no swim trunks, but underwear served the purpose just as well!

Zeltnera calycosa (Arizona or Buckley’s centaury) on limestone bluffs.
Zeltnera calycosa (Arizona or Buckley’s centaury).
Zeltnera calycosa (Arizona or Buckley’s centaury).

Gold Mine Canyon
Val Verde Co., Texas
After cooling off in the river and returning to the cabin, Jason and Joshua wanted to go check out the patches of Echinocereus enneacantha intermedius (strawberry cactus) from which we’d collected so many Acmaeodera to look for more A. riograndei, and Tyler and I decided to hike down to the canyon where he had collected a few Agrilus sp. on Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon). Along the way we beat some of the persimmon trees where Tyler had collected a few Spectralia robusta but found only a single epitragine tenebrionid. We also encountered a single strawberry cactus patch with a couple of closed blooms, and as I approached to see if any Acmaeodera were on the flowers I saw one approaching the flowers in flight. I instinctively swiped the net and caught it, and when I pulled it from the net I saw it was another A. riograndei. I must have around ten specimens of this species now—a nice series of a rare species for my collection. We had to pick a rough and precarious path to reach the canyon bottom, but once we did we started beating the persimmons on which he’d collected the Agrilus sp. (prob. A. lautuellus). Almost immediately he found another one and gave it to me (what a guy!), and we continued working the trees down the canyon. We did not see any more for awhile, but then suddenly I hit a hit spot where I collected one or a few off of successive plants, ending up with a total of nine specimens. Tyler never did find another one after that first specimen (but he’d collected a small series yesterday so he was fine). Once we worked all the persimmon that we could find, we worked our way up the canyon walls on the south side to look for more strawberry cactus flowers with Acmaeodera. We found a few plants here and there, but in all cases the flowers were closed and no Acmaeodera were seen—I suspect the flowers close and the Acmaeodera stop flying as a matter of routine at this time of day (now early evening). As we worked our way east above the canyon to a point where we could cross back over to the cabin, we beat persimmon, but I collected only a single anthribid. By this time we were hungry and thirsty and hoofed it back to the canyon to eat and get ready for blacklighting.

Late afternoon sun over Gold Mine Canyon.

Winds were not as bad as they were last night (and I was feeling much better than I did last night, having taken better care to keep myself fueled and hydrated), so we were anxious to put up the lights and see if we could collect cerambycids. I put up my mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light combination just east of the cabin, while Jason set up his mercury-vapor light on the west side. I picked up a few miscellaneous insects from each over the next hour after it got dark, but I hadn’t yet seen a single cerambycid and started exploring the surrounding area with Tyler. Not far from my lights I found an elaphidiine cerambycid on the 2-track—most likely it had been pulled to the area by the mercury-vapor lamp but landed in the area rather than coming all the way to the light. I tried (and failed) to photograph a mutillid female, so I collected it instead, and we found a cool Stenomorpha sp. [Edit: since identified as S. furcata] (family Tenebrionidae) and some very impressive arachnids (two Hogna carolinensis wolf spiders—one juvenile and one adult female, a Centruroides vittatus scorpion, and a sun spider—Eremobates sp.)—all of which I did manage to photograph! Coming back to the lights, my generator had run out of gas and the lights died, so we brought the ultraviolet lights over to Jason’s setup and turned off his mercury-vapor lamp to encourage cerambycids that had been attracted to the area to come on in to the lights. A couple of Lagocheirus sp. turned up (Jason and Tyler got them), and I got a couple of Aneflomorpha sp. and one Elaphidionopsis fasciatipennis—a species I have not collected commonly. This would be the last beetle I collected on the evening, bringing to a close a second hot but relatively successful day of collecting. Tomorrow we will leave the cabin and start working our way west towards the Davis Mountains.

Sunset over Gold Mine Canyon.
Stenomorpha furcata. (family Tenebrionidae).
Centruroides vittatus (striped bark scorpion).
Hogna carolinensis (Carolina wolf spider) juvenile.
Hogna carolinensis (Carolina wolf spider) adult female.
Hogna carolinensis (Carolina wolf spider) adult female.
Eremobates sp. (order Solifugae).
Eremobates sp. (order Solifugae).

Day 6 – To Comstock area

22 mi N Del Rio – Jct Hwys 277 & 377
Val Verde Co., Texas
We left Dave’s cabin in the morning, and on our way out to the Comstock area we stopped at this intersection where last May I collected Agrilus obtusus on Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna). I got four more this time as well in the small patch of plants just inside the fence, but when I went up the north side where there used to be many more plants, I was disappointed to find that the highway department had dumped multiple loads of gravel over the area. Still, there were other plants in flower closer to the roadside, and when I went to look at them I noticed right away Batyle suturalis, Acmaeodera ornatoides, A. neoneglecta, and A. mixta on flowers of Thelosperma simplicifolium (slender greenthread). Over the next half hour or so, I collected more of the same plus a few additional species (including A. paradisjuncta) in smaller numbers. Another Batyle was taken off the flowers of Ratibida columnifera, but then I noticed Acmaeodera starrae on the small, low-growing flowers of Pinaropappus roseus (white rock-lettuce) and focused on those flowers, ending up with a fair series collected almost exclusively on the flowers of that plant save for single exceptions on the flowers of Sida abutifolia (spreading sida) and Stenaria nigricans (diamond-flowers). I found it interesting that no A. starrae were taken on the flowers of the much more abundant Thelosperma. To the contrary, I did find a few individuals of A. mixta and A. neoneglecta on the flowers of Pinaropappus.

Agrilus obtusus (family Buprestidae) mating pair on foliage of Senna roemeriana (twoleaf senna).
Thelesperma simplicifolium (slender greenthread).
Pinaropappus roseus (white rock-lettuce).
Sida abutifolia (spreading sida).
Stenaria nigricans (diamond-flowers).

11.5 mi SE Comstock on Hwy 90
Val Verde Co., Texas

Jason has collected Agrilus esperanzae and Acmaeodera opuntiae at this spot during previous visits—two species I’ve not yet collected myself, so we stopped here to try our luck. Sweeping along the mesquite/acacia fence line produced only one Agrilus—not A. esperanzae (probably A. addendus)—and a smattering of other beetles; however, we were successful in our quest for A. opuntia, which we found on the flowers of Tiquilia canescens (shrubby tiquilia). They were not common and required a lot of effort to see and capture—sweeping was ineffective because of the very low-growing nature of the plants, and since the beetles are among the smallest Acmaeodera there are I had to crouch over each flowering plant and inspect carefully (under overwhelming heat). Fortunately, I was able to successfully aspirate them once I did see them, and I ended up with a small handful along with similar numbers of A. neoneglecta and A. starrae. The adults of A. opuntiae are unlike those I have in my collection collected by Ed Riley further south—the vittae are more broken, giving them a linearly-spotted rather than vittate appearance. One cool find was the blister beetle Pleuropasta reticulata—one of the two I captured going to Tyler since he had actually targeted that species for the trip.

Tiquilia canescens (woody crinklemat, shrubby tiquilia).

After a hydration break, I went to the other side of the highway where a nice stand of Thelosperma filifolium (stiff greenthread) was hosting Acmaeodera and off which I collected a few A. miliaris and A. princeps amongst the more common A. mixta. There were also a few flowering Tiquilia plants on that side, and while I did collect a few more A. starrae and A. neoneglecta I did not see A. opuntiae. By then the heat had gotten to me and I worked my way back to the car—save for the efforts given to photograph a couple of robber flies and some neonate coreids.

Acmaeodera mixta (family Buprestidae) mating pair on flower of Thelosperma filiformis (stiff greenthread).
Efferia sp. (family Asilidae) female.
Ospriocerus aeacus (family Asilidae).
Newly hatched leaffooted bugs (family Coreidae) aggregating near egg shells.

Devils River at Bakers Crossing
Val Verde Co., Texas
After getting a hotel in town (I’m looking forward to a hot shower instead of a cold river, for once), we headed north on Hwy 163, along which Jason has had good collecting in the past. The first stop just north of Comstock was not productive despite the verdant plant growth, so we continued north to Bakers Crossing at the Devils River. It was now early evening, so the heat had broken, and immediately we started finding beetles by beating the various trees. I collected one Chrysobothris rossi, one Euderces reichei, and a weevil on Sapindus saponaria (soapberry), but it wasn’t until I started beating Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) that the beetles started “raining” onto the sheet! Chrysobothris rossi was abundant—sometimes two or three falling into the sheet at once and scattering immediately despite the cooler temps. It took me a bit of time to perfect my technique to avoid losing as many as I was getting. Smaller numbers were also collected from dead branches of Vachellia constricta (white-thorn acacia), and just as dusk was falling I found numerous Stenosphenus dolosus bedded down on the thorny branches of Zizyphus obtusifolium. I also collected a couple more C. rossi on dead branches of Celtis sp. before calling it quits.

Danaus gilippus (queen butterfly) mating pair.
Stenosphenus dolosus (family Cerambycidae) mating pair on Zizyphus obtusifolia (lotebush).

Due to the lateness of the hour, and since it seemed to be such a good spot, we decided to stay out and put up the lights. Jason setup his mercury-vapor (MV) light closer to the river, while I put my MV/ultraviolet lights in the area where I had been beating. I collected a fair number of cerambycids (not a lot) and a variety of other beetles from the two lights while we waited for our coals to heat up so we could cook some dinner (a fiasco to recount on future trips).

Hogna carolinensis (Carolina wolf spider) adult female.
Hogna carolinensis (Carolina wolf spider) adult female.
Hogna carolinensis (Carolina wolf spider) adult female.
Corydalus luteus (family Corydalidae).

Day 7 – Pecos River area

The motel owner tooled around in his MAGA-mobile. Photo by Jason Hansen.
MAGA Power! Note Mike Pence’s name covered with “Impeach The Democrats” scrawled on duct tape. Photo by Jason Hansen.

Pecos River at Hwy 90
Val Verde Co., Texas
We awoke to much cooler temperatures (hallelujah!) thanks to a cold front that moved through the area last night, though without the 40% forecasted chance of rain (also good). Our plan today was to work the area around the Pecos River and then look for oaks in nearby Seminole Canyon State Park.

Pecos River at Hwy 90 bridge.
Pecos River at Hwy 90 bridge.

On top near where we pulled the vehicles off the road, I beat a Chrysobothris rossi off dead Vachellia rigidula (blackbrush acacia)—many of which had been killed in the great Texas freeze two winters ago. About that time, Jason and Tyler called me over to look at a buprestid larvae they had beaten from a dead branch of the same—it was not chrysobothrine or agriline, and based on the size of the many emergence holes observed in the branches of this tree we suspected either Xenorhipis osborni (which I have reared from this plant at this location in the past) or a small species of Acmaeodera. Jason collected the larva, and we both collected branches to bring back for rearing. Nearby I found another dead tree of the same but noted a complete absence of emergence holes, yet when I broke apart one of the branches I found a buprestid larvae just like the previous (as well as a C. rossi adult on the branch) and collected some branches for rearing from that plant as well.

Hemiargus ceraunus (Ceraunus blue).

I noted a few flowers of Ruellia parryi (Parry’s petunia)—in my experience other species of this genus are good attractors of Acmaeodera—but did not see any adults. The day was still cool and cloudy, so I hoped I might see some later after it warmed up and the sun came out.

Ruellia parryi (Parry’s ruellia).

I crossed over the highway about halfway down since the others had gone further down on the side I was on, wanting to avoid working trees they’d already worked, and found a fence crossover stand at the bottom under the bridge. I’d never been down that far before or noticed the crossover, which gave me access to the old road going all the way down to the river. I started beating Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) along the way, eventually accumulating around 8–10 C. rossi and a couple of Agrilus sp. along with a few other insects. There was also dead Celtis pallida (spiny hackberry) near the bridge, but I only beat a single miscellaneous beetle off one of the plants.

Atlides halesus (great purple hairstreak).

Near the bridge I noticed a small purple flower of Justicia pilosella (Gregg’s tube tongue) that looked like it had been eaten by Acmaeodera. I did not see any adults on it, but as I started to walk away movement caught my eye—movement like that of an adult Acmaeodera dropping from the flower. I used my aspirator to pick through the soil underneath the flower and eventually found the little guy laying there playing dead—presumably A. neoneglecta, which I then aspirated into a vial. There were just a few other plants in flower around that one, none of which showed evidence of feeding or were hosting a beetle.

Justicia pilosella (Gregg’s tube tongue).

By that time, Tyler had also found his way across the crossover and down to where I was, so together we explored the vegetation on each side of the old road leading down to the river. At one point while I was beating Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia)—from which I collected a single C. rossi, Tyler called my attention to lycids (netwinged beetles) on Karwinskia humboldtiana (coyotillo). I came over and told him we should look for Elytroleptus—cerambycid beetles that mimic lycids but that are much less frequently encountered. I noticed that the bush was abuzz with bees and Pepsis wasps, unlike many of the other plants of this species that I’d seen further up. Within a few minutes he called out that he’d found one, and within a minute or two I found one as well (I believe they are E. divisus). We searched the stand thoroughly but found no more and continued down the old road—our focus now on inspecting the patches of coyotillo along the way instead of beating the mesquites and acacias (by the way, I never got anything more off the dead acacias after beating the single C. rossi off the first one!). A little ways down the road, Tyler saw another Elytroleptus fly up from a coyotillo bush—also in flower and abuzz with bees and Pepsis wasps, and when he swung his net at it I saw another one fly up from the bush and netted it. This happened twice again on the way down, each of us seeing and netting an adult flying up from a plant and the other one doing the same immediately afterwards. As we neared the bottom of the road, we noticed the plants—more exposed than those further up—were now mostly past flower and were instead setting fruit with no beetles (or bees or Pepsis wasps) being seen.

Karwinskia humboldtiana (coyotillo).

After exploring the dry river bed for awhile, we headed back up the road and met Jason and Joshua looking at the very same plants from which we had collected the first Elytroleptus—although they had not yet seen that species. Joshua had just taken a swing at a Pepsis wasp on the bush when I saw another Elytroleptus fly up and away. Nobody else saw it, and I took off after it, successfully netting it to “win” the “Elytroleptus competition”! As we all walked up the road past the bridge, I noticed a R. parryi flower that was now hosting several A. neoneglecta, and we further noticed the Tiquilia canescens (woody crinklemat, shrubby tiquilia) flowers that were now open and collected a few A. neoneglecta and one A. starrae—a new western range extension.

Vachellia farnesiana (sweet acacia).

I didn’t find anything more the rest of the way up the old road, but once I got back near the vehicle I noticed Acmaeodera adults on flowers of Sida abutifolia (spreading sida)—most of which looked like A. neoneglecta but at least one possibly being A. opuntiae, collecting around half a dozen total. By then everybody was ready to go into town and look for something to eat, so I cut up and bundled the wood I’d collected and we drove back into Comstock. (Ironically, once back in town, we pulled up to the local eatery got out of our cars. As we approached the door, somebody inside turned the sign from “Open” to “Closed”! I joked that probably the motel owner had seen the #Libtardandproud sticker on my car window and called the restaurant to warn them. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!)

Seminole Canyon State Park
Rio Grande & Canyon Rim Trails
Val Verde Co., Texas

After being denied service at the restaurant in Comstock, we drove to the state park and ate lunch at the picnic area (sardines and Triscuits for me) before divvying up the “oak-hunting duties”. We were hoping to see Spectralia roburella, an oak-associate that I have reared from Quercus fusiformis (plateau live oak) wood I collected at this site many years ago but which I still have yet to see in the field. Jason and Tyler took the Windmill Nature Trail, which has a stand of oaks, while Joshua and I took the Canyon Rim Trail (via the Rio Grande Trail), which has a couple of oak stands within a mile of the starting point. None of us had any luck with S. roburella, which I beat thoroughly as well as broke apart some of the dead branches, or anything on the trees for that matter. I did, however, collect a single Chrysobothris analis on Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia) and a few clytrine chrysomelids on Vachellia vernicosa (viscid acacia) along the Rio Grande Trail, and shortly after starting down the Canyon Rim Trail I beat two Spectralia robusta from Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon). This latter capture renewed my enthusiasm for beating persimmon, which I did thoroughly whenever I was not beating oak, but I never saw another individual! At this point, my body was giving out (in spite of the much more tolerable temperatures today), and we regrouped to decide our next move for the trip (hint: we moved west!).

Vachellia vernicosa (viscid acacia).

We drove west to Sanderson and ended up in an RV park with tent sites for $7 and a few marvelous metal dinosaurs at the entrance (I was impressed with their selection of the rarely featured Allosaurus instead of the grossly overused Tyrannosaurus). It was not until around 2 am, however (and again at 5 am)—when the train rumbled by behind the campground—that we understood why the tent sites were so cheap!

Metal triceratops!
Metal allosaurus!
Ted MacRae, Jason Hansen, Joshua Basham & Tyler Hedlund.

Day 8 – To Monahans Sandhills

Despite its small size, the city of Sanderson offers a right nice cup of coffee to start the day by way of this retooled automobile dealership.

Ferguson Motor Co. retooled as a coffee shop.

17 mi N Sanderson, Jct US-285 & FR-2400
Terrell Co., Texas
Our plan had been to continue traveling west to Ft. Davis, but the weather forecast for that area called for rain and cool temperatures. We decided instead to travel northwest to Monahans Sandhills State Park where the forecast looked much better. The spot has been on my radar ever since the species Chrysobothris mescalero was described, and I’ve already looked for the species there twice without success. It was a good decision (more on that later). On the way, we saw a roadside area with lots of flowers in bloom, so we made a quick stop to see what might be visiting the flowers. I’m glad we did—I picked up a nice little series of Acmaeodera paradisjuncta along with a few A. mixta and some large bees (for Mike) on flowers of Wedelia hispida (Texas creeping-oxeye).

Acmaeodera paradisjuncta (family Buprestidae) on flower Wedelia acapulcensis (Acapulco wedelia).

I found it interesting that they were not on the much more abundant Coreopsis flowers and mentioned this to Tyler, who said he did see one on “this other yellow flower”—which turned out to be Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna). I told him this was the host plant for Agrilus obtusus and that he should be on the lookout for the adults, which can be seen sitting on the leaves. I walked to another plant a short distance away, and there they were—two adult A. obtusus sitting on a senna plant, which I gave Tyler the chance to see before placing them in the bottle. Heading back towards the cars, we encountered a patch of Croton pottsii (leatherweed). I mentioned to him that this was the host of Agrilus lacustris, and almost immediately afterwards I saw two adults sitting on the foliage of one of the plants. It was a nice little stop that added one more species to my trip list.

Agrilus lacustris (family Buprestidae) on foliage of Croton pottsii (leatherweed).
Tyler examines Croton pottsii (leatherweed) looking for Agrilus lacustris.

Monahans Sandhills State Park
Jack Pump Picnic Area
Winkler Co., Texas
We arrived at the park early in the afternoon and, after checking in with the office, headed to the Jack Pump Picnic Area. Several Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) were lining the parking lot, and with the first whack of a branch an Acmaeoderopsis sp. fell onto my sheet. I then spent a fair bit of time working the mesquites and collected not only a good series of Acmaeoderopsis but two different species of treehoppers and other miscellaneous types of beetles. I remembered collecting Acmaeoderopsis on mesquite a few years ago near Kermit, Texas and recalled their habit of dashing off the beating sheet when the day heated up and finding it easier at that point to net them as they flew to the tips of branches. Temperatures were still relatively moderate, so they were not yet doing that, but I started to look at the higher branches to see if I could see them flying to them anyway. I did not, but I did see small silhouettes of something buzzing around the flowers. I took a swipe with the net, and to my astonishment the net was filled with ghostly pale-yellow bees. I collected a few for Mike Arduser, feeling confident that he would find them of interest.

Me using a beating sheet to collect Buprestidae from Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite). Photo by Joshua Basham.

After working the mesquites around the parking lot (and having a hot dog with the very friendly family enjoying their holiday at the dunes), I moved out onto the dunes to see what might be going on. I had intended to look for stands of Quercus havardii (shin oak) to look for Chrysobothris mescalero but got distracted when I saw more Acmaeoderopsis—now flying to the branch tips of a line of mesquites. I spent a bit more time thus distracted but ended up with a nicer series of the species and then went back to the road to resume my search for stands of oaks. Along the way I collected an Acmaeodera immaculata and a Batyle suturalis on the flowers of Thelesperma megapotamicum (rayless greenthread) and a Lytta reticulata that was feeding on the flowers of Penstemon ambiguus (gilia bearstongue). At that point, Joshua came back with a Chrysobothris sp. that he’d collected on shin oak—it was definitely a member of the C. femorata species group but looked too large to be C. mescalero (could be C. caddo). Nevertheless, we were encouraged to focus our efforts at that point on searching the shin oak stands for the species. For this we decided to move over to the Shinnery Oak Picnic Area, but before doing this we again obliged the very friendly family, who were anxious to share with us more hot dogs!

Lytta reticulata feeding on flower of Penstemon ambiguus (gilia bearstongue) in sand hills.

Monahans Sandhills State Park
Shinnery Oak Picnic Area
Winkler Co., Texas
I searched this area twice last year looking for Chrysobothris mescalero, both times finding branches that looked “flagged” among the abundant stands of Quercus havardii (shin oak) in the area but failing to rear out the beetles. I had also swept the plants a bit each time but came up empty. This time, with four of us trying, we intended to give it a full effort—and it didn’t take long! Jason found the first one… and the second… and I joined him to see exactly where and how he was finding them. He had been sweeping the stands of plants in one of the depressions in the dune, while I was working the plants on the upper slopes and ridge tops. I decided to try working the depression instead and immediately came up with one myself. I worked the depression fully and got four for my efforts, then started working nearby plants that were not in depressions. I reasoned that being nearby they had a better chance of hosting beetles. Apparently this was poor reasoning, because I didn’t encounter any more beetles in the ensuing half-hour of sweeping.

Habitat for Chrysobothris mescalero—depression in sand dunes with stands of thigh-high Quercus havardii (shin oak).

Exhausted, I went back to the car to rehydrate and debate whether I wanted to continue, but the four of us motivated each other and back out we went. This time, I went west of the picnic area and found a depression similar to the first with mostly thigh-high plants… and got another four. I spotted another very nice-looking depression across the road and made my way over, again focusing on the knee-high plants. From this depression I collected three more adults. One final depression—and one more more beetle, and I was able to return to the car satisfied. I was excited to have figured out the secret to collecting these beetles and was anxious to share with the others. As it turned out, each of the others had also learned this secret, and collectively we had a very nice series of the beetle. We sat at the picnic bench and recounted what a good day of collecting it had been and, to celebrate, decided to head into town for pizza!

Jason Hansen, Tyler Hedlund, Ted MacRae & Joshua Basham. Photo by Jason Hansen.

Day 9 – Davis Mountains

Monahans Sandhills State Park
Shinnery Oak Picnic Area
Winkler Co., Texas
We had hoped to setup lights for insects at Monahans Sandhills State Park last night after returning from our celebratory pizza dinner, but extreme wind made not only that but even camping untenable. We tried to make it work, but the wind eventually blew my tent completely from its moorings, and I had no choice but to run into town and find a motel room.

This morning we set out for the Davis Mountains (our original plan yesterday), but on the way we stopped at this spot to see if we could find Agrilus cochisei on Ambrosia occidentalis (western ragweed). Jason, Tyler, and I had all collected the species in numbers near this spot over the past couple of years, and we wanted to give Joshua the chance to collect them as well. Unfortunately, the plants were not nearly as abundant or well developed as in previous years, and nary a beetle was to be found. While Joshua looked for the beetle, I swept Xanthisma spinulosum (spiny goldenweed), which was in bloom abundantly along the other side of the road. Two Acmaeodera mixta were swept from the flowers, and coming back I saw two more Acmaeodera—one A. neglecta/neoneglecta and one of a new species that Jason is describing—on the same. Back near the car there was a patch of Sphaeralcea angustifolia (narrow-leaved globemallow), which I swept hoping to find one of any number of buprestid/cerambycid species that could be on the plants but ended up only with a few weevils (Bob Anderson will be happy, however). There were a number of other flowers in bloom, but we avoided the temptation to look around further, as the Davis Mountains beckoned!

Xanthisma spinulosum (spiny goldenweed) along roadside.

Davis Mountains, 11 mi W Ft. Davis
Point of Rocks Picnic Area
Jeff Davis Co., Texas
We were a bit disappointed at how dry things looked as we climbed into the Davis Mountains and made our way to Ft. Davis. We noted flowers in bloom along the roadsides, but the grass along the roadsides and covering the hills was bright, crispy brown and the oaks were largely still without any new foliage. Nevertheless, we hoped collecting might still be good as there had been a little bit of rain in recent days. Point of Rocks Roadside Park is one of my staple collecting localities in the Davis Mountains—it’s where I first collected cerambycids of the genus Elytroleptus hiding amongst the much more numerous Lycus beetles—the latter poisonous and colored orange and black to advertise that fact, and the former completely harmless but similarly colored in an effort to fool would-be predators; and it’s also where I first reared what would become the holotype of Mastogenius texanus and later not only collected a good series of the adults but also discovered its larvae in branches of oak. This time, the oaks lining the picnic area showed no signs of new growth, so I didn’t even try beating on them. In addition, the wind was so extreme that trying to use the beating sheet would have been utterly futile. Instead, I walked the roadside inspecting the variety of flowers in bloom for beetle activity. Unfortunately, not a single beetle was seen despite the diversity of blooms, but I did pick up a couple of Lithurgopsis apicalis (orange-tipped woodborer bee) on a flower of Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s prickly pear) for Mike. Having run out of flowers to check, and still thinking beating the oaks would be futile, I went over to the stand of Sapindus saponaria (soapberry), which were just beginning to produce foliage and where I’d collected Elytroleptus so many years ago (1994, I believe), to see if there might be any of the buprestid species associated with soapberry. I swept some of the lower branches, taking care to keep the still-extreme wind from catching my net like a sail, and saw a couple of Agrilus ornatulus in the net. I noticed when I got low and in certain positions around the grove of trees, I could minimize the wind, so I went back to the car and traded my sweep net for my beating sheet. Using the beating sheet in that kind of wind was a real challenge, but I still managed to collect seven adults of the species along with a number of clytrine chrysomelids. After having done this, I was less pessimistic about our prospects for collecting in the Davis Mountains—if only we could get out of the wind! We huddled and decided to go to Madera Canyon—all the way on the other side of the loop around the mountains, but higher in elevation and possibly more protected from the winds blasting up from the south.

Lithurgopsis apicalis (orange-tipped woodborer bee) in the flower of Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s prickly pear).

Davis Mountains
Madera Canyon Preserve

Jeff Davis Co., Texas
Arriving at the trailhead parking lot, we were happy to see that the brutal winds that had harassed us for the past couple of days did not follow us up the mountain, and with temperatures not expected to exceed the high 80s it seemed a beautiful day was on tap. Hopefully the collecting would follow suit. We tapped on this plant and that as we entered the preserve, not seeing much (and not yet expecting to), and by the time the trail reached the creek bed crossing and began to ascend the mountain on the opposite side we began scattering in different directions. I continued following the creek bed and noticed that, while most of the oaks still were showing no signs of beginning to leaf out, the occasional tree was leafing out nicely. I beat the first such one that I encountered—Quercus grisea (gray oak) but collected only a few clytrine chrysomelids. Then I noticed a shrub in bloom—Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plum)—and beat a few miscellaneous beetles from it but still no buprestids.

Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plum) in oak-juniper woodland.

A bit further down the trail I encountered a large Quercus vaseyana (Vasey oak) along the creek bed that, unlike most of the species, had broken bud and was developing new foliage. I whacked a few branches and collected only miscellaneous beetles, but then I whacked a branch and saw a large Agrilus sp. (likely A. albocomus)! At last, not only a buprestid, but one that I had never collected before. I crossed back over the creek bed and noticed another gray oak with fresh foliage, and the first whack produced several beetles, including a strange, narrowly triangular-shaped beetle that I soon realized was Brachys querci. This was even more exciting, as I have only collected a scarce handful of western Brachys—and never this one, making the genus a big target of mine for this trip. Things stood as such for awhile, save for a few miscellaneous beetles that I beat from Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia) and with only the occasional large, sparsely-leaved Vasey oak to beat as I went down the creek bed. I noticed another creek bed joining the one I was on and decided to explore up that valley, shortly encountering a small but well-leaved Vasey oak. I gave the tree a few whacks, and there on the sheet were three more Agrilus and one more Brachys! Okay, it seemed I was onto something by focusing only on oaks with new foliage. After relaying this information to the others, Tyler and I worked together up the valley, working each gray oak with fresh leaves that we could find (no more Vasey oaks were encountered). Over the course of the next hour, we added sparingly to our Brachys totals (with lots of clytrine chrysomelids and other miscellaneous beetles) until I gave a branch a whack and saw what I first thought was a much smaller species of Agrilus but then realized was an Agrilaxia. In this area, it could only be A. texana, a species I hadn’t seen since 1984 (before it was even described) until encountering them on my recent trip to northwestern Oklahoma. Shortly afterwards, Tyler and I came upon two groupings of large, freshly-foliated gray oaks—one bordering the dam of the now-dry Chico Tank and another further up on the western slope leading down to the former waterline. Tyler began working the near group, and I told him that I would go work the farther group because it looked like (and I hoped it would be) the “buprestid motherload”! That comment was prescient, as I just about doubled my series of the three species I’d already collected and added a couple of Chrysobothris axillaris! By the time we finished working the trees, we were exhausted but fully satisfied and began working our way back down the valley to the parking lot. We encountered Jason and Joshua near the trail at the base of a large gray oak—they’d also had great collecting and even found one larva and one adult of A. texana inside a dead branch of the tree. A beautiful mature male Aphonopelma hentzi (Texas brown tarantula) entertained us for a bit, and after spending four hours at the preserve we decided that yet another celebratory dinner at the Mexican restaurant in town was in order.

Aphonopelma hentzi (Texas brown tarantula) adult male in oak-juniper woodland.
Aphonopelma hentzi (Texas brown tarantula) adult male in oak-juniper woodland.

After dinner, we decided to head west for lodging, but to our surprise the lodge was closed—seemingly abandoned, and we had to double back all the to Alpine to find an open motel. I was biting my fingernails as I pulled into the first gas station I saw with my car’s miles-to-go indicator reading “1” mile! Our greeter at the motel seemed appropriate for the situation.

Our greeter at the motel in Alpine.

Day 10 – El Paso area

Rio Bosque Wetland Park
El Paso Co., Texas
We made the three-hour drive to El Paso for a couple of days of collecting in this area. I would have liked to have spent another day in the Davis Mountains, but Joshua had to fly out of El Paso this afternoon and we had no choice but to move on. It’s a good thing we did! Our first spot to explore in this area was selected based on the recent capture of Knowltonia atrifasciata—a very uncommonly encountered buprestid that none of us have seen belonging to a small genus that none of us have collected—a few years ago at this wetland park right on the Rio Grande River. Our GPS coordinates did not direct us straight to the park, but twice tried to direct us across the border into Mexico! We were too smart for that, and with a little online sleuthing and manual Google Map use we finally found the spot. Despite the name, the place was bone dry, and in what is becoming a daily ritual we had little optimism for how good the results would be. Knowltonia is associated with Atriplex, and we surmised that K. atrifasciata should be associated in this area with A. canescens, which we found occurring abundantly in some areas but not so much in others. I thought beating would be the best way to encounter the species—assuming it was present, so we all grabbed our beating sheets and started working through the area leading from the parking lot. The plants, which are wind-pollinated, were in full flower and released clouds of pollen with each whack of the stick, so in short order I was covered with pollen dust from head to toe. After beating for a while and not seeing anything, I became distracted by the Prosopis pubescens (screwbean mesquite) trees—a species I had never seen before and always wondered if I would be able to distinguish from the “normal” mesquite (P. glandulosa) with which they were interspersed, but which turned out not to be a problem due to their distinctively “corkscrewed” pods. I did get a few beetles of the species—one Chrysobothris rossi and a few miscellaneous beetles.

Prosopis pubescens (screwbean mesquite).

I turned my attention back to the Atriplex when I noticed emergence holes (which I presumed were the work of Knowltonia) and began breaking/cutting branches showing such holes to see if I could find at least a carcass in decent condition or—better yet—an unemerged adult. The frass was packed tightly in the galleries, which I took to be evidence that the galleries were the work of buprestid larvae and not cerambycids, the latter which I assumed always had open larval galleries kept free of frass by the larvae. For a while, in every stem I broke or cut into, the larval galleries appeared too old and I didn’t encounter either adults (live or dead) or larvae until I happened upon a cerambycid carcass in its pupal chamber in one of the branches. The head was missing, so I wasn’t sure at first if it was a cerambycid, but when I pulled it from the branch and got a better look at it I was convinced it was and placed it in a vial.

About that time, Joshua directed my attention to a nearby Salix gooddingii (Goodding’s willow) tree off which he and Jason had beat a fair series of an Agrilus sp. I assumed it was A. politus, but he said it wasn’t… than I assumed it was A. quadriguttatus, but it had complete and well-developed elytral vittae rather than spots. I couldn’t think of another species it might be and went to the tree to see if I could get some specimens as well, partly pessimistic since two people had already worked the tree but partly optimistic because I had one thing they did not—an extensible handle on my net! I extended the handle to its full length and swept the foliage of the upper branches thoroughly, getting four on that first round (and a Stenelytrana gigas to boot—my first time collecting that species)! I came back to the tree twice more, getting six more Agrilus on the first return and nine more on the second. At first glance, the adults look nothing like anything i was familiar with from Texas (or the U.S. for that matter), especially among willow associates—I’ll have to take a closer look to determine if it represents a species known from Mexico but not yet recorded from the U.S. or possibly even a new species! [We later determined the species to be A. fisherianus, which has not yet been recorded from Texas, so not a new or Mexican species but still a new state record.] By this time, I had given up on seeing Knowltonia and spent a fair bit of time beating both P. pubescens and P. glandulosa—the most significant capture being Acmaeodera delumbis on the former.

Stenelytrana gigas swept from foliage of Salix gooddingii (Goodding’s willow). Yes, it’s a crappy photo, but it was the best I could do with this very uncooperative subject!

Eventually the time came for Jason to take Joshua to the airport, so we said our goodbyes and made plans to meet up with Jason again at San Felipe Park near Fabens. As Jason and Joshua drove away, Tyler and I pondered our next move, and at that moment something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I looked at the Atriplex bush right next to me, and there near the tip of one of the branches was the unmistakable silhouette of a bright blue-green chrysobothrine beetle! I yelled out “That’s it!” and instinctively took a swing at it. Unfortunately, my net was in the wrong position, but I twirled it quickly and took an assertive, albeit one-handed, swipe just as the wary beetle quickly took flight—missing it by inches! There are times in the life of a field entomologist when a missed capture causes true heartbreak, and this was one of them. I was both thrilled we had seen the species after all but dejected beyond belief that I had missed it, perhaps without another chance to look forward to. Okay, time to get to work! We knew with certainly that the beetles were there and that they were active, and we also realized that an aerial net rather than a beating sheet would be the best way to go after them. I called Jason (en route to the airport with Joshua) to tell him to come back here instead, and then Tyler and I began slowly approaching each bush to look for that flash of blue-green near the branch tips, working the same plants we’d already tried beating earlier in the afternoon. It only took about 15 minutes before I spotted movement on a plant and saw the unmistakable silhouette of a chrysobothrine beetle on the back side of a branch near its tip. The beetle made another slight movement, triggering an instantaneous and assertive swipe of my net—this time already in proper position. My heart skipped a beat when I first looked into the net and did not see the beetle, but soon it appeared as it tried to fly up the net—it’s fantastically biramous antennae easily visible and confirming it to be a male. What earlier had been heartbreak turned to elation and vindication—we’d come here to find a very uncommon species, and we would be walking away successful once again. That said, the next hour and a half would further emphasize just how truly fortuitous a capture it was, as we never saw another adult despite combing the area thoroughly.

When I came back to the car, Jason—as yet unsuccessful in his more brief effort to look for the beetle—was tearing apart an Atriplex bush looking for evidence of larvae. This motivated me to give it another crack, but this time instead of working branches with emergence holes, I worked those without. I had noticed larval galleries in nearly every branch I looked at, and when I found fresh-looking frass in a gallery down the middle of an otherwise healthy, living branch I started carefully following the gallery, eventually finding a pupal cell with something in it and cutting away the wood to expose another longhorned beetle (this one teneral). Jason did the same and found two pupae, which he gave to me and which I will keep alive (along with the teneral adult) to let them emerge and harden up. The adult reminded of the genus Amannus, which I thought contained two species further west, but after consulting Larry Bezark’s photographic catalogue of Cerambyidae I realized they were Amannus atriplici—a Texas species that is yet another new one for me.

Amannus atriplici teneral adult in its pupal cell in a living branch of Atriplex canescens (fourwinged saltbush).
Amannus atriplici teneral adult (top) and pupa (bottom) in their pupal cells in living branches of Atriplex canescens (fourwinged saltbush).
Amannus atriplici teneral adult in its pupal cell in a living branch of Atriplex canescens (fourwinged saltbush).
Amannus atriplici teneral adult crawling out of its pupal cell in a living branch of Atriplex canescens (fourwinged saltbush).

By this time, we had been in the park for 5½ hours—a record for this trip, so we went into El Paso to have yet another celebratory dinner (Olive Garden this time) and plan our next move.

Sunset north of El Paso, Texas.

Day 11 – El Paso to Cloudcroft

Rio Bosque Wetland Park
El Paso Co., Texas
Last night was another lodging fiasco that had us driving from one closed campground to another closed campground before biting the bullet and securing a motel in Fabens. It was our intention to collect this morning at nearby San Felipe Park, where last year I’d done well with Gyascutus planicosta and several cerambycids. However, as soon as we arrived we heard a series of gunshots (this is Texas, after all!). If that wasn’t enough to give us pause, both Jason and I realized when we looked in the backs of our vehicles that we’d left our beating sheets on the trail at yesterday’s last locality (we’d ditched them in favor of having two hands on the aerial net while looking for Knowltonia atrifasciata). The collecting gods seemed completely against us collecting at our intended location, so we blasted back to Rio Bosque Wetland Park and were relieved to find our beating sheets on the trail right where we’d left them. None of us were keen on going back to the gunshots, so we decided to stay and take another look around for K. atrifasciata. It would also give me a chance to collect potentially-infested stems of Atriplex canescens and rear out a better series of Amannus atriplici. I inspected all the plants carefully in the areas around the two spots where I’d seen the beetles yesterday but did not see any adults. As I did this, I beat a few Prosopis pubescens (screwbean mesquite) and collected a few miscellaneous beetles, then went back to the spot where I’d collected Agrilus fisherianus on Salix gooddingii (Goodding’s willow) and used the extended handled net to sweep four more adults from the upper branches of the tree. Finally, I went back to the plant from which Jason and I had cut pupae and teneral adults of Amannus atriplici (the two pupae we collected yesterday had since emerged as adults inside their vials) and cut several whole branches from the plant to bring back for rearing. A suspicious character got us a little on edge, and we decided we’d seen enough and headed up north into New Mexico.

Stems of Atriplex canescens (fourwinged saltbush) infested with Amannus atriplici cut up and packed in a temporary emergence box.

Hwy 70 at Point of Sands
Otero Co., New Mexico
Our plan was to go to Cloudcroft and look for the recently-described Brachys rileyi. Before doing that, however, I wanted to stop at Point of Sands, a cool place where White Sands National Monument spills across the park border and down onto Hwy 70. Last July when I stopped here with Jeff Huether, I found a carcass of Sphaerobothris ulkei and figured they might be out at this earlier point in the season. It ended up being a good thing that we stopped here, because little did we know that that plan had already been thwarted by closure of the National Forest due to extreme fire danger (we would not find this out until we were ready to leave).

The author ready for netting buprestids. Photo by Jason Hansen.

I crossed the road to start checking the plant host for the species—Ephedra torreyana (Torrey’s jointfir) in this case. Conditions were again not hot with a light breeze—much more pleasant than the blazing hot conditions at the beginning of the trip or the brutal winds that followed. The ground, however, looked parched, and I was not optimistic about anything being out. I had gotten nearly to the end of the Ephedra stands on that side of the road without seeing anything (and was starting to think I never would) when I noticed a bee-like insect hovering around the tip of one of the Ephedra plants. I realized it was an Acmaeodera and quickly netted it. When I pulled it from the net, I was thrilled to see it was Acmeodera recticollis—an uncommonly encountered species that I’ve never collected before. I told Jason and Tyler what I had found, and the three of us spent the next hour working the ephedra plants in the area, collecting a pretty nice series of the species.

Jason and Tyler search for Acmaeodera recticollis on Ephedra torreyana (Torrey’s jointfir, Torrey’s Mormon tea).

I diverted my attention only a couple of times—once when I saw a striking robber fly perched on yucca that I just had to photograph, and then again when Tyler and I found the spectacular adult males and females of Tragidion armatum on flowers of Yucca elata (soaptree yucca). By then, we’d learned that the National Forest was closed but had managed to reserve a camping site at a commercial campground just outside the national forest boundary. Our plans to collect Brachys rileyi today might have been thwarted, but we got an unexpected species for the trip as a consolation, and I was really happy we would not have to worry about accommodations for this evening.

Efferia sp. male (family Asilidae).

Sacramento Mountains, Mayhill
Otero Co., New Mexico
All we could do as we drove through the National Forest around Cloudcroft was stare longingly at the Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s oak) while signs posted at any potential pulloff flashed “Closed. No Entry.” Our commercial campground was, however, just outside the National Forest and looked to contain borderline-equivalent habitat, so we remained hopeful that we would be able to find Q. gambelii trees to beat for Brachys rileyi. While setting up camp, we saw a gorgeous red netwinged beetle (family Lycidae) that proved to be Lygistopterus rubripennis, and sweeping the lush vegetation along the nearby spring-fed creek produced several more along with a few other miscellaneous beetles. There was a trail leading from the campsite into the oak-juniper-pine woodland, and walking along it I found several small Q. gambelii—the tree we were looking for. Unfortunately, beating all the branches I could reach on all the trees I could find failed to produce B. rileyi (or anything else), so for the time being our quest for the species remains unfinished.

Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s oak).

Further down the trail under a powerline clearing I found stands of Q. havardii, which I swept in hopes of finding Brachys barberi but found only a couple of cryptocephaline chrysomelids and a clerid. I met up with Tyler and Jason on the other side of the creek and swept Cucurbita foetedissima (buffalo gourd) in hopes of finding Adetus brousi (another species I haven’t yet collected myself), but no cigar (and still haven’t collected it myself). There was a stand of Salix exigua (sandbar willow) nearby, and sweeping off of it produced only a series of galerucine chrysomelids.

Phlox nana (Santa Fe phlox).

As dusk approached, I setup the ultraviolet lights only (no mercur vapor lamp since I couldn’t fire up the generator), but I could tell the temperatures were cooling to the point that no beetles would be coming in. This proved to be the case, and with only a few lonely moths sitting on the sheet I turned to roaming the roadsides looking for night-active insects. Tyler and I found several Udeopsylla robusta (robust camel cricket), all barfing, defecating, and assuming hilariously defensive poses in response to our proddings.

Udeopsylla robusta (robust camel cricket).
Udeopsylla robusta (robust camel cricket).

Darkling beetles (family Tenebrionidae) were the main things collected, but at the top of the drive I found three Zopherus concolor, with their cool leg “racing stripes,” crawling slowly on the ground. By that time, I was exhausted from yet another long but successful day of collecting and turned in for the night.

Zopherus concolor (family Zopheridae).
Zopherus concolor (family Zopheridae).
Zopherus concolor (family Zopheridae).

Day 12 – Mescalero Sands

Mescalero Sands Recreation Area
North Dunes Picnic Area
Chaves Co., New Mexico
In the morning after breaking camp, we went back to Cloudcroft to see if we could park somewhere along the side of the road and access Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s oak) to look for Brachys rileyi, but all the places we could pull off were well marked “Stop. No Entry” due to the Lincoln National Forest closure. Our quest for B. rileyi would have to wait for another day. With that, we headed for Mescalero Sands, where we hoped to get another shot at collecting another Brachys species we were targeting—B. barberi. We’d hoped to see it at Monahans Sandhills State Park at the beginning of the week but found only the other main target—Chrysobothris mescalero. I was also happy to have another shot at collecting Agrilus hespenheide, a single specimen of which Jason collected at Monahans and still represented in my cabinet by only a single specimen collected many years ago at this very site. We also welcomed the opportunity to find C. mescalero at its type locality. Temperatures were already topping 100°F by the time we arrived, but the tough conditions would mean little to us since we immediately found B. barberi sweeping stands of Quercus havardii (shin oak) very near where we parked. As we were beginning our sweeping, Jason encountered a small white yogurt cup that had been discarded in the dunes and noticed a few Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides flying in and landing on the white rim of the cup. Jason collected them and then left, after which I emptied the sand and filled the cup with water to let it sit while I swept the stand of oaks next to it. When I returned, there were seven Acmaeodera trapped in the water—two clearly being A. quadrivittatoides but the other five not immediately recognizable (they look like very small A. starrae or A. riograndei—I will be anxious to look at them more closely). Over the next 2½ hours we would sweep the stands of shrubby oaks looking for B. barberi, often collecting none but sometimes getting as many as five individuals per sweeping pass. I worked each discrete stand systematically to avoid duplicative sweeping, as it was hard work in such heat, and in addition to B. barberi I collected two specimens of A. hespenheidei, four specimens of C. mescalero (two got away, as they moved fast in the heat!), two Acmaeodera neglecta, and another small Acmaeodera that looks very much like A. riograndei, which we collected much further south at Gold Mine Canyon in Val Verde Co., Texas. This latter find is significant , as the species had not been recorded before our trip from outside of the Big Bend region—if the ID is correct, the capture represents a new state record and a significant extension of the known range. In addition to the buprestids, treehoppers of the genus Cyrtolobus or near (two species) were abundant on the oaks, along with a gorgeous species of cassidine leaf beetle. I collected nice series of each and a smattering of many different species of beetles in other families. I was having so much success sweeping that eventually I had to force myself to stop and take a break to rest and rehydrate (I’m not 26 anymore!). I thought I wanted to go out for more A. hespenheidei after the break, but after the first sweeping pass I realized my body was done!

Sand dunes at Mescalero Sands Recreation Area.

Mescalero Sands Recreation Area
Vic. North Dunes entrance
Chaves Co., New Mexico
After finishing with the oaks in the recreation area, we headed out to the highway near the entrance to work the nearby stands of Sapindus saponaria (soapberry). I had good success during my last visit here in 2018 with Agrilus sapindi in these stands, a species I have found very sparingly in other locations and which were best collected here by sweeping the small saplings rather than beating the branches of larger trees. We encountered the species almost immediately after we arrived, collecting them exactly as I’d done before (despite Jason’s skepticism). This also produced a few Agrilus ornatulus, and beating the branches produced one or two of each species as well. Jason also collected one individual of Agrilus limpiae, a species I collected on soapberry during my recent trip to western Oklahoma, but I did not encounter it here. I wonder what it is about this soapberry stand that A. sapindi likes so much?

Mescalero Sands Recreation Area.

We were all exhausted after working the sweep nets and beating sheets all day at Mescalero in the +100°F heat, so we ran into town to eat dinner (mine including a large milkshake!) before making the hour+ drive to our campsite near Carlsbad. Before leaving town, however, we had to stop at the alien memorial for photos and to leave our own contributions on the pedestal.

Ted MacRae, Jason Hansen & Tyler Hedlund.
My contribution to the alien memorial.

Capitan Reef Rd at Pecos River
Chaves Co., New Mexico
Jason knew a spot not far from the campground where we could setup the lights, and despite my exhaustion I agreed to go along since it seemed like it could be a good night. It wasn’t a good night—though it wasn’t a bad night either. Only two cerambycids were collected at the mercury vapor/ultraviolet lights—one tiny elaphidiine, and a conversely large Aneflus sp. (maybe A. prolixus). However, there was a smattering of other interesting insects that made the night not a bust—a few clerids of several different species, the same with bostrichids, lots of tiny bruchids (I don’t typically see these at lights—or maybe I just haven’t noticed them), a couple of small melolonthine scarabs, and one darnine treehopper. I had hoped for a greater diversity of beetles, especially longhorned beetles, but considering the success I’d had today I couldn’t complain.


Day 13 – Going solo!

Capitan Reef Rd at Pecos River
Chaves Co., New Mexico
We came back to the spot where we blacklighted last night to look for Gyascutus planicosta, which Jason had collected a few years ago on Atriplex (saltbush). Gyascutus planicosta adults are among the largest in the family in North America and are powerful fliers, so catching them can be a challenge even for the experienced entomologist. Sadly, we did not see any this time—I suspect we were a bit on the early side for the likes of such. The area was supremely uninteresting—choked with clumps of Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) on raised mounds with ORV paths (apparently a very popular pastime in this area) winding amongst them and a few large, invasive Tamarix (tamarisk, salt cedar) trees. Nevertheless, I managed to beat a few centrotine and one darnine treehoppers and some miscellaneous beetles from the mesquite, and at the furthest point I walked before I’d had enough I encountered a small series of Acmaeoderopsis hulli flying to the tips of mesquite. At this point, it was time to bid Jason and Tyler adieu, as they started heading back to south Texas while I start making my way to Arizona. Jason and I each ended up with 43 species of Buprestidae for the trip, though he will likely get more on his way back to south Texas and I almost certainly will get many more (hopefully a few dozen!) over the next week in Arizona.

Leptotes marina (marine blue).
Checkered whiptail (Aspidoscelis tesselatus).

Sacramento Mountains, Mayhill
Otero Co., New Mexico
My path to Arizona took me right by the camp we stayed at two nights ago, where Jason had managed to collect a couple of Taphrocerus chevrolati (but I had not) by sweeping grasses along the side of the road. I did not see any sedges (typically the hosts of Taphrocerus species) mixed in the grasses and thought it was odd that these two individuals would be found on rather dry grasses. Nevertheless, since I had another opportunity I decided to see if I could come up one or two this time. I came up with 10 and don’t quite know what to think about this many individuals in patches of grasses that surely cannot be a larval development host. At any rate, these specimens will come in handy (the first I’ve collected in New Mexico) as I continue with my revision of the North American (north of Mexico) Taphrocerus fauna.

Roadside grasses from which I swept a series of Taphrocerus chevrolati.

1.8 mi W Cloudcroft on Hwy 82
Otero Co., New Mexico

Just west of Cloudcroft, I noticed a lot of Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s oak)—host for Brachys rileyi—along the edge of the road and a large turnout without any “Stop. No entry.” signs posted where I could seemingly park the car. I hoped maybe staying along the roadside would not be a problem with the National Forest closure and began beating the trees looking for the beetle. I’d worked the trees less than 15 minutes, collecting a few miscellaneous beetles and treehoppers, when a Forest Service vehicle pulled up alongside me and, in a friendly voice that didn’t belie whether they thought I was doing something wrong, asked what I was doing. I replied that I was collecting beetles, to which they smiled and explained that the National Forest is closed and I was in violation of the order. Clear enough! I thought of asking if I could just move along or did I need to go to jail, but I decided not to tempt fate and promised to leave at once. I was kind of surprised they left without sticking around to make sure I actually did leave at once—I suppose I must have a trustworthy face.

Bronco Sport in its native habitat.

Hwy 70 at Point of Sands
Otero Co., New Mexico

My route to (eventually) Arizona also took me by this spot that Jason and Tyler and I had visited two days ago, where we ended up finding Acmaeodera recticollis on Ephedra torreyana (Torreys’ jointfir). I’d gotten a modest series and wanted to see if I could get a few more, but what I really wanted was to find Sphaerobothris ulkei, which utilizes the same plant as a larval host. Tyler had seen two adults when we were here before but had not manage to capture them, both flying beyond the fence when he saw them. Winds were as severe as I’ve ever experienced, and at one point I had to use the extended handle of my net to prevent my hat from escaping on the other side of the barbed-wire fence lining the roadside. The A. recticollis adults were not nearly so abundant today as they were two days ago, but I managed another modest series with which I can be satisfied. I never did see a S. ulkei adult, although three times a similarly shaped/sized insect fooled me into thinking that I had one. I also checked the Yucca elata (soaptree yucca) for more Tragidion armatum but struck out.

White Sands National Monument spills out onto the highway.

One interesting story—as I was checking the Ephedra, a Border Patrol vehicle pulled up to check out my vehicle, then circled back around to check out me (there is a Border Patrol station just up the highway). The officer explained that they had been notified about a person “walking along the fence” and came to check up on it. It ended up being a very pleasant conversation as I explained what I was doing, each answer bringing up another question out of seemingly genuine interest. You know you’ve exceeded expectations when a Border Patrol officer extends their hand to shake yours when they’re ready to leave.

Her eggs all laid, life has ended for this Pepsis sp. (a tarantula hawk wasp). Meanwhile, her victims are now “unable to scream!”

Organ Mountains—Desert Peaks National Monument
Pine Tree National Recreational Trail

Doña Ana Co., New Mexico
For my final stop of the day, I’d planned to hike a trail on the other side of the mountains where Chrysobothris culbersoniana—a species I’ve not yet collected—has been recorded. However, as at the previous site the winds were so severe that using a beating sheet would have been impossible. I decided to instead take one more shot at Brachys rileyi. BugGuide shows a photo of a specimen collected at “Aguirre Springs” (presumably Aguirre Spring Campground), and iNaturalist shows another specimen with geo-coordinates very close to that spot along the Pine Tree Trail.

Approaching Organ Mountains—Desert Peaks National Monument.

Since both records state the beetles were collected on Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s oak), I kept an eye out for such. I never saw any on the parts of the trail that I hiked, but there was Q. grisea (gray oak) and the occasional Q. arizonica (Arizona white oak), and off the former I beat a few miscellaneous beetles but no Brachys querci (which has also been recorded here and which does utilize gray oak). At a few places I encountered Celtis reticulata (netveined hackberry), off which I beat a few more miscellaneous beetles including a single Agrilus lecontei celticola. In the meantime, I began to wonder if the geo-coordinates were accurate and left a comment on the iNaturalist record asking about it, hoping I might hear back before I left the area.

On Pine Tree National Recreational Trail at Organ Mountains—Desert Peaks National Monument.

Eventually I made it to the spot indicated by the geo coordinates on iNaturalist, but still the only oaks present were gray oaks. Unfortunately, by then I still had not heard back from the iNaturalist user who posted the record, so I surmised it was more likely that they had collected the species on gray oak and misidentified the host (I would not be surprised if this species turns out to use other oaks as hosts, as this is common among oak-associated Brachys) than the geo coordinates being incorrect. By then, I’d beaten enough oaks to conclude that neither Brachys species was active at the moment and headed back to the car.

On Pine Tree National Recreational Trail at Organ Mountains—Desert Peaks National Monument.

After I got into town later that evening, I saw a response from the iNaturalist user, who stated that the beetle was actually collected on the upper part of the Pine Tree Loop—not where indicated by the geo coordinates. Unbeknownst to me, Gambel’s oak does occur on the upper part of the loop, and in the user’s opinion the host ID rather than the geo coordinates should have been given weight for locating the plants. This is debatable—both are important and should be reported accurately, and the episode illustrates the importance of being cautious about relying on crowd-sourced data.


Day 14 – Travel Day (Las Cruces to Hereford)

Sunday was a day off from collecting while I drove west to the home of Norm Woodley and Steve Lingafelter in Hereford, Arizona. Norm and Steve are experts in Buprestidae and Cerambycidae, respectively, and were kind enough to host me during the third week of my trip for some pre-monsoon collecting in southeast Arizona. Insect numbers and diversity at this time of year may not compare with those seen once the monsoons start (usually in early to mid-July); however, there are a number of buprestid species (especially in the genera Agrilus and Brachys) that are generally seen earlier in the season and disappear by the time the monsoons arrive. I’ve collected a number of times in southeast Arizona during and after the monsoons; however, this would be my first attempt at collecting in the area before the monsoons. Thus, it was my hope that I would encounter many species that I haven’t seen before, especially some of those that are completely lacking in my collection. I didn’t arrive at Norm and Steve’s until late afternoon, so instead of collecting we enjoyed grilled burgers and fine spirits.


Day 15 – Dragoon & Huachuca Mountains

Before leaving for the Dragoon Mountains, Steve and I set out two jug traps in the wash on the south side of their house—one on the south side of wash baited with 50:50 red wine:ethanol and another on the north side baited with pure ethanol.

W side Dragoon Mountains
3.0 mi NE Rd 687 on N Middlemarch Rd

Cochise Co., Arizona
A few years ago, Norm discovered one of the rarest Acmaeodera species in North America—Acmaeodera horni—on flowers of Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plume) at a spot in the Dragoon Mountains. That was undoubtedly the biggest of the several priorities I had this week as I spend the last part of this three-week trip collecting in southeastern Arizona with Norm and Steve. The “horni spot” was first on our agenda for this first day of collecting with them, since Norm has seen them as late as June 1st but mostly in mid-May. When we arrived, we noticed the plants were a bit past peak bloom, as only a few sporadic flowers were present on the plants compared to the much more numerous fruiting structures. The plants are primarily along Clifford Wash, so we walked down the wash, looking at any flower we could find. At first I got distracted by the abundance of Acmaeodera quadrivitttatoides on the flowers and quickly collected my share. When Norm and I met up again about 15 minutes later, he had found two but I had yet to see one. Knowing they were still out, however, renewed my motivation to continue searching. After a while, I encountered Steve, and he too had caught one, while I still had yet to see one. I continued searching, and eventually I heard Norm call out my name. I came to where he was, and there it was—sitting on a flower that I had looked at not five minutes earlier! I easily netted the beetle, happy (and relieved) to have caught one but still wishing somewhat I could have found one on my own. I will just have to do that sometime in the future (with a mid-May trip). While I was looking for the beetle, I also collected a modest series of what may be Acmaeodera variegata to go along with the many A. quadravittatoides and three A. horni (Norm gave me his two). I also collected a couple of A. variegata and A. quadrivittatoides on flowers of Verbesina encelioides (cowpen daisy), as well as a very small lycid (the smallest I’ve ever seen) and a couple of chrysomelids on the white flowers of Mimosa aculeaticarpa.

Acmaeodera quadrivittatoides on flowers of Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plum).
Acmaeodera horni, taken from flowers of Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plum).

After scouring the patches of Fallugia one more time to ensure we had not left any A. horni behind, we drove 0.4 miles back down the road to another spot where the wash crossed the road and where Fallugia is again fairly abundant. We checked the plants thoroughly, and while A. variegata and A. quadrivittatoides were present, A. horni was not. With that, we said goodbye to the “horni spot” and proceeded to another spot where we suspected Tragidion armatum could be found on Yucca elata (soaptree yucca).

Hadoa simplex mating pair on Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plume).

W side Dragoon Mountains
0.4 mi N of N Middlemarch Rd on Rd 687

Cochise Co., Arizona
This location was very different from the previous, with mesquites dotting a dry grass plain and the occasional Yucca elata (soaptree yucca)—many sending up flowering stalks. I checked a few for Tragidion armatum but didn’t see any beetles on the stalks, and then I got the idea to use my extended net handle to pry the rosette of stiff, sharp leaves away from the base of the stalk to see if any adults were hiding there. Success! I found one female hiding in the rosette of the first plant I checked, another female in the third plant I checked, a male and a female in the fourth plant I checked (but then no more in any of the many plants I checked after that).

Tragidion armatum taken from stalk base of Yucca elata (soaptree yucca).

3.0 mi NE Hwy 80 on N Middlemarch Rd
Cochise Co., Arizona
As a final stop for the day (not considering blacklighting for insects at nightfall), we stopped at a spot where there is a stand of Sapindus saponaria (soapberry), off which Norm has collected a new species of Agrilus that he is describing. I let him sweep the plants to try to get more for the species description, while I headed towards an old gnarled Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) off which Norm said he has routinely collected a variety of buprestids. I didn’t have quite the luck with it myself, collecting only a single Chrysobothris rossi and a few other miscellaneous beetles, but a neighboring mesquite with lusher foliage did produce a new species for the trip—Acmaeoderopsis junki and a second C. rossi. A large, partially fallen Vachellia constricta (whitethorn acacia) in full bloom looked particularly inviting for buprestids, but I beat only a few miscellaneous beetles from it. It turned out that Norm had already worked it and gotten a mating pair of Chrysobothris merkelii from it. I swept the soapberry after Norm had finished with it, but as he’d only gotten a single specimen of the Agrilus after working it, I didn’t have much expectation of finding another one (and I didn’t). By this time we were hot and tired, and a quick stop in nearby Tombstone with the hope of ice cream and drinks was singing her siren song.

E side Huachuca Mountains
Lower Hunter Canyon

Cochise Co., Arizona
After dinner, Steven and I went to nearby Hunter Canyon for some pre-monsoon blacklighting. Hunter Canyon is not nearly as well known as Miller Canyon, its much more famous neighbor to the north, but has similar habitat and is right in the heart of one of the coolest natural history spectacles of the insect world—the mass emergence of the cerambycid species Megapurpuricenus magnificus (formerly Crioprosopis magnificus)! This species develops as larvae in the trunks of living oaks and emerge once every three years in synchrony right after the first rains of the summer monsoons. For a brief few days afterwards, one can easily see a hundred adults flying high in the canopy—a true spectacle given their enormous size and fantastic red/black coloration. The spectacle last for only a few days, so seeing it requires careful planning and a bit of luck. The last emergence here was in 2021, so I am making plans to visit in 2024 in hopes of seeing this incredible phenomenon with my own eyes. For this evening, however, I would have to content myself with whatever pre-monsoon species might happen to be out and about. We set up our sheets just a bit out of sight from each other (to avoid competing for the same insects), each of us using one 175-w mercury-vapor (MV) bulb and two (me) or four (Steve) 15-w ultraviolet (UV) light bulbs. Since getting my MV bulb last year I have started using the setup/technique recommended by Steve and other cerambycid specialists—a vertical sheet with ground cloth on both sides, the MV on a tripod or stand raised to a level above the top of the sheet, and at least one UV light hanging on each side of the sheet. The MV light will attract beetles from a distance, but due to its brightness the beetles may land in the vicinity rather than on the sheet itself. For this reason, the MV light is then turned off after about an hour and all the nearby vegetation shaken or beaten to disturb the beetles, which are then attracted to the sheet itself by the UV lights. After a while, the MV light is turned back in and the cycle repeated. On this night, however, such technique would not be terribly important, as the number of beetles flying was rather small. The first cerambycid—Anelaphus simile—came to Steve’s sheet, and later an Anelaphus brevipes would also appear. A couple of the former also came to my sheet, and from both sheets I picked a smattering of miscellaneous beetles in other families. One of the more exciting finds of the night was a very late-occurring female of the spring species Knulliana sonorensis (I do not accept the current placement of this taxon as a subspecies of K. cincta), which was crawling on the ground in the parking lot and which may have been attracted to a pile of recently cut oaks that were near Steve’s lights. This prompted a search for other individuals that may have been so attracted, but the only thing we found was a headless carcass of Acmaeodera sp. (perhaps A. decipiens). When the expected 9:30 p.m. flush of cerambycids did not materialize, we called it a night, took down the lights, and headed back the house for some French Open replay action.

Choristostigma roseopennalis at ultraviolet/mercury-vapor light in mountain oak woodland.

Day 16 – Huachuca Mountains (cont.)

W side Huachuca Mountains
Lower Copper Canyon

Cochise Co., Arizona
I knew it would be difficult to top yesterday’s Acmaeodera horni experience, but I still had hopes of collecting at least a few species that I’ve never seen in the field before, especially if they represented species not present in my collection. Copper Canyon is a famous locality for collecting, and Steve and Norm like to visit this spot regularly due to the variety of interesting species they have seen over the years here. We walked the lower mile or so of the trail up the canyon, beating primarily the different oak species looking for mostly Agrilus and Brachys. Many of the Arizona species of Agrilus and most of the Brachys occur prior to the monsoons, and since I’ve only visited Arizona during or after the monsoons I’ve not collected many of the Arizona species in these genera.

Lower Copper Canyon Trail.

It took a while for the collecting to pick up, but eventually we started focusing on the occasional trees with newly flushed foliage and had good success. Quercus arizonicus (Arizona white oak) was the most productive, yielding good series of Agrilus quercus and A. chiricahuae as well as a couple of Brachys cephalicus—all species I’ve never collected before. Quercus emoryi (Emory oak) was less productive (owing to the fact that only a few trees were flush with fresh leaves), yielding two more B. cephalicus and an A. chiricahuae. Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) was the least productive—no buprestids were collected off these trees, defying Norm’s expectations. Other than buprestids, a variety of other insects—mostly leaf beetles, weevils, and a good variety of treehoppers—were collected from all three oak species. About a mile up, the trail crossed a wash and got steeper and narrower, and I found it difficult to beat off of anything except trees right along the trail, so I turned around and joined Norm in slowly working our way back down the trail, beating/sweeping the trees along the way and adding slightly to our series. Once back at the bottom, I hung a jug trap baited with ethanol near the wash next to a large silverleaf oak, which Steve will check during the rest of the season and which hopefully will produce some nice species of longhorned beetles.

Lower Copper Canyon Trail.

Before moving to our next spot, we made a quick visit to the nearby U.S./Mexico border. The Nazi-esque barbed wire atop steel cross bars was a far cry from the promised “big, beautiful wall” as it slashed across the landscape and up over the mountains. I joked with Norm that we should stick our nets over the fence and sweep for insects so we could label them as having been collected in Mexico!

U.S./Mexican border.
On this side is the U.S., and on that side is Mexico.

W side Huachuca Mountains
Lower Ida Canyon

Cochise Co., Arizona
After a solid three hours at Copper Canyon, we were beat but wanted to check nearby Ida Canyon, the lower reaches of which has a stand of sedges from which Norm has collected several species of Taphrocerus. The sedge patch was completely dry and no Taphrocerus were found, so we beat/swept a bit on the oaks—again focusing on those occasional trees with a fresh flush of foliage. I got one Agrilus quercus on Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) and two Brachys cephalicus off of a single Quercus emoryi (Emory oak) along with a smattering of miscellaneous beetles off each. Once again, Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) produced a smattering of miscellaneous insects but no buprestids. Beetle activity didn’t seem to be as high here as at Copper Canyon, so we didn’t spend too much time here and headed home for dinner before another night of blacklighting.

Lower Ida Canyon.

Huachuca Mountains
Montezuma Pass

Cochise Co., Arizona
On the way back to Norm’s and Steve’s home, we stopped at the ever-scenic Montezuma Pass, which offers spectacular views of the U.S./Mexico border to both the east and the west. A large Cylindropuntia imbricata (tree cholla) in full bloom added a splash of color to the tawny-colored view.

View west from Montezuma Pass.
View east from Montezuma Pass.
Cylindropuntia imbricata (tree cholla).

E side Huachuca Mountains
Upper Miller Canyon Rd

Cochise Co., Arizona
This spot near the top of Miller Canyon Rd is another of Steve’s favorite blacklighting spots, so we set up our lights here in the same manner as last night—just out of sight of each other along the trail and both setups using both ultraviolet and mercury-vapor lamps. Both light setups produced a smattering of miscellaneous insects but few longhorned beetles, a few Anelaphus (probably A. simile and A. brevipes) coming to my light but none coming to Steve’s. Who knows why this happens?

Menkeleon bellulus (family Myrmeleontidae) adult at ultraviolet/mercury-vapor light in riparian montane oak woodland.
Agrius cingulata (pink-spotted hawkmoth) at ultraviolet/mercury-vapor light in riparian montane oak woodland.
Cypherotylus californicus (blue fungus beetle) on trunk of juniper in riparian montane oak woodland at night.

Day 17 – Chiricahua Mountains

E side Chiricahua Mountains
Herb Martyr Campground

Cochise Co., Arizona
The Chiricahuae Mountains are about a two-hour drive from Norm’s and Steve’s place, so our plan for the day was for Norm and I to spend the day collecting in Cave Creek Canyon and then Steve meet up with me to blacklight. Our target for this first spot of the day was Agrilus howdeni, which Norm has collected on the fresh leaves of Platanus wrightii (western sycamore) during June. This spot is very near the type locality for the species (Southwestern Research Station), and though it was the first day of June we hoped it would already be out. The stop had an inauspicious start—as soon as we got out of the car we saw a large Chrysobothris land on the sheet metal eave of the campground outhouse. It escaped Norm’s grasp but returned, only to then escape my net as well. Not a good start, but I did at least beat a longhorned beetle (probably Sternidius decorus) from Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) before we headed down to the creek bed where the sycamores could be found. Once in the creek bed, I beat a few miscellaneous beetles off of Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) before turning my attention to the sycamores. We quickly realized that A. howdeni was not only present, but occurred in the biggest numbers Norm had ever seen—apparently the species is an earlier spring species than realized and the individuals seen later in June were probably hangers on. Collecting for me was slow at first, as I was limited by my beating sheet and 6-ft extensible handled net to the lower branches of the trees, while Norm was able to reach the higher branches with his much longer net handle. Eventually, however, after hiking up the creek bed a fair distance I encountered several trees with plenty of low growing branches from which I was able to collect a good series of adults and then make my way back. Back at the car, Norm and I both checked the outhouse again hoping that the Chrysobothris had returned, but no such luck. I did notice, however, a few small Robinia neomexicana (New Mexican locust), from which I swept a single Agrilus egenus, and then Norm saw a large Buprestis (probably B. laeviventris) land on the parking lot sign and nabbed it. Having gotten our fill of A. howdeni, we decided to move up to a higher elevation spot where Gayle Nelson had once collected the very rare Brachys apachei on Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak).

Leptotes marina (marine blue) on flowers of Amorpha fruticosa (leadplant) in montane woak woodland.

E side Chiricahua Mountains
Rd 42 at East Turkey Creek

Cochise Co., Arizona

East Turkey Creek.

The forest type was different at this higher-elevation spot, with pine and fir sharing the canopy with oaks. I had intended to focus on the oaks in hopes of finding the rare Brachys apachei, but I was immediately distracted by large flowering shrubs that turned out to be Ceanothus integerrimus (deerbrush ceanothus) and from which I beat a diversity of miscellaneous beetles and one treehopper (but no buprestids).

Ceanothus integerrimus (deerbrush ceanothus) in montane oak-pine woodland.

I then turned my attention to beating the abundant stands of Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) in earnest. Norm got one Brachys floccosus—a very good find, but I collected only a clerid, a few treehoppers, and one very large and very gravid Judolia instabilis. Occasional lycids turned up in sweeps and in flight, and a single clerid was collected off of one of the few Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) that I beat. We had hoped to go even higher to Rustler Park, but the time was getting away from us so we headed back down the canyon to eat something before meeting up with Steve for blacklighting.

Judolia instabilis gravid female.

E side Chiricahua Mountains
1.2 mi NW Jct Rd 42 & 42A

Cochise Co., Arizona
We saw this area along Cave Creek with lush-looking areas near the water’s edge that looked promising for Taphrocerus. Norm swept the areas upstream from where we parked, and I swept the areas downstream—Norm finding a single Taphrocerus (either T. chevrolati or T. sulcifrons) but me sweeping only a single hispine leaf beetle.

Sceloporus jarrovii (Yarrow’s spiny lizard) in montane oak woodland.

On the way back down Cave Creek Canyon to Portal, we passed the property of the Cazier family—originally occupied by Mont Cazier, first director of the American Museum of Natural History’s nearby Southwestern Research Station.

The family of Mont Cazier, first Director of the nearby Southwestern Research Station, still owns his former residence in Cave Creek Canyon.

E side Chiricahua Mountains
Herb Martyr Campground

Cochise Co., Arizona
Steve and I agreed that blacklighting at lower elevations would be more productive and decided to try a campground that Steve has done a few times near the Southwestern Research Station. Unfortunately, when we arrived it was already occupied (unusual, according to Steve), so we took the road the rest of the way to Herb Martyr Campground where Norm and I had collected earlier in the day. Fortunately it was vacant, so I set up my UV/MV lights in the spot nearest the parking lot while Steve set his up about 220 feet down the trail. Things looked promising when very early in the evening a male Prionus heroicus came to my lights, but that would be the only longhorned beetle we would see that night! Nevertheless, I picked up a diversity of other insects—especially cryptocephaline leaf beetles (including the smartly-dressed Griburius montezuma) and cyrtolobine treehoppers—to avoid having to consider the evening a waste. When the hoped for “9:30 cerambycid flush” did not materialize, we took down the lights and made the 2-hour drive back to Hereford.

Blacklighting with Steve Lingafelter.
Griburius montezuma at ultraviolet/mercury vapor lights in montane oak-pine woodland.

Day 18 – Huachuca Mountains (again!)

E side Huachuca Mountains
Lower Carr Canyon

Cochise Co., Arizona
This is another of Norm’s regular spots, where he has collected a variety of Agrilus and Brachys from oaks over the years. After seeing the success that he has had during the past two days by using a very long-handled, large-rim aerial net to sweep the foliage in the higher canopy of the trees, I decided to give the method a try myself (fortunately, I already have and had brought with me such a net) and see how it compared with my standard approach of beating (which reaches the lower branches only). It was not a good day to make the comparison, as there were very few beetles to be found. I focused on sweeping Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) while Norm preferentially swept Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak), and both of us collected but a single buprestid—mine being the not uncommon Agrilaxia arizonae but Norm’s turning out to be the very rare Mastogenius puncticollis! Otherwise on the oak I collected only a smattering of leaf beetles. I also swept Platanus wrightii (Arizona sycamore) and collected another A. arizonae and a small eumolpine leaf beetle. With our luck running dry in the lower elevations of the canyon, we decided to go up to a higher elevation site for hopefully better luck.

“Beta-testing” the long-handled, large-rim sweep net method for sampling higher in the canopy.

E side Huachuca Mountains
Reef Townsite Campgeound

Cochise Co., Arizona
I first came to this spot during last year’s trip, and while I didn’t collect many insects I did bring a lot of infested wood back home to put in the emergence boxes. That wood (both oak and pine) has been kicking out sawdust ever since, and I am hopeful that I will end up rearing series of some nice species as a result. Again, there is a lot of pine at this higher elevation, but Norm and I focused on Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) and Q. arizonica (Arizona white oak), respectively, in an effort to find Agrilus and Brachys. Pickings were slim, but I managed to sweep single specimens of Brachys floccosus and Brachys cephalicus from the latter tree, along with a smattering of other insects (mostly leaf beetles and weevils) while Norm collected a few Agrilus from the former. There was a large, recently wind-thrown silverleaf oak in the campground that we looked at starting out hoping to see Chrysobothris running on the trunk, but none were seen. Norm went back to check periodically, however, and got a Chrysobothris costifrons on the trunk (which he gave to me). I was happy to receive the specimen, although I would have liked to have seen the beetle come to the tree since I have yet to collect the species myself. Despite the few insects collected, I was quite happy with the day, as Brachys floccosus is a very uncommon species that I have not collected previously, and I no doubt would not have collected it had I not been using the long-handled, large-rim aerial net to gain access to the higher branches in the canopy. The technique certainly warrants far more use than I have been giving it.

Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak).

E side Huachuca Mountains
Upper Miller Canyon Rd

Cochise Co., Arizona
On the way back to Hereford, we stopped off at Norm’s “Taphrocerus spot” near the upper end of Miller Canyon Rd. Norm has collected not only T. chevrolati and T. sulcifrons by sweeping the small patch of sedges at this spot (species I have previously collected at a spot lower down in the canyon during my first visit to Arizona way back in 1987), but also T. leoni—a Mexican species heretofore not formally recorded from the U.S. I have tried, without success, to collect Taphrocerus from the lower spot on several subsequent visits, so I was hopeful that being here earlier in the season would result in better success. It happened quickly! We each got a few specimens, including T. leoni (distinctive in the field due to its shiny appearance, larger size, and distinct pubescent maculations), by sweeping the isolated plants on the north side of the creek bed and more specimens by sweeping the patch of mixed sedges, rushes, and grasses on the south side of the creek bed. Later examination of the specimens under the microscope revealed that all three species were represented—success! Nearby, there were a few Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) that had been trimmed a few years ago and were generating vigorous resprouts, off which Norm swept a few Agrilus abditus. This is another species that I have not encountered previously, and Norm generously gave the specimens to me. As this was my last day staying with Norm and Steve and we’d planned to go out for a nice dinner, we called it a day and headed back to the house. Still, despite the few number of specimens collected on the day, I could not be disappointed considering they represented eight species of buprestids—four of which I’d never collected before!

Miller Peak from upper Miller Canyon Rd.

We closed out my week’s visit with Norm and Steve with a tasty dinner at Pizzeria Mimosa, a glass of fine cognac, and the persistent affections of their dog Noxy!

Me, Norm Woodley, and Steve Lingafelter at “Pizzeria Mimosa.”
Celebrating a successful week of collecting with a fine cognac!
Enduring the affections of “Noxy”!

Day 19 – Apache Junction area

Superstition Mountains
Needle Vista Viewpoint

Maricopa Co., Arizona
After bidding adieu to Norm and Steve, I drove north to the Superstition Mountains to meet up with Paul Kaufman for a day of collecting and reconnecting. I first met Paul many years ago when he lived in Missouri and contacted me after collecting Saperda fayi—a very uncommon longhorned beetle that, at the time, had not yet been collected in Missouri. Paul and I spent time in the field a couple of times after that—once in southeast Missouri and another time after he moved to Farmington, New Mexico, and for many years afterwards Paul continued to send me beetles that he’d collected for identification. It was good to see him again after so many years, and I enjoyed chatting as we roamed the mountainous desert looking for beetles.

Paul had arrived first and, upon seeing how dry it was (and had been for a very long time), was not optimistic about our chances of success on the day. Nevertheless, I got out the long-handled net to see what we might find on the upper branches of the mesquites and acacias that dotted the landscape. We quickly became a little more optimistic when a Chrysobothris octocola ended up in my net with the very first tree that I swept, and over the next couple of hours I swept a variety of buprestids from Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) and Vachellia constricta (whitethorn acacia)—including five species of Chrysobothris (C. knulli and C. merkelii both new species for the trip) and a nice series of Acmaeoderopsis sp.

For his part, Paul was surprised at the number of specimens that I managed to collect compared to what his expectations were starting out, and I have to give the credit to my use of the long-handled net, which I now firmly believe is a superior collecting method for buprestids compared to the beating sheet (at least in certain situations). The net bag essentially takes the place of the beating sheet, but since it is deeper the beetles are much less likely to escape like they can when they land on the sheet. Rather than hitting the branch from the top, the net bag is placed over the whole branch tip and gently shaken or placed under the branch and the rim tapped against the branch from below. There is less disturbance to neighboring branches if done carefully, and as a result the entire tree can be sampled in the same amount of time that is required to sample only the lower branches using a beating sheet, making it much more efficient. I estimate that on average I collected about twice as many specimens with this technique compared to beating, plus the ability to get into the upper canopy allowed me to capture some species that I would not have encountered by beating only. I am looking forward to making greater use of this technique in other areas and habitats.

Superstition Mountains
1 mi NE Tortilla Flat

Maricopa Co., Arizona
Having worked the area at Needle Vista Viewpoint sufficiently, we went to another nearby spot in the Superstition Mountains recommended by Norm and Steve.

Late afternoon sun over Mesquite Creek near Tortilla Flat.

The trees were quite a bit smaller at this location, and temps were starting to drop as we were later in the day, so I opted for the beating sheet instead of the long-handled net. Almost immediately I beat a single Chrysobothris knulli off of Vachellia constricta (whitethorn acacia), but further beating produced only a series of clytrine leaf beetles. As I was working the tree, I noticed an herbaceous plant clump below that showed evidence of feeding on the leaves, and unfurling the damaged leaves revealed numerous Microrhopala rubrolineata on what turned out to be Ambrosia ambrosioides (canyon ragweed). Interestingly, on many of the leaves with M. rubrolineata, there was also a small chlamasine leaf beetle (possibly Exema sp.) cohabiting the leaf (see photo).

Ambrosia ambrosioides (canyon ragweed).
Microrhopala rubrolineata (and a single Exema? sp.) on Ambrosia ambrosioides (canyon ragweed).

In a small area, we encountered a “hot spot” of buprestids—first I beat Acmaeodera pubiventris lanata from a dead branch of Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite). After I put the specimen in the vial, I noticed an Acmaeoderopsis junki sitting on the sheet that I’d overlooked—it was so pulverescent that I almost didn’t see it! Over the next half hour or so, I/we beat several buprestids from the mesquites in that small area, including Chrysobothris merkelii, C. octocola, and C. rossi along with a few other miscellaneous beetles. Paul also collected a couple of Agrilus (possibly A. felix) from Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia), but my beatings from the plants produced only a few miscellaneous beetles. Finally, I found Quercus turbinella (turbinella oak, shrub live oak, gray oak—sometimes considered a subspecies of Q. dumosa), one of the few oaks that occur in lower elevation desert chaparral habitats, but beating its dense branches yielded only a single leaf beetle.

Acmaeodera pubiventris lanata, beaten from dead branch of Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite).
Acmaeoderopsis junki, beaten from dead branch of Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite).

By this time, it was getting late in the day and I wanted to setup blacklights back at Needle Vista Viewpoint, so Paul and I said our goodbyes before he headed back home and I headed for Needle Vista. On the way there, I stopped at a couple of scenic turnouts and enjoyed spectacular evening and sunset views to the west.

Late evening vista from Apache Trail above Needle Vista Viewpoint.
Late evening vista from Apache Trail above Needle Vista Viewpoint.
Late evening vista from Apache Trail above Needle Vista Viewpoint.
Sunset vista from Apache Trail above Needle Vista Viewpoint.
Sunset vista from Apache Trail above Needle Vista Viewpoint.
Sunset vista from Apache Trail above Needle Vista Viewpoint.
Me enjoying a sunset vista from Apache Trail above Needle Vista Viewpoint.

Superstition Mountains
Needle Vista Viewpoint

Maricopa Co., Arizona
I returned to Needle Vista Viewpoint with just enough time to set up the UV/MV lights and enjoy a nice brew while darkness settled. High temps and low wind held the promise of a good night, and I was encouraged by the number and diversity of insects that began to flock to the lights as the last vestiges of sunlight silhouetted the mountains behind me and a stunning crescent moon blazed over them. Cryptocephaline leaf beetles came to the lights in numbers, and eventually the longhorned beetles started coming—sporadically at first, and then regularly once the “9:30 ‘bycid flight” began. Most of the longhorned beetles were elaphidiines, presumably species of Anelaphus, and around 10:00, just as suddenly as it had begun, the ‘bycid flight ended. It was an appropriately successful last night of blacklighting for my last night in Arizona and the beginning of the long trip back home starting the next morning—with a planned detour into western Oklahoma before finally heading home.

Enjoying a brew while the blacklights hum.
A crescent moon blazes above a mountain silhouette at nightall.
Creeping nightfall.
Sinking moon.
Insara elegans (elegant bush katydid) at ultraviolet/mercury vapor light.

Day 20 – Travel Day (Phoenix to Boise City)

Today’s plan was to drive from Phoenix, Arizona to the area around Black Mesa, Oklahoma in hopes that I would arrive in time to setup blacklights in the area. That plan did not work out, as the distance was just a bit too far (going from Arizona Standard Time to Central Daylight Time also robbed me of an additional two hours!). My route took me through northeastern Arizona and northern New Mexico on roads that I’ve not previously traveled, so I at least got a good look at some parts of the country that I haven’t seen before. It was well after dark by the time I reached the western panhandle of Oklahoma, so blacklighting was not an option. Instead, I headed straight for the motel and hoped for success in the morning.

“I did that!”

Day 21 – Oklahoma Panhandle

Black Mesa State Park
Cimarron Co., Oklahoma
I’ve been to this place twice before, and both times my efforts to collect were thwarted—first by dry conditions during another early June trip in 2013, and then again just four weeks ago by cold, rainy conditions. Still, I can’t help but feel that this area has a lot of potential—if I can just get the timing right. The rainout during my last trip made me think now would be the time, as it was super dry but receiving plenty of moisture while I was there. My only doubt was whether four weeks afterwards would be soon enough or if everything would have already happened and the place had dried out again before I got there. As it turns out, I believe that I may have still been too early (more on my reasoning for that later). I wanted to access the small canyon on the north side of the park, where soapberries and hackberries in the craggy rocks promised to yield a diversity of buprestids associated with those plants, and parked at the Scenic Overlook to hike down into the canyon. Puzzlingly, I did not get anything on either plant, save for a single clytrine leaf beetle on Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry), many of which were still pushing out new foliage. Sweeping the soapberrys, all still pre-bloom, was also fruitless, and even the few flowers that I found failed to produce any buprestids. At least other people will be happy—I collected a few dasytine beetles for Matt Gimmel and a couple of bees for Mike Arduser on flowers of Berlandiera lyrata (lyreleaf greeneyes). Hiking back up above of the canyon, I noticed a lone Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) in full leaf and flower—a last chance for buprestids—but collected only a few more clytrine leaf beetles. It was a rare “buprestid strike out” for the trip, and I was beginning to think once again I would fail in my effort to unlock the potential of this area in the extreme northwestern corner of extreme northwestern Oklahoma. The day was young, however, and I decided to try my luck at another spot outside the park near Black Mesa Preserve where rocky outcroppings feature stands of oak—unusual in this area and always a potentially good host for buprestids.

Sapindus drummondii (soapberry) and Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) dominate the rocky bluffs at Black Mesa State Park.

1.6 mi E Kenton on Hwy 325
Cimarron Co., Oklahoma
I’ve also been to this spot a couple of times before—first during the aforementioned dry-as-a-bone June visit, and again the following year during late June. On that latter visit, I caught a number of Prionus heroicus (then a new state record for Oklahoma) and found buprestid-infested oak branches that I brought back for rearing (sadly, nothing emerged). Otherwise, I did not find much else going on, giving the visit a “too late” feel. This time started out much the same, as I started beating the oaks (ID’d on iNaturalist as Quercus × undulata, or wavyleaf oak). No insects were found at first, but I noticed a small tree that looked recently dead and encountered a chrysobothrine larva shortly after I began splitting branches. I went back to the car to get the hand saw and cut up the branches to bring back for rearing—hopefully I will have better luck this time rearing adults from the wood. I worked a number of oaks on the outcropping without finding anything, noting that many of them were just beginning to push new leaves, before crossing the highway and beating a single leaf beetle from a lone tree in full leaf.

Oak-colonized rock outcropping.

By now I was losing interest in the spot, but I’d seen a few mesquites further down the highway and thought I should at least give them a try. Again, nothing but a few leaf beetles and lots of leaffooted bugs (probably Mozena obtusa), so I finally accepted defeat—it seemed that I was again “too early”—and began working my way back to the car. At least I had the promise of buprestids from the wood I was bringing back for rearing. Rather than retracing my steps, however, I decided to walk the 2-track around the back side of the outcropping back to the car. About halfway up the road I saw an impressive Efferia sp. robber fly and, with not much left to do, occupied myself with trying to photograph it despite its repeated loping flits away from me.

Efferia sp. male (family Asilidae).
Efferia sp. male (family Asilidae).
Efferia sp. male (family Asilidae).

Resuming my trek back to the car, I then noticed Thelesperma megapotamicum (rayless greethread) flowers—with an Acmaeodera mixta adult sitting on one of them! Not that this species is at all uncommon, but if this species was at flowers then perhaps other species were as well. I’d seen precious few flowers to this point, so I began looking intently to make sure I wasn’t walking by any (Thelesperma can be easy to overlook due to its lack of ray flowers). I didn’t see any more flowers until I got back to the car, and there, not five feet from the car, were a few small Xanthisma spinulosum (spiny goldenweed)—each with one or two Acmaeodera sp. prob. neglecta. Finally, buprestids!

Thelesperma megapotamicum (rayless greethread).
Xanthisma spinulosum (spiny goldenweed).

I put my plans to leave on hold, set out some white bowl traps along the 2-track, and began searching for other flowers there and in areas adjacent to the highway. I would end up spending several more hours at the spot, finding additional Thelesperma and Xanthisma plants with the aforementioned buprestids on the flowers and also some small black individuals that could either be immaculate forms of the A. neglecta-like species or a different species altogether. Also in the same area, I found a single flowering plant of Calylophus lavandulifolius (lavender leaf sundrops) that, after visiting several times, produced several Acmaeodera (including one individual that I don’t recognize—larger and broader than A. neglecta and with uniform vittae rather than irregular spots)—and a single flowering individual of Senecio flaccidus (threadleaf groundsel) with a few A. mixta.

Calylophus lavandulifolius (lavender leaf sundrops).
Senecio flaccidus (threadleaf groundsel).

In the flats above the outcroppings, I noticed Echinocereus v. viridiflorus (green-flower hedgehog cactus) now in bloom (in contrast to earlier in the day at Black Mesa State Park). Most of the flowers on the plants were swarming with dasytine beetles, but a lone plant with a single flower that lacked dasytines had one A. neglecta-like buprestid in the flower. At some point while making the rounds between the flowers, I noticed an A. mixta in flight and successfully netted it.

Echinocereus v. viridiflorus (green-flower hedgehog cactus).

Once I’d monitored all the flowers in the area to my heart’s content, I picked up the bowl traps—all of which contained numerous Acmaeodera of multiple species (so happy that I saw this method work, first from Mike during last month’s Oklahoma trip, then earlier on this trip by accident in Mescalero Sands).

White bowl trap with several Acmaeodera spp.

My impression now, seeing how many of the trees were still pushing out leaves and that buprestid activity was limited to species of Acmaeodera, is that early June is still early season for this area (at least this year), and the timing of the season probably depends much more on the timing of rains—more similar to the western U.S.—than on the calendar and temperatures as in the eastern U.S. As a final effort to maximize my haul, I cut up some recently-cut branches of Juniperus monosperma (one-seed juniper) that I’d noticed earlier, finding a small cerambycid larva (probably Callidium sp.) under the bark when I cut into it. With both batches of wood cut up, bundled, and loaded into the car, it was finally time to make the final push home—or so I thought…

6 mi E Harmon
Ellis Co., Oklahoma
As I was leaving the Black Mesa area, I remembered a spot in Ellis Co. where I’d looked for Brachys barberi during last month’s western Oklahoma trip with Mike Arduser. Even though I was not successful in finding the species during that trip, I did collect a series of Agrilaxia texana—represented in my cabinet at the time by just two specimens collected decades ago—and one Elytroleptus floridanus—represented previously in my cabinet by just a single specimen and with this most recent collection representing a significant northwestern range extension and new host record for the species. The spot would not be too far out of the way, and since I would need to spend another night on the road anyway another attempt after allowing the season to progress a bit more might be worthwhile. Still, it would be a three-and-a-half-hour drive, which would get me there less than an hour before dusk. When I arrived (around 8:00 p.m.), I was happy to see the stands of Quercus havardii (shin oak) we’re putting out fresh foliage—something they were not yet doing on my previous visit (fresh oak foliage = Brachys!). I began sweeping the stands nearest the car and quickly came up with more A. texana along with a variety of miscellaneous beetles (mostly leaf beetles and weevils), but it wasn’t until I started sweeping stands with larger plants and the copse of tree-like plants that I finally found a couple of B. barberi. There wasn’t much time left to sweep other stands, as by then it was getting too dark to see into the net. I was, however, able to see several longhorned beetles that had bedded down on flowers of Helianthus petiolaris (prairie sunflower) growing near the car and along the road, including Batyle ignicollis, B. suturalis, and Strangalia sexnotata. It wasn’t long before dusk had turned to darkness, and it truly was time to call it a day and officially bring to an end the collecting activities for the trip after 21 days. With nearly 600 miles still to go, tomorrow will be strictly travel with no detours… for a change.

Helianthus petiolaris (prairie sunflower) with Strangalia sexnotata and a mating pair of Batyle suturalis bedded down for the night.
Everything’s bigger in Texas… and western Oklahoma!

Day 22 – Travel Day (Woodward to St. Louis)

There is nothing sadder than the final travel day home after a long collecting trip—especially one as successful as this one. Nevertheless, I looked forward to starting the day with coffee from my favorite “creationist” coffee shop (which Mike and I discovered on our prior trip to western Oklahoma just a few weeks earlier). I’m not normally one to patronize such overtly evangelical businesses, but I had to admit they served a good cup of Joe. Sadly, a sign on the door read “Permanently Closed”—I suppose proselytizing and sipping Joe just don’t mix.

Sad to find my favorite “creationist” coffee shop has closed permanently!

Arriving home later that evening closed out my longest ever driving trip—5,181 miles! Had Norm and Steve not been kind enough to do the driving while I stayed with them during the final week of my trip, the number of miles would have been even higher.

Final stats for the trip—5,181 miles with nearly 100 hours of drive time (= 53.5 mph average).

Following is a preliminary checklist of the Buprestidae collected during the trip—66 species in all! This number surely will increase once I mount and examine all the specimens, since only the species that I recognize with some degree of confidence are listed, but it already exceeds the number of species collected on any other trip I’ve made, at least in the U.S. (trips to South Africa and Mexico probably well exceed this number). Interestingly, of the 66 species collected, 17 are species I’ve never collected (five also being completely new to my collection), despite having already made several trips to many of the areas I visited. This speaks to the importance of repeated visits to the field, especially at different times of the season and in different years, continual refinement of collecting techniques and strategies, and taking advantage of opportunities to learn from others. I’m already planning next year’s trip out west, which will surely involve different timing and multiple field companions.


Preliminary List of Buprestidae Collected 17 May to 6 June 2022 in Illinois, Missouri, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oklahoma
*species not previously collected
**species new to my collection

  • Acmaeodera
    • A. bowditchi
    • A. decipiens
    • A. immaculata
    • A. gibbula
    • A. gillespiensis
    • A. horni**
    • A. immaculata
    • A. miliaris
    • A. mixta
    • A. neglecta
    • A. neoneglecta
    • A. obtusa
    • A. opuntiae*
    • A. ornata
    • A. ornatoides
    • A. paradisjuncta
    • A. princeps
    • A. pubiventris lanata
    • A. quadrivittatoides
    • A. recticollis*
    • A. riograndei*
    • A. starrae
    • A. tubulus
    • A. variegata*
    • A. n. sp.
  • Acmaeoderopsis
    • A. hulli
    • A. junki
  • Actenodes
    • A. mendax
  • Agrilus
    • A. abditus*
    • A. addendus*
    • A. albocomus
    • A. chiricahuae
    • A. egenus
    • A. lautuellus
    • A. fisherianus*
    • A. howdeni*
    • A. lacustris
    • A. lecontei celticola
    • A. obtusus
    • A. ornatulus
    • A. pectoralis
    • A. quercus*
    • A. sapindi
  • Agrilus (Engyaulus)
    • A. (E.) hespenheidei
  • Agrilaxia
    • A. arizonae
    • A. texana
  • Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia)
    • A. (H.) caryae*
  • Aphanisticus
    • A. cochinchinae seminulum
  • Brachys
    • B. barberi
    • B. cephalicus**
    • B. floccosus*
    • B. querci
  • Chrysobothris
    • C. analis
    • C. axillaris
    • C. costifrons*
    • C. knulli
    • C. lateralis
    • C. merkelii
    • C. mescalero**
    • C. octocola
  • Knowltonia
    • K. atrifasciata**
  • Spectralia
    • S. robusta
  • Taphrocerus
    • T. chevrolati
    • T. leoni**
    • T. sulcifrons
  • Texania
    • T. campestris

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2022

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

“The Botanists Among Us: Host plant specialization in insects”

It’s been a busy week for me—just two days after doing a presentation on tiger beetles to the Webster Groves Nature Society’s Entomology Group, I gave a talk to the St. Louis Chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society. As implied by the title, the talk focused on host plant specialization among insects, first covering the major groups of plant-feeding insects and the evolutionary themes involved in adaption to (and away from) plant-feeding, then moving to examples of different types of host plant specificity and highlighting some of the more interesting insects that I’ve encountered (and managed to photograph) over the years.

Like my talk two nights earlier, it was another fun and lighthearted conversation with a highly engaged crowd, and I appreciate the great interest shown by a group that is normally much more focused on plants than on insects. Once again, it was well-attended locally, but for the benefit of those who were not able to attend the meeting in person and that may be interested in this subject, I’ve prepared a PDF version* of the presentation that you can download and peruse at your convenience.

* All content is copyrighted and may not be reproduced or distributed without written consent.

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

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

Haldeman’s shieldback katydid (Pediodectes haldemani)

During my visit to Gloss Mountain State Park (Woodward Co., Oklahoma) this past June, I found an area of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia phaecantha) on the west flats below the main mesa. A few days earlier I had seen cactus beetles in the genus Moneilema (family Cerambycidae) associated with these plants at another nearby location, so I began checking the plants to look for any sign of these beetles. Sadly I did not find any, but the plants were in full bloom and were being visited by flower longhorns in the genus Typocerus (mostly just T. octonotatus). After having collected a small series, I approached one particular cactus plant and found this enormous katydid sitting inside the flower. Katydids normally secrete themselves in a more cryptic manner, using foliage backdrops with which they can blend owing to their green coloration. This particular katydid, however, not only lacked the leaf-like wings that many species possess but also exhibited rather strikingly contrasting dark red markings over its body that made it quite conspicuous as it sat in the yellow flower. I approached carefully so as not to spook it and took a few photographs, but as I did so it became apparent to me that it did not find my actions alarming and would allow me to take whatever photographs I wished.

Pediodectes haldemani in flower of Opuntia phaecantha | Gloss Mountains State Park, Woodward Co., Oklahoma

Pediodectes haldemani on Opuntia phaecantha | Gloss Mountain State Park, Woodward Co., Oklahoma

Almost whatever photographs, that is. I really wanted to get a super-close, full-frontal shot of the face, but it sat unbudgingly in the flower with its face buried in the stamens and masked by the inner petals of the flower. I could have tried peeling away the petal, but I was sure that fiddling my fingers that close to its face would spook it, and even if I did manage to peel back the petal then I would still have stamens blocking the view that I wanted. In the end, I decided that this slightly more distant shot of the whole body was a pleasing enough composition.

Pediodectes haldemani

Peek-a-boo!

I presume this individual represents Haldeman’s shieldback katydid (Pediodectes haldemani) in the family Tettigoniidae. This is not surprising, since the type locality of the species (Barber Co., Kansas) is just a few miles to the north and right smack dab in the middle of the Great Plains distribution of the species. BugGuide mentions that species identification from photos alone can be difficult in the genus Pediodectes, as color patterns vary individually and with age, and also since adults are wingless it can be difficult to tell if an individual is a nymph or adult. Nevertheless, distribution maps in Singing Insects of North America show three species that can potentially occur in this part of Oklahoma, and the photos shown here are a dead ringer for P. haldemani. I am also apparently not the first person to photograph this species at Gloss Mountain State Park.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Best of BitB 2011

Welcome to the 4th Annual BitB Top 10, where I get to pick my 10 (more or less) favorite photographs of the year. As an insect macrophotographer I still feel like a relative newcomer, although with three seasons under my belt fewer and fewer people seem to be buying it anymore. Granted I’ve learned a lot during that time, but the learning curve is still looking rather steep. I don’t mind—that’s the fun part! With that said, I present a baker’s dozen of my favorite photographs featured here during 2011. I hope they reflect the learnings I’ve had the past year and maybe show some progress over previous years (2009, 2008 and 2010).

One more thing—I’m including a special bonus for the first time in this year’s edition. Each of the photos shown below is linked to a 1680×1120 version that may be freely downloaded for use as wallpaper, printing in calendars, or any other use (as long as it’s personal and non-profit). It’s my way of saying thanks for your readership and support.


From  (posted 8 Jan). I’ve done limited photography with prepared rather than live specimens. However, the recreated aggressive-defensive posture of this greater arid-land katydid (Neobarrettia spinosa)—or “red-eyed devil”—was too striking to pass up. A clean background allows every spine and tooth to be seen with terrifying clarity.


From  (posted 6 Feb). I had never seen a cactus fly until I encountered this Nerius sp. I’m especially fond of the bizzarely-shaped head and un-fly-like spines on the front legs.


From  (posted 17 Feb). This photo of a fungus weevil, Phaenithon semigriseus, is one of the first where I nailed the focus right on the eye at such a magnitude of closeup (~3X) and also got the composition I was looking for. I didn’t notice at the time, but the beetle seems to be “smiling.”


From  (posted 28 Mar). One of the field techniques I’ve been practicing this year is actually holding the plant with the subject in one hand, resting the camera on my wrist and controlling it with the other hand, and manipulating the position of the plant to achieve a desired composition. It’s a difficult technique to master, but the results are worth it. The jumping spider, Euophrys sutrix, represents one of my earliest successful attempts with this technique.


From  (posted 30 Mar). This South American tree fruit weevil looks like it is sitting quite calmly on a branch. In reality, it never stopped crawling while I attempted to photograph it. Crawling subjects are not only difficult to focus on but also almost always have a “bum” leg. I achieved this photo by tracking the beetle through the lens and firing shots as soon as the center focus point flashed, playing a numbers game to ensure that I got at least one with all the legs nicely positioned. I’d have been even happier with this photo if I had not clipped the antennal tip.


From  (posted 4 May). Face shots of predatory insects are hard to resist, and in this one of the fiery searcher beetle, Calosoma scrutator, the angle of the subject to the lighting was perfect for showing off every ridge and tooth in its impressive mandibles.


From  (posted 10 May). I’ve taken plenty of lateral profile shots of tiger beetles, but I like this slightly panned out one especially because of the sense of scale and landscape created by the inclusion of the plantlets and the view over the small rise.


From  (posted 18 May). I found these Edessa meditabunda stink bug eggs on the underside of a soybean leaf in Argentina almost ready to hatch. The developing eye spots in each egg gives the photo a “cute” factor rarely seen in such super close-ups.


From  (posted 15 July). Some of my favorite insect photos are not only those that show the bug in all its glory, but also tell a story about its natural history. This nymphal lichen grasshopper, Trimerotropis saxatilis, is almost invisible when sitting on the lichens that cover the sandstone exposures in its preferred glade habitat. 


From  (posted 23 Aug). I know this is the second beetle face shot I’ve included in the final selections, but it was while photographing this rare Florida metallic tiger beetle, Tetracha floridana, in the middle of the night that I discovered the use of extension tubes to improve the quality of flash lighting (decreased lens to subject distance results in greater apparent light size). This is perhaps one of the best illuminated direct flash photographs that I’ve taken, and I also like the symmetry of the composition.


From  (posted 17 Sep). The three-cornered alfalfa hopper (Spissistilus festinus) is a common pest of alfalfa and soybean in the U.S. However, despite its abundance, I’ve never noticed the bizarre zig-zag pattern of the eyes until I took this photo. Even though both the insect and the background are green, there is sufficient value contrast to create a pleasing composition. Bumping up the ISO and a lower FEC setting prevented overblowing the light greens—easy to do with full flash macrophotography.


From  (posted 4 Oct). This longhorned beetle had settled in for the night on its Ericamera nauseosa host plant, allowing me to use higher ISO and lower shutter speed settings with a hand-held camera to achieve this very pleasing blue sky background, while retaining the sharpness of detail of the subject that comes from full-flash illumination. The blue sky background provides a more pleasing contrast with the colors of this particular beetle and flowers than the black background that is more typically seen with full-flash macrophotography.


From  (19 Dec). An uncommon underside view of these purple tree fungus (Trichaptum biforme) caps and use of flash illumination allows the colors to literally glow against the bright green lichens also growing on the tree. Keeping aperture at a moderate setting allows blurring of the caps further back, adding three-dimensionality to the photo and preventing it from looking ‘flat.’


Well, there you have it, and I hope you’ve enjoyed my selections. Please do tell me if you have a favorite among theses (and if there were other photos posted during 2011 that you think deserved making the final selections).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Hook-faced Conehead – Pyrgocorypha uncinata

Pyrgocorypha uncinata at UV lite | Lake Norfork, Arkansas

I had high hopes as I setup the blacklights in the pine/oak-hickory forest at Jordan Recreation Area on Lake Norfork in north-central Arkansas. The late June timing  and warm, humid conditions with no moon were perfect for wood boring beetles, and as dusk settled in I awaited their expected arrival.  But the beetles never came, and as dusk waned to full darkness I knew it was going to be one of those inexplicably mediocre nights.  If I’d had a hotel room waiting for me, I would’ve closed up shop as soon as this became apparent and headed on back.  This night, however, I was camping so there was really nothing else to do but see what else came to the lights anyway.  One of the more interesting was this conehead katydid, whose bizarre hook-shaped cone immediately identify it as the hook-faced conehead, Pyrgocorypha uncinata.  There are a number of coneheads in the eastern U.S., but I couldn’t recall ever seeing one with such a bizarre-shaped cone before.  There is good reason for this, as Singing Insects of North America shows this southeastern U.S. species to be at the limit of its distribution in northern Arkansas.

Looking at the above photo at home, I couldn’t help but notice the “face” formed by the eyes and cone, with the gap between the cone and the rest of the frons forming the “mouth” and the cone itself the “nose”—it looked to me like some weird, garrishly grinning fish!  Thus was born Super Crop Challenge #7, and since four participants correctly identified the individual in the photo down to species this challenge was decided on bonus points.  Max Barclay (Natural History Museum) earned the most (11) to win the challenge, while Patrick Coin and Sam Heads each earned 10 to round out the podium with a 2nd-place tie.  This was the last challenge of the BitB Challenge Session #3, so we can now crown a winner.  Today’s win vaults Max Barclay from 4th place in the overalls to the top spot with 29 pts—congratulations (and contact me for your loot).  Tim Eisele‘s 5 points in this challenge gave him a total of 24 pts, which was just enough to edge out former front-runner Troy Bartlett for 2nd place by a single point.  Troy keeps a foot on the final podium ahead of Dave with 23 points, also by a single point.

My thanks to the record 27 participants who took part in BitB Challenge Session #3.  The final overall standings are shown below, and look for the first challenge of BitB Challenge Session #4 coming up.

Place Participant IDC #8 SSC #5 SSC #6 IDC #9 Bonus 7/9 SSC #7 Total
1 Max Barclay 8     10   11 29
2 Tim Eisele 3 6 6 4   5 24
3 Troy Bartlett     11 12     23
4 Dave   11 3 8     22
5 Mr. Phidippus       11   4 15
6 Patrick Coin         2 10 12
7 Dennis Haines        11     11
8 Josh Basham       10     10
  Sam Heads           10 10
10 Alex Wild 9           9
  James Trager    4     9
  Brady Richards       9     9
13 Roy     5 3     8
  FlaPack           8 8
15 Traci       6     6
16 Johnson Sau       5     5
17 Annie Ray       4     4
  The Ozarkian       1   3 4
19 David Winter 3           3
  Ani       3     3
  Laurie Knight       2   1 3
22 Bob Cochran   2         2
  dragonflywoman     2       2
  Chris Grintter       2     2
25 David Rentz 1           1
  Anne McCormack   1         1
  Mike       1     1

IDC = ID Challenge; SCC = Super Crop Challenge.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

Red-eyed Devil

In June 1994, I made my first insect collecting trip to Big Bend National Park.  Both of my previous visits to Texas had been to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, so I was anxious to see what beetle treasures awaited me in this huge chunk of western Texas.  For three days I sampled the astounding diversity of beetles found in the park’s low desert scrub, oak/juniper woodlands, and high pine forests, and on the final day I decided to visit the sotol grasslands – a transitional habitat between the desert and woodlands in the Chisos Mountains foothills.  Sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) is the host plant of jewel beetles in the genus Thrincopyge – exquisitely beautiful beetles of metallic blue or green and vivid yellow.  Larvae bore through the plant’s dried flower stalks, while adults wedge themselves in the base of this agave-like plant, hidden from view by the plant’s long, strap-like, saw-toothed leaves.  I had not yet seen these beetles for myself, so I began searching the through the plants – carefully prying apart the wicked leaves in hopes of seeing adults peering up from the base, and then using my foot-long forceps to extract them.  It’s a painful process, as no amount of care completely prevents the plant’s stout, recurved spines from impaling and ripping forearm flesh while trying to grab and pull out the beetles! 

While prying apart the leaves of one particular plant, I was startled by one of the most imposing-looking insects that I have ever seen as it jumped up on top of the foliage and assumed this decidedly aggressive posture.  Although I recognized it as some type of katydid, it was unlike any I’d seen before – large and robust, vivid green and yellow with flashing red eyes, its short spotted hind wings outstretched, spiny forelegs held high, and huge jaws spread wide open.  Her long dagger-like ovipositor only added to her impressiveness.  So spectacularly terrifying was its threat display that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to collect it for eventual mounting in life-like position.  I felt a little silly being scared of a katydid but nevertheless took great care to avoid getting my fingers anywhere near those jaws as I gingerly corraled it into a jar. 

Neobarrettia spinosa is also known as the greater arid-land katydid or spiny bush katydid, but I prefer the name that has been coined by some – “red-eyed devil”!  This species belongs to a small genus of primitive katydids largely restricted to northern Mexico, with only two species extending north into the south-central and southwestern U.S.  The black front edge of the pronotum and (in life) red eyes identify this individual as N. spinosa (N. victoria, also occurring in Texas, has the pronotal front edge green and the eyes pale).  Unlike most katydids, which have adopted omnivorous or hervivorous feeding habits, species of Neobarrettia and their subfamilial relatives are pure carnivores capable of capturing and consuming prey as large as themselves.  Its bulging eyes, elongate and heavily spined forelegs, and massively robust mandibles on a large head (presumably for enlarged mandibular musculature) clearly represent adaptations for predation (Cohn 1965).

The painting above from Cohn’s revision of the genus shows the true colors of a living female and its threat display.  I collected this specimen before the days of the internet or my own interest in photography, so I had nothing but my memory to guide me as I tried to recreate the threat display during mounting.  I got it mostly right but missed on a few details – the wings should have been placed more vertically, and the insect also rears back more on its hind legs to display the brightly colored cephalic portion of its abdominal venter.  I could try to relax and remount the specimen, but given its fragility and the fact that doing so would do little to make it any more imposing, I think the pose I have it in now is just fine.

This turned out to be a more difficult ID Challenge than I anticipated, but a record number of participants played along anyway.  Dave wins this challenge with 11 pts on the basis of a correct identification and entertaining logic to accompany it.  Ben Coulter was the only other person to correctly identify the genus and species, earning 9 pts for 2nd place, while BitB’s own James Trager and TGIQ share the final podium spot with 5 pts each.  Ben continues to dominate the overall competition with 32 pts now, but the battle for 2nd place has really heated up – Janet Creamer (14 pts) and TGIQ (13 pts) have the edge, but Dave (11 pts), James Trager (11 pts), and Christopher Taylor (10 pts) are all within easy striking distance.

REFERENCE:

Cohn, T. J. 1965. The arid-land katydids of the North American genus Neobarrettia (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae): their systematics and a reconstruction of their history.  Miscellaneous Publications of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology 126:1-179.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011