2021 Texas/New Mexico/Arizona Insect Collecting Trip iReport

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

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


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

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

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

Helianthus petiolaris (prairie sunflower).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phrynosoma cornutum (Texas horned lizard).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low clouds hang over the Huachuca Mountains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coronado National Monument from near Montezuma Pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lower Florida Canyon.
Celtis reticulata (netleaf hackberry).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Botanizing at Castlewood State Park

Fall color was the goal of today’s Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) Botany Group field trip, and Castlewood State Park—with its breathtaking bluff-top views over the Meramec River Valley—is as good a place to see the autumn spectacle as any. It was a well-attended group despite the cool temps, blustery winds, and hint of moisture in the air, likely helped by the park’s closer-than-usual proximity to St. Louis.

Meramec River viewed from Lone Wolf Trail Overlook.

The group decided to hike the Lone Wolf Trail, which traverses both dry forest along the bluffs and riparian forest along Kiefer Creek. We got the climbing out of the way quickly by making the long, steep ascent up to the bluffs from the parking lot—giving ample opportunity for all to make it up before exploring the bluffs. John pointed out a small tree with developing male catkins that identified it as Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam). The catkins will remain closed through the winter and flower next spring. Ostrya (pronounced “oh-STRY-uh”) bark is usually vertically striate (pronounced “STRY-ate”), but the bark on this tree was still relatively smooth—a “non-striate Ostrya”!

Male catkins of Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam).

Reaching the wooden deck overlooking the Meramec River Valley, the size of our group apparently intimidated three youngsters that were on the deck, and they quickly yielded way. The expected fall colors had not yet materialized, leading some to engage in what seems to be an annual tradition of debating whether this year’s colors are abnormally late. While at the deck and walking further along the trail from it, debates centered mostly around distinguishing the various oaks and hickories. Fallen (squirrel-clipped?) twigs from one of the large oaks exhibited large, fuzzy, quadrangular buds typical of Quercus velutina (black oak), but the leaves had usually deep sinuses. After consulting a Missouri oaks field guide, we decided they must represent Q. velutina despite the atypical leaves. Close examination of the hickories with magnification revealed distinct pubescence on the buds and petioles, suggesting Carya texana (black hickory).

The WGNSS Botany Group takes in the view from the Lone Wolf Trail Overlook.

There was little still remaining in bloom along the bluffs, and what was still in bloom was in pretty rough shape. We found two blue fall asters near each other, but a closer look revealed that they were actually two different species—Symphyotrichum turbinellum (prairie aster), distinguished by its vase-shaped involucre and branchy growth with simple leaves, and Symphyotrichum patens (creeping aster), recognizable at once by its basally clasping leaves. Another fall aster without blooms caused some debate—the recurved phyllaries of the involucre and chordate lower leaves suggested Symphyotrichum anomalum (manyray aster), but the toothed leaf edges suggested something else. Without a flower to see the color, it was suggested it could be an “anomalous anomalum.” Otherwise, only the occasional, scraggly Solidago ulmifolia (elm-leaf goldenrod) completed the list of still-barely-blooming plants along the bluffs.

Acalypha virginca (Virginia copperleaf) provides the forest floor with subtle fall color.

Descending from the bluffs along a north-facing slope and more mesic conditions provided much more color than along the bluff. Patches of Asimina triloba (pawpaw)—their large, simple leaves now vivid yellow, brightened the understory, while the ubiquitous Acer saccharum (sugar maple) lifted the yellows higher into the canopy. Only the giant oaks, mostly Q. alba (white oak) and the aforementioned Q. velutina soared above the maples, their great height no doubt a result of rich, deep soils on the north-facing slope. On the ground below, a multitude of ferns colonized the moister areas, with three species found growing side-by-side: Adiantum pedatum (northern maidenhair fern), Phegopteris hexagonoptera (broad beech fern), and Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern).

Apioperdon pyriforme (pear-shaped puffball, stump puffball) on dead oak trunk base.

Fall color was not restricted to the leaves of the trees—fruits also provided dazzling points of color. Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) and Lindera benzoin (spicebush) both sported bright red berries similar enough in appearance to each other that close examination was required to distinguish those that had fallen to the ground. The former is synecious (i.e., all flowers bisexual), thus, all individuals can bear fruit. The latter, however, is dioecious (i.e., some individuals bear only male flowers, while others bear only female flowers); thus, only female trees produce the red berries. Comparing male versus female trees provided a chance to compare also the now-developing flower buds that will be among the first to open of any plant next spring. Since male plants tend to flower earlier than females, their flower buds were observed to be ever so slightly larger and further developed than those on female plants.

Lindera benzoin (spicebush) female fruits.
Lindera benzoin (spicebush) female flower buds.
Lindera benzoin (spicebush) male flower buds.

Along Kiefer Creek, flowers were limited to the occasional Campanula americana (tall bellflower) until we came upon a small area where a few late-blooming and very short-stemmed Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan) were found (regrowth?), but the remnants of green garden netting found around them indicated that they might have been planted. Definitely native in the same area, however, were a few still-flowering Eupatorium serotinum (late boneset) plants, a couple of which were found to be hosting a small, dark blue and yellow striped caterpillar. Neither of the two entomologists present knew what it was, although both had suggestions, but a little bit of sleuthing revealed them to be the larval stage of Haploa clymene (clymene moth), one of the tiger moths (subfamily Arctiinae) and known to feed on Eupatorium.

An unusually short-stemmed Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan).
Haploa clymene (clymene moth) caterpillar on Eupatorium serotinum (late boneset). Species ID based on host.

After returning to the parking lot and chatting with the group, I went back to the Eupatorium plants to take additional photographs of the Haploa clymene caterpillars with the big camera (look for those in a future post). On the way back to the car, I found a small snail actively crawling over the trail surface—its body fully stretched and antennae fully extended. I couldn’t resist putting the iPhone to the test to see if it could capture good photos of this small snail, and both the lateral and head-on shots were more than adequate. iNaturalist identifies it as a species in the genus Ventridens (dome snail), a member of the family Zonitidae (true glass snails).

Ventridens sp. (dome snail) on trail through mesic riparian deciduous forest.
Ventridens sp. (dome snail) on trail through mesic riparian deciduous forest.

©️ Ted C MacRae 2021

2021 West Texas Insect Collecting Trip iReport

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

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

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


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

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

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

Rich scans the vast sand dunes.
Endless dunes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point of Rocks Roadside Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Male Aphonopelmis hentzii (Texas tarantula).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Lost LOL!
Illegal tender.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zephyranthes chlorosolen (Brazos rain lily).

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

Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s pricklypear).

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

Gold Mine Canyon.

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

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

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

Sinking sun over Gold Mine Canyon.

Juniper cadaver in late-evening light.

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

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

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

Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna).

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

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

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

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

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

To insects, the collectors’ shadows loom large.

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

Ready for another night of blacklighting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brazos River at Garner Stare Park, Texas.

Postscript!

Somewhere near Rising Star, Texas.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Spring Unfolding

For many people, spring is their favorite time of year—the long, cold winter having given way to warmth, sunshine, and flowers. I love spring as well but find myself frustrated sometimes by its Jekyll and Hyde nature. This spring was particularly frustrating—the cold and rain seemed at times interminable, delaying the onset of the spring flora several weeks past normal. Once the sun finally did appear, the entire forest exploded in a cacophony of simultaneous leaf and bloom. Plant phenologies were so compressed that there was almost no time to appreciate the season before it was over. Nevertheless, as I waited patiently for those warmer days, I was still able to find beauty in the pre-bloom forest among its nascent leaves—their development put on hold for the time being but taking on an almost floral quality in the absence of the true flowers that they preceded. As a student of wood-boring beetles, I’ve had to become also a capable botanist, at least with regards to the woody flora, and pride myself on being able to identify trees not just by their mature leaves, but also their wood, bark, growth habit, and natural community—characters that are always available when leaves may not be (as is often the case with dead trees). Nascent leaves, on the other hand, are like flowers—ephemeral and often colorful. One must make an effort to see them, but it is effort well spent.

The photos below were taken on a cold, overcast day in late April at Holly Ridge Conservation Area in extreme southeastern Missouri. How many of them can you identify to species? This is an open challenge (i.e., no moderation of comments), and the first person to correctly identify all six will be declared the winner (remember, spelling counts!).


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Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Blackjack oak “flower”

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This blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) was found on one of southeastern Missouri’s finest sand prairie relicts a couple of weeks ago on my ‘Annual Birthday Season Opener Bug Collecting Trip.’ Growing near the edge of the prairie at the transition to dry sand forest (Nelson 1985), the arrays of soft, red, newly-expanding leaves at each branch tip had a distinctly floral quality to them. Of course, as with all oaks, the actual flowers of blackjack oak are much less conspicuous, with the staminate (male) flowers borne on drooping catkins, the pistillate (female) flowers on separate spikes on the branch, and pollination accomplished by wind.

Missouri is oak country – nearly a quarter of North America’s 90 oak species (Nixon 2009) occur naturally within the state. This high diversity is explained partly by Missouri’s ecotonal continental position – straddling the east-west transition from the great eastern deciduous forest to the western grasslands. The boundary between these two great biomes is a dynamic, ever-changing interdigitation of woodland, savanna, and prairie that ebbs and flows with the prevailing climatic conditions. Unlike the more mesic forests further east, these dry woodland habitats were often subjected to fire during presettlement times – to which oaks in general (and blackjack oak in particular) are supremely adapted with their thick bark and ability to resprout repeatedly after being burned or grazed back. Sadly, the suppression of these fires post-settlement has caused many of these unique, fire-mediated natural communities to shrink drastically amidst a choking growth of junipers (“cedars” ’round these parts), maples, and other fire-intolerant species. Only on publicly owned preserves and a few private parcels under progressive ownership (such as the sand prairie relict where this photograph was taken) is fire once again shaping the landscape.

Oaks are among my favorite trees, and among the oaks I have several favorites. White oak (Quercus alba) – tolerating many forest types but forming nearly pure stands in high-quality, mesic sites, its tall symmetrical crown, pale bark, and brilliant fall colors are unparalleled among Missouri’s other oaks. Post oak (Q. stellata) as well – lacking the elegance of white oak but achieving its greatest character in fire-adapted savannas and open woodlands as squat, gnarled, massively-trunked trees with broad, spreading crowns¹. Blackjack oak has none of these qualities, yet somehow, it is still one of my favorite Missouri oaks. Stunted and gnarled (‘scrub oak’ to some), it occurs mostly in sandstone and limestone glades, savannas and woodlands on dry, nutrient-poor soils that support few other tree species. The dark green of its tough, waxy (to limit the loss of water), pear-shaped leaves contrasts beautifully with its rough, blocky, almost black bark. Blackjack oak has virtually no timber value, although it is sometimes used for charcoal and firewood. Nevertheless, for me, it is almost an icon for the unique natural communities in Missouri in which it occurs – communities that face ever-increasing pressure from human and forest encroachment.

¹ Please refer to this lovely essay about post oaks in Missouri, by the talented Allison Vaughn.

REFERENCE:

Nelson, P. W. 1985. The Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri. Missouri Natural Areas Committee, Jefferson City, 197 pp.

Nixon, J. C.  2009. Quercus in Flora of North America, Vol. 3.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Trees of Lake Tahoe – The Deciduous Trees

Alder, Maple, and Nuttall’s Flowering Dogwood make beautiful bowers over swift, cool streams at an elevation of from 3000 to 5000 feet, mixed more or less with willows and cottonwood; and above these in lake basins the aspen forms fine ornamental groves, and lets its light shine gloriously in the autumn months.–John Muir, The Mountains of California (1894).

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This is the third installment of a “Trees of Lake Tahoe” series summarizing the trees of Tahoe Basin. The basin forests are, of course, dominated by a diverse assemblage of conifers – eleven species in all.  These were covered in parts 1 (Trees of Lake Tahoe – The Pines) and 2 (Trees of Lake Tahoe – The “Other” Conifers ) of this series.  Yet, despite this coniferous domination, the 14 species of deciduous trees¹ that occur in the Tahoe Basin is three more than the number of coniferous tree species.  These deciduous tree species will be covered in this third and final part, including the nine species I was able to locate on my recent visit to the area back in mid-March.  Because of the timing of that trip, the trees will be discussed from a decidedly wintertime perspective that makes species identifications a little more challenging compared to the coniferous species.

¹ Admittedly, I use the term “tree” in the broadest sense, since many of these species might better be described as “tree-like shrubs” or “shrubby trees,” often representing only the largest examples of genera whose members include a number of true shrubs.  Only a handful of these species routinely form large, unmistakably tree-like forms, the largest of which still pale in comparison to the coniferous giants that dominate the basin.

Family SALICACEAE

This family of dioecious plants (male and female flowers on separate plants) is represented in the Tahoe Basin by two genera.  Two species of Populus occur here, and both decidedly trees in form.  Most of the nine species of Salix that grow in the basin grow only as shrubs, while two of them sometimes form distinct trees.

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides)

…in winter, after every leaf has fallen, the white bark of the boles and branches seen in mass seems like a cloud of mist that has settled close down on the mountain, conforming to all its hollows and ridges like a mantle, yet roughened on the surface with innumerable ascending spires.–John Muir, Steep Trails (1918).

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Quaking aspen is one of the most unmistakable trees of the Tahoe Basin – regardless of the season.  Famous for its shimmering foliage during summer and blazing fall colors, it is equally distinctive during winter when its smooth, creamy, greenish-white trunks stand in stark, leafless contrast to the dark green coniferous foliage that cloaks the landscape.  Thick stands of this species are common in moist meadows and stream margins, with stands typically representing clonal colonies of genetically identical trees sprouting from a common root mat.  Although another species of Populus does occur in the basin (black cottonwood – see below), that species is not nearly as abundant as quaking aspen and lacks its distinctive smooth bark.

The second photo above shows some of the few, still-clinging leaves that I found, unremarkable in senescence but showing the flattened petioles that cause to summertime leaves to flutter and quiver incessantly with the summer breezes, alternately flashing their bright green upper surface and silvery underside.

Black cottonwood (Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa)

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Black cottonwood is the largest American Populus and the tallest non-conifer in western North America.  Growing throughout the cool, moist Pacific Northwest, it is at its elevational limit in the Sierra Nevada along moist streams and lakeside habitats in the lower Tahoe Basin. The wonderfully knowledgeable Forest Service worker, who helped me greatly in my quest to locate all of the basin’s conifers, was skeptical about my chances of finding this species; however, while hiking the Rubicon Trail at Emerald Bay State Park I spotted the unmistakable, deeply furrowed, gray bark of this close relative of our own eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides).  Examining the twigs revealed the large, pointed buds, sticky with resin, and a few clinging leaves whose wide, ovate shape confirmed the species’ identity.  It was the only black cottonwood I saw in the basin, although surely others exist throughout the basin at lakeside elevations.

Willows (Salix spp.)

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As a group, willows are easily distinguished from the other deciduous trees and shrubs that occur in the Tahoe Basin.  However, discriminating among the several species can be quite difficult, even for trained botanists.  Winter is not the best time to try to identify willows, as many species are distinguished by characters of the foliage and flowers.  In some cases, examination of both male and female flowers is required – frustrating since they are borne on separate plants!  Wintertime characters normally useful for other plants such as bark and twig color are rarely informative for different species of willow, and even growth habit as trees or shrubs can vary greatly within species depending on elevation and available moisture.  All of this is a long-winded way of saying I don’t know which or how many species of willow I observed in the Tahoe Basin.

p1020705_2p1020707_2According to Graf (1999), there are nine species of willow in the Tahoe Basin; however, only two of them are trees – the abundant shining willow (S. lucida spp. lasiandra), and the more drought-tolerant Scouler’s willow (S. scouleriana).  The remaining seven species are shrubs that rarely exceed 10-12 feet in height.  Indeed, one of them – arctic willow (Salix arctica) – grows no more than 4 inches tall, occurring in seepy slopes and along lake and stream margins in the subalpine zone at Carson Pass.  Most of the willows I observed were at lower elevation along the shore of Emerald Bay and in the wet meadows around South Lake Tahoe and Spooner Lake and were growing as large shrubs or small trees and exhibited either bright yellow or red bark on the year-old branches, turning to smooth gray on older branches.  I don’t know whether these represent one or more species, or if they even represent one of the two arborescent species, but I suspect the yellow-twigged species may represent Lemmon’s willow (S. lemmonii), one of the shub species and Tahoe’s most common willow.  Perhaps a stretch goal for next year’s trip could be to find and distinguish all nine Tahoe Basin willow species, but realistically I would settle for knowing for sure what species the plants in these photographs represent (although I definitely would like to find the diminutive arctic willow).

Family BETULACEAE

Like the Salicaceae, plants in this family have male and female flowers on separate structures called catkins, but the plants themselves are monoecious (both sexes on the same plant).  Two genera – Alnus and Betula – occur in the basin, each represented by one species.

Mountain alder (Alnus incana ssp. tenuifolia)

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Like the willows, mountain alder is another deciduous plant that straddles the line between tree and shrub, and as is typical of most species in these two plant families (Salicaceae and Betulaceae) the species shows a high affinity for moist sites along stream and lake margins and on seepy north- and east-facing slopes.  The largest specimens I saw, as pictured above left, were found growing on the granite sand beaches along the Rubicon Trail on the western shore of Emerald Bay in Emerald Bay State Park.  Like alders anywhere, this species is immediately recognizeable in winter due to the persistent woody cones that represent the previous year’s female catkins.  Another larger species of alder, white alder (A. rhombifolia), occurs in the Sierra Nevada, but it is not clear to me whether this species actually occurs in the Tahoe Basin proper.  Graf (1999) does not include it in his rather comprehensive treatment of Tahoe Basin plants, but Peterson & Peterson (1975) and Quinn (2006) both list it from the basin (although rare). 

Water birch (Betula occidentalis)

I did not observe this species, which Graf (1999) records from Carson Pass.  The only birch occurring in the Sierra Nevada, it is more common outside the basin proper on the eastern slopes above the burning sagebrush plains.  Like alder, separate male and female catkins are borne on the same tree; however, the female catkins of birch are solitary rather than clustered and disintegrate when ripe rather than persisting as woody cones.

Family FAGACEAE

This family contains the über diverse genus Quercus – represented in California by 20 species.  However, of the five arborescent oaks that occur in the Sierra Nevada, only one has successfully penetrated the high elevations of the Tahoe Basin. A second species of Quercus also inhabits this montane region but grows exclusively as a low shrub, and another shrub in the related genus Chrysolepis also grows here – these two latter species will be treated more fully in a future post.

Canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis)

The trunk was all knots and buttresses, gray like granite, and about as angular and irregular as the boulders on which it was growing—a type of steadfast, unwedgeable strength.–John Muir, The Mountains of California (1894).

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This is one of North America’s most variable oaks, exhibiting extreme variability in leaves and fruit and developing as either a tree or a shrub, depending upon the site where it grows. Slow growing and solid, it does best in sheltered locations, where it can develop an impressive, spreading crown and live a hundred years or more. On exposed slopes, it takes on a shorter, shrubbier aspect (above left) or forms dense thickets (above right).  I saw most of this species at lower elevations within the basin – along the Vikingsholm Trail in Emerald Bay State park leading down to the west shore of Emerald Bay.

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The leaves of this evergreen species are bluish green with numerous golden glandular hairs when young and becoming dull gray and smooth with age. Although there are no other arborescent oaks at this elevation with which it can be confused, I did find growing alongside it the strictly montane and shrubby huckleberry oak (Q. vaccinifolia).  The somewhat smaller, mostly entire leaves were the only indication it was not merely a shrub form of canyon live oak, and further study revealed that the two species can be distinguished by the presence of multiradiate glandular hairs on both leaf surfaces of canyon live oak.  These two species are closely related (both are in the Protobalanus – or “golden oak” – section of the genus), and widespread hybridization has apparently been documented in this part of the Sierra Nevada where the two species’ distributions overlap (Nixon 2002).

Family ROSACEAE

This large family of dioecious plants with usually pentamerous radial flowers is represented in the Tahoe Basin by nearly three dozen mostly perennial shrubs.  Six of these species, representing the genera Amelanchier, Cercocarpus, Prunus and Sorbus, sometimes develop a tree form.

Cherry (Prunus sp.)

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Two species of Prunus – bitter cherry (P. emarginata) and western chokecherry (P. virginiana var. demissa) – occur in the Tahoe Basin, both growing as either shrubs or small trees.  I cannot say for sure which species is represented in these photographs (taken on the slopes above Emerald Bay at Emerald Bay State Park), as the two species are best distinguished by subtle differences in their flowers and foliage.  Bitter cherry is apparently common in the Tahoe Basin and has bark that is smooth and dark brown, while chokecherry is more of a foothill species that is uncommon on the western shore (where these photos were taken) and has more grayish brown and somewhat scaly bark.  I can go either way with bark color based on these photos, so I’ll forgo an ID for the time being and seek to follow up during my next visit.  A third species of Prunus, the strictly shrubby desert peach (P. andersonii), formerly occurred at low elevations around the south shore, but it is now considered to be extirpated from the basin.

Mountain ash (Sorbus californica)

While hiking the Rubicon Trail in Emerald Bay State Park, I spotted a single, small tree with distinctive, large winter buds that reminded me immediately of the ornamental species mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) from my former days as a nursery inspector.  This thought seemed to be confirmed when I found a senesced but still attached leaf, pinnately compound with nine ovate, toothed leaflets.  However, my pocket copy of Native Trees of the Sierra Nevada (Peterson & Peterson 1975) included no species of Sorbus, and I concluded it must be something else.  This lone tree was located in deep shade within the white fir forest near the western shore of Emerald Bay, so I opted to find another tree in better lit conditions for taking photos – unfortunately, no other trees of this species were found.  Once I got back home, I was happy to find Sorbus californica listed in my just purchased copy of Graf (1999).  This species has attractive white flowers in small panicles during the summer that give rise to bright red berries during fall and is apparently common in mid- to higher-elevation riparian communities around the lake.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
Curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)

I did not locate either of the two species of serviceberry that occur in the Tahoe Basin, the common serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) and the more localized glabrous serviceberry (A. alnifolia var. pumila).  Being highly familiar with our eastern species, A. arborea (just recently finished flowering), I suspect either of these species would be readily recognized, even in winter, by their smooth, silvery-gray bark and shrubby, small-tree form.  I also did not see curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), another species that barely qualifies as a small tree.  It is apparently more at home on the dry eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada but can be found within the basin proper sporadically in the southwest and along the southeastern lake shore and more commonly on dry slopes in the far north and south of the basin.  I have collected a number of woodboring beetles from mountain mahogany across the southwestern U.S. from the mountains of southern California to the Chisos Mountains of Texas.

Family ACERACEAE

The single North American genus, Acer, is represented in California by four species, three of which occur in the Sierra Nevada but only one occurring in the Tahoe Basin.  Plants in this family are closely related to the Hippocastanaceae, represented in the Sierra Nevada foothills by California buckeye (Aesculus californica).

Mountain maple (Acer glabrum var. torreyi)

As with mountain ash, I found a single small tree representing this species near the west shore of Emerald Bay while hiking the Rubicon Trail.  Despite lacking foliage, I recognized it immediately as a maple by its opposite, scaly buds.  Also like mountain ash, I assumed I would see more after finding the first one and thus didn’t photograph this particular tree growing in deep shade.  That’ll teach me.  This species sometimes grows as a multi-stemmed shrub in moist situations, and even when assuming tree form, as did the one I saw, it is at best a small tree with a maximum height of only around 15′.  With fall foliage in varying shades of pink to red, it must rather nicely compliment the blazing yellow cloak of the quaking aspen during September and October.  Tahoe Basin individuals are placed in var. torreyi due to their bright reddish twigs, while those on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada exhibit gray twigs and are placed in var. diffusum.

This concludes my “Trees of Lake Tahoe” series – at least until next year when I hope to locate some of the remaining species I did not find during this year’s visit.  However, I do have one more “flora of Lake Tahoe” post in preparation covering some of the many woody shrubs that occur within the basin.

REFERENCES:

Arno, S. F. 1973. Discovering Sierra Trees. Yosemite Association, Yosemite National Park, California, 89 pp.

Graf, M. 1999. Plants of the Tahoe Basin. Flowering Plants, Trees, and Ferns. A Photographic Guide. California Native Plant Society Press, Berkeley, 308 pp.

Muir, J. 1894. The Mountains of California. The Century Co., New York, xiii+381 pp.

Muir, J.  1918. Steep Trails. Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, ix+390 pp.

Nixon, K. C. 2002. The oak (Quercus) biodiversity of California and adjacent regions. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report PSW-GTR-184, 20 pp.

Peterson, P. V., and P. V. Peterson, Jr. 1975. Native Trees of the Sierra Nevada. University of California Press, Berkeley, 147 pp.

Quinn, C.  2006.  A Nature Guide to the Southwest Tahoe Basin: Including Desolation Wilderness and Fallen Leaf Lake: Trees, Shrubs, Ferns, Flowers, Birds, Amphibians, Reptiles, Mammals, and Fishes Inhabiting the Sierra Nevada Watershed Southwest of Lake Tahoe, California.  CraneDance Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 232 pp. 

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Glades of Jefferson County

We stood a moment to contemplate the sublime and beautiful scene before us, which was such an assembly of rocks and water—of hill and valley—of verdant woods and naked peaks—of native fertility and barren magnificence… – Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1818-1819

In the Ozark Border south of St. Louis, a series of natural openings punctuate the dry, rocky forests of Jefferson County. Commonly called “glades” or “cedar glades,” these islands of prairie in a sea of forest are home to plants and animals more commonly associated with the Great Plains region further to the west. Extending in a narrow arc from central Jefferson County east and south into northern Ste. Genevieve County, these glades occur most commonly on south and southwest-facing slopes below forested ridges and are characterized by thin soils and exposed dolomite bedrock of Ordovician age. Glades are, in fact, a common natural feature throughout much of the Ozark Highlands, an extraordinary plateau where the great eastern deciduous forest begins to yield to the western grasslands. A much more extensive system of dolomite glades occurs in the White River Hills of southwest Missouri, where they often extend up steep slopes and over the tops of knobs to form what Schoolcraft called “naked peaks” and are now called “balds” (and spawning the “Baldknobbers” of Branson fame). Additional glade complexes occur throughout the Ozark Highlands on different rock substrates – igneous glades abound in the St. Francois Mountains, sandstone glades dot the Lamotte landscape in Ste. Genevieve County and the northern and western Ozarks, limestone glades can be found in the northern Ozarks near Danville and Lake of the Ozarks, and chert glades occur in extreme southwest Missouri. These different glade systems share a common feature – shallow soils where tree establishment is limited due to summer moisture stress. They differ vegetationally, however, due to differences in hydrology and soil chemistry as a result of their different substrates. Floristically, dolomite glades exhibit a high degree of diversity relative to other glade types.

The term “glade” is derived from the Old English “glad,” meaning a shining place – perhaps the early settlers found their open landscapes a welcome respite after emerging from the confining vastness of the eastern deciduous forest. Whatever the meaning, the glades of Jefferson County hold a special place in my heart, for I “grew up,” entomologically speaking, in those glades. As a young entomologist, fresh out of school, I spent many a day scrambling through the glades and surrounding woodlands. It was here where my interest in beetles, especially woodboring beetles, was born and later grew into a passion. For eight years I visited these glades often – attracted by the extraordinary diversity of insects living within the glades and congregating around its edges. My earliest buprestid and cerambycid papers contain numerous records from “Victoria Glades” and “Valley View Glades” – the two best-preserved examples of the glades that once occurred extensively throughout the area (more on this later). My visits to these glades ended in 1990 when I moved to California, and although I moved back to the St. Louis area in 1995, the focus of my beetle research has more often taken me to places outside of Missouri. It had, in fact, been some 10 years since my last visit to these glades until last week, when I was able to once again spend some time in them.

Ozark glades differ from the true cedar glades of the southeastern U.S. in that they are not a climax habitat – they depend upon periodic fires to prevent succession to forest. Some recent authors have suggested the term “xeric dolomite/limestone prairie” be used to distinguish the fire-dependent glades of the Ozarks from the edaphic climax cedar glades of the southeast (Baskin & Baskin 2000, Baskin et al. 2007). Fires have been largely suppressed throughout Missouri since European settlement, leading to encroachment upon the glades by eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Pure stands of red-cedar have developed on many former glades, crowding out the herbaceous plants that depend upon full sun and leading to soil formation that supports further encroachment by additional woody plant species such as post oak (Quercus stellata), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) from the surrounding woodlands. Fire has returned to many of the Ozark glades situated on lands owned or managed by state and federal agencies such as the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Forest Service, as well as private conservation-minded organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. These agencies have begun adopting cedar removal and fire management techniques to bring back the pre-settlement look and diversity of the Ozark Glades. This is particularly true at Victoria Glades and Valley View Glades, the two largest and most pristine examples of the Jefferson County dolomite glade complex. Fires have been used to kill small red-cedars in the glades, as well as rejuvenate their herbaceous plant communities. Larger red-cedar trees are not killed outright by fire and must be removed by chainsaws. This above distant view of the TNC parcel at Victoria Glades shows many such burned red-cedars. The glades themselves are not the only habitat to benefit from this aggressive management – when I was doing my fieldwork here in the 1980’s the surrounding woodlands were a closed post oak forest bordered by fragrant sumac and with little or no understory in the interior. The photo at right now shows an open savanna with a rich understory of not only sumac and other shrubs, but also many herbaceous plants as well such as black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and American feverfew (Parthenium integrifolium). Such open woodland more closely resembles what Schoolcraft saw across much of the Ozarks during his journey almost two centuries ago.

Victoria and Valley View Glades are dominated by little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). A smaller but highly charismatic non-grass flora is also found on the glades – species such as Missouri evening primrose (Oenethera macrocarpa) (left), pale purple coneflower (Echinacea simulata) (pictured above and below), and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) not only add beautiful color but also support both vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife. The Fremont’s leather flower (Clematis fremontii) is a true endemic, occurring only in this part of Missouri and entirely dependent upon these glades for its survival. Less well studied is the vast insect fauna associated with the glades. It is here where I first discovered the occurrence of Acmaeodera neglecta in Missouri. This small jewel beetle is similar to the broadly occurring A. tubulus but at the time was known only from Texas and surrounding states. In collecting what I thought were adults of A. tubulus on various flowers in the glades, I noticed that some of them were less shining, more strongly punctate, and exhibited elytral patterning that was often coalesced into longitudinal “C-shaped” markings rather than the scattered small spots typical of A. tubulus. These proved to be A. neglecta, which I have since found on many glade habitats throughout the Ozark Highlands. Both species can be seen in this photo feeding on a flower of hairy wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) – the lower individual is A. neglecta, while the upper individual and two inside the flower are A. tubulus. Another interesting insect-plant association I discovered at these glades was the strikingly beautiful Dicerca pugionata – another species of jewel beetle – and its host plant ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius). Only a single Missouri occurrence had been reported for D. pugionata, despite the common occurrence of its host plant along rocky streams and rivers throughout the Ozark Highlands. This plant also grows at Victoria and Valley View Glades along the intermittent streams that drain the glades and in the moist toeslopes along the lower edges of the glades where water that has percolated through the rocks and down the slopes is forced to the surface by an impermeable layer of bedrock. Unlike the tall, robust, lush plants that can be found in more optimal streamside habitats with good moisture availability, the ninebark plants of Victoria and Valley View Glades are small and scraggly, usually with some dieback that results from suboptimal growing conditions. I surmise these plants have reduced capabilities for fending off attacks by insects, including D. pugionata, and as a result a healthy population of the insect thrives at these glades. Some might be inclined to call this beetle a pest, threatening the health of one of the glade’s plants. In reality, the insect finds refuge in these glades – unable to effectively colonize the vast reserves of healthy plants that grow along streams throughout the rest of the Ozarks, it strikes a tenuous balance with plants that are themselves on the edge of survival.

Despite the success in moving Victoria and Valley View Glades closer to their pre-settlement character, the integrity of these areas continues to be challenged. Poachers take anything of real or perceived value, and ATV enthusiasts view the open spaces as nothing more than tarmac. Pale purple coneflower occurs abundantly on these Jefferson County glades (but sparingly in other habitats – primarily rocky roadsides), where they provide a stunning floral display during June and sustain innumerable insect pollinators. Plants in the genus Echinacea also have perceived medicinal value, as herbalists believe their roots contain an effective blood purifier and antibiotic. There are no conclusive human clinical trials to date that fully substantiate this purported immune stimulating effect (McKeown 1999). Nevertheless, demand for herbal use has skyrocketed in recent decades, prompting widespread illegal harvesting of several coneflower species throughout their collective range across the Great Plains and Ozark Highlands. I witnessed massive removals of this plant from both Victoria and Valley View Glades during the 1980’s, but the pictures I took this year suggest that such illegal harvests have been suppressed and that the populations at both sites are recovering nicely.

The same cannot be said for the practice of rock flipping. This was a problem I witnessed back in the 1980’s, and I saw fresh evidence of its continued occurrence at both sites. The thin soils and sloping terrain leave successive layers of dolomite bedrock exposed, the edges of which shatter from repeated freeze-thaw cycles to create rows of loose, flat rocks along the bedrock strata. Lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and scorpions find refuge under these loose rocks, only to be ripped from their homes by flippers and transferred to a dark, cold terrarium to endure a slow, lingering death. As if poaching the glade’s fauna and watching them slowly die isn’t bad enough, the flippers add insult to injury by not even bothering to replace the rock in its original position after stealing its inhabitant, amounting to habitat destruction three times greater than the area of the rock itself. Firstly, the habitat under the rock is destroyed by sudden exposure of the diverse and formerly sheltered microfauna to deadly sunlight. Next, the habitat onto which the rock is flipped is also destroyed, as the plants growing there begin a slow, smothering death. Lastly, the upper surface of the rock, sometimes colonized by mosses and lichens that might have required decades or longer to grow, usually ends up against the ground – its white, sterile underside becoming the new upper surface. Rock flipper scars take years to heal, and nearly all of the flat, loose rocks seen in the more accessible areas of the glades exhibit scars of varying ages next to them. If a scar is fresh (first photo), I generally return to the rock to its original position – the former inhabitants cannot be brought back, but at least the original habitats are saved and can recover quickly. However, if a scar is too old (2nd photo) it is best to leave the rock in its new position – replacing it only prolongs the time required for recovery.

Even more damaging is ATV use. Herbaceous plants and thin soils are no match for the aggressive tread of ATV tires, and it doesn’t take too many passes over an area before the delicate plants are killed and loose soils ripped apart. I witnessed this become a big problem particularly on Victoria Glades during the 1980’s – actually finding myself once in a face-to-face confrontation with an ATV’er. Fortunately, he turned tail and ran, and it appears (for now) that such abuses have stopped, as I saw no evidence of more recent tracks during this visit. But the scars of those tracks laid down more than two decades ago still remain painfully visible. I expect several more decades will pass before they are healed completely.

My return to Victoria and Valley View Glades was a homecoming of sorts, and I was genuinely pleased to see the progress that has been made in managing these areas while revisiting the sites where my love affair with beetles was first kindled. Sadly, however, the larger glade complex of Jefferson County continues to deteriorate. Restoration acreage aside, red-cedar encroachment continues unabated on many of the remaining glade parcels – large and small – that dot the south and southwest facing slopes in this area. It has been conservatively estimated that as much as 70% of the original high quality glades in Missouri are now covered in red-cedar. Many of these are privately held – their owners either do not recognize their ecological significance or are loathe to set fire to them. An example can be seen in the picture here – this small parcel is part of the Victoria Glades complex but lies on private land in red-cedar choked contrast to the Nature Conservancy parcel immediately to the south. Small numbers of herbaceous plants persist here, but without intervention by fire or chainsaw their numbers will continue to dwindle and the glade will die. Aside from the loss of these glades, the continuing reduction of glade habitat complicates management options for preserved glades as well. Many glade associated invertebrates are “fire-sensitive” – i.e., they overwinter in the duff and leaf litter above the soil and are thus vulnerable to spring or fall fires. While these fires are profoundly useful for invigorating the herbaceous flora, they can lead to local extirpation of fire-sensitive invertebrate species within the burn area. Recolonization normally occurs quickly from unburned glades in proximity to the burned areas but can be hampered if source habitat exists as small, highly-fragmented remnants separated by extensive tracts of hostile environment. Grazing also continues to threaten existing remnants in the Jefferson County complex. Grazing rates are higher now than ever before, with greater negative impact due to the use of fencing that prevents grazers from moving to “greener pastures”. Over-grazing eliminates native vegetation through constant depletion of nutrient reserves and disturbance of the delicate soil structure, leading to invasion and establishment of undesirable plant species. Eventually, the glade becomes unproductive for pasture and is abandoned – coupled with fire suppression this leads to rapid woody encroachment. It is truly depressing to drive through Jefferson County and recognize these cedar-choked glades for what they were, able to do nothing but watch in dismay as yet another aspect of Missouri’s natural heritage gradually disappears. The continued loss of these remnant glades makes careful use of fire management on Victoria and Valley View Glades all the more critical – ensuring that a patchwork of unburned, lightly burned, and more heavily burned areas exists at a given time will be critical for preventing invertebrate extirpations within these managed areas.

I close by sharing with you a few more of the many photographs I took during this visit – stiff tickseed (Coreopsis palmata), three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), climbing milkweed (Matelea decipiens – see the excellent post about this plant on Ozark Highlands of Missouri), downy phlox (Phlox pilosa), green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora), and a “deerly” departed native browser.

Pipestone National Monument

Grandson, do not expect to accomplish much in this lifetime, for no one shares your vision… – The Oracle


Wednesday was my birthday, and it has been my custom for many years now to take the day off and go hiking/bugging somewhere. Coming as it does in early spring, it is usually the first real bug collecting trip of the year. This year, however, I was roped into a short business trip to visit a USDA lab in Brookings, South Dakota, so tradition would have to take a back seat. My visit at the lab ended early, though, and my flight back home from Sioux Falls didn’t leave until that evening, so I studied the map to look for any possible nearby points of interest in this landscape that has, for the most part, been unforgivingly converted to fields of corn, soybean, and wheat. I quickly noted a place called Pipestone National Monument just over the border into Minnesota. I love stopping at national monuments while traveling – they usually have some significant historical or geological interest, and their typically (though not always) small size means one can fully explore the area in a relatively short time. I did not know or had never heard of this place, but what I found was a charming little jewel tucked within a remnant of tallgrass prairie. At this far northern latitude, spring is still in its earliest of states. Few insects would be seen, but nevertheless I felt thankful for the chance to spend time outdoors and in a place of beauty where I could reflect on the years gone by and those (hopefully) still to come.

The area is named for a thin layer of catlinite – pipestone – exposed in this small area that has been quarried for centuries by Native Americans for carving into pipes (both war and peace). Quarrying within the monument continues to this day, with permission to do so reserved by law only to registered Native Americans. The area is identified as a sacred site associated with Native American spiritual beliefs and is preserved as a significant cultural and ethnographic landscape. Of particular interest to me was the site’s distinct hydrologic/geologic landscape and the native tallgrass prairie associated with it. A short ¾-mile trail loops through the area, providing a diverse glimpse of the area’s unique features. Pipestone may have provided the area’s namesake, but a narrow exposure of Sioux quartzite is the area’s most prominent geologic feature. Sioux quartzite is derived from billion and a half year-old layers of sand/silt sediments deposited thickly on the floors of ancient, Precambrian seas and compressed over the vastness of time into a hard, reddish metamorphic rock. Normally covered in this area by glacial till, the layers at this site are tilted upward 5–10 degrees towards the west and break through the surface to form a jagged, mile-long west-facing escarpment 23-30 feet high. Underneath the quartzite is the pipestone, a thin layer of metamorphosed shale. This fine-grained rock is derived from clay deposits, thus it is much softer and redder than the harder-than-steel quartzite. Pipestone Creek bisects the escarpment, giving rise to the lovely Winnewissa Falls, flowing over the escarpment and running down to a small, natural empoundment (Hiawatha Lake) before continuing its journey back into the glacial till and tallgrass prairie (for anybody surprised that there should be “falls” in this part of the country, it is interesting to note that nearby Sioux Falls is named after a grander example of of such flowing over quartzite exposures in its downtown).

Precious little remains of the expansive tallgrass prairie that once extended from horizon to horizon in this area. A few small parcels managed to escape the plow, but even in those tiny remnants dramatic alterations in plant communities have occurred due to fire suppression and the introduction of more than 70 non-native plant species. Prescribed burning programs are now being used at the Monument to restore the prairie’s native plant composition and appearance. Looking out over the tallgrass prairie remnants above and below the quartzite escarpment, it I was tempted to visualize circles of teepees on the higher ground away from the quarries (all Native American tribes worshipped this site and would never camp directly within it), with herds of American bison dotting the landscape in the distance. Contrasting with the openness of the prairie, the escarpment itself is densely studded with trees – American elm (Ulmus americana) along the top edge, and bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) in the escarpment itself. Unlike the large, sometimes towering examples of their kind found further to the east, the trees here are dwarfed and spreading, almost gnarled. Below the escarpment, woodland quickly gives way to pure stands of smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) and choke cherry (Prunus sp.), which just as quickly yield to the surrounding sea of prairie. Along Pipestone Creek below the escarpment, lower layers of exposed quartzite provide nooks and crannys where enough moisture collects to support the growth of green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) trees, until glacial till once again covers the quartzite, and riparian woodland yields to grasses and forbes. It’s not hard to imagine why this became a special place to the Native Americans, even before they discovered the pipestone that was to become so important to their culture.

The pipestone quarries are located a short distance to the west of the escarpment – where the hard quartzite layer is thin enough to break through – and, thus, have had little impact on altering the physical appearance of the escarpment itself. Winnewissa Falls (meaning “Jealous Maiden” in the Dakota language), lies at the center of the escarpment, providing a stunning centerpiece. Despite its beauty, it is but a shadow of what it was before early settlers in the area blasted away the top 18 feet of the ledge to create a reservoir for drinking water. A century of weathering and recolonization by lichens and mosses have softened the scars on the rocks, leaving little to indicate that such a dramatic alteration took place. However, standing in front of the falls, finding that “zone” where the temperature suddenly drops and cool wet mist blows on the face, and thinking about the significance of this place to the Native American tribes who held it so sacred, I was left feeling bewildered at how such drastic measures could have been contemplated for so beautiful a place.

In addition to the falls, nature has created some striking sculptures in the rock. “Old Stone Face” can hardly be mistaken for anything else – despite its human likeness, it was created entirely by natural forces. “The Oracle” is another naturally-formed human likeness found (though not as easily as Old Stone Face) in the outlines of the rocks. Tribal Shamans (Medicine Men) believed it served as a guardian of the valley and that voices issued from it’s cold stone lips. I stared for awhile and strained to listen, trying to imagine what words it might have spoken. At first, it seemed as if all was silent. Then I noticed the sound of the wind rolling over the prairie and twirling through the gnarled oaks. I heard the falls in the distance. I heard birds in the midst of frantic early-spring songs. I thought perhaps these might be the voices that guided the Shamans – spoken so loudly, yet so easily unheard.

The first U.S. government expedition to the quarry occurred in 1838 with Joseph Nicollet, a French scientist who was sent to map the upper Mississippi country. He and the members of his expedition carved their names in the rocks atop the escarpment, as did many of the early pioneers that first settled in the area. In studying the surface of these rocks, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible diversity of lichens to be found. Around 75 species are known from the area, and as shown in the photos I share below they come in a fantastic array of forms and colors. Lichens are primary colonizers of rock surfaces, able to do so as a result of their nutritional autonomy. Lichens are merely fungi that have evolved a specialised mode of nutrition: symbiosis with photosynthetic microalgae or cyanobacteria. Often, the algal component is capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere, while the fungal organism attacks the rock with organic acids to release minerals. This is the basis of soil formation. Over time, enough soil accumulates in small depressions to allow mosses to colonize the rock surface. As successive generations of moss grow and die, more and more organic material accumulates on the rock surface, eventually supporting the growth of vascular plants (which extract nitrogen from the soil, rather than from atmospheric sources). These cycles of growth and death act in concert with the forces of erosion to ultimately convert barren rock to tallgrass prairie, hardwood forest, or other climax habitat. Mind you, this is an extraordinarily slow process – it can take a full century for a lichen to grow one inch! As I looked at the abundance and diversity of lichens on the rock surfaces, I tried to visualize the breadth of time encompassed by what was before me and quickly became lost in eternity.

While the trail that loops through the area is less than a mile in length, it took me an hour and a half to complete it. What started out as a few hours to kill ended as a hurried rush through the museum and interpretive center, trying to cram a few last morsels of knowledge into my head in those final moments before I would have to submit to the drive back to Sioux Falls. As I left the area, I noticed these oddly out-of-place boulders known as “The Three Maidens.”
Native Americans believe that these boulders shelter the spirits of maidens who demand offerings before permitting them to quarry the pipestone. Science tells us that the boulders are composed of granite and were likely carried here by glaciers during the past 1 million to 10,000 years ago. Originally a single boulder some 50 feet in diameter, repeated freezing and thawing over the millenia since it was dropped here have split the boulder into the several pieces seen here. Perhaps only The Oracle knows which is true.

For a more detailed, yet highly readable account of the geology of this area, please consult Minnesota Geology, Field Trip, Summer 2000 and Other MN DNR Workshops, by Arlyn DeBruyckere.