Welcome to a new series that I’m calling “BitB Bits,” an irregular collection of random natural history observations recorded in my notes over the previous month. The individual snippets are, by themselves, too short for stand-alone posts, but I hope that readers will find their collective and chronological nature interesting and informative.
March 9. Welcome home walk. Good to be home and glad to see we didn’t miss the start of spring here. Non-native daffodils are blooming everywhere (I must admit they make an impressive display); however, we also have our first native blooming plant—spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Apparently only the male plants are blooming so far (distinguished by their flowers with stamens/anthers only but lacking a central pistil); the female plants should follow suit shortly.
March 12. Spring on hold. Now that spicebush is in bloom, a succession of flowering trees and shrubs should follow. Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) would be the next to follow, but the rain of the last few days has put it on hold. The buds are swollen and ready, however, to burst forth on the next sunny day.
March 13. In my happy place. I didn’t get enough hiking at St. Francois State Park to satisfy my desires, so on the way back home I decided to stop off at Victoria Glades, one of my favorite places, and walk the perimeter of the main glade. I don’t think there’s another place on earth where I feel more connected to myself as a naturalist than here. I first visited way back in 1983 – the year after I moved to St. Louis after finishing grad school, and every year for the next eight years I came here once or twice per week throughout the summer to collect insects. I essentially “grew up“ here as an entomologist! In the time since moving back to St. Louis (now 27 years ago), I have resumed my regular visits – more in some years, less in others, and each time I do I feel rejuvenated. I have instructed Madam to sprinkle my ashes here (at least some of them) – if I depart and you happen to read this, please follow up with her to make sure that she does just that!
March 15. Beware the Ides of March. On this day, in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a mob of Roman senators led by his friend Brutus. The senators believed that Julius had consolidated too much power (he had only a year earlier been named dictator for life and was implementing sweeping imperialist offensives in an effort to expand Roman territory), and that his death would lead to the restoration of the Republic. Sadly (or fortunately, depending upon your perspective), the “Ides of March” plunged Rome into centuries of civil war that ultimately led to utter collapse by the 5th century. In the final years of the empire, a series of emperors took the throne in quick succession (usually after the murder of their predecessor by the Praetorian Guard, the emperor’s personal bodyguards), each of whom plundered the state while they had the opportunity. The Roman Senate, engaged in their own corrupt practices and suffering from incompetence, was unable to curb the excesses of these emperors, leading to a waning of civic pride and loss of trust by the Roman citizenry before the final collapse.
March 17. C-c-cold! Once again, the bright sunshine was deceptive, belying how cold it really was – especially with that wind! Temps plummeted even further once the sun set, but the views around my home are still spectacular.
March 21. Still waiting… …for native blooms to begin. Until then, here is yet another non-native early bloomer—Scilla forbesii (Forbes’ glory-of-the-snow), which invaded the woods near my home after a neighbor planted some in their woodland garden. They are not nearly the problem that some other invasives are (like bush honeysuckle or burning bush) in that they don’t smother out nearby native plants, but they can provide a pollinating “sink” that competes for insects that would otherwise be pollinating the flowers of native plants.
March 22. Vernal equiNOT. Spring began two days ago, yet I’m still waiting for the first appearance of any native wildflowers in the neighborhood. Until that happens, here is yet another non-native species—the thankfully noninvasive hyacinth—that my neighbor planted in their garden.
March 24. Spring at last, spring at last, thank God Almighty, spring at last! Finally, after sitting dormant for more than a week, the flowers of Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) have opened—in my opinion the true opening salvo of spring. Even so, it’s not like the weather suddenly turned spring-like, but more like the sumacs finally said F this and decided to open despite the continued dreary conditions.
March 25. How do snail’s eyes differ from slug’s? They don’t—they’re both eye tentacles. 🥁
March 26. Spring beauty. Now that spring is truly here, Claytonia virrginica (spring beauty)—the icon of spring ephemeral wildflowers—has begun popping up everywhere.
March 26. Water spider. I saw this large fly sitting on the curb. Of course, I knew it was a crane fly—a member of the family Tipulidae, but I hear people often confuse them for a “giant mosquito.” There is no such thing, and while I admit that they do look superficially like a mosquito on steroids (they happen to be distantly related to mosquitos), they do not bite or suck blood—arguably the most important part about being a mosquito. In fact, crane flies often do not eat anything once they become adults, with some species even lacking functional mouthparts. The family name is derived from the Latin word for “water spider,” perhaps because the larvae live in water and have a ring of tentacles around their head—just guessing. Anyway, I snapped a few pics of the little guy before he feebly began flapping his wings in the chilly air and took flight, probably looking for something to not eat.
March 28. Back to winter (midge). A few tantalizingly warm, sunny days had my hopes up that spring was finally here, but the return of cool, wet conditions have brought back that late winter feel. Perhaps appropriately, one of the first insects I’ve seen this season is this small, mosquito-looking fly that is actually a distant relative belonging to a group known as winter midges (genus Diamesa—also called snow midges—in the family Chironomidae). As their common names imply, the adult flies are seen active primarily during winter and can even be seen walking about on snow during warm spells during the winter (a scenario mimicked by the styrofoam on which this individual was photographed). Like the crane flies that I featured a couple days ago, winter midges do not feed as adults—if only for lack of suitable food sources, while the larvae feed on organic debris in cold, running water.
March 29. What’s up, buttercup? Buttercups are popping up in the “more natural“ lawns of my neighborhood. We have a number of species buttercups in Missouri – this one is Ranunculus harveyi (Harvey’s buttercup). In general, you can distinguish buttercups by their small, bright yellow flowers and bristle of anthers surrounding the central disc.
March 30. Bloodroot. I made a rather exciting wildflower find in the woodlands around my house this morning—a small patch of Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) with (thus far) but a single bloom. This poppy relative (family Papaveraceae) is so named because of red, fleshy root, which gets its color from alkaloids, chiefly sanguinarine, in its toxic sap. First Americans traditionally used bloodroot to treat fever, rheumatism, ulcers, ringworm, and skin infections, and it is still used to produce natural red, orange, and pink dyes. There is likely some truth to the bioactive properties of bloodroot alkaloids, as they are currently being studied for use as anti-cancer agents, particularly for the treatment of skin cancer, and as a dissolving agent for skin growths such as warts. Bloodroot is also interesting from a natural history standpoint in that the seeds have fleshy appendages that are attractive to ants. The ants collect the seeds and bring them to their nest, thus effecting dispersal of the seeds. This is an advantage for these small plants growing in wooded habitats, where wind speeds are usually too low to aid natural seed dispersal.
March 31. Sweet William. I saw these plants yesterday while their blooms were still closed and wondered if they would open before March closed out. I normally think of Phlox divaricata (sweet William) as a mid-April bloomer, but clearly it can begin earlier if conditions are right (as they have been the past several days).
Today the WGNSS Botany Group visited Little Lost Creek Conservation Area to see Dirca palustris (eastern leatherwood) in bloom. Leatherwood is a distinctive, slow-growing shrub that occurs sporadically in primarily the Ozark and Ozark Border region of Missouri. Like the much more Lindera benzoin (common spicebush), the flowers open in spring before the foliage appears, during which time the planta are easily identified by the pendulous blooms surrounded by wooly bracts. The species has toxic properties and was used by First Americans as an emetic, and it has been cultivated for many years despite its sporadic natural occurrence. As the name implies (palustris means “growing in a swamp”), the plant grows in moist (though not necessarily swampy) habitats, and as such we would have to hike across the dry-mesic upland deciduous forest and down into the riparian forests along Little Lost Creek where the plant can be found.
With sharply warmer temperatures arriving yesterday after a rather protracted cool period, the early-flowering trees and shrubs were ready and waiting, seemingly popping open before our very eyes. A patch of Prunus americana (American plum) in a more open area along the trail caught our attention, it’s blooms just beginning to open. We based our identification on the shrubby growth habit and apparently clonal nature of the stand of plants, which distinguishes P. americana from the closely related P. mexicana (Mexican plum), which generally grows as more tree-like individual plants.
Also in the more open areas along the trail was Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) in full bloom. I stopped to examine one particular individual with especially dense clusters of inflorescences and noticed movement on the flowers. Closer examination revealed a crab spider (family Thomisidae) which I took to be Mecaphesa asperata (northern crab spider)—perfectly camouflaged on the bright yellow flowers and awaiting the arrival of an unsuspecting bee or other pollinator.
As the trail veered directly into the forest, I noticed several butterfly species—a Vanessa atalanta (red admiral) that paused briefly on the trail before bolting erratically into the distance, several Eurytides marcellus (zebra swallowtail), presumably males patrolling for females among stands of the still leafless Asimina triloba (pawpaw) which it utilizes as a larval host, and—most interesting for me—several Anthocharis midea (falcate orangetip) which, for the time being, frustratingly refused to perch and allow even an attempt at a photograph.
As the trail began the long descent into the valley and the forest became increasingly mesic, spring ephemerals began appearing on the forest floor in abundance. Most abundant was Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) and Cardamine concatenata (cutleaf toothwort), which have been in bloom for some time now, but finally making their appearance as well were Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot)—the first seen being a charming little patch nestled against a rock—a single blooming plant among the stands of Erythronium albidum (white trout lily), and several still-unblooming Trillium sp. (wakerobin).
At last we reached the valley floor, and immediately the leatherwood plants were seen in abundance and in full bloom. Leatherwood plants in bloom are not among the showiest of blooming shrubs, but the distinctiveness of their flowers, sporadic occurrence, and lack of close relatives provided ample botanical interest that resulted in me spending a fair bit of time observing and photographing them.
As I looked at the leatherhood, I encountered a an unusual cocoon-like structure at the tip of one of its branches. Closer examination revealed it to be “packed” white tiny, white, grub-like larvae, at which time I noticed the cadaver of a moth caterpillar also clinging to the branch tip. I knew then that the grubs were the mature larvae of a parasitic wasp in the family Braconidae, likely in the subfamily Microgastrinae, that had just exited their host and were spinning cocoons nearby in communal fashion. (Many people have seen one of these wasps in the form of cocoons on the backs of tomato hornworm caterpillars.) Braconid wasps are often quite host specific, but a more specific identification is difficult since the identity of the caterpillar itself or whether it was utilizing Dirca as a host plant are also unknown.
If the spring ephemerals were abundant during the descent, they were overwhelming in the valley proper. A few blooming plants of Collinsia verna (blue-eyed Mary), a winter annual were seen, their distinctive bicolored white and blue flowers a pleasant contrast to the mostly white to pinkish color of the majority of the ephemerals. Some especially large-flowered individuals of bloodroot were seen underneath a patch of blooming leatherwoods, prompting me to spend a bit more time photographing them. As I was doing so, I found it ironically humorous that I was crouched on the ground photographing what is by all measures a rather common plant while surrounded by a much less frequently encountered plant.
The hike back up out of the valley was long and deliberate, the pitch in some stretches reaching as steep as I ever encounter on trails in the state, but the slow pace allowed an opportunity to look for things missed on the way down. At one point I picked up a fallen oak branch that looked like it might have been pruned by a twig pruner (Anelaphus sp.), a type of longhorned beetle (family Cerambycidae) whose larvae feed within living branches of deciduous trees—primarily oak—and then cut the branch internally before pupation. The cut end is distinctive, and I checked the base of the branch to see if it demonstrated this distinctive cut pattern. It did not, but I explained what I was looking for to a curious member of our group. Just as I finished the explanation, I saw another oak branch laying on the trail, picked it up to examine the base, and, sure enough, it exhibited the cut. I believe the branch is that of black oak (Quercus velutina), and I kept the branch to place within a rearing box so I can see the adult when it emerges later this spring.
Along the final stretch back to the parking lot, the falcate orangetip butterflies continued to torment me with their erratic, never-ending flight. I watched a few after reaching the parking lot, hoping one would alight and give a chance to photograph it, but no such luck. At the edge of the parking lot I noticed some Taraxacum sp. (dandelion) flowers with small insects on them, which turned out to be Acmaeodera tubulus—usually the first jewel beetles (family Buprestidae) to appear in the spring and commonly found on dandelions. I crouched to take a few photographs, and as I was doing so a falcate orangetip butterfly landed on the dandelion flower right next to the one with the beetles I was photographing. I managed to get one shot of the butterfly, it’s wings not well spread out but the orange tips still easily visible, before it took flight again—a nice punctuation to end the outing with.
For the past few years, I’ve been involved with the Missouri Native Plant Society (MONPS). To this point, however, my involvement has been limited to attending the monthly meetings of the St Louis Chapter—unfortunately, now only via Zoom since the beginning of the pandemic. I hope that soon we can return to in-person meetings (or, even better, a hybrid of the two, which allows person-to-person interaction without excluding participation by those who cannot attend in-person), but one activity that has resumed live are their periodic, multi-day field trips. The Spring 2022 Field Trip, held this past weekend in southwestern Missouri, was my first chance to participate in one of these events, and I looked forward to seeing the remnant prairies, limestone, dolomite, and sandstones glades, and chert woodland that were all on tap while rubbing elbows with some of the state’s best botanists and naturalists—some old friends and others new acquaintances!
Day 1 – Schuette Prairie I wasn’t able to make it to the actual Day 1, so I left St. Louis early in the morning to meet the group at the first stop of the following day—Schuette Prairie in Polk Co. Named after my friend and former Cuivre River State Park naturalist, Bruce Schuette, this recently acquired limestone/dolomite prairie with a wet swale contains many plants more typical of glades such as Silphium terebinthinaceum (prairie dock), Echinacea paradoxa (yellow coneflower), and Rudbeckia missouriensis (Missouri coneflower). Of course, on this cold, overcast, early-April morning, it was far too early to see any of these highly charismatic plant species (although some of the more astute botanists were about to point them out by their barely emergent foliage, which was easy to find in the recently-burned northern half of the parcel). Abundantly in bloom, however, was the more subdued Erythronium mesochoreum (prairie fawn lily, midland fawnlily, prairie dogtooth violet). Distinguished from the similar E. albidum (white trout lily) that occurs abundantly further east by its narrower, folded, usually unmottled leaves, all but a few of which remained stubbornly closed against the stiff, cold wind.
Precious few other blooms were seen—I recall somebody mentioning they had seen Viola sororia (common violet), and I photographed this little clump of Fragaria virginica (wild strawberry) that will eventually provide food for one of the area’s many box turtles.
Speaking of box turtles, I found this completely naked, bleached carapace and at first hoped that it might have been from an ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata)—limited in Missouri to western prairies and a species I have not yet seen. However, the presence of a midline ridge and its relatively more domed shape suggest it is from a three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis).
Many other carapaces were seen (though none in such good shape), and in fact bones of many types were easy to find in the burned portion of the prairie. This disarticulated skull from what appears to be a young calf (Bos taurus) was perhaps the most impressive bone find, but we did also find a dried skeleton of a smaller individual. Being the lone entomologist of the group, I just had to turn over the carcass and search for beetles and managed to capture a skin beetle (family Trogidae) and one other small unidentified beetle (but, unfortunately, no Necrobia rufipes [red-legged ham beetle]).
Rocky Barrens Conservation Area Later in the morning, the group caravaned to Rocky Barrens Conservation Area, a 281-acre area in Greene Co. featuring Mississippian limestone glades and site for the federally-endangered Physaria filiformis (Missouri bladder-pod). This plant, in the mustard family, is found only in four counties in southwest Missouri. The plants were readily found, but we were too early to see them in bloom—or anything else, for that matter. For me, however, the glade alone was still interesting, and I couldn’t help but take note of the similarities—and differences—between this limestone example and the dolomite glades south of St. Louis with which I am so much more familiar. Almost immediately, I noted the presence of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia), host for Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer)—surely one of North America’s most beautiful longhorned beetles! I didn’t see any frass piles at the base of any of the trees, the presence of which would indicate larval activity, but I’m sure the beetle is here. It would be interesting to come back during the season and look for it. While I didn’t find any signs of the beetle, I couldn’t miss the bright orange-yellow gold-eye lichens (Teloschistes chrysophthalmus) colonizing it’s branches.
Another tree that caught my interest was Celtis tenuifolia (dwarf hackberry). I see these small, gnarly versions of the genus in glades and other xeric habitats, and they always catch my interest because of the diversity of interesting woodboring beetles associated with it. As I looked at the trees, I noticed one small tree in particular that was the perfect stage of dead—branches brittle but bark mostly still intact with a little bit of peeling on the trunk revealing woodboring beetle larval galleries underneath! There were only a few emergence holes present—strong evidence that the tree was still infested and worth bringing back to put in an emergence box to trap the emerging adult beetles. With luck, I’ll be pinning a series of Agrilus ferrisi next winter!
Corry Flatrocks Conservation Area After lunch at a nearby city park, the group caravaned to Corry Flatrocks Consevation Area in Dade Co.—site of another federally-endangered plant, Mononeuria minima (formerly Geocarpon minima) (tiny-Tim, earth fruit). The sandstone glades at this site are among the largest in the area and, thus, host a large population of the plant. By this time of day, the sun had been out for awhile and the day had warmed considerably, so we hoped to see other flowering plants as well. Among the first that we encountered while walking towards the glade proper was Ranunculus fascicularis (early buttercup), distinguished from other “large-flowered buttercups” by its canescent (grayish due to hairiness) leaves with long and narrow lobes, their tips bluntly pointed or rounded. The dry, gladey habitat also distinguishes the species from the similar R. hispidus (hairy buttercup), which flowers at the same time but prefers moister habitats.
On the glade proper, we quickly encountered tiny little saxifrages in bloom, which turned out to be Micranthes texana (Texas saxifrage), restricted in Missouri to this part of the state (and thus with a high CC value of 9) and distinguished from the more widespread M. virginiensis (early saxifrage) by its small, compact stature. These first individuals we encountered had especially reddish-tinged flowers.
As soon as we reached the more open part of the glade with large expanses Of exposed rock, the group dropped to their hands and knees to find the diminutive plants we were looking for.
The plants were not uncommon, even abundant, in shallow, sand-filled depressions in the rock. Nevertheless, careful observation was still required to see and recognize them. Fortunately, the plants were already in bloom, their tiny styles barely visible to the naked eye within the green, not-much-bigger, petalless flowers. Photographing these plants, and especially those in bloom, proved to be a task almost beyond the capabilities of the smart phones that most in the group were using (me included).
The glades stretched on for quite a distance, inviting further exploration. At the margins, white flowering trees were noticed, and moving closer they proved to be Amelanchier arborea (downy serviceberry, common serviceberry)—among the first we have seen open this spring. (I typically see the first blooms of these trees in the final days of March, at least around my home in east-central Missouri.) an even closer looked revealed tiny insects (also among the first insects I have seen active this spring) flying around and crawling about on the flowers. These proved to be parasitic hymenopterans—family ID is still pending, but I suspect they will prove to be a species in one of the many families of “microhymenopterans” that are egg parasitoids. I am not sure whether they were visiting the flowers as pollinators (which behavior I am not aware of) or in hopes of encountering other pollinators which could potentially serve as hosts—a subject with which I will need to follow up.
Near the back end of the glade, we encountered a few more Micranthes texana (Texas saxifrage), these having more typical white flowers in perfect peak bloom.
Also in that part of the glade we found a few scattered individuals of Selenia aurea (golden selenia). While not quite as conservative as M. texana (CC value = 6), it has a similar range in the U.S. and in Missouri is also restricted to a handful of counties in the southwestern part of the state. The plant is known to occur in large colonies (which I have seen at nearby Corry Branch Glade)—its brilliant yellow flowers forming a spectacular display.
To this point, the only insect I had seen besides the microhymenopterans was a skin beetle (family Trogidae), which I found when I kicked over some dried mammal scats. However, on the way back to the cars we finally encountered an insect large enough in size and striking enough in appearance to pique the interest of not just me but the group as a whole—a large caterpillar feeding on the foliage of Penstemon digitalis (smooth beard-tongue). It’s appearance—dark with longitudinal yellow stripes and blue spotting—immediately called to mind one of the tiger moths (formerly Arctiidae, now a subfamily in the Erebidae), specifically the genus Haploa (commonly called haploa moths). A little detective work on BugGuide comparing photos and recorded host plants narrowed the likely choice to H. confusa (confused haploa moth).
Day 2 – Lead Mines Conservation Area The final day of the MONPS Field Trip featured a morning trip to Lead Mine Conservation Area in Dallas Co. Of particular interest to the group were several parcels within the area designated as Niangua River Hills Natural Area and featuring a diversity of habitats including dolomite glades, chert woodlands, and calcareous wet meadows (fens). Most in the group visited the northern parcel to see the dolomite glades; however, a few of us—primarily from St. Louis and well-familiar with dolomite glades—opted to visit the smaller southern unit of the natural area to see the fen and riparian woodland we needs to pass through to get there. It was a much warmer morning than yesterday, though still chilly starting out, so blooms were sparse as we hiked the woodland trail searching for any hint of color. At one point, someone noticed a shrub a bit off the trail with large, reddish pink flowers—the color seeming a bit unexpected for the situation. Bushwhacking toward it, we realized it was Chaenomelesspeciosa (common flowering quince), a common, ornamental non-native plant that rarely—but obviously sometimes—escapes cultivation. While the group looked at the plant, I saw my first insect of the day—Paraulacizes irrorata (speckled sharpshooter), one of our largest and most recognizable leafhoppers, sitting head-down on the stem of a small sapling.
Among the first native blooms we saw was Ranunculus hispidus (hairy buttercup). Though similarly “large-flowered” as R. fascicularis (early buttercup), it differs by its sprawling growth habit, differently shaped-leaves, and preference for moist habitats. Buttercups are a favorite flower host for jewel beetles (family Buprestidae) in the genus Acmaeodera, and one species —A. tubulus—is among our earliest-emerging beetles in the spring, so I checked each buttercup flower that I saw hoping to see these little beetles signaling the beginning of insect activity for the season. Sadly, none were seen.
At last we reached the fen—a large open area on the toe-slopes of the adjacent hillside where water draining through the underlying strata emerged to the surface to maintain a continually wet environment. The fen here is special, as two species of Cyprepedium (lady’s slipper orchids) are know to occur in the fen (and in fact, all four of the state’s Cyprepedium spp. can be found with Lead Mine Conservation Area). At this early date, the orchids would not be anywhere close to blooming; however, the group looked for evidence of their presence, walking gingerly through the fen so as to avoid inadvertently stepping upon any emergent foliage. No putative clumps were found, but already in my mind I’m thinking a mid-May trip back to the fen might be warranted! Unlike the orchids, Castilleja coccinea (Indian paintbrush) was abundantly evident throughout the fen, with an occasional plant almost ready to burst forth their scarlet blooms. Senescent flower stems of composites, presumably Rudbeckia, were also seen throughout the glade, which, combined with the abundance of Castilleja, created the promise of a stunning early-summer display across the fen.
During our time in the fen, two species of butterflies were seen flitting about the herbaceous vegetation: tiny blue Celastrina ladon (spring azure), and one of the dustywing skippers in the genus Erynnis. The former were impossible to photograph due to their persistent flitting and skittish behavior, and the latter almost were as well. Only when I locked the focus on a preset 2x zoom and fired shots in rapid succession while moving the smartphone ever closer to the subject did I manage this one imperfect but passable photograph of the last one I tried. The genus Erynnis is diverse and notoriously difficult to identify, and my expertise with skippers and butterflies pales compared to my skills with beetles, so the ID will have to remain Erynnis sp. until a more authoritative opinion is offered. [Edit 4/6/22, 11:38 am: According to my lepidopterist friend Phillip Koenig, Erynnis horatius and E. juvenalis both fly in early spring, and they cannot be reliably separated from the dorsal side. Erynnis juvenalis has one or two dots on the ventral hind wing that E. horatius lacks and only flies in the early spring, while E. horatius can be seen through the summer. If only I could turn the picture over to see what it looks like on the ventral side!]
Returning through the riparian woodlands after visiting the fen, the day had warmed considerably, and numerous flowers not seen earlier were suddenly in full bloom. These included Erythronium mesochorium (prairie fawn lily midland fawnlily, prairie dogtooth violet)—the same species we saw yesterday so reluctantly in bloom at Schuette Prairie. Most were of the familiar form with unmottled leaves; however, we found one individual with notably mottled leaves that resembled those of E. albidum (white dogtooth violet) (1st photo). Nevertheless, the leaves were still narrower than that species and folded, and the plant was growing a mere 12” from another individual with no trace of mottling (2nd photo).
Claytonia virginca (spring beauty) was also blooming in abundance as we took the trail back. I am always amazed at the variability seen in the flowers of this species—from pure white to vividly pink-striped to pink at the tips. This especially vivid pink individual was about as pink as they come.
Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) also was popping up regularly. We had seen isolated plants sitting the trailsides when we first part through—their flowers tightly folded in stubborn response to the chilly morning temperatures. By early afternoon, however, they were spread wide open as invitation to any of the flying insects that had surely also been awakened by the warmer temperatures of the afternoon. While most were seen as isolated individuals, a particularly idyllic clump captured our attention, almost begging “photograph me!”
With that, we rejoined the main group to recount the days experiences and cement new relationships before heading back towards our respective home areas.
Long Ridge Conservation Area On the way back home, I decided to check out this conservation area in Franklin Co., which I’ve never visited before. The afternoon had gotten quite warm, so I reasoned that maybe today would be the day when insects start coming out in abundance. I was right! As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) in full bloom, and walking up to it I immediately saw an abundance of bees and small beetles all over the flowers. The latter turned out to be Orsodacne atra (a leaf beetle) and Ischnomera ruficollis (rednecked false blister beetles).
Inside the woods along the Blue Trail, there were the usual suspects in bloom—Claytonia virginica (spring beauty), Cardamine concatenata (toothwort), Antennaria parlinii (Parlin’s pussytoes) and Ranunculus hispidus (hairy buttercups).
Eventually I happened upon an Amelanchier arborea (downy serviceberry) in full bloom. There were more O. atra and I. ruficollis on the flowers (though not so many as on the Mexican plum), along with a Mecaphesa sp. crab spider that had caught and was feeding on a male Andrena carlini (Carlin’s mining bee)*.
On the back third of the trail, I found two fallen branches under a Quercus shumardii (Shumard’s oak) that had been pruned by longhorned beetles—presumably Anelaphus villosus. At the end of the trail I found a third such branch of the same species of oak. All three will be placed in an emergence box, and hopefully the culprits will emerge as adults.
Alternative title: Rich and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
This is the seventh “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a 5-day trip to Arkansas and Oklahoma from June 7–11, 2019 with my friend and local collecting buddy Richard Thoma. As with all previous “iReports” in this series, this one too is illustrated exclusively with iPhone photographs.
Day 1 – Ozark National Forest, vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas It’s been many years since I’ve visited these sandstone glades overlooking the White River near Calico Rock. Conditions were partly sunny when we arrived, but water on the ground suggested rain earlier in the day. We had only a short time to start exploring before the wind started blowing up and the smell of rain filled the air. I did manage to beat one Amniscus sexguttata from a branch of living Pinus echinata and collect a couple of Strigoderma sp. from Coreopsis lanceolata flowers before steady rain forced us to retreat.
Day 2 – Ouachita National Forest, Winding Stair Campground & Ouachita Trail, Oklahoma We walked the trail from the campground S about 2½ miles and back. I started off with Acmaeodera tubulus on Krigia sp. flowers, eventually finding a lot of them on this plant at higher elevations along with a single Acmaeodera ornata, and I beat a few Agrilus cepahlicus off of Cornus drummondii. This had me thinking it would be a good buprestid day, but it wasn’t, the only other species collected being some Chrysobothris cribraria off of small dead Pinus echinata saplings and Pachyschelus laevigatus on Desmodium sp. Also beat a few miscellaneous insects off of Cercis canadensis and Vaccineum arborea and swept some from grasses and other herbaceous plants. Back at the campground I collected Chrysobothris dentipes on the sunny trunks of large, live Pinus echinata trees.
Ouachita National Forest, Talimena Scenic Dr at Big Cedar Vista, Oklahoma There were lots of native wildflowers like Coreopsis tinctoria and Ratibida columnifera in bloom, so we stopped to check them out. There were lots of butterflies, however, I found only a single Typocerus zebra on Coreopsis lanceolata.
Ouachita National Forest, Winding Stair Campground, Oklahoma We returned to the campground in the evening to do some blacklighting. I had high hopes, but only five cerambycids came to the lights, all represented by a single individual: Monochamus carolinensis, Acanthocinus obsoletus, Amniscus sexguttatus, Eutrichillus biguttatus, and Leptostylus tranversus (the first four are pine-associates). I also picked up a few other miscellaneous insects.
Day 3 – Medicine Park Primitive Campground, Oklahoma There wasn’t much insect activity going on in eastern Oklahoma, so we drove out west to the Wichita Mountains for hopefully better luck. We found a small park with a primitive campground in the city of Medicine Park—my first thought was to beat the post oaks dotting the campground, but when I went into the native prairie between the campground and the creek I never came out! Right away I found what must be Acmaeodera ornatoides on flowers of Opuntia sp., then I found more on flowers of Gallardia pulchella along with Acmaeodera mixta. The latter were also on flowers of Thelesperma filifolium along with Acmaeodera neglecta—took a nice series of each, and I also got a few of the latter on flowers of Coreopsis grandiflora. Strangalia sexnotata were on flowers of C. tinctoria and Torilis arvensis, and then on the latter plant I saw a male Strangalia virilis—a Texas/Oklahoma specialty that I’ve never collected before! I spent the next hour looking for these guys and ended up with 3 males and 2 females along with a few Trichiotinus texanus—another Texas/Oklahoma specialty—and a single Agrilaxia sp. nr. flavimana (could be A. texana). One single Typocerus octonotatus was on flowers of Achillea millefolium. I think we may come back here tomorrow—I’d like to look for more S. virilis and beat the post oaks (the reason we stopped here to begin with).
Lake Lawtonka nr. Ma Ballou Point, Oklahoma We stumbled into this area while looking for stands of Sapindus drummondii (soapberry)—found a small stand along the road, but it was too inaccessible. The same diversity of blooms were present as at the previous spot, so I picked a few longhorns off flowers of Coreopsis grandiflora and Gaillardia pulchella. Super windy, so we didn’t stay long.
Day 4 – Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma Before starting the day’s collecting, we wanted to go into the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge to have a look around. On the way into the refuge we some American bison near the road and had to stop, take photos, and simply admire these massive, majestic beasts. We then went to the Cedar Plantation, where I had visited before back in 2012 and photographed black individuals of Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina (prairie tiger beetle). No tiger beetles were out now (they come out in the fall), but I’d hoped to maybe see Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle) along the 2-tracks in the area. No such luck—nevertheless, we saw a myriad of interesting insects, including several more Esenbeckia incisuralis (green-eyed horse flies) and a beautiful Trichodes bibalteatus (checkered beetle), the latter of which I photographed on flowers of Ratibida columnifera and Achillea millefolium with the big camera. Afterwards we visited the “prairie dog town” and got marvelous views and photographs of black-tailed prairie dogs.
Medicine Park, Jack Laughter Park, Oklahoma We’d noticed this spot yesterday because of the old post oaks and wealth of wildflowers blooming up the mountainside. There wasn’t much going on today, however—just a few Acmaeodera mixta on flowers of Gaillardia pulchella. I did find an Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) sp. on my arm! Otherwise I spent some time photographing the landscape and some geometrid larvae on flowers of Gaillardia pulchella.
Medicine Park Primitive Campground, Oklahoma We returned to this spot since we had so much luck yesterday. I was hoping to collect more Acmaeodera ornatoides and Strangalia virilis, but there was much less going on today than yesterday—basically didn’t see anything for the first hour and a half. I didn’t give up, however, and kept checking the area where we saw most of the S. virilis yesterday, and eventually I saw another male in the same area as yesterday on the same stand of Torilis arvensis. I found two more males in the same area over the next hour, so three males on the day was a good reward for the time spent looking for them. I also collected Trichodes apivorus and Trichiotinus texanus on flowers of Allium sp. Interestingly, beating the post oaks—the reason why I originally wanted to stop here—produced nothing. So, not very many specimens on the day, but happy with those I did get.
Medicine Park, Jack Laughter Park, Oklahoma I was pretty much done for the day after spending all morning at the refuge and most of the afternoon at the previous spot, but Rich wanted to take another look at Jack Laughter Park because he’d found some interesting grasshoppers there. As with earlier in the day there were few beetles of interest to me, but I did collect a couple of Trichiotinus texanus on flowers of Cirsium undulatum. I checked out some large post oaks with large dead branches thinking that might be what Strangalia virilis was breeding in but never saw any, and eventually I turned my attention to photographing a few interesting native plants that I found along the way.
Day 5 – Epilogue We were tempted to do one last little bit of collecting on the way back to St. Louis, but since had pretty good luck during the last couple of days and the drive alone would take more than nine hours we decided to leave well enough alone and get home at a reasonable hour. A walk with Beauregard when I got home to stretch the post-drive legs was the perfect way to end the mini-vacation.
Indian paintbrush and lousewort now dominate patches of SNR
I moved to Missouri in the summer of 1988, having experienced 8 years of generous support of my family’s livelihood by my research on the infamous imported fire ants of the US Southeast, and their relatives in South America. When I arrived in the Midwest, I hoped to land a job as an insect taxonomist in a university or museum, a goal of mine since before entering college. But this dream was one that even before moving to Missouri was dimming, and then receded ever further from the realm of possibility for me (and for traditionally trained taxonomists, generally), once here. So, I began to re-think what I might do with my work life. It would be something, I hoped, that would make some use of all the course work (mostly in entomology and botany) and research (on ant systematics) I had done during my 24 years (!) of getting educated and four additional years as a post-doc. As or more important, whatever job I ended up in would somehow have to allow me to share my life-long love of nature with others.
A museum drawer of ant specimens mounted for taxonomic study, the ants no doubt frustrated by the years of inattention they have received as I have tended to the duties of my day job.
Early in my residence in eastern Missouri, I made the acquaintance of the naturalist at a 2500-acre (1000-hectare) nature reserve outside of St. Louis. Shaw Arboretum, as it was then known, is country cousin to the world-renowned Missouri Botanical Garden, and is named after the Garden’s founder Henry Shaw. Long story short, in the summer of 1990 the naturalist mentioned to me that he would soon retire, the position would become available, and that I ought to apply. So I applied, and was hired as the arboretum’s naturalist in January 1991.
A dolomite glade plant endemic to a few counties in eastern Missouri, this leatherflower was established at SNR in the 1930s, but expanded exponentially after prescribed fire was introduced in the 1990s. Here, an ant characteristic of glades and dry prairies forages on the flower.
When I came on board, the “Arboretum” had mostly ceased to be an arboretum (a formal collection of trees for display, breeding and research), and most folks seemed unable to either pronounce or define the word. Indeed we learned, through a public survey, that the strange name and the stone wall in the front actually dissuaded people unfamiliar with it from entering! Yes, there were a few patches of exotic trees scattered around the property, especially in the conifer collection near the front entrance know as the “Pinetum”, but ever since the Garden had decided around 1930 that it would not, afterall move all of its horticultural operations to this then very rural site (the original intent of its purchase), formal arboretum and botanical garden type activities had been few and far between, and the site began gradually reverting from abandoned farmland to a wilder sort of place, as well as a haven for native biota. Thus, on its 75th anniversary in the year 2000, Shaw Arboretum was renamed Shaw Nature Reserve.
Colony-founding queen bumblebees are the primary actors in loosening pollen with ultrasound from shootingstar anthers, and distributing it about the plant population.
Around that time, my title changed too, to “Restoration Biologist”. The job is multifaceted; presenting public programs and classes on various aspects of the site’s natural history, writing and reviewing articles, acting as liaison to the vigorous regional group of academic ecologists who use the site for research and teaching, a very intermittent personal research program on ants resulting in sporadic publications, and last but certainly not least, ecological restoration.
Ecological restoration, in the broad sense, consists of two primary practices:
Restoration of a natural community to structure and species composition presumed characteristic of an ;;earlier condition (however arbitrary or ill-defined).
Reconstruction of regional, native-like habitats, de novo, using locally acquired native plant propagules in the appropriate settings of soil, hydrology, slope aspect and climate.
Both require essentially perpetual, follow-up maintenance, including invasive species control, mowing, haying, grazing, selective timber removal, species richness enhancements, and prescribed burning. All of these have many variations and nuances in application, and there can be impassioned arguments about their implementation in the literature, at conferences, and in forums and blogs on ecological restoration, native plants, butterflies, beetles, etc..
An ecologically conservative lily ally of undisturbed moist soil habitats now thrives in prairie plantings at the Reserve.
Attitudes about ecological restoration vary, among practitioners, among sociologists and philosophers, and in the general public. One broad attitudinal schism lies along the lines of whether ecological restoration activities are some sort of primitivist, grand-scale gardening, or do they represent ecologically valid landscape conservation? Another question some pose is to what extent we should interfere with “natural successsion”? Be this as it may be, most people with functioning sensory perception agree the results can be very beautiful. The loveliness of the mosaic of colors in the herb layer of a spring woodland is inarguable, especially so after it has had its woody stem density reduced, and had the leaf litter burned off, to allow more light, rain and seeds to the soil surface — even where there is genuine concern about damage to invertebrate assemblages residing in forest duff. A waving meadow of grasses and flowers in a tallgrass prairie planting, intended to replace just a few of the tens of millions of acres of this ecosystem that have succumbed to the plow, has its own grand beauty, though its per-square-meter species density of plant species remains less than half that of a native prairie remnant and it is dominated mainly by habitat-generalist insect species rather than prairie specialists, even after 30 or more years.
A self-introduced grassland ant forages among a thriving, human-introduced population of this wet prairie gentian.
The smaller, daily rewards of restoration, to the practicing ecological restorationist and to those who visit his or her work, are many. Over 20 years, in the opened-up woods, restored glades and prairie and wetland plantings at SNR, I repeatedly have enjoyed the “sudden appearance” and increase in populations of ant species (of course) that I never observed during my early years of working at SNR (then scouring it for purposes of preparing an annotated ant list). The feeling I get upon discovering that a grouping of shooting star, royal catchfly, bunch flower or bottle gentian plants, are in bloom at a site where I spread their seeds five, seven, or even ten years earlier is a bit like that one feels when a child is born. The spontaneous colonization of SNR grassland plantings by prairie ragged orchid never fails to amaze me. Bird, or frog, or katydid and cricket songs in a former crop field or pasture, as the “restored” vegetation fills in and matures, is as pleasing to my ear as it is to my soul.
A few days ago (in early July), the director of the Reserve came to my office asking if I had noticed a purply pink, “possibly orchid” flower growing on a section of a berm (planted with native vegetation) in our 32-acre wetland complex. I had not been in the area recently, but headed right out to see what it was. Joyously, and not a little surprised, I learned that seeds of the purple fringeless orchid, sowed at a location nearby 17 years previously, had washed to this site, taken root, and as terrestrial orchids are wont to do, flowered after so many years!
The black-legged greater meadow katydid thrives in low areas and near bodies of water in SNR
The prairie ragged orchid began to appear in old fields and prairie plantings where prescribed burning occurs at SNR. It has not been seen in fields maintained exclusively by mowing or haying.
The purple fringeless orchid surprised the restorationist and St. Louis area botanists by flowering in the SNR wetland area 17 years after the original sowing.
This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world. – John Muir
Coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is the tallest type of tree in the world, with maximum recorded heights approaching 380 feet. This majestic conifer grows only along the Pacific Coast in a narrow strip from Monterey to Oregon. Most of the estimated 2 million acres of original redwood forest are now gone — victims of the saw! One of the small groves that managed to escape this fate due to its relative inaccessibility grows along Redwood Creek and adjacent slopes in what is now Muir Woods National Monument. At heights approaching 260 feet, the redwoods growing here are not the tallest to be found; however, their proximity to San Francisco (just 15 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge) makes them the most heavily viewed examples of this ancient tree. Lynne and I visited Muir Woods a few times in the 90’s after moving to Sacramento — today (3/20) was our first visit since then, and the first ever for Mollie and Madison. In addition to getting to see these marvelous trees once again, we were also treated to a spectacular display of spring wildflowers.
We began our hike on the main paved trail. This is where most visitors confine themselves during a visit to this place, so the picture here documents a rare sight — no people! I apologize for its lack of focus, a consequence of the limitations of my little point-and-shoot camera in the limited amount of light that makes it through these towering trees during late afternoon.
Standing beneath one of these trees and looking up is a lesson in insignificance — the feeling one gets looking straight up the trunk of one of these giants cannot be adequately captured on film (er… microchip).
We quickly tired of the crowds and decided to hike up the Ocean View Trail, which climbs quite steeply up the east side of the valley. This marvelous trail was nearly devoid of people, and we found ourselves winding through thick, dark, cool forest with numerous side ravines. The lower elevations of the trail were dominated by redwood trees and a spectacular array of spring wildflowers. Among the most common was California toothwort (Cardamine californica [=Dentaria californica]), a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). I noticed that the leaves at the base of the plant were broad and oval, while those arising from the flower stalk were slender and lanceolate, often divided into 3 leaflets.
Wake robins (genus Trillium), belonging to the lily family (Liliaceae, sometimes separated into the lily-of-the-valley family, Convallariaceae), are among my favorite wildflowers. We soon noticed Western wake robin (Trillium ovatum) growing commonly in shaded areas along the trail. We were also seeing some purple-flowered wake robins — at first I thought they were a different species, but it soon became apparent that these were older Western wake robin flowers, which change color from white to purple as they age.
A little further up the trail we began encountering small patches of Mountain iris (Iris douglasiana, family Iridaceae). Flower color for this native species ranges from cream-white to lavender, but all of the flowers we saw were of the white variety.
We saw this fat Solomon’s seal (Maianthemumracemosum ssp. amplexicaule [=Smilacina racemosa var. amplexicaulis]) growing in one of the cool, moist, side ravines. This is another member of the Liliaceae (sometimes separated into the Convallariaceae). The large, oval leaves clasping around the distinct, unbranched stem were almost as attractive as the flowers, which apparently give rise to bright scarlet berries in the summer.
In the middle elevations the redwood forest transitioned to drier oak woodland containing a mixture of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), and tan oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus). Some of the Douglas-firs were enormous.
Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora) is a member of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae, sometimes separated into the Orobanchaceae). This plant, with its striking bright red flowers and finely divided, fern-like leaves, is a facultative parasite on the roots of other plants. Apparently, the genus name refers to an old superstition that sheep could become infested with lice if they ate this plant.
The juncture of the Ocean View Trail with the Lost Trail was closed, so we backtracked down the 1+ miles back to the main paved trail. By now it was fairly late in the afternoon, and the crowds had thinned considerably. Having gotten lots of good views of the giant trees, we began turning our attention downwards to the smaller understory flora. Ferns, of course, are a dominant component of this understory, especially along Redwood Creek. This large specimen may represent Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) (family Dryopteridaceae), which can apparently be distinguished by small hilt-like projections from the base of the pinnae (leaflets), but I couldn’t get close enough to see for sure.
Abundant on the ground in the valley was redwood sorrell (Oxalis oregana), a member of the family Oxalidaceae. In places this plant covered the ground in thick carpets.
Among the more interesting plants we saw in the valley was California fetid adder’s tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii), yet another member of the Liliaceae or Convallariaceae. I wasn’t sure what this plant was at first, despite its highly distinctive, glossy, mottled foliage. We were too late to see the blooms, which apparently have a fetid odor to attract flies for pollination, but did find the maturing pods on their slender, drooping stems.
Close to the creek’s edge we saw this colony of horsetails (Equisetum sp.), primitive plants in the family Equisetaceae. Members of this group belong to one of the most ancient lineages of vascular plants, dating back to the Devonian period (416-359 million years ago). Their Paleozoic ancestors (Calamitaceae and Archaeocalamitaceae) were giants, reaching heights of 50 ft or more, and were major components of the Carboniferous swamplands. Along with lycopod trees (Lepidodendrales), they were important contributors to coal formation and, like the lycopods, became extinct by the mid-Permian (~270 million years ago). The genus Equisetum represents the only surviving descendants of this lineage. Unlike their extinct progenitors, these small, herbaceous plants rarely exceed 4 ft in height; however, they share many of the same characters such as articulate stems with microphylls arranged in whorls. Recent phylogenetic studies, using both molecular and morphological characters, suggest that horsetails, together with ferns, form a clade representing one of the three major lineages of vascular plants (Pryer et al. 2001).
Nearby we saw a patch of Giant wake robin (Trillium chloropetalum) in flower. These were taller than the California wake robins we saw on the slopes of the Ocean View Trail but similarly characterized by a whorl of 3 leaves and flowers composed of 3 erect petals. Mature flowers darken to a deep red purple, so it seems these plants had just begun flowering. Muir Woods appears to be a good place for observing a diversity of Convallariaceae!
Also along Redwood Creek we found this bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) in full bloom. As its specific epithet suggests, this maple has the largest leaves of any member of the genus — in this example the newly-expanded leaves were distinctly purplish. The picture below shows the greenish-yellow flowers (petals inconspicuous) produced on long, pendulous racemes.
Interpretive signs along the paved main trail pointed out a redwood “family group,” formed by sprouts growing from the base of a larger tree. Eventually, the central “mother” tree died and decayed away, leaving a ring of offspring that mature into an enormous, characteristic circle of trees. This apparently also happens with other types of trees, though on a smaller scale, as demonstrated in this picture of an oak (Quercus sp.) family group.
As the day drew to a close we found ourselves back in the parking lot, where this California icon, a clump of Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), was spreading its wide, majestic crown from multiple, twisted trunks and gnarled branches.
Much too soon, it was time to leave this beautiful valley, but before heading back to Sacramento we stopped to take one last look down towards the valley and out to the Pacific Ocean from the Panoramic Highway.