The pine flatlands of the southeastern Coastal Plain offer an interesting contrast to the upland forests of my home state of Missouri. Closed canopies of oak and hickory are replaced by open canopies of pond and longleaf pine. Dry glades—islands of prairie dotting the forests—are replaced by bogs and bays—oases of wetland punctuating the sandy scrub. In both places, however, fire plays an important role in shaping and preserving these unique habitats. In this ~10,000-acre preserve, prescribed burns spare the heat-tolerant pines—their trunks blackened and scorched but the living branches high above unharmed—and prevent woody shrubs from choking out herbaceous plants, including famously insectivorous plants such as Venus fly traps, sundews, and pitcher plants. I had yet to have seen any of these plants in their native habitats, and after learning of this place and their presence here from a local resident, Madam and I made a beeline to the preserve for an afternoon of botanical hiking.
Almost immediately after starting down the road from the parking lot, I noticed white blossoms dotting the forest floor. Approaching closer revealed them to be wild azaleas—in this case Rhododendron viscosum (swamp azalea). Individually, the petite plants with their crowns of oversized blooms were quaintly beautiful. En masse, clustered on the forest floor, they were an amazing sight to see.
The going was slow in the beginning, with something new to me at every turn. A species of Nuttallanthus (toadflax)—either N. texanus (Texas toadflax) or N. canadensis (Canada toadflax), depending on details of flower dimensions—bloomed abundantly in the sunny openings. A small purple flower was at first assumed to be a species of Tradescantia (spidorwort) but proved to be the related Callisia ornata (scrub roseling)—a new genus for me. A bit further down the road we encountered orange flowers that proved to be Polygala lutea (orange milkwort). This genus is represented in Missouri by several species, all having flowers of pink, yellow, or white.
Flowers were not limited to herbaceous plants. The evergreen woody shrub layer was just coming back to life with new growth, a few of which bore distinctive blossoms identifying them as members of the genus Vaccinium (blueberry). There are several potential species that could be here.
At one point, Madam called me to the other side of the road, pointing to a strange plant at the edge of a wet area and asking “What’s that?” Bingo—I recognized it instantly as one of the so-called “pitcher plants” (genus Sarracenia), among the most dramatically charismatic of the insectivorous plants. Pitcher plants trap insects using a rolled leaf with downward pointing hairs on the inside and the uppermost part of the leaf flared into a lid (or operculum) to prevent rain from diluting the digestive secretions pooled at the bottom of the leaf. Though a bit past bloom, it was easily identifiable as S. flava (yellow pitcher plant). We were thrilled to have seen our first pitcher plant in the wild, and we looked forward to seeing more (hopefully in full bloom).
As we scanned the edge of the wetland looking for more pitcher plants, I noticed tiny white flowers on the small shrubs underfoot. They looked rather “hollyish” to me, and indeed they proved to be Ilex glabra (gallberry), a species of evergreen holly native to the coastal plain of eastern North America and most commonly found in sandy woods and peripheries of swamps and bogs.
At this time of season, I was expecting to see insects well active, and this was certainly the case with butterflies—the most common being a species of swallowtail that oxymoronically reminded me of a small giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) but in reality were Papilio palamedes (Palamedes swallowtail). I’m a beetle guy, however, so I was happy to find a few Acmaeodera tubulus jewel beetles on flowers of Erigeron sp. (fleabane), and when I saw a standing recently-dead pine beyond the wet drainage I decided to check it for other jewel beetles on its trunk. As I started to step across the water, a small purplish plant on a piece of wood in the water caught my eye, and I immediately recognized it as one of the sundews (genus Drosera), another genus of insectivorous plants that capture and digest insects using stalked mucilaginous glands that cover their leaf surfaces. This is one of the largest genera of insectivorous plants, but I take this one to be D. intermedia (spoonleaf sundew).
About a mile and a half from the car, we finally found what we had been hoping to see since soon after we arrived—Sarracenia flava (yellow pitcher plant) in full bloom. A rather large patch of them was visible from afar, their yellow blooms glowing in the sunlight, but sadly most of them were slightly or greatly past peak bloom. A bit further back, however, on the other side of the water, I spotted two single plants in perfect bloom, their petals fresh and intact and making the effort to find a way across the water well worth the effort. Other plants without blooms but with fresh, brightly colored “pitchers” were also seen along the water’s edge.
As we admired the spectacle in front of us, I noticed a clump of red within the vegetation at water’s edge and realized we were looking at another species of pitcher plant—Sarracenia purpurea (purple pitcher plant)! How fortunate we were to see this clump—the only one we saw—which was in perfect bloom and with colorful, freshly-formed pitchers whose squat form contrasted notably from the tall, slender, graceful pitchers of S. flava right next to it.
By now, the April heat had taken a noticeable toll on the conditioning of these two recently-escaped-from-winter Midwesterners. Having found the Holy Grail for the day, we began the long, tired slog back to the car—our legs dragging but our spirits soaring.
Nestled in the northern foothills of the St. Francois Mountains lies one of Missouri’s most remarkable of places—Hawn State Park. I have written about this place onseveraloccasions and visited even more often, yet I never tire of exploring its sandstone canyons, rhyolite shut-ins, and stately pine forests. As such, I was happy to see it as the selected destination for the WGNSS Botany Group Monday Walk.
It was a chilly winter morning when the group met at the picnic area parking lot, and after a bit of discussion to orient ourselves on the plants we might see, we crossed the foot bridge over Pickle Creek to explore the habitats off the Whispering Pines Trail. Almost immediately (in fact, even before completely crossing the bridge), we noticed Alnus serrulata (smooth alder) lining the edges of the creek banks. Unlike many trees, A. serrulata is easy to recognize during winter by virtue of its persistent female cones and newly-formed male catkins. Alnus serrulata is one of five species in Missouri belonging to the family Betulaceae—all five of which occur together here in Hawn State Park (and, in fact, can be found within feet of each other). In the case of this species, the female cones are unique, the male catkins are green and red and occur during winter in clumps, and the winter buds are red with two scales.
Immediately after crossing the bridge, we saw the second betulaceous species on slightly higher ground—Corylus americana (American hazelnut). Like A. serrulata, this species is usually a small tree, but it lacks the persistent cones during winter, has more brownish male catkins that may be clumped, especially at the branch tips, but also tend to occur singly along the length of the branch, and has brownish, rounded winter buds and noticeably fuzzy twigs.
Entering the mixed pine-oak forest (and pondering Fr. Sullivan’s oak ID quiz—which turned out to be Quercus coccinea, or scarlet oak), Kathy noticed the persistent fruiting stalks of one of our native terrestrial orchids—Goodyera pubescens (downy rattlesnake plantain). Normally, this orchid is noticed during winter by virtue of its striking white-veined green leaves, but in this case they were completely hidden under leaf litter. Had it not been for the fruiting stalk, we would never have noticed its presence. Hawn State Park has a healthy population of these orchids, and hopefully the fruits of this individual will bear an abundance of its tiny (spore-sized) seeds.
Continuing our off-trail bushwhacking, we eventually reached a series of sandstone canyons that promised not only spectacular ice formations from their constant moisture drip, but the potential for seeing plants that rely on the cool, shaded, moist, acidic nooks and crannies they offer.
Two fern species were seen. The first was Asplenium platyneuron (ebony spleenwort)—not uncommon and distinguished by the dark, reddish-brown, glossy stipe and rachis (on fertile fronds) with simple pinnate leaves and alternately-arranged leaflets with a basal auricle (ear-lobe). Two columns of elongated sori (spore-bearing structures) oriented diagonally to the central veins can be found on their lower surface of the leaflets. Dryopteris marginalis (marginal wood fern) was also found on the sandstone ledges. This fern is most easily identified by the location of its sori on fertile fronds, which occur along the margins of its subleaflets (some other less common species will have the sori placed more interiorly).
The most exciting find on the sandstone ledges was Mitchella repens (partridge berry). This member of the Rubiaceae (same family as coffee) is characteristic of sandstone canyons and ledges and occurs in Missouri only in a few counties in the southeastern part of the state where this habitat exists. The plant is unmistakable and easily identified, especially when in fruit. Interestingly, each of its bright red berries is actually a fusion of two fruits, as evidenced by the pair of minute, persistent calyces at the tip.
Back on-trail, the group focused on identifying the many different tree species along the trail (Quercus coccinea was dominant). One small “tree” had us stumped, however, it’s giant terminal bud with small lateral buds clustered nearby seemingly suggesting oak—until we noted the curious whorl at the branch node and, on a subsequently-seen individual, persistent fruit capsules that immediately identified it as Rhododendron prinophyllum (early azalea). Another lover of acidic pine woodlands, this species is restricted in Missouri to high-quality habitats in the Ozark Plateau, and Hawn State Park has some of the finest populations to be found.
As the group ascended the trail and began pondering whether to turn around, the characteristic leaves of a small saxifrage were seen at the base of an oak tree. Micranthes virginiensis (early saxifrage, Virginia saxifrage) shows a preference for rocky acid soils and reaches the western limit of its distribution in Missouri, where it is limited to a few counties in the Ozarks. A similar but much smaller species, Micranthes texana (Texas saxifrage) can be found in sandstone glades in western Missouri.
Returning to Pickle Creek, the group focused on the remaining three species of Betulaceae found in Missouri—and Hawn State Park, all growing in the immediate vicinity of the foot bridge. The three species—Betula nigra (river birch), Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam, musclewood, blue beech), and Ostrya virginiana (American hophornbeam), all have numerous subtle characters that distinguish them from the other two members of the family (Alnus and Corylus), but in winter they are most easily recognized by their bark. The flaky, peeling, cinnamon-brown bark of B. nigra is the most distinctive and cannot be mistaken for anything else. This contrasts completely with the smooth, gray, sinuous look of C. caroliniana (which I can’t help but stroke whenever I see it—should I be admitting that!?). In between is the rough, shredded, brownish appearance of O. virginiana (which is further distinguished from C. americana by its pointed rather than rounded buds).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
Day 5 – Sunshine, New Mexico We saw a nice stand of what proved to be Picradeniopsis absinthifolia (formerly Bahiaabsinthifolia, 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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona We made a quick stop here to admire its incredible scenery before heading back south.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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!
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.
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 Eysenhardtiaorthocarpa (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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
My good hiking/collecting buddy Rich called me yesterday and asked if I was interested in a hike. Since I am retired, and he is retired, there was nothing on either of our schedules that prevented us from doing it the very next day, so we decided to come to one of our favorite places that we haven’t been to in awhile—Valley View Glades Natural Area near Hillsboro.
I brought my big camera along because I figured Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum) would be in good bloom, and I wanted to get good closeups with a blue sky background (I was successful in that regard—photos coming soon). I also brought along my collecting pack in case we found a beetle or two, but in this regard I was only half-successful—careful examination of several ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius intermedius) patches did not reveal any Dicerca pugionata (seen a week ago at nearby Victoria Glades), but I did find a Blackburn’s earth-boring beetle (Geotrupes blackburni) on the trail. We also found a gum bumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum) tree with copious amounts of frass at the base, indicating infestation by a bumelia borer (Plinthocoelium suaveolens), and I recorded the location so I could put an emergence cage at the base of the tree next season to catch the emerging adult.
One other item of botanical interest was downy goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris) growing near the margins of the dry post oak woodlands—a species I’ve not previously noticed but was able to recognize due to its combination of recurved phyllaries and moderately widened leaves without teeth (Buckley’s goldenrod, S. buckleyi, also has recurved phyllaries but wider leaves with the edges distinctly toothed).
An especially colorful gall caused by the cynipid wasp Atrusca quercuscentricola on the leaf of post oak (Quercus stellata) piqued both entomological and botanical curiosity.
Near the end of the hike, I pointed out a shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) tree that may be the northernmost naturally-occurring shortleaf pine in the state. I am aware of some trees further north along Hwy 21 at Sunridge Tower Park and in St. Louis Co. at Rockwoods Reservation, but I believe in both of these cases they are planted.
I’ve mentioned before that I am never happier than when I am in the field, especially when it’s an extended insect collecting trip. One problem I face on these trips, however, is the conflict between my desire to stay focused on the task at hand (collecting insects) versus indulging my broader natural history interests—landscapes, botany, geology, etc. The urge to explore increases the further west I go, as the landscape becomes more diverse and unfamiliar, and reaches its zenith in the king of landscapes that is California.
Approaching Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest from the south.
During our Great Basin collecting trip last August, field mate Jeff Huether and I visited the White Mountains near Bishop to look for Crossidius hirtipes nubilus, an isolated subspecies of longhorned beetle (family Cerambycidae) known only from the vicinity of Westgaard Pass. At 7,282′ elevation, the landscape around Westgaard Pass is beautiful enough, but we also knew that lying another 3,000′ above us was one of the most stunning landscapes that anyone even remotely interested in natural history could possibly imagine—Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (ABPF)!
Entering the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
While Jeff had previously visited this magical place, I’d not yet had the chance despite my five years in California back in the 1990s (too many places, not enough time!). I had mentioned this to Jeff earlier in the trip, so with small but adequate series of C. hirtipes nubilus in our bottles Jeff suggested we take a break from insect collecting and visit ABPF. I was excited enough about the prospect of seeing these ancient trees, but I could not have anticipated just how bizarre and otherworldly a landscape we were about to see!
Bristlecones growing in the harshest sites tend to be the longest-lived.
ABPF is, of course, named for the Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) that occur here, one of three closely related pine species found in scattered, high mountain localities across the western U.S. and widely regarded to be the longest-lived of any non-clonal organism. The oldest known individual tree in the world, measured in 2012 at 5,062 years of age, is a bristlecone that occurs at this very site (although its identity and precise location are kept secret—for sadly obvious reasons), and nearly two dozen additional trees exceeding 4,000 years of age are known to occur here as well. True—there are clonal plants such as creosote bush and quaking aspen that are believed to survive as distinct genotypes for longer periods of time. However, the individual plants themselves are short-lived and quickly replaced by new sprouts from the clonal root mat. A 6,000-year old clonal patch of aspen may be technically older than a 4,000-year old bristlecone, but in my mind only the latter is bona fide ancient!
Most older bristlecones have trunks with large sections of exposed dead wood.
In the White Mountains, bristlecone pines are restricted to exposures of white dolomite (giving the mountains their name), usually between 10,000′ and 11,500′ in elevation. We could see the sharp demarcation between the white dolomite—heavily colonized by bristlecones—and non-dolomitic bedrock colonized by shrubs but devoid of pines as we approached ABPF from the south.
Dead bristlecones stand with main limbs intact for centuries.
Great Basin bristlecones occur also in the Inyo Mountains and other high mountains sites in Nevada and Utah. Most of these other sites have milder climates that offer more favorable growing conditions for the trees, and as a result the trees at these sites grow faster but—ironically—also die younger (Lanner 1999). Greater moisture availability and soils with more organic matter favor denser stands of trees as well as a richer shrub layer. This results in a greater fuel load that can carry fires, which are generally absent in the White Mountains groves with their widely spaced trees and sterile, rock substrate. Moreover, the harsh, dry conditions in the White Mountains inhibit the growth of fungi that can penetrate and colonize trunks at injury points, and there is a general lack of other threats that exist at milder sites such as bark beetles, sapsuckers, and even porcupines!
Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest
Unlike other pines growing at high elevations, such as whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), which develops an almost shrubby, beaten-down form in the face of constant battering by fierce winter winds, Great Basin bristlecones grow solidly upright and develop massive branches supporting a spreading crown. As the trees get older, their outer branches become long and pendulous, drooping under the cumulative weight of numerous, tightly packed needle clusters that can remain on the tree for up to 40 years! (The needles of most pines are shed after just a few years.)
Bright, reddish-brown male catkins emerge near the tips of the densely needeled branches.
Most of the trees at ABPF grow on steep slopes of barren dolomite with virtually no soil layer, and the trunks of older trees usually bear large sections of exposed dead wood. Over the course of their very long lives, erosion of the rocks on the steep slopes around them gradually exposes roots, killing them and resulting in death of the trunk sections and branches that they feed. In many cases nearly the entire trunk is dead, but the tree lives on in a narrow ribbon of living bark snaking or spiraling up the trunk and connecting the last surviving roots to a single living branch.
A bristlecone sapling represents the promise of enduring life in the face of harsh conditions.
Eventually death does come, but it can take centuries for the dry, cold air to decompose the standing carcass and even millenia for the hard, resinous wood to break down completely once the tree finally does fall. The oldest existing wood at ABPF has been dated to more than 9,000 years old! It is almost incomprehensible to imagine stepping over a log that began life as a sapling shortly after the last glacial retreat and the arrival of the first humans to step foot in North America!
Bristlecones are named for, well.. the bristles on their cones!
Why do Great Basin bristlecones live so long? It’s tempting to presume that the dry, high elevation environment, with its long, harsh winters and short, cool growing season enables an unusually slow metabolism that somehow translates to longevity. There is no evidence to support this, however. Perhaps characteristics such as its extremely decay-resistant wood play a part, but there are a few other species of pine that are also extraordinarily long-lived, yet still fall far short of the great ages that can be attained by Great Basin bristlecone pine. These include limber pine (Pinus flexilis), which co-occurs with Great Basin bristlecone pine in the White Mountains, but this species maxes out at about 2,000 years of age. Likewise, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata) in Colorado can reach around 2,500 years of age. (Interestingly, limber pine occurs here as well, but in this area it reaches at best only about 1,500 years of age.) Even Great Basin bristlecones themselves growing at other sites, as noted above, are unable to match the longevity of the trees growing here in the White Mountains. Perhaps, as California conifer expert Ronald Lanner remarked, the question is not why these trees “live so long”, but why they “take so long to die”.
A raven perches atop a fine, massively trunked specimen.
Lanner, R. M. 1999. Conifers of California. Cachuma Press, Los Olivos, California, 274 pp. [description].
Adrian Thysse recently posted a video of a talk by Wayne Maddison titled “Jumping Spider Melodies,” given November 2012 at the Joint Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of Canada and the Entomological Society of Alberta. It was a fascinating talk that revealed some interesting correlations between the phylogeny and geographical patterns of distribution of jumping spiders—those bright-eyed, bouncy, almost kitten-like darlings of the spider world. One quote from the talk, however, that stood out for me above all others went something like “Scientists have a rational motivation to seek truth and an emotional motivation to seek beauty.” I think this is true especially for biologists and natural historians—who among us that studies that natural world in adulthood didn’t start out with a love of the outdoors as a child? For me it was the woods that ignited my passion, and still today nothing rejuvenates my spirit like the overwhelming beauty and solitude of the forest.
Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) | Wayne Co., Missouri
Wintertime especially is when I enjoy my visits to the forest. Far from the cacophony of summer, my mind is free to explore the open canopy, to examine the fabric of the landscape and ponder its history—unhurried, without objective. During the summer, trees are host plants—I see them not for what they are, but for the beetles that might be on them. I identify them, sample them, assess them for where their guests might be. In winter though, without beating sheet in hand, without collecting vials in the pocket, I see trees as works of art—freed from their summer cloaks, living skeletons on a living landscape.
Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
Different trees are my favorite at different times for different reasons. Blazing hot orange sugar maples (Acer saccharum) at peak fall color, stately white oaks (Quercus alba) with their ash-gray branches, broad-crowned post oaks (Quercus stellata) dotting a remnant savanna, or even gnarled, ancient red-cedars (Juniperus virginiana) clinging tenuously to life on the edge of a dolomite bluff. Most often for me, however, the beauty is in the bark. The deeply fissured, reddish plates of shortleaf pine (Pinus echninata), the terrifyingly thorned trunks of honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), the shaggy, peeling strips of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). Even in their winter nakedness, the bark of these trees gives them year-round personality that is lacking in lesser-barked trees.
Is there any question why these are called the Smoky Mountains?
Last week I attended the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meetings in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was my first ESA attendance in more than ten years, so I took full advantage of the opportunity by speaking at the insect macrophotography symposium, presenting a poster on my soybean insect research, and enjoying face-to-face conversations with an extraordinary number of colleagues—some of whom I had not seen since my last ESA meeting and many more for which this was my first opportunity to meet them in person. I admit to having grown a little complacent in recent years about the importance of regular personal contact in cultivating these relationships—my attendance at this year’s ESA reminded me of that fact, and I’ve renewed my commitment to make ESA attendance a priority in the coming years.
Of course, no meeting should be all work and no play, and for me the chance to sample the local natural or cultural history is an added benefit of meeting attendance. This year’s destination for such was a no-brainer—located less than an hour’s drive from Knoxville, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the largest federally protected area east of the Mississippi River. Straddling some of the highest peaks of one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges, the park has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations due to its rich biota.
One afternoon is not nearly enough time to even scratch the surface of the park’s 800 square miles, but it’s enough to get a taste of the diverse habitats they encompass and whet the appetite for further exploration. Highly recommended for those short on time is Clingman’s Dome—the park’s highest point at 6,643 ft. An observation tower allows spectacular vistas (provided the day has good visibility) of the surrounding mountains and the evergreen forests that cloak them. Unfortunately, the view has been marred in recent years by the accidental introduction of an exotic woolly adelgid (a relative of aphids) from Europe and its subsequent establishment on the forest’s Frazier firs. Dead trunks rise from the forest like tombstones—ghostly reminders of what has been lost. The starkness of the high elevation forest contrasts with the lush mixed hemlock forest that dominates the park’s lower elevations, and the 2.4-mile Alum Creek Trail provides an intimate experience with this rich forest and its thick understory of native rhododendron. I hope the following slide show imparts some essence of the experience, and larger versions of each photo can be seen by clicking on the thumbnails in the gallery that follows.
View south from Clingman’s Dome
View east from Clingman’s Dome
View east from Clingman’s Dome
View south from Clingman’s Dome
View north from Clingman’s Dome Overlook Tower
Rhododendrons line Alum Creek
Snow melt rushes through Alum Creek
Small rapids are common in the upper reaches of Alum Creek
Jeffrey (L) and Washoe (R) pines at Galena Creek Park
During last year’s trip to Lake Tahoe, I made it a goal to find all of the 11 conifer species occurring naturally in the Lake Tahoe Basin. It took some effort, some good references (Arno 1973, Graf 1999, Lanner 1999, and Peterson 1975), and the help of an especially knowledgeable associate at the U.S.D.A. Forest Service headquarters in South Lake Tahoe, but I succeeded in my quest and later wrote two posts covering the Lake Tahoe conifers (Trees of Lake Tahoe – The Pines, Trees of Lake Tahoe – The “Other” Conifers). In the first of the posts covering the six species of pines, I added the following footnote:
Two additional species of pine – Washoe pine (Pinus washoensis) and single-leaf pinyon pine (P. monophylla) – are often treated as occurring in the Lake Tahoe area. However, they are of sporadic occurrence on the eastern slopes of Mount Rose, and thus do not occur within the Tahoe Basin proper.
Of these, I am quite familiar with single-leaf pinyon pine. Widespread on isolated mountain ranges throughout the Great Basin into eastern and southern California and Baja California Norte, I have encountered it during many of my field trips out west and reared a number of buprestid species from its tough, scrubby branches (including 2 specimens of the rarely encountered Phaenops piniedulis). The other species, Washoe pine, was a new one on me, and it is, in fact, the second-rarest species of pine in all of North America (Torrey pine, Pinus torreyana, being the rarest). Well, that was all it took to make me commit to finding this species on this year’s return to Lake Tahoe.
Washoe pine cones surround a larger Jeffrey pine cone.
Washoe pine grows only in a few locations, primarily in northern California with the best stands found in the Warner Mountains in Modoc County. In the Tahoe area, Washoe pine grows only on the eastern slope of Mt. Rose in Nevada, where it is limited to the upper reaches of Galena Creek (Graf 1999, Lanner 1999). It is apparently very similar to Jeffrey pine (P. jeffreyi) – the most common pine in the Tahoe area – but seems to be more closely related to ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa), which occurs at lower elevations and barely makes it up to the Tahoe area (some authorities even question the distinctiveness of this species, instead considering it a high elevation variety of ponderosa pine). All three species are 3-needled and grow into tall, pyramidal trees with widely spaced horizontal branches. Like ponderosa pine, the bark of mature trees forms broad yellowish plates separated by black fissures (the bark of Jeffrey pine is often more reddish with plate more narrowly separated). The resin of Washoe pine is also chemically similar to that of ponderosa pine, both of which differ from the heptane-producing resin of Jeffrey pine. However, Washoe pine cones more closely resemble those of Jeffrey pine, being somewhat smaller but sharing the “inward-curved” prickles on the scale tips that make them easy to handle (those of ponderosa pine point outwards, making them very prickly to handle).
Ponderosa (L) and Washoe (R) pine cones. Note smaller size and outward-pointing spines of ponderosa pine cone.
Jeffrey (L) and Washoe (R) pine cones. Both have inward-pointing spines, but Washoe pine cone is smaller and more loosely built.
None of my references had any specific locality information for Washoe pine beyond what I’ve stated above, but a little bit of Google snooping through conservation action plan documents revealed that the species occurred at Galena Creek Park, so early in the morning daughter Madison and I made the one-hour drive from South Lake Tahoe to the park. Arriving at the park, I was disappointed to find nobody manning the headquarters, no maps in the park information board – indeed, no information whatsoever about the occurrence of Washoe pine within the park and where it might be found. The only clue that there was something special about the pines at this place were the wooden signs around the parking and picnic areas stating “Collection of pine cones prohibited.” I reasoned that it would be very difficult to distinguish the species by its needles, bark, or form, but that the pine cones should be easier to distinguish. I also had no idea whether the pines would occur close to the parking area or if we would need to hike into the area to find them. So, we just began picking up pine cones. For a time, all of the pine cones seemed to be typical Jeffrey pine (abundant in the area) with an occasional ponderosa pine (just making up the 6,200′ of elevation in this area). Ever concerned that I might be missing a subtle difference, I studied each “Jeffrey” pine cone carefully looking for any reason to regard it as truely smaller than normal. Within about 15 minutes, however, we found it! Picking up the pine cone, it had the compact build and inward-pointing spines of a Jeffrey pine, but it was smaller and a little more loosely built. I looked at the trees above and could see no difference from what I would expect for a Jeffrey pine. Further looking revealed numerous cones of the same type – each tree we found them under was otherwise indistinguishable from Jeffrey pine (at least to this eastern U.S.-based wannabe botanist). Nevertheless, it was clear that we had found Washoe pine, and that it was quite abundant within this small watershed that we were exploring. Jeffrey pine was also common in the watershed, and an occasional ponderosa pine could be found. I took photos of mature individuals of each of the three species, identified conclusively by way of the cones found underneath them, to show how similar in appearance the three species are.
Madison and I later hiked out of the watershed into the higher elevations of Mt. Rose (from where these ants were photographed) – we noticed that almost immediately upon hiking out of the watershed the Washoe and ponderosa pines disappeared, and only Jeffrey pines were seen. Although I have seen it many times before, I was still hoping to see single-leaf pinyon pine, but none were seen.
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.