Last fall, my good friend Richard Thoma and I visited “Snake Road” is a famous snake viewing area in southern Illinois—part of the LaRue-Pine Hills/Otter Pond Research Natural Area. Early October is prime season for viewing snakes there, principally northern cottonmouths (a.k.a. water moccasins—Agkistrodon piscivorus) as they move from the wetlands on the west side of the road to the towering limestone bluffs on the east side seeking crevices in which to shelter for the winter. With a string of cool nights and sunny skies and a forecasted high of 78°F, we couldn’t have picked a better day to look for them.
We arrived a little after 9am, so conditions were still a bit too cool for the snakes. Shafts of morning sunlight streaming through the trees were a sight to behold, and we used the opportunity to notice some plants that we’d not seen before, including two species of goldenrod—i.e., Solidago caesia (bluestem goldenrod) and S. flexicaulis (broadleaved or zigzag goldenrod), Decodon verticillatus (swamp loosestrife), and Laportea canadensis (wood nettle). I noticed small green berry-like structures on some of the latter, which I at first took to be fruits, but something about them said “gall” and I cut one open to find a small insect larva inside verifying this to be the case. I presume this to gall to have been caused by Dasineura investita (wood nettle gall midge) in the family Cecidomyidae.
As we hiked south along the road (closed to automobiles during spring and fall to protect the migrating snakes), and especially when temperatures climbed above 70°F, we began looking in earnest for snakes, reasoning that they might best be found by searching along the base of the bluffs and in nearby crevices. We searched one particularly promising rock ledge without success, then encountered a spring draining from the main bluffs and followed it to the base, where we split up and looked along the base in both directions. My direction took me around a bend and up the hillside, with many nice-looking crevices but no snakes in them, and when I reached to top of the exposed bluff face I turned back and retraced my steps. Just after reaching the bottom I noticed movement near where I’d taken a step, and there it was—a gorgeously-marked juvenile cottonmouth! I called Rich over, and together we spent about a half-hour taking turns trying to get the perfect photograph of the snake while trying to minimize the degree to which we disturbed it (lest it make a dash for the nearest crevice, or worse yet, take a lunge at one of us). The majority of the photos shown here are of this individual, and the only photo I wish I would have gotten was one with a fully-extended, flickering tongue.
Our spirits buoyed by the experience, we bushwhacked back to the road and almost immediately encountered not one but two fully mature individuals—both having already lost the distinctive patterning seen on the juvenile but beautiful nonetheless. We spent more time photographing these as well, as we were able to get several great shots of the distinctly marked throat and mandible as they reared their heads in cautious defiance. I used the big camera exclusively for these shots, as they were much too large and I would have had to have gotten much too dangerously close to photograph them with my iPhone (look for photos to appear eventually on my natural history blog—‘Beetles in the Bush’).
Further south we found an exposed bluff face very close to the road, and several additional mature individuals were seen there—two deeply ensconced within their chosen crevice but one fully exposed (two photos here) who even cooperated by gaping his mouth in alarm to show off the cottony-pink tissues inside.
In all, we would see nine individuals by the time we hiked to the southern parking lot and turned around, and on the way back, not trying nearly as hard and making a more direct line to the car, we would see another five individuals (two of which could have been individuals we’d seen on the way out) for a total of 14. We also watched in amazement as a tiny juvenile eastern yellow-bellied racer (Coluber constrictor flaviventris) chased down a fly on the road before dashing back towards the forest, and we were particularly amused by a nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) who lumbered stupidly out of the underbrush straight towards us, completely unaware of our presence until Rich made a sudden movement with his hand that sent the little brute scurrying back into the underbrush.
Almost as we reached the car, we found a ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) stretched out across the road. Snake sightings notwithstanding, the return hike back to the car was not nearly as enjoyable as the hike out, as by this time quite a number of other people had shown up and we no longer had the place to ourselves. I can only imagine what it must be like here during the weekend! Nevertheless, we couldn’t have imagined a more successful and enjoyable outing than the one we experienced today.
Welcome to the 11th “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a very short (4 days) trip to northwestern Oklahoma on May 3–7, 2022. My collecting partner for this trip was long-time friend and hymenopterist Mike Arduser. Mike is one of the best natural historians that I know and, like me, has a special love for the often overlooked beauty of western Oklahoma and its fascinating insect fauna. It had been 13 years, however—too long, in my opinion, since our last joint field trip when we sampled the bee (Mike) and beetle (me) fauna at The Nature Conservancy’s Four Canyon Preserve in Ellis Co. Thus, I was happy for the chance to once again spend some time in the field with such a knowledgeable naturalist in an area we that both know and love.
Day 1 – Gloss Mountain State Park (Major Co.) It took most of the day to get here—Tulsa threw us a couple of obstacles in the form of a construction-mediated wrong turn and a motorcycle engulfed in flames. I’ve been to Gloss Mountain a number of times, but never this early in the season. Skies were sunny (unlike St. Louis when we left this morning), but temps didn’t get much above 60°F and even dropped down into the upper 50s before we finished up at sunset.
Surprisingly, despite the earliness of the season and cool temps, beating was quite productive. Working the low areas around the parking lot, I beat a fair number and diversity of beetles and hemipterans—mostly chrysomelids—but only a single Agrilus sp. off of Prosopis glandulosa.
I knew there were other trees, principally Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) and Sapindus drummondii (soapberry), on top of the mesa and wanted to see if anything was on them. Bingo! Even before reaching the top, I beat a few Agrilus (several spp.) from the Celtis, and up on top I beat quite a few more off the same. There were also additional mesquite trees up top, off which I again beat a single Agrilus sp. along with a few other things, notably a series of ceresine treehoppers. The Sapindus was just starting to leaf out, and I found nothing by beating them other than a single ceresine. A notable find was the pile of larval frass of Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer) at the base of a living Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree—a sure sign of active infestation by a beetle I have yet to formally record from this place.
On the way back down from the top, we hit the sunset perfectly as it “touched” a peak in the foreground! Despite my success here this evening, Mike saw no bees of interest on the few flowers that were found due to the cold temps and chilling winds, so tomorrow we will continue west hoping for warmer conditions on the western edge of Oklahoma.
Back in town, we searched for an open sit-down restaurant—fruitlessly because of the late hour—and ended up with a mediocre breakfast burrito from a fast food shop I’ve never been to before. The local Buick dealership, however, with its 1950s neon lights shining brightly in the night sky, was a taste of Americana that makes these trips so enjoyable. Life on the road!
Day 2 – Black Mesa State Park (Cimmaron Co.) Welp! We awoke this morning to cold temps (low 60s), thick fog, and low hanging clouds, and the forecast for the area showed essentially no improvement through at least the day. Our plan had been to hit a spot about an hour southwest before heading back north to Beaver Dunes State Park, but the forecast for both those areas also was cold and wet. It was not until we looked at the forecast for Black Mesa—our last planned stop of the trip and a 4½-hour-drive to the west—that the forecast seemed to be in our favor, so we decided to blast on out there. We figured we would get there at about 2:00 pm and could spend the rest of the day there collecting, camp there tonight, and start heading back east tomorrow (assuming the forecast improved for the areas we missed).
Wrong! When we got there, it was not only cloudy and cold, but dry as a bone! Even if it had been sunny with warmer temps, there still would not have been any insect activity to speak of. The leaves of oaks and hackberries in the area were just barely starting to break bud, and the only flowers we saw at the park were a large willow in full bloom—but not a single insect visiting them. Knowing that there was no other place where conditions were better that we could drive to within the next couple of hours and collect for at least a short time, we instead decided to make it a hiking day and hike the High Point Trail at nearby Black Mesa Nature Preserve.
Black Mesa Nature Preserve (Cimmaron Co.) When we arrived and looked at the signage, we learned that the hike to the oracle at the official high point would be a more than 8-mile hike! Just reaching the top of the mesa itself would be a more than 3-mile-hike, with the high point another mile on top. Not knowing if we had the appetite for such a distance (or time to do it before sunset) and with the wind cold and biting, we started out anyway and gave ourselves permission to turn around at any point if we felt like it.
Nevertheless, we persevered. We checked the cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata) along the way hoping to see Coenopoeus palmeri (one of the cactus longhorns, which I’m not sure has been recorded from Oklahoma) or at least one of the more widespread Moneilema species, but none were seen (nor really expected). The trail up the side of the mesa was steep and spectacular, and the trail atop the mesa was surreal—especially given the cold winds and low-hanging clouds. Eventually, we made it to the official high point and enjoyed the fun facts carved into each side of the granite obolisk marking the spot.
Coming back down was not much easier than going up, the steepness of the trail jamming my toes into the toe box of my new hiking boots (which performed admirably!), but I did find an insect—a largish black weevil torpidly crawling on the trail. Even on the relatively level lower portion of the trail once we got there was difficult, our legs really starting to feel the miles now. As we hiked the last mile back to the car, the temperature continued to plummet as it started to sprinkle, turning to rain soon after we reached the car and then heavy rain as we headed down the highway back to the east. The irony of the situation—rain coming to a parched landscape just when we are ready to leave—did not escape us. We’ll spend the night in Boise City and hope for a better forecast tomorrow!
Day 3 – Beaver Dunes State Park (Beaver Co.) Temps were down in the mid-40s when we awoke this morning, but skies were sunny and we were heartened by a promising forecast of continued sun and highs in the low to mid-60s. Our first destination—Beaver Dunes—was a relatively short 2-hour drive further east, and when we arrived sunny skies still prevailed. Unfortunately, temps still hovered in the mid-50s with a biting wind that made using the beating sheet difficult to impossible.
That said, I managed to beat a fair series of Agrilus spp. (probably mostly one species) and a few other beetles off living Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) dotting the roadside along the entrance to the Picnic Area. Under the main group of hackberries I noticed new growth of Cucurbita foetedissima (buffalo gourd) along with last year’s dead stems. I’ve never collected Dorcasta cinerea (a longhorn beetle that utilizes buffalo gourd as a larval host), so I began splitting open the old stems to see if I could find unemerged adults. I didn’t, but what I did note inside the stems was evidence of boring by some insects and, eventually, the tiniest little scolytine bark beetles that I’ve ever seen. They were always found right at the node, usually in pairs (perhaps male and female?), and I ended up collecting a series of about a dozen specimens from two different stems.
Also in the main group of hackberries, I noticed a dead branch hanging from the tree, which had fallen but gotten snagged on a lower branch to remain off the ground. The branch was obviously infested and showed a few emergence holes indicative of both buprestids and cerambycids, and when I broke into it I found two unemerged adult Agrilus (different species), which caused me to cut and bundle the branch to being back for rearing. At the entrance, I went to examine the stand of yellow flowers that greeted our arrival, determining them to be Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus (smallflower desert-chicory, Texas false dandelion). While I was on the ground photographing the flowers, I noticed a red and black hister beetle that proved to be Margarinotus bipustulatus—aptly named considering the two red maculations on the elytra. I also noticed a couple of tiger beetle larval burrows in the hard-packed sandy soil and found a long, thin plant stem to “fish” the larvae out. I managed to snag the larva in one of the burrows, which I believe is Tetracha carolina (Carolina metallic tiger beetle) by virtue of the thin white margin around the prothorax and the open habitat in which the larval burrow occurred. If this is true, then it is a second instar because it is slightly smaller than a typical Cicindela sp. third-instar larva.
Afterwards, I went over to the dunes to see if Mike had found anything, but temps were still too cold to see anything flying. He did, however, show me an interesting stand of Penstemon that he’d found and that we determined to be P. fendleri (Fendler’s penstemon). The plants were all on the north side of the dune in apparently protected spots, and I noted that on iNaturalist our observation was the northernmost record for the species (save one suspicious, disjunct Colorado record).
On the way back to the car, I beat a few more beetles off living Celtis reticulata. By now, we’d seen all we needed to see here and decided to head southeast to one of the Brachys barberi locations (that were the reason for this trip in the first place).
5 mi E of Harmon (Ellis Co.) This
Recently, another coleopterist collected Brachys barberi—more typically a southwestern species—on Quercus harvardii (shinnery oak) at this spot. I’ve not managed to find the species myself yet, and as it was collected on May 3rd last year I hoped the timing would be right. Quercus havardii dominated the landscape at this spot, mostly as thick stands of low-growing shrubs but also as a copse of small trees.
At first, I swept the lowest-growing plants, collecting a variety of mostly chrysomelids and curculionids and even one Agrilus sp., before moving to beating along the sunny edges of the patches of taller shrubs and collecting similar species (but no Agrilus sp.). Just to the north, I noticed a stand of individuals tall enough to be considered trees (presumably a clonal stand) and began beating them. Immediately I began collecting not only the chrysomelids and curculionds that I was collecting before, but also several Agrilus spp. and what must be Agrilaxia texana—a species represented in my cabinet by just two specimens that I collected in northeastern Texas way back in 1984.
I worked nearly the full perimeter of the copse, noticing that most of the beetles were being collected only on the south-facing sunny (and leeward) side. When I was just about ready to call it quits, a much larger black and yellow beetle landed on the sheet. For an instant I thought it was a lycid, but it moved characteristically like a longhorned beetle, and I quickly realized that I had collected Elytroleptus floridanus—a quite rare southeastern U.S. species that I have only seen once before when I reared a single individual from dead oak that I collected in the Missouri bootheel (and representing a new state record). I wasn’t sure the species had ever been recorded from Oklahoma, so I found Gryzmala’s revision of the genus online and saw that it had been previously recorded from the state—but all the way over on the east side near the border of Arkansas. All records from Texas as well are from the eastern side of the state, so today’s capture appears to represent a significant northwestern extension of the species’ known geographic range by about 300 miles!
Sadly, I never saw Brachys barberi, but collecting Elytroleptus floridanus (in Oklahoma!) was a pretty good consolation prize.😊
Day 4 – Prologue (“Good to Go” coffee shop) We awoke to bright sunny skies, and though a tad chilly it was still warmer than the previous mornings and with a good forecast to boot! It would take about an hour to drive to the day’s collecting spot—the one and only Gloss Mountain State Park (where we visited briefly a few days ago to start the trip), but not until after an unexpected and hilariously bizarre experience at a coffee shop in town called “Good to Go”.
Mike was the first to notice the velociraptor in the lounge—saddled up for a ride! Okay, that’s cute. Then he noticed the sign on the outdoor display that read “Stegosaurs roamed the Earth about 5,000 years ago.” At first I thought, okay, they’re a little confused on the timeline, but what they’re trying to say is that dinosaurs lived a long time ago.
Then I noticed a granite plaque in the background that clearly read “The Holy Bible”, and it dawned on me that we had entered a creationist’s den! Had we not already ordered our coffee, I might have surreptitiously tiptoed my long-haired hippy butt out of there before somebody pointed at me and began slowly chanting “Lucifer!”
Once we were outside the shop, our coffee secured and the need for hushed tones no longer muffling our reactions, we took a quick walk with the dinosaurs to admire their seeming scientific accuracy. I was impressed with the T. rex in particular, it’s body axis realistically horizontal with the tail straight and strong—not the lumbering, upright, tail-dragging version that I learned about as a kid. At least they were accepting some of the current body of scientific evidence on dinosaurs and ignoring only that dealing with their age—or so I thought…
The stegosaur as well appeared to be fairly accurately rendered, its tail also straight and strong and a youngster trailing closely behind, until I noticed something atop the adult—an angel riding it! ‘God’s creatures big and small’, I guess.
The coup de grace was the information plaque behind the stegosaur. Rather than providing information on dinosaurs, I was instead treated to a barrage of hilariously unsupported claims advocating the idea that humans and dinosaurs once lived together. Each “factoid” on the plaque was more bizarre and quotable than the one before. Did you know that the adult stegosaur probably died 4,000 years ago in the Great Flood, but that the baby—happily—likely survived by getting a ride on the Ark with Noah! And all that scientific evidence that pinpoints the Cretaceous extinction to 65 million years ago? Apparently it has merely been fabricated as part of a global conspiracy because scientists just don’t want to agree with the Bible. I just about lost it, however, when I reached “It is uncertain if humans ever rode Dinosaurs, but there is overwhelming evidence that humans saw living dinosaurs.” I mean—What?!
Our unplanned morning entertainment now done, we hit the road for our next—and final—collecting spot for the trip.
Gloss Mountain State Park (Major Co.) We arrived at about 10 am with a plan to spend the rest of the day there—whether the collecting was good or bad, this would be our final stand. We hiked up to the mesa, stopping at an accessible spot about halfway up to work the trees (me) or set out pan traps (Mike). Beating the Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) yielded a similar assortment of beetles as last time—a couple of Agrilus spp. along with the occasional chrysomelid or curculionoid and a few other beetles, and the same was true with Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite), with the exception that I did not find any Agrilus this time.
Atop the mesa, I decided to do an entire perimeter hike—something I’ve always wanted to do but never actually accomplished. The idea was to beat all of the C. reticulata, P. glandulosa, and Sapindus drummondii (soapberry) that I could find in an effort to “leave no stone unturned” in my quest for beetles. Soon after starting out, I saw a nice Pasimachus elongatus ground beetle running across the mesa top and “forced” it to cooperate for photos by pinning a hind tarsus to the ground with my finger tip (barely visible in the upper left side of the photo). I collected it, as well as another that I saw a short distance away, and then proceeded with the beatings! Beating the C. reticulata was quite productive, with perhaps three Agrilus spp. and numerous other beetles being collected off of nearly every tree that I beat. Beating P. glandulosa also was productive for various beetles, though again no Agrilus were encountered. The biggest surprise came when I started beating S. drummondii, most of which were still in the earliest stages of leafing out. I got nothing from most of the trees (the majority of which were clustered in a small copse near the front of the mesa), but in the back part of the cluster were a couple of trees with noticeably more foliage—beating them yielded perhaps a dozen Agrilus limpiae, a soapberry specialist that I haven’t seen in numbers since 1986 when I collected a series on soapberry in south-central Kansas.
I rarely get anything beating Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia), but I beat most of the trees that I saw anyway and collected one cryptocephaline chrysomelid and two curculionoids. A single Eleodes hispilabris (apparently on its last leg) was seen near the north end of the mesa, which I photographed and collected, and on the way back I encountered a small patch of Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow) in bloom, from the flowers of which I collected a few small melyrid-type beetles and a small halictid bee for Mike. Also on the north part of the mesa I saw a young eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), who posed just long enough for me to get off a shot before blasting away from my approaching lens.
Throughout the hike atop the mesa I kept my eye out for “new-to-me” plants (of which there are many), finding for the first time Toxicodendron rydbergii (western poison ivy) and blooming individuals of Chaetopappa ericoides (rose heath). Physaria gordonii (Gordon’s bladderpod)—a relative of the federally threatened P. filiformis (Missouri bladderpod)—was blooming abundantly atop the mesa. At this point, Mike and I rejoined and relayed to each other our more notable findings. For Mike’s part, he had seen a couple of cacti that I had missed—Escobaria missouriensis (Missouri foxtail cactus) and Echinocereus reichenbachii perbellus (black lace cactus)—and took me to the spots where he had seen them. While retracing our steps, we also found Gaillardia suavis (pincushion daisy, perfumeballs) and the strikingly beautiful Penstemon cobaea (cobaea beardtongue, prairie beardtongue, foxglove penstemon).
By this time, I had been on the mesa top for five hours, and even though temperatures were mild (mid-70s) I desperately needed food and water. Mike, for his part, had also had a wildly successful day with bees, capturing many at the flowers and many more in the various pan traps (both in top and halfway up the slope). I descended the steep slope with its mixture of metal steps, cut rock, and wooden planks and enjoyed a quick feast of sardines and Triscuits (a decades-long bug-collecting-trip staple) washed down with Gatorade before getting back to work on the mesquite around the parking lot. I was committed to trying to find Agrilus on the plants—a single individual of which I’d beaten from the plants three days earlier, and after beating several plants and seeing none (but collecting a great number of clytrine and cryptocephaline chrysomelids along with other insects) I finally found one! I continued to work the trees and collect primarily chrysomelids, but no more Agrilus were seen. I am hopeful that it will be a southwestern species not currently known from Oklahoma—a situation I have found with several other Prosopis-associated beetles in this part of northwestern Oklahoma.
I hadn’t intended to work any additional Prosopis beyond the road into the parking lot, but there were a few particularly large trees along the front of the park next to the highway rest stop. The first one I beat yielded a very large cryptocephaline that I had not seen on any of the other Prosopis, so I continued beating them and collected a nice series along with a few other clytrines, pachybrachines, and curculionoids. At the furthest point west, I recalled having seen during a previous visit a western diamondback rattlesnake a bit further to the west, so I continued to the spot hoping to see another. No such luck, so I tiptoed through the tall grass back to safety and made my way back to the car to wrap up seven and a half hours of collecting on a spectacular day—sadly, the last of the trip!
Epilogue This trip was just a warm-up. In just over one week, I will head out again—this time to western Texas and southern Arizona for sure, and maybe elsewhere depending on how things go. At three weeks, it will be the longest collecting trip I’ve done since I went to South Africa in 1999 and Ecuador 10 years before that. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with a number of other coleopterists at various points during the trip—Jason Hansen, Joshua Basham, and Tyler Hedlund in Texas, and Norm Woodley and Steve Lingafelter in Arizona. If there is time, I may stop off at a place or two in northeastern New Mexico and at Black Mesa on the way back. Look for an iReport on that trip sometime in early-mid June!
Some years ago, I wrote about the skulls on my desk, asserting that any scientist worth their salt should have at least one. My skulls, however—six of them until recently, are not just “ordinary” modern human skulls (much as I would love to have one), but rather replicas of famous fossil hominid skulls and crania. It has been a while since I’ve added to my collection, but Santa was good to me this past Christmas, bringing me a replica of the “La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1” skull of Homo neanderthalensis, and for today’s birthday my wife gave me a replica of the “Toumaï” cranium of Sahelanthropus tchadensis.
The “La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1” skull was discovered in 1908 in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France and is thought to be about 50,000–60,000 years old. It was the most complete Neanderthal skull at the time it was discovered and had a brain capacity exceeding 1600 cc—more than most modern humans. Unfortunately, initial reconstructions of Neanderthal anatomy based on la Chapelle-aux-Saints material depicted the species with thrust-forward skulls, stooped posture, bent hips and knees, and a divergent big toe—reinforcing existing synonymy of the term “Neanderthal” with brutality and savagery. The errors were eventually corrected, but only after decades had passed, and even today this unfair characterization lingers still among the general public.
This particular individual was a male, probably around 40 years of age at the time of his death, and in poor health. He had lost most of his teeth and was suffering from resorption of bone in the mandible and arthritis. This has been widely cited as an example of Neanderthal altruism, since with most of his teeth missing he would have been unable to process his own food. Later studies, however, have shown that the La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 individual still had enough teeth in place to chew his own food, although perhaps with some difficulty (Tappen 1985).
Sahelanthropus tchadensis was formally described in 2002 based on cranial remains of at least six individuals dated to about 6–7 million years ago during the Miocene epoch. “Toumaï” is the most complete of all the cranial remains, although it was crushed and badly deformed. To date, all the fossils found of Sahelanthropus have come from a small area of northern Chad.
The age of Sahelanthropus puts it around the time of the human-chimpanzee last common ancestor (HCLCA). At the time it was described, only cranial fragments were included in the original description, and the position of the opening for the spinal chord was used to infer that the species walked upright. However, a femur was also found alongside the cranium but was placed with animal bones and excluded from the original analysis. Later analysis of the femur concluded that Sahelanthropus was not bipedal (Macchiarelli et al. 2020), putting its status as a possible relative of the HCLCA into doubt. One alternative possibility that has been raised is that Sahelanthropus is not ancestral to either humans or chimpanzees, but rather to gorillas—a no less significant possibility since fossils attributed to the presumed gorilla lineage at this time consist only of teeth dating to about 10 million years ago.
Tappen, N. C. 1985. The dentition of the “Old Man” of La Chapelle-aux-Saints and inferences concerning Neanderthal behavior. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 67(1):43–50. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330670106
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 “Excellenter” Adventure.
This is the ninth “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a 10-day trip to western Texas from April 27 to May 6, 2021 with friend and local collecting buddy Rich Thoma. Rich and I have done many shorter collecting trips (up to five days) throughout Missouri and in the neighboring states of Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma (in fact, our first joint trip was to Barber County, Kansas way back in May 1986!). This trip, however, was our first truly long one together—10 days of collecting plus a travel day on each end. To take full advantage of the amount of time we had, we chose western Texas; an area that I have visited several times from the mid-90s through 2004 but not since. We wanted to make the trip during early to mid-May, but scheduling conflicts forced us to go earlier. I reasoned that even if it was a bit too early in the season, I could still collect infested wood for rearing—as I did with great success during my April 2004 trip. For Rich, who is more of a general insect collector, the trip provided him an opportunity for extended collecting in an area that he’d not previously spent a lot of time.
Day 1 – Monahans State Park, Shin Oak Picnic Area First stop of the trip. I was hoping to see beetles on flowers and maybe some tiger beetles, but unfortunately the area hasn’t had any rain yet this spring (according to the ranger). The mesquite was in bloom, but the only beetles I beat from it were a few tiny weevils. A few other plants were in bloom, but only one—Hymenopappus flavescens—had beetles on it (mordellids, which I picked up for Enrico Ruzzier). After a lot of walking I noticed Quercus havardii (shin oak) with flagged branches of dead leaves—a bit of investigation revealed it had been attacked by what must be Chrysobothris mescalero, so I collected as many flagged branches as I could find (7 total) and will bring them back for rearing.
Monahans State Park, Sandhills Picnic Area The big dunes are in this area. We didn’t expect to see any insects but brought our nets anyway. As we were walking the ridge we saw two grouse-like birds in the distance. We tracked them for a bit before I decided to go back and get my binoculars. They kept us at bay, but eventually I was able to get close enough to get a good look at them—they turned out to be scaled quail, a new bird for me. We continued tracking them and eventually they were joined by two more individuals. Handsome birds!
Monahans State Park, Shin Oak Picnic Area After going into town and picking up some dinner, we came back out to the park and setup the ultraviolet lights. I didn’t have much optimism based on the lack of insect activity we saw during the day, but the temperatures were still plenty warm (well into the 80s) and we had nothing better to do. We returned to the Shin Oak Picnic Area since it had a mix of open and more vegetated dunes. Glad we did because two male Prionus arenarius, one Megacyllene antennata, and a tiny, unidentified elaphidiine came to the lights. I also found two small darkling beetles crawling on the sand nearby. I searched the surrounding sand hoping to find more males looking for females, or perhaps even a female herself, but found none. Wolf spiders, however, were common on the sand, their glowing eyes drawing attention beyond their abundance. I guess they are a species of Hogna, but I’m not certain—I photographed two individuals. Also got a large bostrichid (Apatides fortis?) at the light. Before we took down the lights, Rich called me over to see a tiny, slender, worm-like snake that we eventually determined was one of the blind snakes (Leptotyphlum sp.)—definitely a first for me.
Day 2 – Toyahyale We stopped here on a tip from Jason Hansen and Tyler Hedlund, who swept good numbers of Agrilus cochisei off of Ambrosia psilostachya (western ragweed)—albeit, a few weeks later during May. I found the plants, but they were very small and low to the ground. Nevertheless, adults could be swept abundantly from the plants, and I was able to take good photos of singles and a mating pair with the big camera (iPhone photo here just to show what they loook like). Also got a single specimen of an apparently undescribed Acmaeodera sp. while sweeping for A. cochisei and one of two A. cochisei adults that I saw on flowers of Sphaeralcea sp.
Davis Mountains, 15.8 mi NE Ft. Davis We stopped here to look for the undescribed species of Acmaeodera, which Jason had found in good numbers during May on blooms of Lygodesmia and Convolvulus. Both plants were present, but neither was in bloom. Still, I found one adult on flowers of Verbina sp. and swept another from roadside vegetation. Ambrosia polystachia (western ragweed) was also present—I looked visually for Agrilus cochisei and did not see any, but I did get one adult and a couple of cryptocephalines in the sweeping that produced the second Acmaeodera.
Day 3 – Point of Rocks Roadside Park The weather turned decidedly cool in the Davis Mountains—first time I’ve ever frozen camping out on a collecting trip. The high temps are expected to stay in the 50s to 60s with a chance of rain for the next few days, so we decided to head down to the Big Bend area where there is still a chance of rain but warmer temps (up to the high 70s). Maybe we’ll come back to this area next week. Before leaving, however, I wanted to check the Quercus vasseyana (vassey oak) at Point of Rocks, where in the past I collected a good series of Mastogenius texanus even earlier in April (it was actually undescribed at the time). I’ve also collected Elytroleptus lycid-mimicking cerambycids on soapberry flowers here in June, although I knew the soapberry would not be in bloom. There was nothing on the oaks, but I did collect a few miscellaneous beetles beating Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) and found one vassey oak branch with evidence of wood-boring beetle larval feeding and which I collected for rearing.
17 mi S Alpine This is the first of two picnic areas along Hwy 118 going south from Alpine towards Big Bend National Park. There are lots of big Quercus vasseyana and Q. grisea here, so I stopped to see if I could find any infested wood. Bingo—one of the Q. grisea had a dead branch hanging from it that looked recently dead, and breaking apart a few of its smaller branches revealed fresh larval workings of some kind of buprestid (perhaps Polycesta arizonica). I cut of the branch and will bring back the bundle for rearing.
26 mi S Alpine This is the second of two picnic areas south of Alpine on Hwy 118 towards Big Bend National Park. Rich and I have both stopped here before, and Rich brought back infested wood (apparently Juglans sp.) from which I reared Chrysobothris comanche, so that was the plan again unless we saw active insects. We did not, so I scanned the trees and found a small Celtis laevigata (sugarberry) that had recently died—the bark was peeling, but there were no emergence holes that I could see. I started chopping into the trunk wood and quickly encountered a large buprestid larvae in its “pre-pupal fold”. This could be Texania fulleri based on host and location, so I cut a couple of bolts from the trunk to bring back for rearing. The branches also showed fresh larval workings, so I cut up one along with its smaller branchlets to also bring back for rearing.
3.3 mi W of Hwy 118 on Agua Fria Rd. Last stop of the day, which I was told could have water with tiger beetles. The creekbed was bone dry, and I collected but a single Chrysobothris sp. beating Prosopis glandulosa in flower—amazing given the proliferation of wildflowers that were in bloom. We did find a nautiloid/ammonite-type fossil in the bone-dry creekbed, which Rich says is of Cretaceous origin based on clam fossils in the underlying layer, and I tracked a common poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) for a little bit, eventually getting close enough for the rare iPhone bird photo. Interesting position it assumed upon landing with its wings outstretched above its back.
Big Bend Ranch State Park, West Contrabondo Campground We arrived in Study Butte with just enough time to check into a motel and get dinner before heading out to Big Bend Ranch State Park. The drive through the park was incredible as we searched for a spot to setup the lights. After finding such spot, however, we were greeted as we got out of the car by a stiff, chilly wind. I knew there was no point in going through the trouble to setup, so instead we drove further down the 2-track to an amazing scenic overlook into an impressive box canyon. Words cannot describe the contortions this acrophobiac took to find good position for these photos, but it was well worth the views.
Day 4 – Big Bend National Park, Boquillas Canyon Trail Well, the rain and cold continue to follow us. Rather than trying once again to drive somewhere else to escape, we decided to just sit this day out and visit the national park (not a bad Plan B!). Boquillas Canyon is an amazing slice through the rocks along the course of the Rio Grande River, and we hiked as far into the canyon as we could before sheet rock on the left and deep water on the right prevented any further progress. We saw only two insects—a tiger beetle larva that I “fished” out of one of the many larval burrows we saw (definitely Tetracha, and likely T. carolina) and a velvet ant (black head and pronotum, red abdomen).
Big Bend National Park, near Panther Junction Driving towards the Chisos Mountains after hiking the Boquillas Canyon Trail, we encountered this fine adult male Aphonopelmis hentzii (Texas tarantula) crossing the road.
Big Bend National Park, Chisos Basin, Window Trail After lunching at Panther Junction, we headed up the into the Chisos Mountains towards Chisos Basin. Heavy clouds shrouded the peaks, so we weren’t sure what we would encounter up there, and once in the cloud zone and then heading down into the basin we could hardly see anything. Suddenly the western side of the basin came into view, still overcast and drizzly but at least free from the heavy fog that shrouded the eastern half of the basin. That made our decision of which trail to hike easy—the Lost Mines Trail under heavy fog versus the Window Trail with semi-clear views. I’ve hiked the Window Trail several times, but the last time was 17 years ago, and Rich in his single attempt a year or two later did not make it to the “Window” due to an impatient 10-year old son in tow. The views on the way down the canyon were spectacular—not despite the rain and clouds but because of it. It is a rare opportunity to see richly moist desert mountains shrouded in mist. At one point on the way down, a Woodhouse’s scrub jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii) caught our attention—sitting very nearby in a tree before hopping down to the ground and nonchalantly pecking for bugs. Another soon joined him, first landing on a branch just a few feet above me and returning my captivated stare for a few moments before joining his mate on the trail ahead of us… followed shortly by a third individual. Their soft chirpings were a charming contrast to their more familiar raucous calls, and Rich and I soaked in the moment until they moved on. The trail is not an easy hike—nearly 7 miles round trip, dropping over a thousand feet on the way down, and then gaining over a thousand feet on the way back. The “Window,” however, is a sight to behold—a narrow gap in the rocks soaring high overhead with a view out onto the desert floor almost a thousand feet below. There is tempting danger at the window—its smooth, water-carved rocks are deceptively slippery even in dry conditions, and with the rain of the day they were especially so. I would not be surprised to learn that at least one person had made a fatal error in judging how close to the window one can get. They would have had plenty of time to think about that mistake on the way down! The views on the way back up were even more breathtaking, as fog enshrouded the high peaks towering above us. Periodically the sun attempted to push through the clouds, creating surreal lighting in a battle of sun versus rain, but eventually the rain won out and fell steadily on us for the last, switchback-laden mile back to the trailhead. As for insects, we actually did see some despite the rain—a few blister beetles resting torpidly on yellow composite flowers.
Day 5 – Big Bend National Park, Sotol Overlook We’re on our way to Santa Elena Canyon and stopped at this overlook. From a distance of 14 air miles, the canyon entrance looks like a tiny split in the rocks, belying the 1000-foot canyon walls that await us. Cacti were nicely in bloom, if a bit rain battered—two species of yellow-flowered Opuntia (pricklypear) and the always extraordinary pink flowers of Cylindropuntia imbricata (tree cholla). No insects were to be found, but we did find a live Orthoporus ornatus (desert millipede)—the first that we’ve seen on this trip—who obliged us by coiling into its classic defensive pose.
Big Bend National Park, Santa Elena Canyon From 14 air miles away, Santa Elena Canyon looks like a tiny split in a little cliff (see previous post). Up close, however, it’s soaring walls tower 1000 feet overhead! The hike into the canyon features a tortuous staircase to bypass a narrows, followed by a leisurely stroll along the canyon bottoms along the Rio Grande River. Rain last night has triggered an en masse millipede emergence, and even a few insects were seen: velvet ant; Acmaeodera mixta, Trichodes sp. and Gnathium sp. on yellow composite flowers; and Omorgus sp. crawling in the sand.
Big Bend National Park, Cerro Castellan (Castolon Peak) The layers visible in Cerro Castellan reveal millions of years of volcanic events. Stacked in this tower are several lava flows and volcanic tuffs (ash deposits), with layers of gravel and clay from periods of erosion between eruptions. Cerro Castellan’s cap rock is the same lava that formed the Chisos’ South Rim. The lighter orange and gray layers beneath are tuffs.
Big Bend National Park, Tuff CanyonTrail Some of the oldest layers of volcanic rocks lie at the bottom of Tuff Canyon. It is dry most of the time, but summer thunderstorm runoff churns through the canyon, cutting it deeper. This canyon is narrower and deeper than most others in Big Bend, partly because the light gray volcanic tuff is relatively cohesive. Swift, powerful floodwaters will cut down through any kind of bedrock, but the tuff is better able to resist the widening effects of sideward erosion.
4.6 mi W of Langtry After leaving Big Bend National Park we started making our way towards the Del Rio area in Val Verde Co., where we plan to meet up tomorrow with a few other beetle collectors (Dan Heffern, Brian Raber, and Ed Riley). I noted that our path took us right by the type locality of the recently described tiger beetle, Amblycheila katzi. I didn’t have much hope of actually seeing the species, given that the season seems to have even really started yet and the earliest record of the species is the 23rd of May. Nevertheless, since we happened by the spot right as dusk was falling it seems a good idea to at least try. First we walked the limestone 2-track just to see what was out and about (just a few darkling beetles), then we started checking the limestone ledges where the tiger beetle can be found. We checked about 100 m of ledge without seeing any, and I was about ready to call it a night when we finally spotted one. It was running in a seam about 2 m above the ground and was unmistakable. My attempt tiger an in situ photo failed at first, and it almost escaped deep into a crevice before I pulled out my long forceps and pulled him out by a tarsus. It gave me a healthy pinch when I grabbed it while fumbling in my pack for a bottle, but eventually I prevailed. Later on I placed it back on the ledge and covered it with the Nalgene bottle cap, waited for it to calm down, then carefully lifted the cap and got a couple of shots before it began scurrying again. We checked another 50 m of ledge without seeing any and decided to call it a night.
Day 6 – Comstock (prologue) The owner of the motel in which we stayed was super friendly and kind enough to leave a key in the door for our very late arrival last night. Settling up this morning, I saw this on the wall (right next to his vaccination card—two doses) and just had to get a pic. He was only too happy to oblige when I told him how awesome it was and could I get a picture. Hey, no reason to reveal true political leanings if it means we can all just get along.
Amistad National Recreation Area, Spur 406 Campground A quick stop here on the way to meet up with Dan, Brian, and Ed near Devil’s River. There were lots of dead and dying Acacia constricta (whitethorn acacias), off of which I beat a diversity of cerambycids and buprestids from both the dead and dying branches. I found one small sapling of the same with evidence of fresh woodboring beetle larval feeding, so I collected it as well for rearing. Other than that I just collected a few weevils off of living Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) for weevil-specialist Bob Anderson.
Devils River near Dry Devils River We met up with Dan, Brian, and Ed north of Del Rio and, after exchanging peasantries, followed them into a private resort surrounding a stretch of the Devils River*—considered by some to be the most unspoiled river in Texas. Dan had arranged for access after befriending Dave Barker, a commercial herpetologist who had built a home on property overlooking the Devils River and also a guest cabin on property overlooking nearby Gold Mine Canyon. We met up at the cabin and then carpooled to a spot along the Devils River where Dan and Brian had placed a variety of traps that needed servicing. While they took care of that, Rich, Ed, and I collected in the area around where the traps had been placed. I started off beating dead branches of Vachellia farnesiana (huisache), sweeping blooming Salvia sp. (sage), and beating dead branches of Acacia rigidula (blackbrush acacia) down by the river but collected only a smattering of beetles. I then clambered up the rocks and found good numbers of Acmaeodera spp. visiting flowers of Echinocereus enneacanthus (strawberry cactus) and Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s pricklypear). After collecting my fill of those beetles, I returned to the riverbanks and noticed some large Carya illinoensis (pecan), from which I beat a few Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) sp. (hoping they are one of the recently described taxa). By then, Dan and Brian had finished servicing their traps and gave me a few specimens that had been collected in their ethanol-baited Lingren funnel trap.
* The accepted usage of the name is without an apostrophe, although the reason for this is a matter of debate.
After finishing along the Devils River, Dave invited us to his home for a few post-collecting beers. Spectacular views overlooking the river.
GoldMine Canyon We setup a variety of light stations at Dave’s cabin a little east of the river. It was warm and dry, so conditions were good, if a bit windy. My two ultraviolet light stations a bit north of the cabin ended up catching the lion’s share of cerambycids, although it was mostly elaphidiines and a Lepturges sp. We also picked up a few tenebrionids and a Carabidae crawling on the ground near the lights. Ed’s mercury vapor/ ultraviolet station on the road west of the cabin attracted a few more cerambycids, including a Lagocheirus sp. Dan, however, got the catch of the night—a Goes that came to Dan’s $6 battery-powered lantern on the road south of Ed’s station. We at first thought it might be G. novus, but that Dan later decided it was just a very lightly marked G. tesselatus. Zephyranthes chlorosolen (Brazos rain lily) blossoms were beautiful at night, their stark whiteness catching the beam of the headlamp.
Day 7 – Gold Mine Canyon Rich and I spent the morning walking the grounds around Dave’s cabin while the others packed up and got ready to leave. I found some oak (Quercus vasseyana) saplings infested with cerambycid larvae, which I cut and bundled to bring back for rearing. Acmaeodera were already coming to the flowers—a couple of small ones on an undetermined white composite, three different species on Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s pricklypear) and Echinocereus enneacanthus (strawberry cactus) flowers, and a couple on Coreopsis? flowers. I beat some of the Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon) looking for Spectralia robusta but did not find any. It got hotter than blazes real quick!
After Dan, Brian, and Ed left, Rich and I went down to the canyon entrance to beat on the oaks and Texas persimmons that dot the sides of the canyon. Nothing was on either plant, however, and I ended up again concentrating on the diversity of Acmaeodera that were coming to flowers of Coreopsis sp., Opuntia engelmannii, and an unidentified yellow composite. I did beat a single Cleridae off a dead branch of mesquite.
Devils Rivernear Dry Devils River After finishing at Gold Mine Canyon, we came back to the Devils River crossing near the first stop we made here for our final stop of the day. Temperatures had maxed out at 99°F! and I wasn’t too motivated to collect much more today, but when we arrived at the spot I noticed some declining Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore) with large emergence holes suggestive of Mallodon dasystomus and old fallen branches with the same suggestive of Polycesta elata. The tree with the Mallodon holes was much too large to cut (and embedded within a thicket of poison ivy), so I occupied myself by collecting a few more Acmaeodera off of Opuntia engelmannii flowers. As I walked the roadway I noticed more sycamore with some smaller trees in the grove that looked recently dead. One was dead from about three feet up and had buprestid workings under loose, peeling bark. I cut just above the live portion (3–4” diameter) and took three 4-ft sections of the trunk above that point, each cut showing internal galleries. If P. elata emerges from these pieces of wood I will be “elated” [Later edit: I did rear the species!].
Gold Mine Canyon For blacklighting tonight we decided to bring the lights down to the mouth of the canyon where we collected this afternoon so we could have acces to anything associated with the oaks. Unfortunately it was a much slower night than last night and cooled off quickly despite the high heat earlier in the day. I only got three cerambycids (one Ecyrus and two Aneflomorpha) and a few clerids at the lights. I also walked the jeep track leading to the mouth of the canyon and the main road outside and didn’t see anything until I almost got back, when I noticed a beetle sitting on the trail that looked a bit odd. When I picked it up I realized it was a buprestid in the genus Melanophila—what the heck?! Totally unexpected to see this beetle at night and especially on the ground instead of on a tree. I suppose it is one of the juniper-feeding species (since pine doesn’t occur here).
Day 8 – Gold Mine Canyon Our plan today was to head over to some spots further west in Val Verde Co., but before leaving the cabin we did a bit of walking around and took a last few photographs.
22 mi N Del Rio I had noted a few scattered plants of Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna) at this spot a couple of days ago when meeting up with Dan but didn’t have the chance to sample them for Agrilus obtusus—one of my target species for the trip. I found one on the second plant I checked, so I went back to the truck to get my big camera hoping to photograph one in situ. I didn’t see anything on the next plant, but when I tapped it over my net there was another one! I did that for the next hour or so—inspecting and tapping—and never saw another one. Rich did get one sweeping the S. roemeriana (in an area I’d already worked) and was gracious enough to give it to me. There were also tiny bruchids and clerids on the plant. Other than that I got a couple of Acmaeodera mixta sweeping, a couple of Canthon sp. in flight, and a Euphoria kerni on the flower of Zephyranthes chlorosolen.
Hwy 90 at Del Rio River I first visited this spot nearby 30 years ago based on a tip by Dan Heffern, who had reared a Polycesta elata from Fraxinus greggii (Gregg ash). I found the ash on that visit, though I didn’t find any wood infested with that species here, but what I did find was Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon) infested with Spectralia robusta and managed to rear out a few individuals. That was my quarry today, but when I arrived the abandoned road on the northwest side of the bridge was fenced and posted. I took a look on the southwest side and found open access up top and decided to hike down towards the ravine from that point. Things seems to be about as far along here as they were at Devils River, with not much activity except for Acmaeodera coming to the Opuntia engelmannii flowers, albeit not quite the diversity. I found a few more also on flowers of an undetermined yellow composite, Coreposis sp., and an undetermined white composite. Closer towards the ravine I found just a single large F. microphylla (with no signs of infestation) and several D. texana—two of which had the half-live/half-dead branches in which S. robusta larvae live and showing the emergence holes of adults. I collected both branches and will bring them back for rearing.
Amistad National Recreation Area, Pecos River Access Nature Trail Just a quick stop at the Pecos River Access on the east side to walk the short nature trail and gaze at the 300-ft high, 100 million-year-old (Cretaceous Period) limestone bluffs that the Pecos River has cut near the junction with the Rio Grande River (the latter can be seen on the left side of photo 2). The first photo also shows the old road that was originally used to cross the river snaking down the west bluff—traffic today uses the tall bridge in the right side of the photo.
Seminole Canyon State Park, Canyon Rim Trail We came here looking for oak potentially infested with Spectralia roburella. We didn’t find any oak on this trail, but I did find a Acacia rigidula (blackbrush acacia) showing signs of infestation by buprestid larvae (difficult to find such this year because the freeze in February apparently killed or severely knocked back most of this species). I cut up and bundled the wood to bring back for rearing.
Amistad National Recreation Area, Spur 406 Campground We got to Seminole Canyon State Park too late to check with the supervisor about setting up our blacklights at the park, so we came back to Spur 406 Campground where we’d collected a few things two days earlier. Temps were okay and there was no moon or wind, but it was still a very slow night—for me just a couple of elaphidiines, two trogids, two Digitinthophagus gazella (why do I continue to pick these things up?), and a bostrichid.
Day 9 – Seminole Canyon State Park, Windmill Trail We came back to the state park since we ran out of time to look for oak yesterday. The park staff were extraordinarily helpful—both in getting me checked in with my permit and in directing me to the spots where I might be able to find oak. Their first tip—along the Window Trail—paid off, where we found a nice cluster of Quercus fusiformis (plateau live oak) clinging to the upper canyon walls. Most of them had dead branches on them, and I did some beating to see if by some chance the beetles would be out already. They were not, but on the second tree that I examined I found a main branch from near the base with the outer 4–6 ft dead but the bark not peeling and small living sprouts about 2 ft from the base. Pulling apart the dead portion revealed buprestid larval workings, likely my quarry—Spectralia roburella, but these could be old. I cut the branch at the base, however, and found fresh larval galleries in the sapwood of the still-living portion even extending into the trunk—success! I’ll bring this back for rearing and will hopefully get S. roburella out of it. Further along the trail I found a single Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna), inspected it carefully and didn’t see anything, then tapped the plant over my beating sheet and a single Agrilus obtusus fell onto it to add to the three that I got yesterday. I really wish I could see these things before I beat them off the plants so I could take an in situ photo!
Seminole Canyon State Park, Canyon Rim Trail Another place the park staff recommended to find oaks was along the Canyon Rim Trail. We hiked that trail yesterday for a bit and didn’t see any oaks, but it turns out they were farther down the trail then we went. We headed back out on the trail to find them, along the way checking Opuntia engelmannii flowers for Acmaeodera and seeing only one for the time being. Just past the first of two east-facing ravines where we expected to find oaks, we found one on the canyon edge that looked rather bedraggled. There were some completely dead branches with bark already sloughed but also one large fresher-looking dead branch that had one live branchlet coming out of it about a third of the way up (meaning there was at least a strip of live wood within the branch). I broke of one of the dead branches near the live/dead junction, and there in its gallery was a smallish buprestid larva that almost certainly is Spectralia roburella! I took the entire branch and cut it up to bring back for rearing. We continued hiking along the canyon rim and saw the most amazing views—sheer Cretaceous limestone walls towering 300 feet above the narrow canyon bottoms! Farther down the trail we finally started seeing Acmaeodera on O. engelmannii flowers. By then we’d hiked more than a mile and a half down the trail and temps were beginning to soar, so we turned back, picked up the wood we’d cut as we came back by, and finished the long, hot slog back to the truck.
Comstock As Rich and I were lunching after our last stop, I got a text from Ed Riley about a spot near Comstock where he’d collected what he believed to be Acmaeodera starrae—a species I’ve never encountered. It just so happened that we would be passing by Comstock on our way back east this afternoon, so we stopped to see if we could find it. Bingo—right where and in the flowers he said it would be (an undetermined white composite that I later determined to be Aphanostephus ramosissimus [lazy daisy]). Together we found about 15 specimens, and interestingly about 25% have red rather than yellow elytra markings. [EDIT: I’m not convinced these are A. starrae, but I do not yet know what they are.]
Day 10 – Garner State Park, Wild Horse Creek/Highway/Campos Trails It’s the final day of collecting for the trip, and for our last stop we picked Garner State Park along the Frío River. I was last here back in the mid 90s—nearly 30 years ago, Acmaeodera ornatoides and Polycesta elata being the two species of note that I remember finding. I remember during that first visit that the area reminded me of my beloved Ozark Mountains, especially the White River Hills region in southwestern Missouri—scraggly forests of oak and juniper on steep, rocky slopes over craggy hill and lazy dale. It still does, although the species are a bit different—Juniperus ashei (Ashe juniper) dominates instead of J. virginiana (eastern red-cedar), and a variety of other oaks replace the familiar Ozarkian Quercus stellata and Q. marilandica (post and blackjack oaks, respectively). We hiked a series of trails on the western side of the park, thinking the west-facing slopes would tend to be drier and result in more open, glade-like habitats, and for the most part this was true. Almost immediately after reaching the first glade along Wild Horse Creek Trail, we found A. ornatoides and at least two smaller congeners on flowers of Coreopsis sp. Flowers of Viguiera dentata have been uncharacteristically depauperate of buprestids on this trip, but I picked up a couple of Acmaeodera neglecta/neoneglecta nearby as well. On the Highway Trail a good series of Acmaeodera was found on flowers of an undetermined small white composite, and a few were also found on flowers of Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna)—though no Agrilus obtusus. The Campos Trail ascended steeply and ruggedly to a nice overlook, where I found one Acmaeodera sp. on the flower of Zephyranthes chlorosolen and then the mother-load—the biggest diversity and abundance of Acmaeodera I’ve ever seen on cactus flowers occurred nearby in a single flowering Opuntia engelmannii. The final specimen of the day’s “Acmaeodera-a-thon” was taken a bit further up the trail on the flower of Echinocereus enneacanthus (strawberry cactus). Fortunately, the trail was all downhill from there (albeit a bit too steep and rocky at times for these no-longer-nimble legs!). We finished off the hike back along the Wild Horse Creek Trail by collecting a branch off a fallen oak that I hope proves fruitful in the rearing box back home and had some lunch. As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed most of the trees in the camping area were Carya illinoensis (pecans)—a great host for buprestids (especially Xenorhipis brendeli), so I picked up several fallen branches from under the trees to complete the wood collecting portion of the trip.
Garner State Park, Brazos River (epilogue) We visited the nearby Frio River for one last look at the park, took a shower, and settled in for the 15-hour trek back to St. Louis.
This is the eighth “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a one-week trip to southern Arizona, New Mexico, and California from September 7–14, 2019 with meloid/cerambycid-enthusiast Jeff Huether. Jeff has been a frequent collecting trip partner during recent years, this being our sixth joint outing since 2012. Our initial objective on this trip was to collect cerambycid beetles of the genus Crossidius occurring across southern Arizona/California—part of a larger effort to sample as many of the named subspecific taxa as possible from multiple locations (including type locations when possible) for future molecular studies. We had good success, though we did not collect every taxon that we were after (we were a tad early in soCal). Also, the fact that we had Crossidius as our primary goal did not mean that we would not concurrently be on the lookout for buprestids (me), meloids (Jeff), or other cerambycids (both of us)—and in that regard we were also successful.
Day 1 – Dripping Springs Mountains, Arizona First stop of the trip, and we’re heading east to Safford. As soon as we got east of Superior up into the mountains we saw a place where Heterotheca subaxillaris was in bloom abundantly along the roadsides and pulled over. There were four species of Acmaeodera on the flowers, and I also found a fifth species on the flower of a small white aster. Nice first stop for the trip!
3.6 mi NW Bylas on US-70, Arizona Continuing our way to Safford, Jeff saw some patches of sunflower and wanted to look for Epicauta phoenix. I found the first two (but not in sunflower), and then Jeff found two more. As we were walking back to the car I noticed a Crossidius suturalis sitting on Isocoma tenuisecta that was not quite in bloom, and then another nearby on the same plant. We searched the area again, but the only plants were those few right around the car.
5.7 mi NE Safford, Arizona After getting a hotel in Safford, we had time to come back to a spot where Jeff had collected Epicauta phoenix back in July. We found quite a few (see photo) on plants nearby the original collection spot. Looking around more I found an Acmaeodera convicta perched on the tip of a shrub—first time I’ve collected this species! There were several species of tenebrionids crawling on the ground, perhaps prompted to activity by cooling temps as rain whipped up in the distance. I kept one eye on the skies and the other on the plants and eventually found two more A. convicta perched together on the same type of shrub just as rain began pelting my back. We made a quick dash back to the car and called an end to Day 1 in Arizona.
Day 2 –1.9 mi S Artesia, Arizona We started seeing Isocoma tenuisecta just coming into bloom as we headed south of town so stopped to see if we could find any Crossidius. I looked at a lot of plants before finding a single C. suturalis sitting on one of the non-blooming plants and in the meantime found one Trichodes peninsularis and a fair number of Zonitis dunniana on the flowers. Looking around on other plants, I found one large Chrysobothris sp. (not C. octocola, but longer and narrower) on the branch of a living Acacia constricta [Edit: this is C. knulli—a new one for me!] and one Acmaeodera disjuncta, several more Z. dunniana and T. peninsularis on flowers of Hymenothrix wislizeni. Finally, I did some sweeping of the bunch grasses in the area and got a nice series of what I presume to be Agrilus rubrovittatus—first time I’ve collected that species!
17.7 mi S Artesia, Arizona Another stop with both Isocoma tenuisecta and also Gutierrezia microcephala coming into bloom. We immediately began finding Crossidius pulchellus on the latter and eventually collected a good series of them and also Trichodes peninsularis off the plants When I returned to the first plant we had checked (in fullest flower), a Lampetis webbii landed on it right in front of me! I eventually found C. suturalis on Isocoma tenuisecta, as well as Trichodes sp. and a few C. pulchellus. There was a tall-stemmed malvaceous shrub off which I got a male/female pair of Tylosis maculata, and sweeping produced a couple more Agrilus rubronotata, a few more T. peninsularis, and one Acmaeodera scalaris. I saw a couple of Acmaeodera disjuncta on Baileya multiradiata flowers but missed them both!
1.1 mi N Rodeo, New Mexico We slipped just inside the New Mexico border to visit the area around the type locality of Crossidius hurdi. We found a spot where there were good stands of Isocoma tenuisecta along the roadsides and checked them out. Like the other spots today they were just starting to come into bloom, and rain had just moved through the area. We found perhaps 20 Crossidius individuals total, and honestly they were so variable that I don’t know whether they represent C. suturalis, C. hurdi, or both! [Edit: they are all C. suturalis] I also collected one Sphaenothecus bivittatus and several individuals each of three species of clerids on the flowers of these plants. A male Oncideres rhodosticta was found on the twig of Prosopis glandulosa, and I also found a cool meloid that I’ve never seen before—Megetra punctata!
Willcox Playa, Arizona We plan to visit Willcox Playa tomorrow (my inaugural visit!), but we had some time at the end of the day and decided to come take a look. There were some stands of Isocoma tenuisecta at the north end of the playa, and I found just a couple of Crossidius individuals on them, presumably C. suturalis, but it looks like they are bedding down for the evening. Also got a couple of Enoclerus sp. on the flowers.
Day 3 –8.4 mi SE Willcox, Arizona On our way towards the Chiricahua Mountains to see if we can find any Crossidius host plant stands. We found patches of Isocoma tenuisecta and Gutierrezia microcephala along Hwy 186 southeast of town—the former was just coming into bloom, but there were plenty of Acmaeodera (scalaris, disjuncta, and amplicollis) on the flowers, including on the unopened heads. We found perhaps a dozen Crossidius suturalis on them as well, and Jeff found one small female that looks like C, hurdi [Edit: it is C. suturalis]. I looked at a lot of Gutierrezia before finding a single C. pulchellus sitting on one of the plants. The same diversity of Acmaeodera as well as a few A. gibbula and T. peninsularis was also found on flowers of Hymenothrix wislizeni, and I took a series of about 10 specimens of what I looks like A. parkeri on flowers of what appears to be Stephanomeria pauciflora. There were also some tiny membracine treehoppers on a thorny shrub (maybe Condalia?) being tended by ants—both adults and young, and I collected a few of the adults.
Jct AZ-186 & AZ-181, Arizona After passing over a small range towards the Chiricahuas we didn’t see any Isocoma tenuisecta until we got to Hwy 181. There were some Baccharis sarothroides at the junction also, so we stopped and looked around. The Isocoma was just barely coming into bloom, but I found two Crossidius on them—one male C. suturalis and one small female that may be C. hurdi [Edit: nope, it is C. sururalis]. Heterotheca subaxillaris was in bloom abundantly, but there were no Acmaeodera on them and the area in general looked quite dry. I did find two A. decipiens on Sphaeralcea sp., and in the way back to the car I spotted a huge Lampetis webbii hanging on Ericameria nauseosa (which we’re not even close to blooming)—surely an incidental record.
4.1 mi SE Willcox, Arizona We came back towards town where things seemed to be further along and found stands of Isocoma tenuisecta in full bloom at the junction of Blue Sky Rd (a classic Arizona collecting locality). Crossidius suturalis were out in numbers on the flowers! Every now and then I got one that seemed too heavily maculated, making me think it could be C hurdi, but in the end I decided that all represented C. suturalis.
Willcox Playa, Arizona We went to the Playa to see if there were any tiger beetles to be had. I hiked to the edge of the Playa, and within a few minutes I saw a Cicindela pimeriana—just the second one I’ve encountered (the first was last night at gas station lights)! With that promise of more, I hiked the entire playa edge and never saw another one! I only saw one other tiger beetle—Cylindera lemniscata—seems I’m a bit late in the season for the Willcox Playa tiger beetles. Nevertheless, it’s a cool place and was fun to see. I’ll definitely be back during the summer, not just for here but for nearby Blue Sky Rd. Arriving back at the car, I did find one Moneilema sp. (I think M. appressum) on cholla. There were Crossidius suturalis abundant on the Isocoma tenuisecta, which, like the last spot, was in full bloom, but I’d gotten my fill of them at the previous spot and didn’t collect any.
Willcox, Arizona (epilogue) Collecting the insects from the field is only the beginning. Each night they must be processed for storage until they can be mounted once back in the lab.
Day 4 – Santa Rita Mountains, Box Canyon, Arizona We passed through Box Canyon on our way to Madera Canyon, so we decided to stop near the dry falls where last year I’d collected such a nice diversity of Acmaeodera spp. on flowers of Allionia incarnata. There was evidence of recent rain, and we found the patch nicely in bloom with four species (scalaris, decipiens, cazieri, and parkeri) on the flowers. Nearby in the wash before it crossed the road was a yellow composite (Xanthisma gracile), from which I collected the first three as well as gibbula, rubronotata, and disjuncta. Euphoria verticalis scarabs we’re flying plentifully around the flowers also—first time I’ve seen the species.
Flats below Madera Canyon, Arizona There are records of Deltaspis tumacacorii from Madera Canton at Proctor Rd collected on Croton, so we stopped by on our way south to give it a try. This seems to be a rather hard-to-find bug, so I didn’t have high expectations, and that’s a good thing because I didn’t see the beetle nor anything that even remotely resembled Croton. I ended up checking out the desert broom (Baccharis sarothroides) in the area on which I’d collected Stenaspis verticalisarizonensis and Tragidion spp. (also without high expectations). There were some interesting congregations of Euphoria leucographa feeding at sap flows on the stems and a few Stenaspis solitaria but otherwise litttle of note. I did find one Hippomelas planicauda hanger-on on a low fabaceous shrub (not Mimosa biuncifera), and inspecting the Gutierrezia microcephala plants revealed nothing but a single Acmaeodera rubronotata.
Madera Canyon Rd, Arizona We stopped real quick down the road on the way out of Madera Canyon because we saw stands of Isocoma tenuisecta, although they were still just shy of blooming. We looked at quite a few and found a single Crossidius suturalis—probably we are a tad early, and the area looks like it could use a good rain to pop things out and bring the Isocoma into bloom. We also saw low plants that could be the Croton that Deltaspis tumacacorii has been found on [Edit: I do not believe these are the plants, as they are too low]. Would be good to revisit this spot after a good rain!
Tumacacori Mountains, Walker Canyon, Arizona Our second shot at Deltaspis tumacacorii, which has also been taken in Walker Canyon. We found thick stands of knee-high flowers that we immediately took to be the Croton—just as described by our contact—on which the beetles have been taken. However, we quickly began doubting that ID and decided the plant must be some type of composite. That would make more sense from a host plant standpoint, as all known host plants for Crossidius spp. are composites (subsequently determined to be Pseudognaphalium leucocephalum, family Asteraceae). We looked at the dense stands for quite some time but didn’t see any beetles (or much of anything else) before deciding that we were probably too early—had the beetles already emerged we would have at least found some stragglers. I did take a few Acmaeodera on the flowers (scalaris and rubronotata), as well as a large cantharid (Chauliognathus profundus). I also took single A. amplicollis and A. rubronotata individuals off of a large helianthoid composite (Viguiera cordifolia) and one A. rubronotata on a small yellow composite (Xanthisma gracile). There were a multitude of darkling beetles crawling in the ground—in one spot I saw five individuals of several species all within a one-square foot area. We’ll have one more shot at D. tumacacorii tomorrow at Kitt Peak.
Day 5 –Pan Tak, Arizona (road to Kitt Peak) Today’s destination is Kitt Peak to look for Deltaspis tumacacorii and Acmaeodera resplendens, but at the entrance we saw some Isocoma tenuisecta just coming into bloom and decided to check it out. We found a half-dozen Crossidius suturalis but had to really work for them. Alliona incarnata was also nicely in bloom, but I got only one Acmaeodera parkeri? and one A. alicia off of the flowers. There was some Gutierrezia microcephala present, also not quite in bloom, off of which Jeff got a pair of C. suturalis and gave me one. Kinda dry but lots of flowers—wish there would have been more beetles coming to them.
Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona Our last chance to find Deltaspis tumacacorii, and I also got a tip that Acmaeodera resplendens has also been taken up here. We immediately found several species of Acmaeodera (amabilis, amplicollis, decipiens, and rubronotata) abundantly on several composite flowers—Heliomeris longifolia, Heterotheca fulcrata, Hymenothrix wrightii, Solidago velutina, and Gutierrezia microcephala, and I found a single A. solitaria on a pink malvaceous flower, but no A. resplendens. We also searched thoroughly for any Croton-like plant for D. tumacacorii but found nothing. The Kitt Peak records of that species are older than the Walker Canyon, Peña Blanca, and Madera Canyon records, and most of the records seem to be in August rather than September, so I suspect we are a bit late for both the species and its host plant. My plan at this point is to return sometime during the middle of August and enlist the help of the source of one of the recent records to accompany me.
Road to Kitt Peak, Arizona We had noticed Gutierrezia microcephala and some other yellow composites in bloom about halfway up the mountain on our way to Kitt Peak and decided then to stop and take a look around on the way down. I took “down” the mountain, Jeff took “up.” I hadn’t walked very far when I saw what I at first thought was the cantharid Chauliognathus profundus (which I had seen yesterday at Walker Canyon preying on another cantharid) on G. microcephala flowers, but something about it gave me pause—it was too cylindrical and robust. I leaned closer to get a better look and realized it was a cerambycid—one that I did not recognize, a beautiful orange color with black elytral apices and pronotal spots! I quickly grabbed it with my right hand, immediately saw another elsewhere on the bush and grabbed it with my left hand, and as I stood there trying to fumble a vial out of my pack to put them in I saw a third individual taking flight from the bush and spiraling into the air and out of reach! I shouted out to Jeff, who came down to where I was, and showed him what I’d found, and together we decided that it must be Mannophorus forreri—a very uncommonly encountered species and more than adequate consolation for not finding Deltaspis tumacacorii earlier in the day. We spent the next hour searching up and down the roadsides, and I ended up with two more individuals from Gutierrezia flowers and two from Heterotheca fulcrata. Jeff found an additional individual on flowers of Thelesperma sp. I also picked up a few black and white Enoclerus sp., one on flowers of G. microcephala and a mating pair on flowers of Acacia berlandieri. We have a long drive to California in front of us now, and it sure is good going into the drive with such a great find under our belts.
Day 6 – Cajon Pass, California Finally made it into California! Once we turned off the interstate, we made a quick stop to look at the roadside habitat where we spotted a good stand of Isocoma sp. in full bloom. We looked at quite a few plants but didn’t find any beetles on them. There were also good numbers of Ericameria nauseosa plants as well (host for Crossidius coralinus), but they weren’t quite yet in bloom yet and the only thing I found on them was a mating pair of Agrilus walsinghami. Moved on quickly to the next spot!
Lancaster, California We met up with Ron Alten and traveled to a classic “Crossidius” collecting site (up to four species have been taken there). We’d stopped at a couple of places on the way there but not found anything—either the host plants were not yet blooming or no beetles were found, so we had the feeling that we might be a week or two early. We had to drive into the habitat a ways before we started seeing host plants—in this case Ericameria nauseosa—but eventually we found a nice large area with the plants in full bloom. It didn’t take long before we found Crossidius coralinus (populations in this area are assigned to subspecies ascendens) on the blossoms. We worked the area for a couple of hours in the heat (97°F) and got a sufficient series for study with some individuals in ethanol for DNA analysis. Males exhibit quite a bit of variability in the degree of development of the elytral markings (thin to moderately expanded sutural marking), while females were quite consistently fully expanded. Males also outnumbered females by 3:1, and all of the individuals I collected were perfect and not damaged—both suggesting that the species is just beginning to emerge. Perhaps that is why we did not find individuals of the other species (mojavensis, suturalis, and testaceus). What I did find, however, was a small trachyderine cerambycid that none of us recognized! It was on the flowers of E. nauseosa—just like C. coralinus—and at first I thought it might be a small, aberrant C. coralinus, but the elytra are completely blue-black and the size was significantly smaller than the smallest C. coralinus male that we saw. I scanned BugGuide and didn’t find anything that matched, so this will have to remain a mystery for now. [Edit: I later determined this to be a heavily marked C. discoideus blandus. In the field I couldn’t see the orange laterals on the elytra.]
Day 7 –Santa Catalina Mountains, Mt. Lemmon, Arizona We decided we were just a bit to early for things in California and decided to come back to Arizona where we’d been having better success. I wanted to take another shot at Acmaeodera resplendens and had been told that Oracle Ridge Trail was a good locality for them, though maybe a bit late. We began seeing them soon after getting out of the car—unmistakable by their brilliant metallic green to copper color. They were not numerous, so I had to work for them and walked the trail about 2 miles out collecting them off a variety of flowers. The majority were on Bahia dissecta, and I also found occasional individuals of them and other species of Acmaeodera (amabilis, amplicollis, decipiens, and rubronotata) on flowers of Heliomeris longifolia, Heterotheca fulcrata, Hymenothrix wrightii, Ageratina herbarea, Achillea millefolium, sweeping, Cirsium sp., and prob. Viguiera dentata. One other beetle I found was a Megacyllene sp. sitting on a plant under a stand of Robinia neomexicana [Edit: this is M. snowi snowi—another new one for my collection!].
Scenic Overlook, Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona A quick stop on the way back down the mountain at a spot where we’d seen Gutierrezia microcephala and Heterotheca subaxillaris blooming along the sides of the road. There wasn’t much going on—a couple of Acmaeodera amplicollis and one A. rubronotata on the flowers of H. subaxillaris, one Enoclerus sp. on Solidago velutina, one A. solitaria on Baccharis sarothroides, and another swept from grasses. I did see Peucetia viridans (green lynx spider) feeding on a very bristly tachinid fly.
Day 8 –Santa Rita Mountains, Montosa Canyon, Arizona (halfway up) We decided to visit Montosa Canyon to take another shot at Deltaspis tumacacorii and also see if maybe we could find more Acmaeodera resplendens. We didn’t see many flowers along the way up the canyon until about the halfway point. When we did start seeing them we made a quick stop to see what might be on them. I collected some of the more common Acmaeodera (rubronotata, decipiens, and amplicollis) off a few different yellow composite flowers, but we quickly decided to take a look at the higher elevations.
Santa Rita Mountains, Montosa Canyon, Arizona (entrance to Whipple Observatory) The road was gated past the km-13 point—Jeff took the roadsides, and I took a ridgetop trail off to the south for a little over a mile. The panoramic views were spectacular, and at the southern terminus I stood at the edge amidst gale-force winds admiring the landscape! Acmaeodera were diverse and abundant, though not quite as abundant as yesterday on Mt. Lemmon or a few days ago on Kitt Peak. However, I did get another nice series of A. resplendens, along with decipiens, rubronotata, amplicollis, and amabilis. Host flowers were collected for most of these: Hymenothrix wrightii, Erigeron neomexicanus, Linum neomexicanum, Heliomeris multiflora, Verbesina enselioides, Heliopsis parvifolia, Heterotheca subaxillaris, and Machaeranthera tanacetifolia. I also collected a small series of A. decipiens perching on grass stems and a very cool-looking wasp—black with a bright orange thorax and whitish abdominal apex [edit: I believe this is the scoliid Psorthaspis portiae].
Santa Rita Mountains, lower Montosa Canyon, Arizona We stopped at a spot near the bottom of the canyon on the way out to see what was going on at the lower elevations. The answer—not much! There were a variety of woody shrubs and other plants in bloom, but the area seemed rather “wilty”. I think this area has a lot of potential, we just didn’t hit it at the right time. I did take an impressively huge tarantula hawk, just because.
Flats below Montosa Canyon, Arizona I was a bit disappointed at not finding any beetles at what seemed would be the last collecting stop of the trip. But on our way out we saw a patch of Isocoma tenuisecta in bloom in the lowlands some distance west of the entrance to the canyon—just what we were looking for! Jeff and I each quickly found Crossidius suturalis individuals on flowers of the plants and continued searching up and down along the roadway. We didn’t find any more for awhile but when I got back to the area where I started I spotted another one sitting on a plant on the other side of the barbed-wire fence. I extended my net handle to the max, maneuvered it in position, took an assertive swipe, and got it. Just as I was putting it into the bottle, I saw another one take flight from a plant right beside me. I hadn’t closed the bottle yet but didn’t want the other one to get away, so I capped my thumb over the opening, awkwardly wielded my net into position one-handed, chased after it and took a swing and got it, too! (More often than not these situations end up with me losing both specimens!). There was also a good amount of Hymenothrix wislizeni along the roadside, off the flowers of which I collected several Acmaeodera gibbula, A. disjuncta, and A. rubronotata. This is probably the last collecting locality of the trip, so I’m happy to end up having success with this subspecies of Crossidius (C. suturalis intermedius), which we havn’t found in large numbers on this trip. Just after leaving the site, we saw a bobcat on the side of the road—my first one! Unusual to see one in the middle of the day—it was a small one, must’ve been quite hungry!
Phoenix, Arizona (epilogue) Bill Warner was kind enough to host Jeff and I for our last night in Arizona prior to returning home tomorrow. What an amazing collection he has built, and his use of flight-intercept traps in recent years has turned up even more amazing beetles. I was happy to also meet Andrew Johnston and Evan Waite, who joined us for dinner.
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.
During the past year or so I’ve followed up my longer (one week or more) insect collecting trips with a synoptic “iReport”—so named because they are illustrated exclusively with iPhone photographs. It may come as a surprise to some, but iPhones actually take pretty good pictures (especially if you pay attention to their strengths and weaknesses), and their small, compact size makes it easy to take lots of photos while trying to use time in the field wisely. I find the iPhone to be a great tool for documenting the general flavor of a trip and for taking quick photos of subjects before getting out the big rig. I will, of course, feature photographs taken with the ‘real’ camera in future posts.
For this trip, I teamed up with Jeff Huether for the third time since 2012. Our quarry for this trip was longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae) in the genus Prionus. Larvae of these beetles are subterranean, with some species feeding on roots of woody plants and others on roots of grasses and other herbaceous plants. Among the latter are an array of species occurring in the Great Plains, many of which have been very uncommonly collected. However, in recent years lures have been produced that are impregnated with prionic acid—the principal component of sex pheromones emitted by females in the genus. Originally produced for use in commercial orchards (which are sometimes attacked by P. laticollis in the east and P. californicus in the west), these lures are proving themselves to be useful for us taxonomist-types who wish to augment the limited amount of available material of other, non-economic species in the genus. While Prionus was our main goal, rest assured that I did not pass on the opportunity to find and photograph other beetles of interest.
I began the trip by driving from St. Louis to Wichita, Kansas to meet up with Jeff, who had flown there from his home in upstate New York. Our plan was to visit sites in southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico, where several of the Prionus spp. that we were looking for were known to occur. Before doing this, however, we stopped in Hardtner, Kansas to see “Beetle Bill” Smith and tour his amazing natural history tribute, Bill and Janet’s Nature Museum.
“Beetle Bill” Smith, founder of Bill & Janet’s Nature Museum, Hardtner, Kansas.
After the tour (and a delicious lunch at his house of fried crappie prepared by his wife Janet), we headed west of town and then south just across the state line into Oklahoma to a spot where Bill had found a blister beetle (family Meloidae) that Jeff was interested in finding. During lunch I mentioned a jewel beetle (family Buprestidae) that I had looked for in the area several times, but which had so far eluded me—Buprestis confluenta. Emerald green with a dense splattering of bright yellow flecks on the elytra, it is one of North America’s most striking jewel beetles and is known to breed in the trunks of dead cottonwoods (Populus deltoides). Bill mentioned that he had collected this species at the very spot where we were going, and when we arrived I was enticed by the sight of a cottonwood grove containing several large, dead standing trunks—perfect for B. confluenta.
Buprestis spp. love large, dead, barkless cottonwood trunks.
I searched for more than one hour without seeing the species, though I did find a few individuals of the related (and equally striking) B. rufipes on the trunks of the large, dead trees. Once that amount of time passes I’m no longer really expecting to see what I’m looking for, but suddenly there it was in all of its unmistakable glory! It would be the only individual seen despite another hour of searching, but it still felt good for the first beetle of the trip to be one I’d been looking for more than 30 years!
Buprestisconfluenta, on the trunk of a large, dead cottonwood (Populus deltoides) | Woods Col., Oklahoma| USA: Oklahoma
I usually wait until near the end of a collecting trip to take the requisite selfie, but on this trip I was sporting new headgear and anxious to document its maiden voyage. My previous headgear of choice, a vintage Mambosok (impossible to get now), finally disintegrated after 20 years of field use, and on the way out-of-town I picked up a genuine Buff® do-rag. I know many collectors prefer a brim, but I don’t like they way brims limit my field of vision or get in the way when I’m using a camera. Besides, I’m usually looking down on the ground or on vegetation, so sun on my face is not a big issue. And do I be stylin’ or wut?
A “selfie” makes the trip official.
We made it to our first locality in southeast Colorado by noon the next day—the vast, dry grasslands north of Las Animas. Jeff had collected a blister beetle of interest here on an earlier trip, but as I looked out across the desolate landscape I wondered what on Earth I could find here that would be even remotely interesting to me.
Shortgrass prairie habitat for Prionus integer.
Letting Jeff have some time to look for his blister beetle, I started down the roadside and after a short time found a live female Prionus sp. (later determined to represent P. integer). The only female Prionus I had ever collected before was P. heroicus, a giant species out in Arizona, and that was almost 30 years ago, so I wasn’t immediately sure what it was. Eventually I decided it must be Prionus, and a quick stop to kick the dirt while Jeff looked for his beetle turned into an intense search for more Prionus that surely were there. I did find two male carcasses shortly thereafter, and then nothing more was seen for the next hour or so.
Prionus integer male (found dead) | Bent Co., Colorado
During the time that I was searching, however, I started noticing strange burrows in the ground. I excavated a few—they were shallow but contained nothing. Nevertheless, they matched the size of the beetles perfectly—surely there was a connection?
Prionus integer adult burrow.
I wondered if Jeff knew about the beetles occurring here, but when I showed him what I had found the surprised look on his face told me this was not the case. I showed him the burrows, and we both agreed they had to be connected. I got the shovel out of the truck and walked back to the area where I had seen the live female, then sunk the shovel deep into the ground next to one of the burrows and pried up a chuck of the soil containing the burrow in its entirety. As we broke apart the soil another female was revealed, and we immediately decided to set out some traps baited with prionic acid lures. We expected the beetles to become active during dusk, so we went into town to get something to eat and then check out another nearby locality before returning to the site at dusk. While we were gone it rained heavily at the site, so we weren’t sure if or how this would affect beetle activity and their possible attraction to the traps. However, as we approached the site (slipping and sliding on the muddy 2-track), we could actually see beetles crawling on the road from afar. What we found when we got out of the car was nothing short of mind-blowing—the beetles were everywhere, crawling on the road, crawling through the grass, and overflowing in the flooded traps! The vast majority were males, as expected, but we also found a fair number of the much more rarely collected females. This was significant, as the chance to observe mating and oviposition behavior made the encounter far more informative than if we had only found and collected the much more numerous males.
Prionus integer mating pair.
The following day we headed south into northeastern New Mexico to look at some shortgrass prairie sites near Gladstone (Union Co.) where two species of Prionus had been collected in recent years: P. fissicornis (the lone member of the subgenus Antennalia) and P. emarginatus (one of eight species in the poorly known subgenus Homaesthesis, found primarily in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains). Fresh off of our experience the previous day, we were on the lookout for any suspicious looking “burrows” as we checked the roadsides at several spots in the area but found nothing, and while a few blister beetles piqued the interest of Jeff at one site, the complete absence of woody vegetation or flowering plants in general in the stark grassland landscape made the chances of me finding any other woodboring beetles remote. Eventually I became distracted by the lizards that darted through the vegetation around us, including this lesser earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata) and a collared lizard (better photos of both forthcoming).
Holbrookia maculata (lesser earless lizard) | Union Co., New Mexico.
Despite no clues to suggest that Prionus beetles were active in the area, we set out some traps at two sites with soil exposures that seemed similar to those seen the day before. As Jeff set the last pair of traps in place, my distraction with saurian subjects continued with a dusty hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus gloydi). While photographing the animal I looked down to my side, and what did I see but a male Prionus fissicornis crawling through the vegetation! I called out to Jeff, and for the next half an hour or so we scoured the surrounding area in a failed attempt to find more. We would not be back until the next morning to check the traps, so our curiosity about how abundant the beetles might be would have to wait another 18 hours. We cast an eye towards the north and watched late afternoon thunderstorms roll across the expansive landscape and decided to check out the habitat in nearby Mills Rim.
Thunderstorms over shortgrass prairie.
The rocky terrain with oak/pine/juniper woodlands at Mills Rim was a dramatic contrast to the gently rolling grasslands of the surrounding areas. We came here mostly out of curiosity, without any specific goal, but almost immediately after getting out of the car a huge Prionus male flew up to us—almost surely attracted by the scent of the lures we were carrying. Within a few minutes another male flew in, and then another. Because of their huge size and occurrence within oak woodland habitat, we concluded they must represent P. heroicus, more commonly encountered in the “Sky Islands” of southeastern Arizona. We stuck around to collect a few more, but as dusk approached we returned to the surrounding grasslands to set out some lures to see if we could attract other Prionus species. The frontal system that had waved across the landscape during the afternoon had left in its wake textured layers of clouds, producing spectacular colors as the sun sank inexorably below the horizon.
Sunset over shortgrass prairie.
This attempt to collect grassland Prionus beetles would not be successful, and as dusk progressed we became distracted collecting cactus beetles (Moneilema sp., family Cerambycidae) from prickly pear cactus plants (Opuntia sp.) before darkness ended our day’s efforts. This did not mean, however, that all of our efforts were done—there are still night active insects, and in the Great Plains what better nocturnal insect to look for than North America’s largest tiger beetle, the Great Plains giant tiger beetle (Amblycheila cylindriformis, family Cicindelidae—or subfamily Cicindelinae—or supertribe Cicindelitae, depending on who you talk to)?! We kept our eyes on the headlamp illuminated 2-track as we drove back to the highway and then turned down another road that led into promising looking habitat. Within a half-mile of the highway we saw one, so I got out to pick it up and then started walking. I walked another half-mile or so on the road but didn’t see anything except a few Eleodes darkling beetles (family Tenebrionidae), then turned around and walked the habitat alongside the road on the way back. As I walked, tiny little rodents—looking like a cross between a mouse and a vole—flashed in and out of my headlight beam as they hopped and scurried through the vegetation in front of me. Most fled frantically in response to my attempted approach, but one, for some reason, froze long enough under my lamp to allow me this one photo. When I posted the photo on my Facebook page, opinions on its identity ranged from kangaroo rat (Dipodomys sp.) silky pocket mouse (Perognathus flavus) to jumping mouse (Zapus sp.). Beats me.
Kangaroo rat? Silky pocket mouse? Jumping mouse? | Union Co., New Mexico.
Almost as if by command, it rained during the early evening hours where we had set the traps, and the following morning we were rewarded with traps brimming with Prionus fissicornis males. Not only were the traps full, but males were still running around in the vicinity, and we even found a few females, one of which was in the act of ovipositing into the soil at the base of a plant.
Prionus fissicornis male | Harding Co., New Mexico.
Prionus fissicornis oviposition hole.
Eventually P. fissicornis activity subsided, and we decided to go back to the area around Mills Rim to see what beetles we might find in the woodland habitats. We also still were not sure about the Prionus beetles we had collected there the previous day and whether they truly represented P. heroicus. The scrubby oaks and conifers screamed “Beat me!”, and doing so proved extraordinarily productive, with at least a half-dozen species of jewel beetles collected—including a nice series of a rather large Chrysobothris sp. from the oaks that I do not recognize and a single specimen of the uncommonly collected Phaenops piniedulis off of the pines.
Oak/juniper woodland at Mills Canyon, habitat for Prionus heroicus.
Not only is the scenery at Mills Rim Campground beyond spectacular, it also boasts some of the most adoringly cute reptiles known to man—such as this delightfully spiky horned lizard (I prefer the more colloquial name “horny toad”!). I’m probably going to regret not having photographed this fine specimen with the big camera.
Phrynosoma cornutum (Texas horned lizard) | Harding Co., New Mexico.
Fresh diggings beside a rock always invite a peek inside. You never know who might be peeking out.
The trip having reached the halfway point, we debated whether to continue further south to the sand dunes of southern New Mexico (with its consequential solid two-day drive back to Wichita) or turn back north and have the ability to collect our way back. We chose the latter, primarily because we had not yet had a chance to explore the area around Vogel Canyon south of Las Animas, Colorado. We had actually planned to visit this area on the day we encountered P. integer in the shortgrass prairie north of town, and a quick visit before going back to check the traps that evening showed that the area had apparently experienced good rains as shown by the cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia imbricata) in full bloom.
Cylindropuntia imbricata | Otero Co., Colorado.
Whenever I see cholla plants I can’t help myself—I have to look for cactus beetles (Moneilema spp.). It had rained even more since our previous visit a few days ago, and accordingly insects were much more abundant. Several Moneilema adults were seen on the cholla, one of which I spent a good bit of time photographing. The iPhone photo below is just a preview of the photos I got with the big camera (which also included some very impressive-sized cicadas—both singing males and ovipositing females). The cactus spines impaled in the camera’s flash control unit serve as a fitting testament to the hazards of photographing cactus insects!
Moneilema sp. on Cylindropuntia imbracata } Otero Co., Colorado.
The hazards of photographing cactus beetles.
Later in the afternoon we hiked down into the canyon itself, and while insects were active we didn’t find much out of the ordinary. We did observe some petroglyphs on the sandstone walls of the canyon dating from the 1200s to the 1700s—all, sadly, defaced by vandals. Despite the rather uninspiring collecting, we stayed in the area for two reasons: 1) Jeff wanted to setup blacklights at the canyon head in hopes of collecting a blister beetle that had been caught there on an earlier trip, and 2) I had noted numerous Amblycheila larval burrows in the area (and even fished out a very large larva from one of them) and wanted to search the area at night to see if I could find adults. Jeff was not successful in his goal, and for a time I thought I would also not succeed in mine until we closed up shop and started driving the road out of the canyon. By then it was after 11 p.m. and we managed to find about a half-dozen A. cylindriformis adults. This was now the third time that I’ve found adults of this species, and interestingly all three times I’ve not seen any beetles despite intense searching until after 11 p.m and up until around midnight.
Lithographs on canyon wall | Mills Canyon, Colorado.
The next morning we found ourselves with two days left in the trip but several hundred miles west of Wichita, where I needed to drop Jeff off for his flight back home before I continued on home to St. Louis. I had hoped we could make it to the Glass Mountains just east of the Oklahoma panhandle to see what Prionus species might be living in the shortgrass prairies there (and also to show Jeff this remarkable place where I’ve found severalnewstaterecords over the past few years). As we headed in that direction, I realized our path would take us near Black Mesa at the western tip of the Oklahoma pandhandle, and having been skunked on my first visit to the area last year due to dry conditions but nevertheless intrigued by its very un-Oklahoma terrain and habitat I suggested we stop by the area and have a look around before continuing on to the Glass Mountains. We arrived in the area mid-afternoon and headed straight for a rock outcropping colonized by scrub oak (Quercus sp.) and pinyon pine (Pinus sp.)—very unusual for western Oklahoma—that I had found during my previous trip.
The area around Black Mesa couldn’t be more unlike the perception that most people have of Oklahoma.
I wanted to beat the oaks for buprestids—surely there would be a state record or two just sitting there waiting for me to find them, but as I started walking from the car towards the oaks the approach of a loud buzz caught my attention. I turned around to see—would you believe—a large Prionus beetle circling the air around me and was fortunate to net it despite its fast and agile flight. I hurried back to the car to show Jeff what I had found; we looked at each other and said, “Let’s collect here for a while.” The beetle had apparently been attracted to the lures in the car, so we got them out, set them up with some traps, and went about beating the oaks and watching for beetles to fly to the lure. Sadly, no jewel beetles were collected on the oaks, although I did find evidence of their larval workings in some dead branches (which were promptly collected for rearing). Every once in a while, however, a Prionus beetle would fly in, apparently attracted to the lure but, curiously, never flying directly to it and falling into the trap. Many times they would land nearby and crawl through the vegetation as if searching but never actually find the trap. However, just as often they would approach the trap in flight and not land, but rather continue circling around in the air for a short time and before suddenly turning and flying away (forcing me to watch forlornly as they disappeared in the distance). Based on their very large size, blackish coloration and broad pronotum, we surmised (and later confirmed) these must also be P. heroicus, despite thinking (and later confirming) that the species was not known as far east as Oklahoma. Not only had we found a new state record, but we had also recorded a significant eastern range extension for the species. And to think that we only came to Black Mesa because I wanted to beat the oaks!
Prionus heroicus male
Proof that Prionus heroicus males can bite hard enough to draw blood!
We each collected a nice series of the beetles, and despite never witnessing the beetles actually going to the traps a few more were found in the traps the next morning after spending the night in a local bed & breakfast. I also found a dove’s nest with two eggs hidden in the vegetation, and as we were arranging for our room at the bed & breakfast a fellow drove up and dropped off a freshly quarried dinosaur footprint (the sandstone, mudstone, and shale deposits around Black Mesa are the same dinosaur fossil bearing deposits made more famous at places like Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument).
Dove’s nest w/ eggs.
Freshly quarried dinosaur fossil footprint
By the way, if you ever visit the area, the Hitching Post at Black Mesa is a great place to stay. A longhorn skull on the barn above an authentic 1882 stagecoach give a hint at the ambiance, and breakfast was almost as good as what my wife Lynne can do (almost! 🙂 ).
Longhorn skull on barn at our Bead and Breakfast.
132-year-old stagecoach – model!
After breakfast we contemplated the long drive that lay between us and our arrival in Wichita that evening—our longer than expected stay in the area had virtually eliminated the possibility to collect in the Glass Mountains. Nevertheless, there was one more thing that I wanted to see before we left—the dinosaur footprints laying in a trackway along Carrizo Creek north of the mesa. I only knew they were in the area based on a note on a map, but as there were no signs our attempt to find them the previous day was not successful. Armed with detailed directions from the B&B owners, however, we decided to give it one more shot. Again, even after we found the site I didn’t see them immediately, I suppose because I was expecting to see distinct depressions in dry, solid rock. Only after the reflections of light from an alternating series of small puddles—each measuring a good 10–12″ in diameter—did I realize we had found them. Recent rains had left the normally dry creek bed filled with mud, with the footprints themselves still filled with water.
Dinosaur tracks | vic. Black Mesa, Oklahoma.
It is not surprising that I would be so excited to find the tracks, but what did surprise me was the effect they had on me. Seeing the actual signs of near mythical beasts that lived an incomprehensible 100 million years ago invites contemplation and reminds us that our time here on Earth has, indeed, been short!
Dinosaur tracks | vic. Black Mesa, Oklahoma.
By this time, we had no choice but to succumb to the long drive ahead. We did manage to carve out a short stop at the very first locality of the trip in an effort to find more Buprestis confluens (finding only a few more B. rufipes), but otherwise the day was spent adhering to our goal of reaching Wichita before nightfall. Jeff was home and sipping tea before lunchtime the next day, while I endured one more solid day of driving before making it back to St. Louis in time for dinner with the family. At that point, the trip already could have been considered a success, but how successful it ultimately ends up being depends on what beetles emerge during the next season or two from these batches of infested wood that I collected at the various spots we visited.
Wood collected for rearing wood-boring beetles.
If you like this Collecting Trip iReport, you might also like the iReports that I posted for my 2013 Oklahoma and 2013 Great Basin collecting trips as well.