Turbo Testudine

gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) | Tattnall Co., Georgia

Last weekend I traveled to Georgia with two field companions to look for insects associated with sand scrub habitats in the southeastern part of the state. Of course, while I am an entomologist with beetles as a focus, I am also a naturalist who keeps an eye out for all manner of critters, plants, and other natural features. Thus, when we saw an enormous tortoise about to cross the road while driving through sand scrub habitat south of Riedsville, there was no debating whether we should stop and take a look. We immediately recognized him as a gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), even though none of us had actually ever seen a gopher tortoise in person. (I say “him” because the of the fairly long gular projection, which is generally longer in males than in females.)

gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

Contrary to popular perception, this tortoise walked rather urgently.

We pulled over about 50 yards further up the road and began hiking back towards the tortoise. As we got closer, he immediately turned and started running (yes, running!) towards us. Seriously. He reminded me of a puppy that had gotten lost and just seen his master! I don’t think I have ever seen something quite like that, and I don’t think I can really explain it, either.

gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

He definitely had somewhere in mind that he wanted to go…

Once we got quite close, he turned away and crawled back up onto the road in an attempt to cross to the other side. I had grabbed my big camera, as I did not want to record this encounter with just my iPhone. I also did not want to photograph him on the road surface, so one of my companions picked him up (with gloves on) and brought him back over to the roadside where I began taking photographs on a more natural substrate.

gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

…and he wanted to get there quickly.

This was one enormous tortoise—the carapace easily measured 12 inches in length, which I later read is at the upper end of the range for adults of this species. We marveled at his old-man head and thick, powerfully clawed front legs—an obvious adaptation for a digging lifestyle. I almost wish I had borrowed my companion’s gloves and taken advantage of the opportunity to pick him up myself and see how much he weighed. No matter—he was easily the largest testudine that I have ever seen!

gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

Who would think a tortoise could be so hard to photograph!

I don’t know where this tortoise was going or why, but I do know that it was, surprisingly, one of the most difficult to photograph subjects I have ever encountered. He was quite capable of moving along at a rather quick pace (tortoise-and-hare fables notwithstanding) and never stopped urgently trying to cross the road. It was difficult to stay low to avoid a “top-down” perspective and still keep in front of him. We moved him to the other side of the road, thinking that might make him happy, but he would then just turn around and try to get back on the road and cross back to where he came from. I decided to just set the camera on autofocus and, with abundance natural light, starting snapping away to play a numbers game. Out of the few dozen or so exposures I got, the ones shown here are all that I kept (the others mostly showing a “bum” leg or two). The first photo at top is my favorite of the bunch.

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Baby box turtle on white

Box turtles of the genus Terrapene are extraordinarily common in Missouri, especially in the eastern and southern forested regions of the state where the three-toed box turtle (T. carolina triunguis)—Missouri’s state reptile—is the most commonly encountered form. Despite this abundance and the author’s more than a half-century spent scrabbling through the sticks of Missouri, I have never encountered a youngster as tiny as the one shown in this post (shell length about 2 inches). In fact, I didn’t even find it—my daughter rescued it from our dog, who had found it crossing the gravel driveway at our family’s cabin west of St. Louis. Such overwhelming cuteness demanded a photo session, and rather than deal with the active little hatchling’s persistent efforts to duck into the leaf litter I decided to photograph it on a clean, white background and arrange some of the photos in a “Naskreckian” collage. My daughter wanted to keep the little guy, but eventually she agreed that it would be better off released back into the forest. While it may lead a more perilous life in the forest, the opportunity to dine on fresh earthworms and strawberries should make up for it, and from these photos my daughter can always remember it for the little pup it once was.

Box-turtle-collage_1080x1407

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

Great Basin Collecting Trip iReport

During the last week of August, I teamed up with fellow longhorned beetle enthusiast Jeff Huether to look for species in the genus Crossidius. This exclusively North American genus contains a number of colorful species in the tribe Trachyderini that are associated with woody composites in the genera Ericameria and Chrysothamnus (rabbitbrush) and Gutierrezia (snakeweed). While centered in the vast Great Basin in the western U.S., many species occur further east into the Great Plains, west to the Great Central Valley and deserts of southern California, north into southwestern Canada, and south into mainland Mexico and Baja California.¹ Adults of most species emerge during late summer or fall to coincide with the profusion of yellow blooms that appear on their host plants and upon which the adults can be found feeding, mating, and resting. A conspicuous feature of most species in the genus is extreme polytopism—a consequence of discontinuous host plant distributions across the basin and range topography that has resulted in more or less insular local populations. Not surprisingly, the taxonomic history of the genus is complex, but many of the Great Basin taxa are now regarded as subspecies of two widely ranging species—C. coralinus and C. hirtipes (the latter being, perhaps, the most highly polytopic species of Cerambycidae in all of North America).²

¹ Morris & Wappes (2013) recently described and assigned to this genus a species apparently restricted to relict sand formations in southern Georgia. Its highly disjunct distribution, however, along with significant differences in morphology, habits and biology compared to other species of Crossidius suggest that it might more properly be regarded as a distinct genus.

² Not all longhorned beetle enthusiasts accept the current taxonomy, arguing that species such as C. coralinus and C. hiripes merely reflect clinal patterns of variability. I concede the genus needs further work, as did Linsley & Chemsak (1961), whose generic revision forms the basis for current species/subspecies concepts. I will note, however, that the aforementioned authors examined more than 12,000 specimens during the course of their study, and wholesale dismissal of the subspecies they recognized might be premature until a significantly larger amount of material, preferably supplemented with series of specimens from lesser known geographies as well as molecular data from across their ranges, can be examined.

We flew into Reno and spent the first several days in western Nevada. Jeff arrived the night before I did and, thus, had the chance to scope out Davis Creek Park south of Reno during the morning of my arrival. It must have been to his liking, as after he picked me up at the airport we went straight back to the park and found good numbers of what we consider to be C. hirtipes immaculatus on the stands of rabbitbrush at the park. There were at least two types of rabbitbrush present, with the beetles showing a distinct preference for one over the other (vouchers of both plant species were collected for ID confirmation). Thick haze from the ongoing Rim Fire to the south in the Sierra Nevada had settled over the area, greatly limiting visibility and reducing adjacent Mt. Rose to a faint silhouette but allowing some rather spectacular sunset photos of one of my favorite western jewel beetle species, Agrilus walsinghami, which we found in small numbers on both types of rabbitbrush.

Davis Creek Regional Park

Haze from the Rim Fire settles over Davis Creek Park | Washoe Co., Nevada

The following day we drove to several areas further east near Fallon (Churchill Co.) and along Coal Canyon Road near Lovelock (Pershing Co.), where we found good numbers of C. coralinus temprans on gray rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa). In most spots only a few individuals were found—mostly males, but in one spot south of Fallon we encountered good numbers of the beetles (and the heaviest numbers of mosquitoes from nearby Carson Lake that I have ever experienced!). We were skunked in our attempt to find C. h. bechteli, which has been collected at a few spots across northern Nevada, but we knew it would be a long shot since known records of the subspecies are from mid- to late September. Our visit to the area, however, was not for naught, as the sinking sun in the still smoke-filled sky presented a short window of opportunity for more stunning photos of insects at sunset.

Ted MacRae

Using the “left wrist” technique for Crossidius coralinus temprans on Ericameria nauseosa | Pershing Co., Nevada

Day 3 was spent dropping south along US-95A in western Nevada towards Yearington and Wellington (Lyon Co.). We made a number of stops and encountered C. c. temprans at most of the rabbitbrush habitats we sampled, but our real quarry was several named subspecies of C. hirtipesC. h. rubrescens, and in adjacent Douglas Co., C. h. immaculipennis and C. h. macswainei. For much of the day it looked as though we might not find any of the C. hirtipes subspecies, but finally as we approached Yearington we found what we consider to be C. h. rubrescens hiding among the flowers of yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus). (In fact, we were actually walking back to the car to leave the spot when we finally spotted a mating pair on a flower. It turns out that we were focusing on the larger Ericameria plants preferred by C. coralinus, rather than the smaller Chrysothamnus plants preferred by C. hirtipes.) Considerable effort was required to collect a decent series and obtain field photographs before the setting sun caused the beetles to retreat and become too difficult to find. It would also be my last opportunity to take dramatic sunset photos, this time with C. hirtipes.

Sage grassland

Sage grasslands with established stands of rabbitbrush is perfect Crossidius habitat | Lyon Co., Nevada

Crossidius coralinus

Preparing to photograph a mating pair of Crossidius coralinus temprans | Lyon Co., Nevada

We continued our hunt for the other two C. hirtipes subspecies mentioned above on Day 4 in the area around Wellington in Lyon Co. and adjacent Douglas Co. Those of you who think Nevada is desolate and monotonous desert should take the drive south of Yearington through Walker Canyon and then south of Wellington through Toiyabe National Forest to Sweetwater Summit. I guarantee this will be some of the most spectacular countryside you have ever seen. As with C. h. rubrescens the previous day, it took some effort and trying several spots before we found a population in Douglas Co. west of Wellington that we consider to represent C. h. immaculipennis. They were co-occurring with almost equal numbers of C. ater, a widespread, all-black species that shows no appreciable variation across its range but which has been implicated in providing melanism to several C. hirtipes subspecies through introgressive hybridization (Linsley & Chemsak 1961). Eventually we decided we had sufficient material of C. h. immaculipennis and drove back through Wellington and south towards Sweetwater Summit, stopping at several spots along the way but finding nothing on either the Ericameria or Chrysothamnus. Finally, at the summit we found a single individual of C. h. macswainei, which I photographed later that evening. At the time we thought it was the only individual of this subspecies that we had collected on the trip, but closer examination of the material collected north of Yearington since returning home suggests that it may actually be a mixture of C. h. rubrescens and C. h. macswainei. [Clearly the taxonomy needs to be adjusted if this is the case; either the two taxa are not valid subspecies (in which case intermediates should also be found), or they actually represent two closely related but nevertheless distinct and partially sympatric species.]

Toiyabe National Forest

Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada—what people think…

Toiyabe National Forest

Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada—the real thing (made even more dramatic by the setting sun)!

On Day 5 we continued our southward march, crossing over the Nevada-California border along US-95 and dropping south along the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada—first into Mono Basin and then into Owens Valley. For me it was a return to one of my favorite places on earth, which I last visited way back in 1995 while living in California. We stopped briefly at Topaz Lake and found a few Cicindela o. oregona that proved to be extremely wary (white box photography alert), but our real target was C. h. flavescens, known only from the area around Kennedy Meadow in Inyo Co. Unfortunately, we didn’t pay attention to the county and went instead to Kennedy Meadows in Tuolomne Co.! Needless to say, while we did find some stands of Ericameria we did not find any Crossidius beetles, and it would not be until after the trip was over that we discovered our error. Nevertheless, the drive up the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada, over Sonora Pass, and partway down the western flank to Kennedy Meadows allowed us to “clean up” on C. ater and offered spectacular scenery despite the continued cloaking of haze from the now much nearer Rim Fire. Jeff also managed to find the only specimen of C. punctatus that we would see on the trip.

Sonora Pass

Sonora Pass | Mono/Tuolomne Co., California

Pinus contorta murrayana

Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta murrayana) cadaver at Sonora Pass

We continued south along US-95 into Mono Basin towards a locality near Mammoth Lakes to look for the spectacular orange subspecies C. c. monoensis. Of course, one cannot drive right through the Mono Lake area without stopping and every Vista Point and at the lake itself to admire its strange, almost moonscape-like tufa towers. It was getting late in the day, so I found myself in a bit of a race to photograph the towers before they were covered by the advancing shadows from the Sierra Nevada to the west. I did not succeed completely, but the resulting photos with contrasting “black and white” towers made for nevertheless interesting photos.

Mono Lake Vista Point

Mono Lake Vista Point along US-395 | Mono Co., California

Great Basin fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes)

Great Basin fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis longipes) at Mono Lake Vista Point

Mono Lake

Tufa towers at Mono Lake | Mono Co., California

Mono Lake

Late afternoon shadows create an interesting “black/white” contrast between shaded and sunlit tufa.

Eventually we resumed our southward trek and, with daylight waning rapidly, arrived at a spot near Mammoth Lakes where Jeff had taken C. c. monoensis in the past. We were rewarded with a few males and females, and I was able to take some rather spectacular field photographs of each. Until now, all of the C. coralinus I had seen were deep red and black, but these were bright orange with only a little bit of black—gorgeous! After failing in our attempt to find C. h. flavescens, finding this subspecies rescued the day as a success, and we were able to complete our drive into Bishop and spend the next day focusing on additional subspecies in Owens Valley and the White Mountains.

Sierra Nevada

The eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada rise dramatically in the distance | Mono Co., California

Sierra Nevada

Mono Basin near Mammoth Lakes (7000 ft)—locality for Crossidius coralinus monoensis | Mono Co., California

Our first stop on Day 6 was just a short 2.5 drive north from our hotel in Bishop, where we found a very nice population of C. c. caeruleipennis. If you think C. c. monoensis is spectacular, wait until you see this subspecies bearing the same bright orange coloration as C. c. monoensis but larger and even less maculated with black—the males are almost pure orange! I presume we were on the early side of things (as with most of the populations we found), as the plants were just on the early side of blooming and the majority of individuals encountered were males (which tend to emerge earlier than females). The occasional E. nauseosa plant in full bloom often had several individuals on it, including mating pairs.

Sage grassland

Owens Valley near Bishop (4000 ft)—locality for Crossidius coralinus caeruleipennis | Inyo Co., California

With success already in hand, we continued south into the White Mountains to the area around Westgard Pass where a particularly dark subspecies—C. h. nubilus is known to occur. As we experienced earlier in the week, success did not come until we stopped searching the larger, more conspicuous Ericameria plants and focused on the much smaller and less conspicuous C. viscidiflorus plants. While I did manage to take some field photographs, the beetles were not numerous and I held some alive for photographs in the hotel room later than night. The beetles also seemed to be curiously patchy in their occurrence, with large stretches of seemingly good plants hosting none and the majority found in two small, localized spots in the area west of the pass.

Westgard Pass

Pinyon-juniper zone near Westgard Pass—locality for Crossidius hirtipes nubilus | Inyo Co., California

Under normal circumstances, I would have been content to close out the day looking for additional beetles to strengthen my series in the hopes of getting a good representation of the variation present in the population, but these were not normal circumstances—we were only a short drive from Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Despite living in California for five years back in the 1990s, I never took the opportunity to visit this place and explore its incredible stands of Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva). The oldest non-clonal tree in the world, dated to nearly 5000 years old, occurs in this area, and many of the trees in the forest range from 1000–2000 years old. Indescribable is the only adjective that I can offer for one’s first sight of these trees, many gnarled and grotesquely twisted by age and wind, the older ones often with nothing but a narrow strip of living wood connecting the roots to a small group of live branches on an otherwise dead tree.

Pinus longaeva (bristlecone pine)

Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) | Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Inyo Co., California

Ted C. MacRae

Sitting next to an ancient cadaver—who knows how old it is?

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Spectacular vistas around every bend at Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

Pinus longaeva (bristlecone pine)

Female cones bear longish, incurved bristles on the tips of their scales.

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Great Basin bristlecone pines are restricted to high elevations in California, Nevada, and Utah.

On Day 7 we left Bishop and headed back north to Mono Basin to take another shot at C. c. monoensis and also look for C. h. rhodopus, the latter being a particularly reddish subspecies known only from Mono Basin. We had not seen the latter in our cursory look at Mono Basin habitats two days ago, and it continued to elude us at several stops in areas supporting the C. viscidiflorus host plants on which we expected it to occur (although we did manage to find a few more C. c. monoensis at the locality near Mammoth Lakes). I had collected C. h. rhodopus almost 20 years ago—my last trip to the Mono Basin—at a spot in the Benton Range at the south end of the Mono Basin (which also happens to be the type locality for the jewel beetle Nanularia monoensis, described by my late friend Chuck Bellamy in his 1987 revision of the genus). As a remembrance of Chuck I thought it would be nice to find and photograph N. monoensis as well, so we headed towards the Benton Range as our last stop in California before heading east through the Great Basin to look for additional C. hirtipes and C. coralinus subspecies. As we drove, we saw robust stands of C. viscidiflorus in Adobe Valley stretching south of Mono Lake towards the northern terminus of the White Mountains and decided to stop on the chance we might find C. h. rhodopus there. It’s a good thing we did, as the beetles were out in force. I tried photographing some individuals in the field, and while I did get some decent shots the beetles were generally too flighty and active to justify the effort. I was also anxious to look for N. monoensis, so I put a live male and female in a vial with a piece of host for photography later that evening and we continued towards the Benton Range.

Adobe Valley

Adobe Valley near the White Mountains—locality for Crossidius hirtipes rhodopus | Mono Co., California

Despite its close proximity to the comparatively lush Adobe Valley, conditions in the Benton Range were exceedingly dry. We searched around a bit, but it was apparent by the lack of any herbaceous plants or fresh growth on perennial plants that the area had not received rain for an extended period of time. In fact, I could not even find a single buckwheat (Eriogonum kearneyi var. monoensis) plant on which to search for jewel beetles. The only beetles seen were an aggregation of ~15 C. ater and C. h. rhodopus adults on a single E. nauseosa plant that, unlike the other plants in the area, somehow managed to achieve full bloom. Nevertheless, it was great to visit the locality and rekindle memories after so many years absence. Once we convinced ourselves that there were truly no more beetles to be had, we began the first leg of our long, 2-day drive across the southern Great Basin for the final phase of the trip.

Benton Range

The Benton Range is the type locality of Nanularia monoensis | Mono Co., California

Benton Range

The White Mountains form a dramatic backdrop behind the Benton Range | Mono Co., California

Ted C. MacRae

The author takes a “pensive” selfie | Benton Range, Mono Co., California

We spent the night in Tonapah, Nevada and began Day 8 by driving east along US-6, stopping along the roadsides periodically whenever particularly promising-looking stands of Ericameria/Chrysothamnus were seen. We had expected to begin finding populations assignable to subspecies C. h. brunneipennis as soon as we left Tonapah, but for the most part searching during the morning hours was fruitless. We did find single male and female examples from south-central Nevada of what seems to best fit C. coralinus coccineus (known mostly from southwestern Utah), but it was not until late morning when we were within about 30 miles of Ely in east-central Nevada that we began finding adults of C. hirtipes brunneipennis. At first they were scarce and difficult to find, ensconced as they were within the flowers of their C. viscidiflorus hosts, but shortly they began to appear in great numbers and offered opportunity for field photographs and good series. We had observed on several days of the trip that C. hirtipes began ‘disappearing’ during late afternoon, in contrast to C. coralinus which tended to settle down within the flowers of their host plant where they could be found even at dusk (and perhaps all night had we searched for them at that time). I now believe that C. hirtipes tends to crawl down to the base of the host plant to spend the night and requires some period of warming temperatures before they come back up to the flowers the following morning, and that this is the reason why we did not succeed in finding populations further to the west in the areas we searched after leaving Tonapah in the morning. In contrast, we rarely failed to succeed in finding C. coralinus in the locations where they occur during early morning or early evening hours.

A short drive further east to Ely got us within range of the darkened subspecies C. h. cerarius, and at the first stop south of town sporting a good stand of C. viscidiflorus we found this one also in good numbers. Another short drive further east to near the Utah border brought us within the western limit of the final C. hirtipes subspecies that we were targeting—C. h. wickhami. Unlike the previous subspecies, which has an extremely limited distribution in east-central Nevada, C. h. wickhami is widespread from east-central Nevada across western Utah and northern Arizona. We waited until we crossed the Utah border, stopped at the first stand of C. viscidiflorus that we saw, and found decent numbers of this subspecies distinguished by its light coloration and distinct sutural stripe.

Great Basin desert

Yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) host for Crossidius hirtipes wickhami | Millard Co., Utah

We needed to make it to Moab, Utah in the evening, so we began the long trek across southern Utah. There is another C. coralinus subspecies known from southwestern Utah that we could have targeted—C. c. coccineus, but we had both already collected examples of this subspecies in Cedar City, Utah during a tour of the Great Western Sand Dunes two years ago. Finding a male and a female of what seem to be this subspecies fulfilled my desire for photography subjects, and there were additional C. coralinus subspecies to be had further east that I had not yet collected. As I first learned two years ago, and which was again confirmed on this trip, southern Utah has some of the most dramatic scenery in all of the western U.S. Period! The photos below are but two examples of the many spectacular sights that I saw, and more now than ever I hope to return to this area in the future for serious exploration.

Sevier Lake

A thunderstorm settles over the Cricket Mountains behind Sevier Lake | Millard Co., Utah

Devil's Canyon

A late afternoon rainbow dissipates over Devil’s Canyon | Emery Co., Utah

The last field day of a trip is always a bit melancholic—I’m never happier than when I’m in the field, and when I’m having particularly good luck it makes the end of the trip even harder to think about. The best cure for melancholy, however, is more success in the field, and Day 9 started off with a bang. We had driven less than 40 miles south of Moab when we saw good looking stands of E. nauseosa and C. viscidiflorus, and on the very first plant we checked sat a spectacular female representing the robust, bright red and heavily marked nominotypical C. coralinus. Only a few more were found during the ensuing search until I found a “mother lode” plant hosting two mating pairs and three singletons. As it was still fairly early in the morning, the beetles were quite calm and I was able to fill my photographic quota of the subspecies with nice field shots of both sexes. We stopped at several more spots as we approached and crossed into Colorado, including Cortez where we found nice numbers of super-sized individuals. Mindful of the time, we tore ourselves away and continued east to the area around Fort Garland in south-central Colorado, where Jeff had previously seen C. c. jocosus—similar to C. c. coralinus but unusually diminutive in comparison. Anticipation, however, got the better of us before we made it to Fort Garland, for after passing through the San Juan Mountains we stopped at a few spots around Monte Vista on the western side of the San Luis Valley (Fort Garland lies further east on the opposite side of the valley). Good fortune awaited us, as we found a handful of individuals at two sites that appeared to represent C. c. jocosus, reducing the importance of getting to Fort Garland and finding them there. The sites where we found these beetles might represent the western limit of distribution for the subspecies, which would seem to be isolated from C. c. coralinus by the intervening San Juan Mountains. It’s a good thing we stopped at those sites, as further east near Fort Garland nearly all of the plants were past peak bloom and no beetles were seen. Only a last ditch stop at a stand of plants just east of Fort Garland produced a single male and single female to add to those we had collected earlier, but it was enough to put a smile on the face and make it easier to accept that a long, successful trip had finally come to an end. We recounted our successes during the 3-hour drive to Denver: 14 of 16 targeted taxa successfully located, plus an additional three taxa not targeted for a total count of 17 named taxa.

Ted MacRae

Photographing insects on Ericameria nauseosa | San Juan Co., Utah

In closing this report, I should note a few caveats:

  1. Identifications are preliminary and based primarily on expected geographical occurrence along with cursory comparison to descriptions and diagnoses published in Linsley & Chemsak (1961). Some modifications to these identifications might occur after collected material has been examined more closely (e.g., the possible co-occurrence of C. h. rubrescens and C. h. macswainei at a locality just north of Yearington, Nevada). This also applies to host plant identifications; however, voucher samples were collected from almost every location and will be submitted to specialists for ID confirmation.
  2. All of the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone. This does not mean that I have no photos taken with my ‘real’ camera to share—these will be forthcoming in future posts that examine many of the above mentioned subjects in more detail (as well as a few additional subjects not mentioned above). This also does not mean that these photos are ‘straight from the phone’—they have been post-processed in much the same way I process photos taken with the digital SLR to emphasize their good qualities and minimize their bad ones. I choose to include only iPhone photos in this post since the iPhone is what I mostly use to document a general ‘flavor’ of the trip, saving the digital SLR for true macro-photography or subjects requiring the highest possible quality. Aw heck, here’s a ‘real’ photo of one of the insects I found on the trip to whet your appetite for posts to come:
Crossidius coralinus temprans on Ericameria nauseosa | Churchill Co., Nevada

Crossidius coralinus temprans (female) on stem of Ericameria nauseosa | Churchill Co., Nevada

REFERENCES:

Bellamy, C. L. 1987. Revision of the genera Nanularia Casey and Ampheremus Fall (Coleoptera, Buprestidae, Chalcophorinae). Contributions in Science, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History 387:1–20.

Linsley, E. G. & J. A. Chemsak. 1961. A distributional and taxonomic study of the genus Crossidius (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae). Miscellaneous Publications of the Entomological Society of America 3(2):25–64 + 3 color plates.

Morris, R. F., III & J. E. Wappes. 2013. Description of a new Crossidius LeConte (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Cerambycinae: Trachyderini) from southern Georgia with comments on its biology and unusual distribution. Insecta Mundi 0304:1–7.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Rattlesnakes may be present!

I don’t know what it is, but even though I am first an entomologist I am also a sucker for snakes. Well, not just any snakes, but rattlesnakes. It must have something to do with my psyche—my favorite color is black, when it comes to music I choose metal (Slayer, anyone?), and I have a collection of replica fossil hominid skulls… in my office! At any rate, when I decided to return to Gloss Mountain State Park near the end of my early June collecting trip to Oklahoma, I also decided to make a real effort to find an adult western diamondback rattlesnake. Why did I decide to do this (other than my psyche)? Because I had seen a juvenile there earlier in the week but still hadn’t seen an adult, and there is an area in the park surrounded by signs that read “CAUTION. Rattlesnakes may be present! Stay out of the tall grass. Don’t reach into holes. Stay on marked trails. Be observant.” So, what did I do? I went in, of course!

Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) | Gloss Mountain State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) | Gloss Mountain State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

Actually, I had been in the area several times already on previous visits looking for these snakes, but for some reason—perhaps the juvenile from across the road still fresh in my mind, I just had the feeling that this time I was going to find one. One always enters cautiously at first, watching their every step as they wade through the waist high grasses while straining to see any sign of the diamondback pattern between the clumps of vegetation or on the steeply eroding red clay slopes above. Caution eventually subsides, however, and after about 15 minutes my attentions started drifting back to looking for beetles. I had walked along most of the southern perimeter of the area when I crested a small rise and my heart was jolted by the sudden and distinctive “buzz” of a full-sized rattlesnake. I couldn’t see it, but the sound was coming from about 10 yards in front of me, so I cautiously crept forward, moving from side to side bit as I did to help me triangulate the precise location of the sound. Within a few steps I finally saw it—a nice, adult western diamondback rattlesnake! It was largely hidden from view within a heavy jumble of vegetation—no hope for useful photographs, so I extended the telescoping handle of my insect net to its full 7-ft length and used it to carefully move away as much of the screening vegetation as I could. The snake rattled vigorously as I did this, its head always following the red grip at the end of the handle but never striking. That 7-ft distance was about as close I could comfortably get, and my 100-mm macro lens is the longest lens I have in the kit, so the full snake shot shown above and some similar shots were all I could really get. How I would have loved to have had a 200-mm or 300-mm lens to get some really close head shots!

I’ll admit that I tip-toed out of the area much more cautiously than I entered, but I did so with my held-held high and chest puffed out a bit knowing that, once again, persistence had paid off.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Oklahoma Collecting Trip iReport

I’m back home after my week-long collecting trip to western Oklahoma, and at the risk of sounding hyperbolous I can only describe it as one of the most successful collecting trips I’ve ever had. Seriously! These kinds of trips don’t happen all that often for a variety of reasons—timing is off, rains didn’t happen, weather was uncooperative, etc. etc. Once in a while, though, everything comes together, and this was one of those times. The trip was also a return to my roots so to speak—I’ve been rather distracted in recent years with tiger beetles, but jewel beetles (family Buprestidae) and, to a lesser extent longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae), are really the primary focus of my taxonomic studies. It had been several years since I’d had a good “jewel beetle trip,” so that was the focus of this trip. In planning the trip, I recalled seeing jewel beetle workings in several woody plant species in the same area during last September’s trip, and the occurrence of May rains seemed to bode well for my early June timing.

Gloss Mountains State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

Gloss Mountains State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

My instincts proved to be justified—in seven days in the field I collected an estimated 1000–1500 specimens representing at least two dozen species of Buprestidae and a dozen or more Cerambycidae. More important than the numbers, I collected a number of species in good series that I have either not or only rarely collected before, and in fact the second beetle that I collected turned out to be a new state record! Of course, I also brought along my full-sized camera and associated gear and photographed many of the species that I collected. I will feature these photos in future posts, but for this post I thought it might be fun to give a high level view of the trip illustrated only with photos taken with my iPhone (which I also carry religiously in the field with me). The iPhone is great for quick snaps of scenery and miscellaneous plants and animals for which I don’t feel like breaking out the big camera, or as a prelude to the big camera for something I’d like to share right away on Facebook. Moreover, there are some types of photos (landscapes and wide-angles) that iPhones actually do quite well (as long as there is sufficient light!).

Gloss Mountains State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

Atop the main mesa at Gloss Mountains State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

My first destination was Gloss Mountains State Park (Major Co.), a stunning system of gypsum-capped, red-clay mesas. I’ve already found a number of rare tiger beetles here such as Cylindera celeripes (Swift Tiger Beetle), Amblycheila cylindriformis (Great Plains Giant Tiger Beetle) and Dromochorus pruinina (Frosted Dromo Tiger Beetle), and in the past two falls I’ve found two interesting jewel beetle records: Chrysobothris octocola as a new state record, and Acmaeodera macra as a northern range extension. On this trip, I started out beating the mesquite  (Prosopis glandulosa) and immediately got the longhorned beetle Plionoma suturalis—a new state record! They were super abundant on the mesquite, and I collected several dozen specimens along with numerous C. octocola as well. I then moved over to the red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which was showing a high incidence of branch dieback, and collected nice series of several buprestids, including what I believe to be Chrysobothis ignicollis and C. texanus. Up on top of the mesa there are small stands of hackberry (Celtis laevigata) and soapberry (Sapindus saponaria), both of which are very good hosts for Buprestidae. Not much was on the soapberry, but I beat large series of several Buprestidae from the hackberry, including what I believe to be Chrysobothris caddo and—the real prize—Paratyndaris prosopis! My old friend C. celeripes was also out in abundance, so I collected a series to add to my previous vouchers from this site. Back down below, I marveled at a juvenile western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) in the area where I found some more A. cylindriformis larval burrows. Daylight ran out before I could dig them up, and after 11 hours in the field I was exhausted, so I returned the next morning and got one 1st- and two 3rd-instar larvae and went back up on top of the mesa and beat several more P. prosopis from the hackberry.

Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) | Alabaster Cavern State Park, Woodward Co., Oklahoma

Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) | Alabaster Cavern State Park, Woodward Co., Oklahoma

My second stop was at Alabaster Cavern State Park (Woodward Co.), where C. celeripes was again abundant on the gypsum-clay exposures surrounding an impressive gorge thought to be a collapsed cave complex. I focused on beating hackberry because of the success with buprestids on this plant at Gloss Mountains SP, and although they were not quite as abundant here as at Gloss Mountains I still managed to end up with good series of C. caddo and several species of Agrilus. Because I had spent the morning at Gloss Mountains, I had only a partial day to explore Alabaster Caverns and, still getting used to the weight of the camera bag on my back, decided to leave the big camera in the car. This was a mistake, as I encountered my first ever bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) and had to settle for iPhone photos of this species—the photo above being the best of the bunch. An approaching storm put an end to my second day after another 10 hours in the field, and I drove an hour to Woodward.

Moneilema sp. on Opuntia phaecantha | Alabaster Cavern State Park, Woodward Co., Oklahoma

Moneilema sp. on Opuntia phaecantha | Alabaster Cavern State Park, Woodward Co., Oklahoma

My third day started out at nearby Boiling Springs State Park, a riparian oasis on sandy alluvium alongside the nearby Cimarron River. The woodlands are dominated by hackberry and American elm, and although a few buprestids were beaten from hackberry and honey locust (Gleditisia triacanthos), the numbers and diversity were not enough to hold my interest in the spot. After lunch, I decided to return to Alabaster Caverns SP and explore some other areas I had not had a chance to explore during the previous partial day. It’s a good thing that I did, as I ended up finding a nice population of longhorned cactus beetles in the genus Moneilema associated with prickly pear cactus (Opuntia phaecantha). I collected a nice series of adults and also learned a few lessons in how to photograph these beetles on their viciously protective host plants. The photo above gives a taste of what will come in the photos that I took with the big camera. After eight hours in the field and darkness falling, I drove two hours to Forgan in Beaver Co.

Beaver Dunes State Park, Beaver Co., Oklahoma

Beaver Dunes State Park, Beaver Co., Oklahoma

Day 4 in the field started out cold and ominous, having stormed heavily during the previous night and with thick clouds still hanging in the sky. I feared the day might be a wash but decided to venture to Beaver Dunes State Park anyway and take my chances (beating can still be productive even in cold weather as long as the foliage is not wet). It’s a good thing that I did, as the buprestids were as numerous as I’ve ever seen them. The park’s central feature is a system of barren sand dunes that are frequented by ORV enthusiasts and surrounded by hackberry woodlands. The park also has a reservoir and campground, around which are growing a number of cottonwoods (Populus deltoides).

Hackberry Bend Campground, Beaver Dunes State Park, Beaver Co., Oklahoma

Hackberry Bend Campground, Beaver Dunes State Park, Beaver Co., Oklahoma

These hackberrys and cottonwoods proved to be extraordinarily productive. On the former I collected large series of several species of Chrysobothris and Agrilus, and while I collected fewer Buprestidae on the latter, these included Agrilus quadriguttatus and Poecilonota cyanipes! The latter species I had never collected until last year (from Cerceris fumipennis wasps), and beating the lower branches of the declining cottonwoods produced a series of about a dozen specimens. I also got one specimen on black willow (Salix nigra), along with a few Chrysobothris sp. and what I take to be Agrilus politus. Also in a low branch of one of the cottonwoods was a bird’s nest with a single egg that, according to Facebook comments, either represents the American Robin or a Gray Catbird. (I returned the next day and saw two eggs in the same nest.)

American Robin or Gray Catbird nest w/ egg | Beaver Dunes State Park, Beaver Co., Oklahoma

American Robin or Gray Catbird nest w/ egg | Beaver Dunes State Park, Beaver Co., Oklahoma

As the day drew to a close, I found two interesting longhorned beetle species at the edge of the dunes: one large, powdery gray Tetraopes sp. on milkweed (Asclepias sp.), and huge numbers of Batyle ignicollis evidently perched on the yellow spiked inflorescence of an as yet undetermined plant. I have seen this species on many occasions, but always in low numbers, yet here were literally hundreds of individuals on the plants, all having assumed a characteristic pose on the inflorescence suggesting that they had bedded down for the night. I only spent eight hours in the field on this day because of the late start, and as darkness approached I began the two-hour drive to Boise City.

Black Mesa landscape

Sculpted sandstone landscape in the vicinity of Black Mesa State Park, Cimarron Co., Oklahoma

The final two days in the field were supposed to be spent exploring the area around Black Mesa in the extreme northwest corner of Oklahoma, and another hour of driving was needed to get to the area from Boise City. I first went to Black Mesa State Park, and while the landscape was stunning (see above) the area was extremely dry. I feared the collecting would not be at all productive in this area but wanted to give the area a good effort before making a call. As I approached the entrance to the park, I saw a jeep parked by the side of the road with a license plate that read “Schinia,” which I recognized as a genus of noctuid moths that are very popular with collectors. I pulled over and talked to the driver, who was indeed a lepidopterist from Denver and had just arrived himself. We talked and exchanged contact information, and learning of my interest in beetles he directed me to a small stand of Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) and one-seed juniper (Juniperus monosperma) on a sculpted sandstone escarpment not far from the park. I found the spot, and although I beat three Chrysobothris sp. from the first juniper tree that I whacked, another hour of beating produced only one more beetle from the juniper and nothing from the oak. I returned to the spot where we had met and encountered him again on his way out! We stopped and chatted again and found a few specimens of what I take to be Typocerus confluens on the yellow asters, but by then I was having my doubts about staying in the area. I told him I was going to check out a ravine in the park and then decide.

Petrified forest | Black Mesa State Park, Cimarron Co., Oklahoma

Petrified forest | Black Mesa State Park, Cimarron Co., Oklahoma

The petrified forest ended up being the only interesting thing I found in the ravine—the area was so dry that I think even the real trees were almost petrified! At any rate, it was clear that I was not going to have much success in this area. I looked at my watch, knowing that it would take three hours to drive back to Beaver Dunes, and estimated that if I left now I could get in about three hours of collecting at Beaver Dunes where I’d had so much success the previous day. Thus, I did what I rarely do on a collecting trip—drive during the afternoon!

Beaver Dune

The main dune at Beaver Dunes State Park, Beaver Co., Oklahoma.

A chunky grasshopper nymph inhabiting the dune

A chunky grasshopper nymph inhabiting the main dune.

I arrived back at Beaver Dunes with several hours of daylight still remaining, so I decided to take a look around the main dunes before heading towards the woody plants. I’ve actually visited Beaver Dunes previously, on the tail end of a fall tiger beetle trip in 2011. At that time I had seen only the rather common and widespread species Cicindela formosa (Big Sand Tiger Beetle) and C. scutellaris (Festive Tiger Beetle), but I thought there could still be a chance to see the much less common C. lengi (Blowout Tiger Beetle). Early June, however, is a little late to see the spring tigers, and in fact I saw only a single C. formosa. Nevertheless, I find dune habitats irresistible—alien habitats occupied by strange plants and animals, and I spent a bit of time exploring the main dune before heading back towards where I had collected so many Buprestidae the previous day.

Low water levels in the reservoir at Beaver Dunes are a result of three years of drought.

Low water levels in the reservoir at Beaver Dunes are a result of three years of drought.

Western Oklahoma, like many parts of the central U.S., has suffered rather severe drought conditions for the past several years. This was evident not only in the large amount of branch dieback seen in the woody vegetation of the area (and probably a contributor to my success at collecting Buprestidae) but also the very low water level in the park reservoir. In the photo above the small cottonwood saplings in the foreground and large cottonwood trees in the left background indicate the normal water level. Cottonwoods, of course, like to keep their feet wet, and the trees around this reservoir—left high and dry by the drought—have responded with major branch dieback and lots of subsequent adventitious sprouting at the bases of the main branches. It was from this adventitious growth that I had beaten most of the Poecilonota cyanipes that I collected the previous day, so I repeated the cottonwood circuit in the hopes of collecting more. Not only did I collect more, but I collected twice as many as the previous day, so I ended up with a very nice series of more than two dozen individuals of the species from the two days collecting. I also did a little more beating of the hackberry trees which had produced well the previous day and collected several more Chrysobothris caddoC. purpureovittata, and Agrilus spp. such as A. leconteiA. paracelti, and perhaps others. When I arrived I was unsure whether I would stay here the following day, but eventually I decided I had sampled the area about as well as I could and that I would go back to the Gloss Mountains for my last day in Oklahoma. Thus, as the day began to wane I began hiking back to the car and spent the next two hours driving back to Woodward to spend the night.

Steep slope below the main mesa | Gloss Mountains State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

Steep slope below the main mesa | Gloss Mountains State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

Echinocereus sp. | Gloss Mountains State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

Echinocereus sp. | Gloss Mountains State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

Arriving at the Gloss Mountains the next morning was like coming home! I’ve spent so much time at this place and found so many great insects, yet every time I come here I find something new. Today, however, my goals were more modest—I wanted to improve on my series of Paratyndaris prosopis and Chrysobothris texanus, so I focused most of my time beating the hackberry and juniper on top of the mesa and continued beating the juniper down below as well. Success! I collected four more Paratyndaris off of the hackberry, but the C. texanus were far more abundant on this day than they were earlier in the week—I probably got another two dozen individuals of this species. Of course, I also got distracted taking photographs of a number of things, so the day went far more quickly than I realized. I wanted to leave around 6 pm and get in about three hours of driving so that I would have time to make it into Missouri the next morning and have a nice chunk of time to collect before finishing the drive and arriving home on Saturday night. It was actually closer to 7:30 pm before I hit the road, the reason for the delay being the subject of a future post (I will say that BioQuip’s extendable net handle comes in handy for much more than collecting tiger beetles!).

Dolomite glades | Hercules Glades Wilderness, Taney Co., Missouri

Dolomite glades | Hercules Glades Wilderness, Taney Co., Missouri

Long Creek | Hercules Glades Wilderness, Taney Co., Missouri

Long Creek | Hercules Glades Wilderness, Taney Co., Missouri

For my last day of collecting, I decided to stop by at one of my favorite spots in the White River Hills of extreme southwestern Missouri—Hercules Glades Wilderness in the Mark Twain National Forest. I’ve been to this place a number of times over the years, but in recent years my visits have usually been late in the season to look for the always thrilling to see Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina (Prairie Tiger Beetle). It had actually been about 25 years since I’d visited these glades during the spring, and because of the success I’d had collecting in Oklahoma I was really optimistic that I would find the same here. Sadly (and inexplicably), insect activity was very low, and it didn’t take long for this to become apparent as branch after branch that I beat along the trail through the dry-mesic forest down to Long Creek yielded nothing. By the time I got to the creek I still had not collected a single beetle. A consolation prize was found along the creek, as beating the ninebark (Physocarpos opulifolius) produced a few specimens of the pretty little Dicerca pugionata, and a couple more consolation prizes were found further up the trail approaching the main glade when I saw a Cylindera unipunctata (One-spotted Tiger Beetle) run across the trail and then beat a single Agrilus fuscipennis from a small persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) tree at the edge of the glades. It had been about 25 years since I last collected the latter species, so I was very happy to see it, but no more were seen despite beating every persimmon tree that I saw during the rest of the day. At the end of the day, I had hiked seven miles and collected only six beetles—a rather inauspicious ending to what was otherwise a wonderfully successful trip.

A rare ''selfie''

The author takes a rare ”selfie” at Gloss Mountains State Park.

Arriving back at the car at the end of the day on the last day of an extended collecting trip is always a little depressing—despite the vagaries of travel, cheap hotel beds, meals on the go, and general exhaustion, I’m never happier than I am when I am in the field. Still, the success that I’d had during this trip did much to ease my depression, and arriving home late that night and seeing my girls again (who waited up for me!) finished off any remaining depression.

© Ted C. MacRae 2013

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) | Gloss Mountains, Major Co., Oklahoma

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) | Gloss Mountains, Major Co., Oklahoma

I’m always delighted to see snakes, even venomous species, and whenever my collecting takes me west I know my chances of seeing snakes are good. My first stop during the current collecting trip was the Gloss Mountains of northwestern Oklahoma, and although I have visited this place several times since “discovering” it in June 2009, I have seen only a single snake during all of my previous visits—a charming little Western Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius streckeri). I’m a little surprised by this, as the habitat looks perfect for the one snake that truly don’t look forward to encountering—the Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). As I roam the surrounding mixed grass prairies (by both day and night) I am ever on the watch for these terrifyingly aggressive snakes, having learned my lesson with this species a few years ago in South Dakota’s Black Hills. I spent two days in the area during this trip, and I still have not seen one, but I did see a young (just over 2 feet in length) Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)—my first for this species. Although he was lying in an eroded ravine in the red clay talus slopes and partially hidden by an overhanging clump of grass, the diamond pattern immediately drew my eye as something out of the ordinary, and I was able to move the grasses aside (with my net handle!) and get this shot before he even flinched. After the first flash he started getting agitated, and I was only able to get two more (not as good) shots before he’d had enough and began retreating into the thicker grass above the ravine—rattle buzzing vigorously as he left. Comparatively speaking, he was one of the most docile rattlesnakes I’ve encountered, but since this is the only Western Diamondback I’ve seen I don’t know if that is a hallmark of the species or more due to his young age.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

His name is Ralph!

E

Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) | Wayne Co., Missouri

Until the past few years, I could probably count on my two hands the number of snakes I’d seen in the field. This despite nearly weekly outings throughout each season going back to young adulthood. I’m sure this has something to do with my search image (beetles), my primary method of looking for them (whacking tree branches with my net handle over a beating sheet), and what I wasn’t also doing at the time (looking for snakes or anything else that wasn’t a beetle). One is unlikely to see these mostly shy, secretive animals when thrashing and whacking through the bush, and even if no ruckus is made to make them scamper they can still hide in plain sight due to their wonderfully cryptic coloration. It wasn’t until I started carrying a camera and began looking for other natural history subjects rather than just focusing on collecting as many beetles as possible that I began to see snakes. And since then I’ve seen a lot of them, including a terrifyingly aggressive timber rattler, a juvenile Osage copperhead, an uncooperative dusty hognosed snake, a death-feigning western hognosed snake, a cute little western pygmy rattlesnake, a rough green snake, a juvenile timber rattler, an adult Osage copperhead, and a yellow-bellied racer. The last three were all seen at what has become for me my favorite “snake spot”—a gorgeous preserve in the southeastern Missouri Ozarks. I’m not sure what makes this place so ideal—perhaps the massive outcroppings of jumbled rhyolite alongside the clear, spring-fed, gravel-bottomed river provide ample habitat and food for a variety of species. Regardless, I have visited the preserve each April  (for my annual season-opening birthday bug collecting trip) for the past three years and never failed to see at least one snake.¹

¹ To be clear, I am not a snake collector. That said, I do not have a problem with keeping snakes in captivity, at least in principle, but I am disturbed by the frequency with which snakes and other reptiles are irresponsibly collected at levels that are unsustainable and even “poached” from protected areas. For me personally, it is enjoyment enough to see, be able to identify, and observe these gorgeous animals in their native habitats, leaving with nothing more than a digital record and my vivid memories of that brief encounter.

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) | Wayne Co., Missouri

When threatened, hognose snakes flatten their head and neck, puff up their body, and hiss loudly.

On my most recent visit, I was hoping to once again see one of the timber rattlers that inhabit these rocky hillsides. I tip-toed up and down the rocky slopes as quietly as I could, but no such luck. On the way back, however, I spotted this colorful eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) lying just off the path. Despite its brilliant coloration and vivid markings, it was remarkably well camouflaged and I almost walked right past it. Of course, hognose snakes are well-known for their various threat and defensive displays. I’ve experienced some of these in my previous sightings with other species (death-feigning, mouth bleeding, and foul-smelling emissions), but to my delight I got to experience their most classic behaviors—flattening of the head and neck, puffing of the body, and loud hissing. The snake repeatedly performed these behaviors as I photographed it, and because I persisted the snake apparently concluded that these tactics weren’t working. What happened next was something I was completely unprepared for.

”Sir, what’s your name?”

As the snake began trying to crawl away, it opened its mouth widely…

”Uh, his name is…”

…and out came it’s last meal (obviously a frog, but with the head and front legs already digested, too difficult to identify any further)!

”RRRAAAALLPH!”

p.s. If you didn’t get the joke, watch this clip from the classic Cheech and Chong movie, Up in Smoke.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Fathers Day at the Missouri Botanical Garden

Yesterday my girls (wife Lynne and daughters Mollie and Madison) took me and my father to the Missouri Botanical Garden for Fathers Day. Although I’m an entomologist, I also have a strong botanical bent, and although my wife and father are not scientists like me, they nevertheless find a day at the Missouri Botanical Garden as enjoyable as I do. The girls, on the other hand, will never admit that they like it the way the rest of us do, but I think deep inside they enjoy it very much and, in later years, will look upon these visits as some of their fondest Mothers and Fathers Day memories.

Me and daughters Mollie and Madison.

My father and I have been back together for 20 years now. With my wife and daughters, he has become one of the most important persons in my life. I wrote an essay about my father four years ago that explains how he made me whole—it still rings true today.

Me and Pop.

I have been to the Missouri Botanical Garden many, many times over the years, but one sight have have still never seen is a corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum). I learned earlier this week that one of their plants is about ready to bloom, so I eagerly looked for this plant as we wound our way through the Climatron. As we came near the end and I still hadn’t seen it, I wondered if somehow I had missed it along the path. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of the giant 3′ tall flower bud near the end of the footpath, and I knew instantly that I had found what I was looking for.

Corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) getting ready to bloom.

I will be keeping track of the progress of this flower over the next couple of weeks on the Missouri Botanical Garden Facebook page in hopes that I can see it again when the flower opens fully—a rare botanical treat that few people ever get the chance to experience!

Corpse flower explained.

In my younger years when I had a bit more free time on my hands I was a hobbyist orchid grower. I didn’t have a greenhouse but nevertheless managed to keep a steady supply of plants in bloom by growing them outdoors under shade cloth with heavy watering and fertilizing during the summer and moving them indoors under fluorescent lights and in bright windows during the winter. I don’t have nearly the time for such pursuits these days, but I still enjoy looking at their exquisite and infinitely diverse blooms whenever I have the chance, and the Climatron never fails to disappoint.

One of many epiphytic orchids blooming in the Climatron.

While walking through the Climatron, I noticed a very exotic looking lizard on the trunk of one of the trees. I watched it licking exudate from the trunk and thought such behavior seemed rather odd. I later learned that this was the Standing’s day gecko (Phelsuma standingi), and that it might have an important role in pollinating the double coconut palm (Loidiocea maldivica). Both are endemic to the Seychelles Islands north of Madagascar, with the latter bearing the largest seed of any plant in the world (up to 45 lbs. in weight). The photo below was taken of another individual through the glass of its terrarium and, thus, lacks some clarity, but it shows the vivid colors and markings that distinguish these diurnal geckos from the other more typically nocturnal members of the gecko infraorder.

Standing’s day gecko (Phelsuma standingi).

While not gracing this post in a photo, many thanks to my loving wife, Lynne, who is the best mother my daughters could ask for and who helped make yesterday the special day for me and my father that it was!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012