2021 West Texas Insect Collecting Trip iReport

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

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

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


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

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

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

Rich scans the vast sand dunes.
Endless dunes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point of Rocks Roadside Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Male Aphonopelmis hentzii (Texas tarantula).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Lost LOL!
Illegal tender.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zephyranthes chlorosolen (Brazos rain lily).

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

Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s pricklypear).

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

Gold Mine Canyon.

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

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

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

Sinking sun over Gold Mine Canyon.

Juniper cadaver in late-evening light.

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

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

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

Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna).

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

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

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

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

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

To insects, the collectors’ shadows loom large.

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

Ready for another night of blacklighting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brazos River at Garner Stare Park, Texas.

Postscript!

Somewhere near Rising Star, Texas.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

2019 Arizona/New Mexico/California Insect Collecting Trip iReport

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.

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


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!

Dripping Spring Mountains.
Acmaeodera gibbula on flower of Heterotheca subaxillaris.
Acmaeodera rubronotata on flower of Heterotheca subaxillaris.
Acmaeodera alicia on flower of Heterotheca subaxillaris.

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.

I’ve never seen an orange jumping spider (family Salticidae) before!

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.

Epicauta phoenix (order Coleoptera, family Meloidae).

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!

Crossidius suturalis on pre-blooming Isocoma tenuisecta.
Trichodes peninsularis on Isocoma tenuisecta.
Zonitis dunniana on flowers of Isocoma tenuisecta.

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!

Stagmomantis limbata (bordered mantis) on Gutierrezia microcephala.
Lampetis webbii on Gutierrezia microcephala.

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!

A particularly well-marked female Crossidius suturalis on flowers of Isocoma tenuisecta.
The coloration of Megetra punctata screams “Don’t eat me or you’ll be sorry!”
Oncideres rhodosticta on Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite).
Mule deerly departed.
Fence row to the Chiricahua Mountains.

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.

North end of Willcox Playa.

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.

Acmaeodera amplicollis on flowers of Isocoma tenuisecta.
Acmaeodera disjuncta on flowers of Isocoma tenuisecta.
Acmaeodera scalaris on flowers of Hymenothrix wislizeni.

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.

Chiricahua Mountains in the distance.

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.

Crossidius suturalis mating pair on flowers of Isocoma tenuisecta. Note the difference in antennal length between the male (top) and female.

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.

Stalking tiger beetles.
Jumping spider out in the playa.
Eking out a living.
Cow tracks.
These Gnathium sp. were the tiniest blister beetles I’ve ever seen.

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.

Processing the day’s catch.

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.

Allionia incarnata (trailing four o’clock) blooming the canyon slope.

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 verticalis arizonensis 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.

Stenaspis solitaria on Baccharis sarothroides (desert broom).
Peucetia viridans (green lynx spider) feeding on Acanthocephala thomasi twice its size!
Euphoria leucographa and a Polistes paper wasp feeding at a sap flow on Baccharis sarothroides (desert broom).
Euphoria leucographa on Baccharis sarothroides (desert broom).
Taenipoda eques (lubber grasshopper). The striking coloration is a warning to potential predators that it is chemically protected.

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!

The author with Ferocactus wislizenii (fishhook barrel cactus)—also called “compass barrel” due to its habit of leaning to the south.

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.

Pseudognaphalium leucocephalum (white rabbit-tobacco) blooms profusely in the dry wash.
Cantharid vs. cantharid! Chauliognathus profundus (right) feeds on a C. lewisi that it has captured.

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.

Moneilema sp. on Cylindropuntia imbricata.

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.

View north from Kitt Peak National Observatory.
Multiple species of Acmaeodera visiting flower of Heliomeris longifolia.
Acmaeodera amabilis on flower of Heliomeris longifolia.

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.

Lower slopes of the road to Kitt Peak Observatory.
Thasus neocalifornicus (giant mesquite bugs) congregate on their host plant (Prosopis glandulosa).

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.]

Crossidius coralinus ascendens (male) on flowers of Ericameria nauseosa.
Crossidius coralinus ascendens (female) on flowers of Ericameria nauseosa.
Crossidius coralinus ascendens (mating pair) on flowers of Ericameria nauseosa.

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!].

View from Oracle Ridge Trail @ 1 mile north of the trailhead.
Acmaeodera resplendens on flower of Heliomeris longifolia.
Acmaeodera resplendens on flower of Heliomeris longifolia.

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.

A clearwing moth (family Sesiidae).
Peucetia viridans (green lynx spider) feeding on a hairy 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.

Panoramic view from halfway up the canyon.
Apyrrothrix araxes (dull firetip skipper) on flowers of Baccharis salicifolia.
The larvae of these large skippers feed on oaks.

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].

Vista from the southern terminus of the ridgetop trail off Mt. Hopkins Rd at km 13.
Acmaeodera decipiens on flower of Machaeranthera tanacetifolia.
A curious assemblage of bees on this Heliomeris longifolia flower. They were not active, just sitting. [Edit: these are Dufourea sp. (short-faced bees, family Halictidae)].

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.

Fouquieria splendens (ocotillo) resembles cacti but is not a true cactus. Distantly related to persimmons, blueberries and acacias, it is now placed in its own family (Fouquieriaceae).
Apiomerus flaviventris (yellow-bellied bee assassin) with prey.
The prey is a soldier beetle (likely Chauliognathus lewisi).
Robber flies not only mate tail-to-tail, they fly coupled in the position also. This tandem of giant robber flies (possibly Promachus nigrialbus), flew by me and landed in the bushes. The male (right) tried to take flight again and pulled the female’s hind legs off her perch. She stood firm, however, forcing the male to grab a nearby branch with just his from and middle legs and leave his hind legs dangling also. Note that the female is also feeding on a honey bee—so much natural history going on here!

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!

Santa Rita Mountains from the highway.

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.

Bill Warner, an icon among Arizona beetle collectors, sits amidst newly collected I material waiting to be processed.
Sunset in Phoenix!

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2019

2018 Arizona Insect Collecting Trip “iReport”

Hot on the heels of the previous installment in this series, I present the sixth “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a trip to Arizona during July/August 2018 with Art Evans and—like the previous installments in this series—illustrated exclusively with iPhone photographs (see previous installments for 2013 Oklahoma2013 Great Basin2014 Great Plains, 2015 Texas, and 2018 New Mexico/Texas).

This trip was a reunion of sorts—not only had it been 20 years since I’d collected in Arizona, it had also been 20 years since I’d spent time in the field with Art Evans—which just happened to be in southeast Arizona! For years I looked forward to our next opportunity, and when he told me of his plans for an extended trip to take photographs of his forthcoming Beetles of the Western United States, I couldn’t pass up the chance. Art had already been out west for five weeks by the time I landed in Phoenix on July 28th, and together we drove to Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains and spent the night before beginning a 7-day adventure in and around the “Sky Islands” of southeastern Arizona.

As with the recent New Mexico/Texas post, the material collected still has not been completely processed and curated, so I don’t have final numbers of taxa collected, but there were a number of species—some highly desirable—that I managed to find and collect for the first time, e.g., the buprestids Acmaeodera yuccavoraAgrilus restrictus, Agr. arizonicusChrysobothris chiricauhuaMastogenius puncticollis, and Lampetis webbii and the cerambycids Tetraopes discoideus and Stenaspis verticalis. Who knows what as-yet-unrecognized goodies await my discovery in the still unprocessed material?!


Day 1 – Chiricahua Mountains, Cave Creek Canyon
After arriving at Cave Creek Ranch late last night, we awoke to some stunning views right outside our room!

View of Cave Creek Canyon at Cave Creek Ranch, Chiricahua Mountains.

Cave Creek Ranch, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains.

Cave Creek Ranch, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains.

The first buprestid of the trip was a series of Pachyschelus secedens on Desmodium near Stewart Campground. We beat the oaks and acacia along the way to Sunny Flat Campground but didn’t find much. Once we got near Sunny Flat I did some sweeping in an area with new growth of Helianthus sp. and got a series of Agrilus huachucae, a few lycids, and one Leptinotarsa rubiginosa. I beat one Acmaeodera cazieri from Acacia greggii and found another on flower of prickly poppy (Argemone sp.). On the roadside at Sunny Flat I found several Acmaeodera spp. on a yellow-flowered composite – one A. rubronotata, one A. solitaria(?), and three A. cazieri. Also collected one A. cazieri on a rain gauge, Mecas rotundicollis and one as yet undetermined acanthocinine cerambycid on miscellaneous foliage, one tiger beetle (Cicindela sedecimpunctata?) on the roadside, and two orange lycids in flight.

Majestic peaks loom over the canyon.

Blue pleasing fungus beetle (Gibbifer californicus) – family Erotylidae.

Me with Margarethe Brummermann.

Reddish potato beetle (Leptinotarsa rubiginosa) is an uncommon relative of the much more well known (and despised) Colorado potato beetle (L. decemlineata).

Margarethe Brummermann searches for beetles in Sunny Flat Campground.

Bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia) – family Nymphalidae.

Desert flats east of Portal, Arizona
We came to this spot to look for Sphaerobothris ulkei on joint-fir (Ephedra trifurca), but after not finding any for awhile I got distracted by some big buprestids flying around. Caught several Hippomelas sphenicus, one Gyascutus caelatus, and two Acmaeodera gibbula on Acacia rigida, and the first and third were also on Prosopis glandulosa along with Plionoma suturalis. We finally found S. ulkei – searched the area for almost three hours, and Art and I each caught two and Margarethe caught one – also one each of P. suturalis and A. gibbula. I also got a mating pair of A. gibbula on Acacia greggii. After dinner, we went back and placed an ultraviolet light – checked it a couple hours later and got a nice series of Cylindera lemniscata and a few meloids (for Jeff).

Desert flats below Portal, Arizona – dominant woody vegetation is mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), sweet acacia (Acacia constricta), and three-pronged joint-fir (Ephedra trifurca).

Art Evans photographing Hippomelas planicauda in the ‘studio’ afterwards.

Sphaerobothris ulkei, collected on Ephedra trifurca.

Day 1 of the trip ended in typical monsoon fashion – heavy, thunderous rainstorms moved into the area during late afternoon, dimming prospects for blacklighting. Still, we set them up anyway at several spots and checked them later in the evening (flood waters preventing us from going to all the spots we wanted to). Not surprisingly, the one trap that yielded interesting specimens was in the lowest (warmest) area and received the least amount of rain. For me it was a nice series of Cylindera lemniscata.


Day 2 – Southwestern Research Station, Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona
There is a large stand of a narrow-leaved milkweed (Asclepias sp.) at the station, so we stopped by in our way up the mountain to check it for beetles. Got a nice little series of Tetraopes discoideus (tiny little guys!) on the stems as well as a few Rhopalophora meeskei, two Lycus spp., and one Pelonides humeralis on the flowers.

Tetraopes discoideus (family Cerambycidae).

Rhopalophora meeskei and Lycus sp. on Asclepias sp.

IMG_3151 (Edited)

At the Southwestern Research Station with Barbara Roth, Art Evans, and Margarethe Brummermann.

Road from Southwestern Research Station to Ruster Park
After leaving the SWRS on our way up to Rustler Park, we stopped to check a couple of bushes of New Mexico raspberry (Rubus neomexicanus). Margarethe thought there might be lepturines on the flowers, but instead we found a few Acmaeodera spp. and some Rhopalophora meeskei.

New Mexico raspberry (Rubus neomexicanus).

Further up the road we made another quick stop to check roadside flowers – just a single A. rubronotata on a yellow-flowered composite, but spectacular views of the valley below.

Looking west from the Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona.

Gayle Nelson once told me about finding Chrysobothris chiricahuae on pine slash at Rustler Park, so I was pleased to see several fresh slash piles when we arrived. I saw a Chrysobothris (presumably this species) on the very first branch in the very first pile that I looked at, but I missed it (damn!) and didn’t see any more in that pile. However, in the next pile I visited I saw two and got them both. I looked at a third pile and didn’t see any, nor did I see any more on the two previous piles that I looked at. Still, two is better than none (assuming this is, indeed, what they are!).

Rustler Park, Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona.

Chiricahua National Monument
Not a bug collecting stop, but we wanted to drive into the monument and see the incredible rock formations which are best appreciated by driving through Bonita Canyon and then up to Massai Point. The unusual spires, columns, and balancing rocks are a result of erosion through vertical cracks in the compressed volcanic ash which was laid down in layers 25 million years ago and then uplifted. Tilting during uplift caused vertical fractures and slippage, into which water then worked its way to create today’s formations. One of the columns I saw is 143 feet tall and only 3 feet in diameter at one point near the base! Mexican jays were our constant, close companions as we hiked through the pinyon pine/oak/juniper woodland.

Vicinity Gleeson, Arizona
There is a wash across N Ghosttown Trail with stands of Baccharis sarothroides growing along the sides. Art previously collected a single Cotinis impia on one of the plants, so we came back to check them. We didn’t find any, but we did find two fine males and one female Trachyderes mandibularis on a couple of the plants. I also found a dead Polycesta aruensis.

Vicinity Tombstone, Arizona
Art saw Gyascutus caelatus here previously, so we came back and found them abundantly in sweet acacia (Acacia rigidula), which was in full bloom. They were extremely flighty and hard to catch, so we each got only four. I also collected one Stenaspis solitaria on the same and a Trachyderes mandibularis female in flight.

Trachyderes mandibularis female

At another spot nearby, we stopped to look for Lampetus webbii, which Art had seen but not been able to collect when he was here a couple of weeks ago. We did not see any (but read on…), and I saw but did not collect a Trachyderes mandibularis and two Stenaspis solitaria. I also saw and photographed some giant mesquite bugs (Thasus neocalifornicus).

Giant mesquite bugs (Thasus neocalifornicus).

Note the heavily armed and thickened hind legs of the male (L) versus the more slender and red/black banded hind legs of the female (R).

Not sure of the ID (other than ‘DYC’ – damned yellow composite).

The day ended enjoying steaks, Malbec, and Jameson with two of the best hosts ever!


Day 3 – Box Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Our first stop of the day was Box Canyon, a gorgeous, rugged canyon on the east side of the range. Mimosa dysocarpa was in bloom, off which I beat two Agrilus aeneocephalus, several Hippomelas planicauda, and one Stenaspis solitaria. Norm gave me an Acmaeodera cazieri that he’d collected on an unidentified yellow-flowered composite, and right afterwards I found some small, low-growing plants with purple flowers and sticky leaves (eventually ID’d as Allionia incarnata, or trailing four o’clock) to which Acmaeodera yuccavora and A. cazieri were flying in numbers. After that I crawled up top and beat the mesquites, getting one Chrysobothris sp., a mating pair of S. solitaria, and a couple of large clytrine leaf beetles.

Box Canyon from just above the dry falls.
Prickly poppy (Argemone mexicana) blooming along the roadside.

Hippomelas planicauda mating pair on Mimosa dysocarpa.

Allionia incarnata, flower host for Acmaeodera cazieri and Acm. yuccavora.

Acmaeodera cazieri (left-center).

Acmaeodera yuccavora.

Lubber grasshopper (Taenipoda eques). The striking coloration warns potential predators that it is chemically protected.

Datana sp. caterpillars.

Vicinity Duquesne, Arizona
We came here to look for Tetraopes skillmani (this is the type locality). We found the host plant (Sarcostemma sp.), but there were no beetles to be seen anywhere. Maybe another location nearby…

Sarcostemma sp. (family Asclepiadaceae).

Patagonia Pass, Patagonia Mountains, Arizona
We went up higher into the mountains to get into the oak woodland, where I hoped to find some of the harder-to-collect oak-associated Agrilus spp. Right away I beat one Agrilus restrictus off of Emory oak (Quercus emoryi), but no amount of beating produced anything more than a single Enoclerus sp.. I also beat the Arizona oak (Q. arizonica) and got only a single Macrosaigon sp. On Desmodium sp. I collected not only Pachyschelus secedens but a nice series of Agrilus arizonicus. For me it is the first time I’ve collected either A. restrictus and A. arizonicus, the former being quite uncommon as well, so all-in-all not a bad stop.

Agrilus arizonicus mating pair – the males are brighter green than the females, which are more coppery.

Unidentified plant.

Me, Art Evans, and Norm Woodley.

Sycamore Canyon, Santa Cruz Mountains, Arizona
We came here for night lighting, but while we still had light I did some sweeping in the low vegetation and collected a mixed series of Agrilus arizonicus (on Desmodium sp.) and Agrilus pulchellus – the latter a first for me, along with two small cerambyids that could be Anopliomorpha rinconia. Conditions were perfect (warm, humid, and no moon), and we had lots of lights (Art’s five LED units, Steve’s MV/UV combo setup, and my UV setup), but longhorned beetles were scarce – just one Prionus heroicus and one Lepturges sp. for me, and Steve got a few others including a nice Aegomorphus sp. I did also collect a few scarabs – Chrysina gloriosa and Strategus alous – because they’re just so irresistible!

A beacon in the night!

Art, Steve, and Norm checking the lights.

Chrysina gloriosa.

A male oz beetle (Strategus aloeus).

Eacles oslari is a western U.S. relative of the imperial moth (E. imperialis).

Insects whirring around my head!

Day 4 – Prologue
One of the downsides (if you can call it that) of having great collecting is the need to take periodic “breaks” to process all the specimens and make my field containers available for even more specimens. Thanks to Steve and Norm for making their place available to Art and I so we can do this before heading out to our next set of localities.

Copper Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona
Copper Canyon is the classic spot for finding the charismatic Agrilus cavatus (see photo), but first we did some sweeping in the low vegetation near the parking area, where Norm got one Agrilus arizonicus and two Agrilus latifrons – and gave them to me! (Thanks, Norm!) I did some beating of the oaks, and after much work I ended up with a single Agrilaxia sp. and pogonocherine cerambycid on Emory oak (Quercus emoryi) and a couple of giant clytrines on the Arizona oak (Q. arizonicus). I then started sweeping the low-growing Acaciella angustissima – right away I got two A. cavatus. They were in the area past the cattle guard on the right where lots of dead stems were sticking up, and although I continued to sweep the plants more broadly in the area I never saw another one. Finally, Norm called me up to a small Mimosa dysocarpa near the car off which he collected three Agrilus elenorae – and gave them to me! (Thanks, Norm!) I gave the tree a tap and got one more, and in my last round of sweeping I came up with a Taphrocerus sp. (must be some sedges growing amongst the grasses).

Copper Canyon to the northwest.

Copper Canyon to the north.

Agrilus cavatus on its host plant, prairie acacia (Acaciella angustissima).

Robber fly (family Asilidae) with prey (a ladybird beetle).

Bear Canyon Crossing, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona
There was quite a bit of Mimosa dysocarpa in bloom along the roadsides on the west side of the Bear Canyon crossing, which I beat hoping to find some more Agrilus elenorae. I didn’t find any, but I did get several more Hippomelas planicauda, which is a nice consolation prize – and a great photo of the last one! Other than that I did a lot of sweeping and found only a single Acmaeodera cazieri.

Bear Canyon to the south.

Bear Canyon to the north.

Hippomelas planicauda on one of its hosts, velvetpod mimosa (Mimosa dysocarpa).

Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch of the National Audubon Society, Elgin, Arizona
Cool temperatures and a blustery wind discouraged most insects from finding our blacklights. However, our blacklight did find some other interesting local residents. These two individuals could be the stripe-tailed scorpion, Paravaejovis (Hoffmannius) spinigerus, a common species in Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.


Day 5 – Miller Canyon Recreation Area, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona
There was a lot of Baccharis sarothroides growing in the lower canyon near the parking area, so I checked it all out hoping to find Tragidion annulatum. None were seen, and in fact there was very little insect life in general. I did pick up a couple of Acmaeodera solitaria by sweeping – not anything significant but the 15th species buprestid of the trip and found a dead Cotinis mutabilis, and Art got a nice series of Chalcolepidius click beetles on B. sarothroides and Prosopis glandulosa. Puzzling the lack of insect activity, given how green all the plants were and how fresh the growth looked. I guess we’ll have to look elsewhere.

Acanthocephala thomasi, a leaf-footed bug (family Coridae).

I was all lined up for a side shot of the bug when suddenly he took flight.

Turkey vultures hanging out waiting for me to die!

Actually they were all hanging out around a dead cat, some of which I scared up as they were feeding on it.

Vicinity Naco, Arizona
We decided to try some desert thorn-scrub habitat so headed east towards Bisbee. Just north of Naco we saw some habitat where it had rained recently – everything was green with the sweet acacia (Acacia rigidula) and creosote (Larrea tridentata) in full bloom. Immediately out of the car I found a Dendrobias mandibularis on Baccharis sarothroides (and when I came back to it later I found a big, major male on it – see photos). On the sweet acacia we found a handful of Gyascutus caelatus (one of which I got a nice photo of), a mating pair of Sphaenothecus bivittatus, and a Cymatodera sp. Finally, out along the roadsides a riot of different yellow composites were in full bloom, including Heliomeris longifolia off which Art got a couple of Acmaeodera solitaria and I got two specimens of a large Acmaeodera sp. (blue-black with numerous small irregular yellow spots).

Dendrobias mandibularis – major male.

Them’s some mandibles!

Gyascutus caelatus on Acacia rigidula.

A blister beetle (family Meloidae) in the genus Zonitis – either sayi or dunnianus – on Heliomeris longifolia.

Heliomeris longifolia – host flower for both the Zonitis blister beetle and Acmaeodera sp. jewel beetle.

Vicinity Tombstone, Arizona
We decided to go back to the spot north of Tombstone where Art had earlier seen Lampetis webbii and give that species another shot. We looked at the Rhus sp. tree that he’d seen them on, and then we each followed the wash in opposite directions looking at the Rhus trees along them, which growing above the banks but never further away than about 25 feet. Along the way I collected several more Gyascutus caelatus on sweet acacia (Acacia rigida), which were more abundant this time than last and also easier to catch. After walking about 1/4-mile down the wash I saw something fly from a Rhus tree and land low on the bushes nearby. I quickly netted it, pulled it out, and was elated to see that it was, indeed, Lampetis webbii! I searched the Rhus in the area more carefully but didn’t find any more, then found some Rhus growing up along the road. At one point, I saw a large buprestid fly and land high in the top of another Rhus tree. I couldn’t tell for sure if it was L. webbii, but I extended my net as far as I could, positioned it beneath the beetle, and tapped the branch hoping it would fall in. Unfortunately, it flew away instead of dropping, so I can’t say for sure whether it was L. webbii or just a wayward G. caelatus. At any rate, L. webbii is yet another species that I have not collected before now and the 17th buprestid species of the trip.

Lampetis webbii, collected on Rhus sp.

Stenaspis solitaria on Acacia rigidula.

Ramsey Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona
After returning from Tombstone, we visited Pat & Lisa Sullivan at their home at the end of Ramsey Canyon. Pat is a scarab collector who runs lights at his home nightly, and after a delicious dinner we spent the rest of the evening checking the lights. I was hoping to collect Prionus heroicus, and I got my wish. Also got Prionus californicus and several other non-cerambycid beetles such as Chrysina beyeri, C. gloriosa, Lucanus mazama, and Parabyrsopolis chihuahuae (the latter a first for me). I also placed a prionic acid lure (thanks Steve!) and got three more male P. heroicus. We also hunted around the rocks and roadsides hoping to find Amblycheila baroni but didn’t find any. Art did, however, find a female P. californicus and gave it to me (thanks!).

Meeting Pat Sullivan!

Darkling beetles (family Tenebrionidae) such as this one come out at night to feed on decaying vegetation.

Chrysina beyeri (family Scarabaeidae) is one of three species in the genus occurring in Ramsey Canyon.

Black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus), collected by Pat in Ramsey Canyon.

Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes lateropens), collected by Pat in Yuma County.

“Sometimes the best collecting is inside!”

Day 6 – Vicinity Sonoita, Arizona
Unsuccessful attempt to collect Hippomelas martini, only recently described (Bellamy & Nelson, 1998) and part of the type series taken somewhere near this spot (“20 mi NE Patagonia, Hwy 82”) by “sweeping roadside vegetation”. At other locations it had been recorded on Calliandra sp., and I found patches of the plant here along and on top of the road cuts. This gives me confidence that I found the right spot, but I didn’t encounter this or any other beetles by sweeping the patches or visually inspecting them.

Box Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
We decided to come back to Box Canyon since we’d had such good luck last time. I started at the spot above the dry falls where I collected so many Acmaeodera cazieri and A. yuccavora on flowers of Allionia incarnata. This time it was hotter, drier, and windier, and the flowers were semi-closed. Still I found a few of each. I then started walking down the road towards the lower canyon crossing where I would meet up with Art. Things were really hopping on the Mimosa dysocarpa, with Hippomelas planicauda abundant (finally collected my fill) and several other Buprestidae also beaten from the plants: Agrilus aeneocepahlus, Acmaeodera scalaris, Acmaeodera cazieri, Chrysobothris sp., and a species of Spectralia! (seven species of Buprestidae at one location I think is the high for the trip.) I checked other plants and flowers along the way down but didn’t find much.

Halfway down from the “dry falls”.

The “dry falls” about halfway up the canyon.

Pseudovates arizonae – the aptly named Arizona unicorn mantis.

Lower Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Madera Canyon is perhaps the most famous insect collecting locality in Arizona – maybe in the country, and it is hard to make a visit to Arizona without stopping by here. We elected to work the lower canyon first in an area where Chrysobothris chalcophoroides has been taken on Arizona oaks (Quercus arizonicus). Hiking towards the oaks I found some Stenaspis solitaria in a Baccharis sarothroides and marveled at the variety of other insects active on the plants (see photos) – later I would also collect an elaphidiine cerambycid on the plant. Next I started working the oaks, beating every branch I could reach with my net handle. With one whack of the stick a single Paratyndaris sp. and a single Brachys sp. landed on my sheet – those would be the only buprestids I would collect off the oaks! Other than that I collected one Hippomelas planicauda on Mimosa dysocarpa for the record. While I was working the oaks up in the knoll, the weather started turning with blustery winds, and I could see the rain coming in the distance. By the time I got down from the knoll the rain had arrived, and I walked back to the car in a sunny downpour using my beating sheet as an umbrella!

Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Acanthocephala thomasi on Baccharis sarothroides.

What appears to be a so-called “cricket killer” wasp (Chlorion aerarium) also feeds on sap on Baccharis sarothroides.

A longhorned beetle, probably in the genus Aneflus, rests on the foliage of Baccharis sarothroides.

Rain headed my way!

Rain passing into neighboring Florida Canyon.

Montosa Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
Just to try something different, we went to Montosa Canyon – the next canyon south of Madera Canyon – for tonight’s blacklighting. We set my sheet up just E of the crossing and Arts ground units back to the west along a gravel road on the south side of the crossing. Moths came in numbers, but the beetles were light – I collected only blister beetles (Epicauta sp.) and a Cymatodera sp. checkered beetle at the sheet, a series of tiger beetles and a female Strategus cessus at the second ground unit, and a male Strategus aloeus and two Stenelaphus alienus at the third ground unit.

A gorgeous sunset to start the evening.

A deepening dusk brings the promise of insects at the lights. 

A bee assassin bug, Apiomerus flaviventris.

An ocotillo, or calleta, silkmoth – Eupackardia calleta.

One of the western riparian tiger beetles.

Day 7 (last day) – Vicinity Continental, Arizona
There was a photo posted on BugGuide of Stenaspis verticalis taken last week, so we decided to give it a shot and see if we could get lucky and find it ourselves. We checked all the Baccharis sarothroides within ½-mile if the spot but didn’t find it. I did, however, collect four Euphoria leucographa, two Chalcolepidius smaragdula, two Aneflus spp., and singletons of Stenaspis solitaria and Dendrobias mandibularis. I also took a couple of Hippomelas planicauda on Mimosa dysocarpa – just for the record!

Euphoria leucographa on Baccharis sarothroides.

Chalcolepidius smaragdinus on Baccharis sarothroides.

Lower Madera Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
We returned to work the lower canyon area. I’d heard that the tiger beetle Cicindelidia obsoleta santaclarae has been taken in the area last week so was hoping to run into it. While Art worked the east side of the road I worked the west, initially following FR-781 into what looked like grassland areas where the tiger beetle might occur. I didn’t see any but took Acmaeodera scalaris on Heterotheca sp. flowers and Acmaeodera solitaria on Argemone mexicana flowers. There was also a fresh wind-thrown mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) with a bunch of Chrysobothris octocola and one Chrysobothris rossi on it. Still the area looked abused from grazing and was uninteresting, so I looked for another area to explore.

Northwest of the parking lot I spotted another grassy area that was dotted with Baccharis sarothroides, so I decided to give that area a look. After clambering several times through barbed wire fence, I reached the area and began to give it a look. Still no tiger beetles, but every time I passed a B. sarothroides I inspected it closely. I’d looked at several plants when I came upon one with a Stenaspis solitaria sitting in the foliage, and when I looked down on one of the stems and saw a big male Tragidion sp. on the underside of the stem. After securing it, I looked closer at the plant and saw a pair of annulated antennae crawling up another stem – I knew right away it was a mating pair of Stenaspis verticalis! After carefully moving to the other side to confirm, I dared to take a few photos in situ (see below) and then secured the couple. Of course, this gave me newfound motivation to work the entire area to look for more. It was very hot by then, and I was already quite thirsty, but I summoned up all the stamina that I could and worked as many plants as I could, ending up with six Tragidion spp. and three Stenaspis verticalis. The latter was one of my top priority targets for this trips, and the only thing more satisfying than getting it is doing so on my last day on the field.

View to south edge of Madera Canyon – Elephant Head is at the right.

Chrysobothris octocola female ovipositing on freshly killed mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa).

Tragidion sp. mating pair on Baccharis sarothroides.

Mating pair of Stenaspis verticalis arizonensis on Baccharis sarothroides.

Chalcolepidius lenzi at a sap flow on Baccharis sarothroides.

Lateral view of Chalcolepidius lenzi.

Barrel cactus in bloom.

Montosa Canyon, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona
We  returned to Montosa Canyon and stopped at the Astronomy Vista partway up. It was hotter than bejeebuz! There was not an insect to be seen except giant cactus bugs and a single Euphoria leucographa that Art found on a sapping Baccharis sarothroides. Temp was 103°F even at this elevation!

Stunning vista during the day! 

We needed to escape the heat, and I wanted to see oaks for one more crack at Mastogenius, so we drove up to the 13-km marker and I collected on the way back down to below the 12-km marker. Conditions were much more agreeable (temps in the 80s), and near the top there was a Ceanothus sp. bush in bloom, off which I collected Rhopalophora meeskei and Stenosphenus sp. – both genera represented by individuals with black versus red pronotum. Then I started beating the (Mexican blue, I believe) oaks, and right away I got a Mastogenius sp.! Kinda small, so I’m thinking not M. robusta and, thus, probably M. puncticollis (another species new to my collection). I also beat a largish Agrilus sp. that I don’t recognize, a few clerids, two R. meeskei, one Stenosphenus sp., and a couple of leaf beetles. There was also another type of oak there – Arizona white, I believe, which I beat as well but only got one clerid.

Spectacular views from 7000 ft!

A lichen moth on flowers of Ceanothus sp.

The biggest, fattest, bristliest tachinid fly I have ever seen!

The spectacular vistas just keep on coming!

An ancient alligator juniper stares down yet another sunset (perhaps its 50 thousandth!).

We stopped by the Astronomy Vista again on our way back down the canyon, and I found a pair of Moneilema gigas on cholla (Opuntia imbricata).

Obligatory dusk shot of Moneilema gigas on Opuntia imbricata.

Another individual on the same plant.

Sunset over “Las Cuatro Hermanas”.

It was a fantastic seven days in the field with Arthur, and it was a great pleasure to (in some cases, finally) meet Margarethe, Barbara, Steven, Norm, and Pat. I appreciate the warmth, generosity, and hospitality that all of them displayed to me and look forward to our next encounter, hopefully in the near future. Now, for some light reading during the plane ride home!

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

What’s black and white and red all over?

Last September, labmate and fellow insect collecting enthusiast Stephen Penn and I visited the dolomite glades of the White River Hills in extreme southwestern Missouri. Our main quarry was tiger beetles, specifically a disjunct population of the large and impressive Prairie Tiger Beetle (Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina) that lives only on the glades in this area and adjacent Arkansas. I was hoping to find additional localities for the beetles in the more western parts of the region where it’s precise distribution in Missouri is less well known. First, however, I wanted to make sure the beetle was out, so we started at the westernmost of its known locations—Chute Ridge Glade at Roaring River State Park. As we picked our way through dry-mesic woodland bordering the more open glades, a large, dead chinquapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) with sloughing bark caught my eye. One never knows what might be encountered under bark, regardless of the season, and as I pulled away the very first slab of bark I was rewarded with the sight of what must be North America’s most beautiful assassin bug, Microtomus purcis.

Microtomus purcis

Microtomus purcis (Drury, 1782) | Barry Co., Missouri

Sometimes called the “bark assassin bug”, this species is not quite as large as the better known “wheel bug” (Arilus cristatus) but makes up this by its spectacular coloration—black with the base of the wings prominently marked creamy-white and parts of the abdomen and hind legs bright red. One would think such a conspicuously  marked assassin bug with a bite powerfully painful enough to back up its apparent warning coloration could brazenly venture out during the day with little to fear. To the contrary, this species seems best known for its habit of hiding under bark during the day and venturing out only at night, during which time it is sometimes attracted to lights (Slater & Baranowski 1978, Eaton & Kaufman 2007). A majority of BugGuide photos of the species also mention finding them under bark or apparently attracted to lights.¹

¹ I was especially amused by this particular photo for which the contributor states, “While holding it, the bug pierced my finger nail with its proboscis. The pain was searing and I have a small blood stain under the nail.” I’ll admit it—I, too, learned firsthand how painful the bite of an assassin bug can be when I picked one up, in my case Melanolestes picipes, with plans to include it in my Entomology 101 collection.

Sunset on the glade

Sunset on the glade | Pilot Knob Conservation Area, Stone Co., Missouri

I, in fact, have only seen this species once before—also in Missouri and again under bark, although that time was during the winter, thus causing me to think this was its overwintering habit. I placed the individual in a glass vial and brought it indoors to “revive” it, but to my disappointment when I checked on it a few days later it was dead. Froeschner (1944) reported this species (under its older name, Hammacerus purcis) was “not uncommon” in Missouri, though apparently confined to the Ozark Highlands south of the Missouri River. Adult records in Missouri extended from September to March, with small nymphs being found during November and December, but BugGuide records include summer months as well. If I want to see this species more than twice in 30 years, I supposed I am going to have to spend more time peeling bark, or checking lights.

REFERENCES:

Eaton, E. R. & K. Kaufman. 2007. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 391 pp. [Amazon preview].

Froeschner, R. C. 1944. Contribution to a synopsis of the Hemiptera of Missouri, Pt. III. Lygaeidae, Pyrrhocoridae, Piesmidae, Tingidae, Enicocephalidae, Phymatidae, Ploiariidae, Reduviidae, Nabidae. The American Midland Naturalist 31(3):638–683 [JSTOR preview].

Slater, J. A. & R. M. Baranowski. 1978. How to Know the True Bugs. The Pictured Key Nature Series, William C. Brown Company Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, x + 256 pp. [Amazon description].

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

One-shot Wednesday: pale green assassin bug

Zelus luridus (pale green assassin bug) | Howell Co., Missouri.

Zelus luridus (pale green assassin bug) | Howell Co., Missouri.

As my friend Rich and I set out a week ago Sunday on the final stretch in our quest to hike the 350-mile Ozark Trail in its entirety, I saw this slender, green assassin bug (family Reduviidae) sitting on a tender young leaf of an oak sapling. I already had my camera out but had outfitted with the 65-mm, 1–5× macro lens in anticipation of small beetles that I wanted to photograph on dogwood flowers. Nevertheless, it was still a bit on the cool side, making me think I might yet succeed in getting off some super-closeup shots of this delicate predator. I managed to carefully snip the leaf from the sapling and move the bug up close to the camera for a nice, blue-sky background shot, but one shot is all I got—as soon as the shutter clicked the bug took flight and left me with this single photo. As I have observed to usually be the case, the body of this individual is thickly covered with debris, which I take to be pollen from the abundant oaks at the height of their flowering period.

I’ve seen this species regularly over the years during my springtime forays in upland, oak-hickory Ozark forests. I presume the species is Zelus luridus, based on an online synopsis of the genus Zelus in eastern North America. As true bugs go, assassin bugs are undeniably cool—sometimes large, often colorful, and pure predators! Interestingly, these bugs have adopted a rather diverse array of strategies to assist their predaceous habits, mostly involving modifications of the front legs. Some involve a more typical raptorial design (similar to mantids) with chelate surfaces or even spines on the femora and tibiae, while others have developed flexible, cushion-like structures on the tips of the tibiae to aid in prey handling (Weirauch 2006). Gross morphological modifications, however, are not the only strategy employed by assassin bugs—some groups use secretions either to paralyze or immobilize their prey. Species in the genus Zelus employ the latter strategy—essentially using their front legs as “sticky traps”. The sticky substance is derived from glands on the front legs and is used to coat numerous, microscopically branched setae on the legs called “sundew setae” in reference to the similarity of appearance and function with insectivorous sundew plants. Interestingly, sundew setae have also been found on other parts of the body, at least in first-instar Z. luridus nymphs, leading to speculation that they may also serve some other function besides prey capture. Perhaps these setae explain why most individuals I see are so debris-covered, as with the pollen-laden individual above.

REFERENCE:

Weirauch, C. 2006. Observations on the sticky trap predator Zelus luridus Stål (Heteroptera, Reduviidae, Harpactorinae), with the description of a novel gland associated with the female genitalia. Denisia 19, zugleich Kataloge der OÖ. Landesmuseen
Neue Serie 50:1169–1180 [pdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

Bee Assassin on Coneflower

Bee assassin (Apiomerus spissipes) on coneflower (Echinacea sp.) | Gloss Mountain State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

Apiomerus spissipes? on coneflower (Echinacea sp.) | Gloss Mountain State Park, Major Co., Oklahoma

While looking for longhorned beetles on prickly pear cactus (Opuntia phaecantha) at Gloss Mountains State Park, I saw a coneflower that didn’t look quite right—there was nothing on the top, but there seemed to be something on the underside. I knelt down cautiously and peered underneath the blossom to find this bee assassin (family Reduviidae, genus Apiomerus) lurking under the petals. As a collector with eyes always looking for signs of insects, I’ve trained myself to look for both the obvious and the non-obvious, yet  this brightly colored insect still almost completely escaped my notice. I can imagine that a bee with little room in its mind for anything but collecting pollen would be easy pickings for such a stealthy predator.

Apiomerus spissipes

The coloration of this individual seems to best match specimens representing the species Apiomerus spissipes, which ranges broadly and abundantly across the Great Plains (Berniker et al. 2011). The location of Gloss Mountain State Park in western Oklahoma places it almost smack in the middle of the recorded distribution for this species, which is largely replaced further east by the closely related but generally darker A. crassipes. Interestingly, very few Oklahoma specimens were available for examination by Berniker and colleagues during their study, a fact that once again demonstrates the need for continued collecting in even “well-collected” states like Oklahoma.

REFERENCE:

Berniker, l., S. Szerlip, D. Forero & C. Weirauch. 2011. Revision of the crassipes and pictipes species groups of Apiomerus Hahn (Hemiptera: Reduviidae: Harpactorinae). Zootaxa 2949:1–113.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

Best of BitB 2012

Welcome to the 5th Annual “Best of BitB”, where I pick my favorite photographs from the past year. 2012 was one of the most intensive travel years I’ve ever had—I spent 8 weeks in Argentina from February through April, made separate trips to Puerto Rico and Arkansas in May (bracketing a personal week in California), traveled almost weekly to Illinois and Tennessee from June to September (interrupted by a personal week in Florida in July), toured the southeastern U.S. (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia—great food!) in early September, chased tiger beetles in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas in late September, went back to Argentina for a week in October, and capped off the travel year by attending the Entomological Society of America Annual Meetings in Knoxville, Tennessee (for the first time in more than 10 years!)—whew! While many would cringe at such a travel load, I am among the lucky few who actually get paid for doing something that is also my hobby—entomology! This gives me ample opportunity to further hone my photography skills (nine of the 13 photos I’ve selected below were actually taken while I was on business travel), resulting in two key accomplishments this year—my first ever photography talk at the ESA’s insect photography symposium and my first commercial sales (look for the BitB commercial site to go online in 2013).

Enough blather! Here are my favorite BitB photographs from 2012. Click the link in the text below the photo to see the original post. I would greatly appreciate knowing if you have a favorite (and why)—your feedback will be enormously helpful to me as I continue to learn and develop as a photographer.  For those interested, here are my previous year picks for 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. And, as always, thank you for your readership!


Spintherophyta (?) sp. in flower of Abutilon pauciflorum | Buenos Aires, Argentina

From  (posted 2 Feb). One of my 2012 learnings was that sometimes a photograph that is not so close is more effective than one that is as close as possible. In one of my earlier attempts at “not-so-close” macrophotgraphy, the soft colors of the flower compliment the brash shininess of the tiny leaf beetle that has been feeding on its pollen. Pink lines lead the eye directly to the subject and create a pleasing composition, and pollen grains stuck to the beetle—a distraction in some situations—add to the miniature natural history story of the photo.


Apiomerus flavipennis with stink bug prey and kleptoparasitic flies | Chaco Province, Argentina

From  (posted 11 Mar). I selected this photo solely for the complex natural history story drama it shows—stink bug (Piezodorus guildenii) feeding on soybean becomes prey of an assassin bug (Apiomerus flavipennis), with volatiles from the chemicals it emitted in a vain attempt to defend itself serving as cues to kleptoparasitic flies (families Milichiidae and Chloropidae) that benefit from the assassin bug’s labors.


Planthopper nymph | Buenos Aires Province, Argentina

From  (posted 26 Mar). Another learning that I began putting into practice in 2012 was the use of low perspective for compositional impact. The cryptic coloration of this planthopper nymph (family Fulgoridae) made it almost invisible on the branch on which it was sitting when viewed from a normal “top-down” human perspective. Getting “down under” it, however, brought the nymph to life and emphasized its unusual form.


Megabaris quadriguttatus | Corrientes Province, Argentina

From  (posted 12 Apr). I spent much of 2012 working on the “blue sky background” technique, with these weevils from northern Argentina representing one of my better attempts. Macrophotography of insects with a blue sky background involves setting exposure, ISO, and aperture to achieve two separate exposures—full flash illumination of the subject for maximum depth-of-field, and ambient light from the sky to create a clean, uncluttered, natural-looking background. In this shot I managed to achieve an almost ideal shade of blue to compliment the wild black, white and red colors of the beetles. (My one criticism of the photo is having clipped one of the beetle’s feet.)


Bombylius sp. cf. mexicanus | Scott Co., Missouri

From  (posted 16 May). This photo is unusual if nothing else. Focus, lighting, depth-of-field, and composition are all better than can be hoped for in a single shot, but the subject—perfectly alive—is in a most unusual position. Read the original post to find out how this happened.


Perisphaerus sp. (a pill roach) | Vietnam (captive individual)

From  (posted 27 May). White-box photography is an excellent technique for clean, uncluttered photographs of insects, but it also isolates them from their natural surroundings and limits their natural history appeal. The best white-box photos are those that highlight a key feature or behavior of the subject—in this case a pill roach’s comically conglobulating defensive posture.


Micronaspis floridana (Florida intertidal firefly) larva | Pinellas Co., Florida

From  (posted 31 July). Here is another photo whose back story played a big part in its selection. This firefly larva not only represents a rare Florida-endemic species but was also first seen by my then 12-year old nephew, who willingly accompanied me through a dark, spooky salt marsh in the middle of a humid Florida night to see what he could learn. The lesson here for budding natural historians (and old-timers like me) cannot be overstated!


Arctosa littoralis (beach wolf spider) | Lewis Co., Missouri

From  (posted 23 Aug—prelude to  posted 28 Aug). Those who follow this blog know of my obsession with close-up portraits, and while tiger beetles are the subjects I most commonly photograph in this manner, I am always on the lookout for good subjects in other taxa. This wolf spider “face” almost looks human, with “two” eyes, two “nostrils” and a shiny upper lip above huge (albeit hairy) buck teeth! It’s enough fill-the-frame spidery goodness to melt (or explode) the heart of even the most ardent arachnophobe!


Anticarsia gemmatalis (velvetbean caterpillar) egg on soybean leaf

From Life at 8X—Guide to lepidopteran eggs on soybean (posted 3 Sep). “Life at 8X” was a new series I introduced this year, featuring insects photographed at magnifications testing the upper limit of my equipment and photographic skills. Diffraction is the chief difficulty with magnifications as high as this and is the primary flaw in the above photograph. Nevertheless, such view of a moth egg on the underside of a soybean leaf provides a spectacular view of the otherwise unseen micro-world that lives right beneath our noses.


Megacyllene decora (amorpha borer) on snakeroot flowers | Mississippi Co., Missouri

From  (posted 12 Sep). This second example of “blue sky background” was taken later in the year and was considerably more difficult to capture than the first because of the larger size of the subject and resulting need for a longer focal length macro lens. Getting a well-lit, focused, and composed image with a desirable shade of blue in the background depended not only on finding the proper camera settings, but also secure body and camera bracing techniques for this completely hand-held shot.


Cicindelidia politula politula (Limestone Tiger Beetle) | Montague Co., Texas

From  (posted 28 Sep). I will go ahead and say it—this is my favorite photograph of 2012. As discussed under the first entry, panning back from the subject can allow for some very interesting compositions. This photo combines charismatic pose by a wary subject with panning back and low perspective to create an image that scores high in both natural history and aesthetic appeal.


Calosoma sayi (black caterpillar hunter) | New Madrid Co., Missouri

From Black is beautiful! (posted 7 Nov). Of course, close-as-possible can also be used to create striking photos, especially if the subject exhibits features that are best seen up close. Anything with jaws fits the bill in my book, and highlighting the mandibular sculpturing of this caterpillar hunter (a type of ground beetle) required precise angling of the flash heads for maximum effect.


Cicindela repanda (Bronze Tiger Beetle) | St. Louis Co., Missouri

From  (12 Nov). This final selection is not a rare species, but it is as close as I have come to what I consider the “perfect” tiger beetle macrophotograph—a close, low angle, lateral profile of an adult in full-stilt posture (a thermoregulatory behavior), well lit, perfectly focused, and with a dynamic but pleasingly blurred background. It’s a perfect storm of a photo that took the better part of two hours to achieve—rarely do all of these elements come together in a hand-held photograph of an unconfined tiger beetle in its native habitat.


Well, there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed my selections, and again please do let me know if you have a personal favorite. See you in 2013!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Lord of the flies!

I happened upon a rather interesting scene last week in a soybean field in northern Argentina (Chaco Province). This assassin bug (family Reduviidae) had captured and was feeding on an adult stink bug of the species Piezodorus guildinii—an important pest of soybean in Argentina and Brazil (where it is known by the common names “chinche de la alfalfa” and “chinche verde pequeño”, respectively). Assassin bug predation is always interesting enough itself, but what made this scene especially fascinating was the large congregation of flies surrounding and even crawling upon the predator and its prey. I had not witnessed something like this before, but it seemed clear to me that the flies were engaging in kleptoparasitism—i.e, stealing food. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping a full set of extension tubes mounted on the camera with my 100mm macro lens—this not only provides the most useful (for me) range of magnification but also serves as a convenient and easy-to-use field microscope. Through the viewfinder I could see that there were at least two markedly different types of flies involved—more abundant, small, brown flies that I presumed (incorrectly, as it turns out) to be some type of drosophilid (vinegar fly), and a few larger, black flies that were completely unfamiliar to me. The flies were apparently feeding on fluids from the stink bug prey but also crawled all over the assassin bug as it fed. The assassin bug seem unencumbered in its feeding by the presence of the flies, but periodically it would slowly wipe its forelegs over its head to dislodge flies that had settled onto it. Just as quickly as they flew away, however, they crawled back.

The assassin bug, on the other hand, I recognized as very likely a species of Apiomerus—a large, exclusively New World genus known in North America as “bee killers” for their habit of sitting on flowers and ambushing visiting bees for prey. The prey selection behaviors of these insects, however, are more generalist than the name implies, as can be seen by these photographs. To verify my generic ID and possibly obtain a species ID, I sent some of these photos to Dimitri Forero at the Heteropteran Systematics Lab at University of California-Riverside. Dimitri is revising portions of Apiomerus (e.g., Berniker et al. 2011) and working on a general phylogenetic hypotheses for the genus. In the past he has been quite helpful in fielding questions from me about these bugs, and within a few hours Dimitri replied to inform me that the assassin bug was, indeed, a member of the genus Apiomerus, likely representing the common, widespread species A. lanipes (ranging from Panama to Argentina), based on its coloration, locality, and relative size. Update 12 March, 3:07 pm—After seeing the last photo in this post (which I did not send to him initially), Dimitri wrote to say the ventral abdominal pattern was not characteristic of A. lanipes. He asked about its size, to which I replied that it was about the same length but maybe a little less robust than A. crassipes (eastern North America). He later added, “I now think that this is A. flavipennis Herrich-Schaeffer, 1848. It is very similar to A. lanipes, but a lot smaller (lanipes is really robust), and with the abdomen with black and white patches, whereas in lanipes the abdomen is always black. I checked some series of specimens that I have here and, I am pretty sure now of the ID. I have material from Argentina as well. In some specimens that coloration of the corium varies, but the original description says it is yellow with a “hairy” pronotum, which fits very nicely your photos.” Apiomerus flavipennis is known from Argentina and Southern Brazil only.

Quite unexpectedly, Dimitri also noted that at least some of the flies could belong to the family Milichiidae. He first became aware of these flies after seeing a photograph of Apiomerus showing something similar and suggested Milichiidae online as a possible source for more information. This remarkably informative  website by milichiid expert Irina Blake, who dubs species in the family as “freeloader flies”, is a model for how websites dealing with obscure insect taxa should be organized and populated (and features on the home page a great photo of ant-mugging flies taken by our favorite myrmecophile). At any rate, I forwarded my photos to Irina and within minutes received her response that the bigger black flies most probably represent the cosmopolitan Milichiella lacteipennis and the smaller flies a species of the family Chloropidae (of “dog pecker gnat” fame) in the subfamily Oscinellinae, noting that she has seen similar (or the same?) chloropids in other photos as well engaging in kleptoparasitism.

Not long after receiving the first reply from Dimitri, I got another message from him with a link to a very interesting paper by Eisner and colleagues (1991), who recorded freeloader flies in Florida preferentially attracted to stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs (family Coreidae) being preyed upon by the orb-weaving spider Nephila clavipes. Olfactory stimuli were already suspected to be involved in attraction of milichiids and also chloropids (Sivinski 1985); however, Eisner et al. (1991) experimentally demonstrated that milichiid attraction was tied to specific components of defensive sprays in several pentatomid and coreid species (including P. guildenii, the prey species in this series of photographs). The defensive sprays of the bugs were generally ineffective at preventing predation by the spiders (and apparently this is the case for A. lanipes and other reduviids as well), thus serving as a signal to milichiids and chloropids not only of the presence of a food source but perhaps also assisting search for mates in a density dependent fashion (Sivinsky 1985). Milichiid attraction to hymenopteran prey, richly endowed with integumental glands themselves, has also been documented; the Eisner study raises the question whether these types of prey are also detected from chemical cues.

REFERENCES:

Berniker, L., S. Szerlip, D. Forero and C. Weirauch. 2011. Revision of the crassipes and pictipes species groups of Apiomerus Hahn (Hemiptera: Reduviidae: Harpactorinae). Zootaxa 2949:1–113.

Eisner, T., M. Eisner & M. Deyrup. 1991. Chemical attraction of kleptoparasitic flies to heteropteran insects caught by orb-weaving spiders. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 88:8194–8197.

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Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012