Two days ago, the WGNSS Botany Group met in the Visitor Center parking lot on a not-as-cold and not-as-cloudy day compared to previous days with the plan to walk the Natural Wonders Trail—a relatively easy 1.3-mile loop that features mesic forest on north-facing slopes, dry forest and glades on the south-facing slopes, and a spring-fed creek that meanders through the riparian corridor below. The upland portions of the trail pass through Meramec Mosaic Natural Area, boasting an amazing diversity of natural communities and associated flora all in relatively close proximity.
We walked clockwise around the loop, which took us up and out of the riparian forest onto the north-facing slopes. Lindera benzoin (spicebush) was abundant in the understory at the lower elevations, with male and female plants both being immediately recognizable—the former sporting noticeably swollen buds that will produce the male flowers in spring, and the latter still bearing many of their now-faded berries, their earlier bright red color lost to a dull purple-black. Two members of the Betulaceae were also seen commonly in the understory—Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam), with its hop-like fruit clusters and almost always adorned with rich-brown marcescent leaves, and Corylus americana (hazelnut) sporting distinctive hanging male catkins.
We had scarcely reached the upper slopes when we began noticing a diversity of green foliage—not from the numerous trees and shrubs, but rather from a variety of ferns, hangers-on from earlier times that continue to find niches within the woody-dominate community that now dominate the landscape. The first example seen was a single Sceptridium dissectum (cutleaf grape-fern), its leaf now in reddish-bronze winter dress. Shortly afterwards we began to see prominent outcrops of dolomite as we neared the north-facing bluffs, their surfaces thickly covered with mosses and providing a perfect situation for Asplenium rhizophyllum (American walking fern). The long, tapering leaves of this species root at their tips and give rise to new plantlets—an asexual method of reproduction that allows a single plant to quickly colonize an entire rock surface.
The bluff faces themselves provided the greatest diversity of ferns. An unusual species observed in abundance was Cystopteris bulbifera (bulblet fern, bulblet bladderfern, or bulblet fragile fern). Unlike many ferns, the fronds of this species turn completely brown during the winter (although a few small green plantlets of what may be this species were observed growing among them). It’s most notable feature, however, is the small “bulblets” that form on the underside of its leaves, providing the plant a most unusual method of asexual reproduction.
Two Pellaea spp. (cliffbrake) we’re found as well growing from crevices on the bluff face: P. atropurpurea (purple-stem cliffbrake or purple cliffbrake) and the more uncommonly encountered P. glabella (smooth cliffbrake). In some cases the plants were growing very near each other, allowing the group an opportunity to compare and contrast. Pellaea atropurpurea is distinctive in both habit and appearance, with fertile leaflets narrowly elongate—sporangia arranged along the curled under margin and the sterile leaflets broader and “T-shaped” at the base. In addition to its dimorphic leaves, the distinctly pubescent, purplish-brown rachis separates it from P. glabella. The latter species can be found scattered throughout the Ozarks and a few northern counties and is less likely to be seen growing in soil as opposed to exposed rock.
Two more species of Asplenium were found as we continued to examine the moss-covered rock exposures, one being the commonly encountered A. platyneuron (ebony spleenwort or brownstem spleenwort)—distinctive by its purple-brown rachis and “offset” pinnae with asymmetrical basal lobes, and an as-yet-undetermined species provisionally assigned to this genus. We would see additional examples of A. platyneuron away from the rock faces growing in the soil—their fertile fronds tending to grow more erect than the sterile fronds. This same habit was seen in the eighth and final fern of the day, the very common Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern) which we encountered regularly in more mesic areas of the forest floor.
Despite the botanical focus of the walk, we are all naturalists at heart and quick to notice anything that piques our natural history curiosity, regardless of what kingdom of life it pertains to, and when John called out, “Okay Ted, here’s a quiz for you,” I suspected my entomological skills would be put to the test. What he’d found were three strange-looking structures hanging from a small Ostrya sapling that would have, to anybody less-observant, been passed off as some plant fruiting structure. Of course, we knew that Ostrya fruits bore no resemblance to these structures, and when we noticed they were connected to each other and had apparently been “tied” to the twig by some sort of insect, we then guessed they may have been the fruiting structures of an as yet unidentified herbaceous plant or vine. That idea was quickly dispelled, however, when cutting into one of the structures revealed it was filled with bright yellow spheres that I can only surmise to be lepidopteran eggs, with the structures themselves and their attachments to the twig consisting of the silk that many caterpillars use to construct cocoons in which to pupate. Could these be the eggs of an usual type of bagworm moth, the females of which are typically wingless and larvicida and remain in their cocoon after emergence, where they mate, lay eggs, and die? The structures and their egg-like contents, at this point, remain a mystery, but I did collect them and am attempting to hatch the “eggs” (if that is what they are) in an effort to gain further clues about their identity.
Turning back to the east the forest changed dramatically. The tall canopy of mesic-loving hardwoods such as Quercus alba (white oak) and Acer saccharum (sugar maple) gave way to a shorter, more open canopy of trees preferring dry to xeric conditions such as Q. muhlenbergii (chinquapin oak), Rhamnus caroliniana (Carolina buckthorn), and Sideroxylon lanuginosum (wooly buckthorn or gum bumelia). Entomologist that I am, I couldn’t resist the chance to check the ground around the bases of the trunks of each of the latter, hoping to see evidence of larval activity by the spectacular and highly host-specific Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer), but no such evidence was seen. At one point, the dry oak woodland yielded to a bona fide dolomite glade (more properly called “xeric dolomite prairie”), with evidence of mechanical removal of woody plants and prescribed burns serving as testament to dedicated management practices intended to restore and preserve the original character of the glade by park management.
The final stretch led back down into the valley, where a disturbing amount of Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle) was observed on the forest floor and growing up the smaller trees. A grove of Pinus echinata (shortleaf pine), apparently planted some time ago, looked oddly out of place given the dolomitic substrate in the area but did provide an opportunity for dramatic up views. After regrouping in the parking lot (and remarking on what a “fern-tastic” walk it had been), a number of participants caravanned to Clark Street Cade and Bakery in nearby Sullivan for a welcome resumption of the traditional post-walk lunch.
It’s been too long since I’ve been able to go out with the WGNSS Botany Group on their weekly Monday outing—a consequence of travel and renovations on top of the frenetic-as-usual insect-collecting season. The result is that my attendance on the Botany Group outings is semi-regular during fall/winter but spotty at best during spring/summer. That may seem exactly the opposite of what would be optimum for studying plants, but as a naturalist to the core I have no trouble finding things of interest no matter the season. Especially when the destination is a place as fascinatingly diverse as Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park—best known previously for its rhyolite “shut-ins” but now mostly for the gashing scour zone that was ripped across it in Dec 2005 when a catastrophic failure of the reservoir atop nearby Proffit Mountain released one billion gallons of water that tore through the landscape in a matter of 12 minutes. The geology exposed by the scour and the living experiment of biological succession that began afterwards are both fascinating, making the Scour Trail one of the Missouri Ozarks’ most interesting day hikes.
Our chief target for the day was Hamamelis virginiana (common or American witch-hazel), which blooms in November and December and is restricted in Missouri to a few counties in the St. Francois Mountains and the extreme southwestern corner of the state. Interestingly, there is a second species of witch hazel—H. vernalis (Ozark witch hazel), more common in Missouri but much more restricted globally—that occurs here, but as it blooms later in winter (January/February) we did not expect to see it on this trip. We found the former reliably, though not abundantly, and among the last plants we found in bloom were some with the freshest (and best-illuminated by the low-angled sun) flowers. At one point while we were still within the dry-mesic upland deciduous forest uphill from the scour zone, we saw a nice colony of the patch-forming Diarrhena obovata (beak grass). This is an attractive grass that does well in shade and should be utilized more as an ornamental.
The overlook provided a stunning overview of the scour zone from an elevated vantage—the since rebuilt Proffit Mountain Reservoir rising ominously above it as an almost deliberate reminder of its potential power—before the descent down into the scour zone. It’s an almost alien landscape with an irregular, unweathered floor of exposed bedrock strewn with rocks ranging from pebbles to boulders. Sycamore and willow are the early leaders in the now 17-year-old race to recolonize the barren swath of land, but lack of toeholds for roots to grow is a bigger problem for this future forest than lack of sunlight by taller neighbors. At one point, we spotted a large bush heavily laden with dense clusters of berries atop a pile of rocks. While the more astute botanists in the group recognized it for what it was, I was dumbfounded as to its identity until it was revealed to me to be none other than Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)—the largest, densest, most heavily berry-laden “bush” form of the species I have ever seen. So impressive it was that seven botanists gave it much more than just a trifling look.
About halfway down the scour zone we encountered the “great unconformity”—previously hidden by topsoil and forest but now exposed. Here, knobs of 1.3 billion-year-old granite are surrounded by 540 million-year-old dolomite deposited atop the granite in the shallow Cambrian seas that once covered all but the tallest of these by then already ancient knobs—mere nubs of the towering mountains they once were but worn down nearly to sea level by nearly a billion years of relentless rain and wind. The exposures of pink granite, their large embedded crystals glistening sharply in the sunlight, contrasted starkly with the dark gray dolomite surround them, representing an incomprehensible gap of nearly 800 million years in the record of Earth’s history preserved in the rocks. The entire history of multicellular life on Earth could be swallowed by such a gap!
As an entomologist, I cannot ever stop being on the lookout for insects, no matter what the season. Even though temps were well on the chilly side, I still managed to discern a couple of small wolf spiders, and somehow I managed to see a small ant cadaver on a twig that had succumbed to an insect-pathogenic fungus in the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis complex. Even the botanists around me started taking advantage of the opportunity for insect education. Len and Michael noticed a gall on a small Quercus muhlenbergii (chinquapin oak) which turned out to be the work of Disholcaspis quercusglobulus (round bullet gall wasp), and John noticed a colony of Prociphilus tessellatus (woolly alder aphid) on Alnus glutinosa (European alder). Closer inspection revealed an adult Harmonia axyridis (Asian lady beetle) preying upon the aphids.
It was as enjoyable an outing as I’d hoped (how can four hours in the woods be anything BUT enjoyable), and I hope not to let so much time pass before the next time I’m able to join the group!
I’m always on the lookout for cool plants and critters during my daily walk with Beau and Madam, and today we saw one of the coolest plants ever — Monotropa uniflora (ghost pipes, Indian pipes).
This bizarre plant, a member of the blueberry family (Ericaceae), occurs throughout much of Missouri, but the plants seem to pop up sporadically and unpredictably and are difficult to locate intentionally. The common name derives from their unique shape, the nodding flowers — one atop each stem — giving the plant a pipe-shaped appearance, and their pure white coloration — a consequence of the complete absence of any chlorophyll in their tissues. As such, the plants are unable to photosynthesize and must obtain nutrition from decaying organic material on and in the soil, which they do with the aid of soil-inhabiting fungi that digest the matter into basic compounds that the plant can absorb.
The nodding flowers will eventually turn upwards as the fruits form and mature, so I am anxious to keep an eye on these plants as that happens over the next couple of weeks.
Welcome to the 12th “Collecting Trip iReport” covering a 22-day insect collecting trip (my longest in more than 20 years!) encompassing six states from May 15 to June 6, 2022. The trip started out with two days of setting traps in southern Illinois and across southern Missouri, continued with nine days of collecting in western Texas, three days of collecting in southeastern New Mexico and five days of collecting in southeastern Arizona, and ended with a day of collecting in extreme northwestern Oklahoma at the halfway point during the long drive back to St. Louis. Along the way, I teamed up with six different people during different parts of the trip—Jason Hansen, Joshua Basham, and Tyler Hedlund in Texas and New Mexico and Norm Woodley, Steve Lingafelter, and Paul Kaufman in Arizona.
Salt Lick Point Land & Water Preserve Monroe Co., Illinois I’m on my way to west Texas for a couple of weeks and southern Arizona for another week afterwards, but it’ll take a few days to get there while I hang insect traps here in southern Illinois and at a bunch of localities in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. The traps are based on an idea from fellow cerambycid specialist Dan Heffern, who calls them “jug traps”. The traps utilize 8-oz bottles of 200 proof ethanol suspended inside a 1-G milk/water jug. A hole is drilled in the lid of the 8-oz bottle and a wick inserted to moderate release of the ethanol, which attracts the beetles. 500 mL of a 50:50 mixture of polypropylene glycol and water is placed in the bottom of the jug to act as a killing agent and preservative for beetles that are attracted to the trap and fall into the it. Early testing by Dan suggests the ethanol bait can last up to 4–6 weeks and the beetles that fall into the traps don’t decompose within that time period, enabling them to be placed at much more remote locations than the fermenting bait traps that I have been utilizing for many years now in the glades of Jefferson Co. just south of St. Louis but which need to be checked weekly. For my part, I am placing two traps at each location—one with pure 200 proof ethanol and another with a 50:50 mixture of ethanol and red wine (the latter is cheaper and works well as a beetle attractant on its own). If the mixture works as well as pure ethanol (remains to be seen), it would be a way to reduce cost.
I chose this location based on a visit last fall with the WGNSS Botany Group, during which we found Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia)—host of the strikingly spectacular Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer) and one tree in particular that showed evidence of active larval infestation by the telltale pile of frass at the base of the living tree. The trees are growing in dry hilltop forest adjacent to a renovated hilltop prairie remnant, and the beetle has not been formally reported from Illinois. I’ve had good luck trapping this beetle in the glades south of St. Louis, so I am hopeful these traps will also be effective and that I can document the occurrence of bumelia borer in Illinois.
It was a tough hike—mostly uphill and I was trying to get in and out quickly. I had a bit of trouble locating the infested tree that we’d seen last fall (even with the location GPS recorded), but eventually I found it. At first, I had trouble throwing the carabiner and rope over a high branch—my slingshot idea with the rope tied to the carabiner did not work, so I ended up just throwing it and succeeded only after many attempts to develop my “technique.” Then, horrors… somehow the bottle carrying the mixture of red wine and ethanol broke and spilled much of the contents into my backpack. Fortunately, there was just enough remaining in the bottle to mostly fill the 8-oz bait bottle. From that point, the rest of the trap went together as planned, and I hoisted it high above eye level before assembling the ethanol-only trap and placing it about 100 feet from the first. The longer-than-I-remembered hike and problems with the first trap already had me close to an hour off schedule, so I hoofed it back to the car as quickly as I could, stopping only briefly to pick up a tiny Glaphyrocanthon viridis (one of our tiniest dung beetles) that I saw land on the trail. When I got back to the car and checked my recorded track, I noticed that I had made it about three-fourths of the way around the trail and could have saved time had I simply completed the circuit rather than doubling back! Ugh—an inauspicious start to a long trip!
St. Joe State Park St. Francois Co., Missouri This is another location that I visited recently with the WGNSS Botany Group and noted the occurrence of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in the dry post oak woodland bordering the bicycle trail south of the Harris Branch Trailhead. I hung a wine:ethanol trap not far from the parking lot on the west side of the trail and an ethanol-only trap about 300 feet further south on the east side of the trail.
When I returned to the car, somebody had used a sparkly wrist strap to tie a bicycle key chain to my door handle. I’m not sure if it was a gift from a fellow cyclist who recognized my “Share the Road” license plate or simply a random act of kindness—either way, I think I’ll hang the bicycle from my rear view mirror!
Hughes Mountain Natural Area Iron Co., Missouri This area features dry post oak woodlands surrounding xeric igneous prairie (glades). I’m not aware of the presence of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in these (or any other) igneous glades, but the post oak woodlands could support many other longhorned beetles that are attracted to ethanol and fermenting bait traps (especially species of Purpuricenus). I placed a wine:ethanol trap at the north end of the first glades and an ethanol-only trap just past the south end about 1/10 of a mile away.
Russell Mountain Trailhead Iron Co., Missouri This is another area with igneous glades surrounded by dry post oak woodland. I hung a wine:ethanol trap at the north end of the first glade and an ethanol-only trap at the south end about 400 feet away. While I was hanging the first trap, I saw a ground beetle (family Carabidae) crawling over the moss-covered rocks under the tree. I believe it is a species in the genus Dicaelus (notched-mouthed ground beetles).
Peck Ranch Conservation Area Stegall Mountain Natural Area Carter Co., Missouri This area has some of the most extensive igneous glades in southeastern Missouri, and it’s remote location makes it an attractive spot for placing traps. Unfortunately, the entire natural area —glades and surrounding woodlands—has been subjected to a recent prescribed burn. I’ve never had much luck collecting in recently-burned habitats, so I had little hope that placing traps here would be worth the effort. Nevertheless, I was there and figured if nothing else it would be a chance to gather some objective data comparing a recently-burned area with similar non-burned areas. I hung a wine:ethanol trap at the north end of the glade next to the fire tower and an ethanol-only trap in the dry post oak woodland about 400 feet to the southwest.
Peck Ranch Conservation Area Cater Co., Missouri I had originally planned to hang these traps at Mule Hollow Glade Natural Area—also in Peck Ranch Conservation Area but distinct from Stegall Mountain by the fact that the glade substrate is limestone rather than rhyolite. This results in a calcareous versus acidic environment and a completely different (and richer) glade flora—including potentially Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) and its beetle associate Plinthocoelium suaveolens. Sadly, after driving from Stegall Mountain through this enormous conservation area for about half an hour, I encountered a gate that prevented access to the glades. It was late in the day, and rather than drop the location, I decided to just hang traps where I ended up—a dry-mesic upland deciduous forest apparently with a chert substrate. I hung a wine:ethanol trap near the car on the east side of the road leading south behind the gate and an ethanol-only trap also on the east side of the road about 230 feet further south.
Day 2 – Setting out more jug traps!
Mark Twain National Forest Bald Hill Glade Natural Area Ripley Co., Missouri I’d hoped to make it here yesterday, but the day just ran out and I ended up spending the night in Doniphan. A great little coffee shop in town put me in the right frame of mind this morning to make the trek into this—one of the most beautifully remote high-quality glades in all of Missouri. The Forest Service roads leading to the glade become increasingly rough the closer one gets, and the final 1-mile spur required a bit of log/branch removal to pass through and even bushwhacking around and under fallen trees before an impassable blockage about halfway down. The last half-mile has been abandoned for at least 10 years, and walking it by foot required a keen sense of reading the forest to discern the barely visible remnant path.
At last, I made it to the glade proper—a gorgeous tract of remnant xeric dolomite prairie (glade) with dry post oak woodlands interspersed within and surrounding the glades. I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a post oak on the east side of the main glade (past the first small glade) and an ethanol-only trap in a gum bumelia tree at the opposite end of the glade about 1/10 of a mile to the southwest. Along the way, I photographed and collected Nemognatha nemorensis (a blister beetle—family Meloidae) on a flower of Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf coreopsis).
As with the first stop yesterday, I underestimated the time needed to hike to the glade, hang the traps, and get back to the car, so by that time I was already off schedule. Nevertheless, considering the quality of the area, I decided to hang one of the two Lindgren funnel traps (baited with ethanol) near the car.
Shortly after turning off the spur onto the Forest Service road, I passed by a branch that looked suspiciously “pruned” (i.e., cut from the inside by a cerambycid larva). I stopped and walked back to the branch, which turned out to be Carya alba (mockernut hickory), and the size of the branch at the cut (~1” diameter) suggested it could be the work of Purpuricenus axillaris, a beautiful orange and black species that is very uncommonly encountered. I pruned off the excess twigs and collected the branch for rearing.
Caney Mountain Conservation Area Long Bald Glade Natural Area Ozark Co., Missouri After finishing up at Bald Hill Glade, I blasted two hours west to Caney Mountain Conservation Area at the eastern edge of the White River Hills region in southwestern Missouri. The White River Hills is perhaps my favorite area in Missouri—I have collected insects at many spots here over the years, a number of which occur in Missouri only in this part of the state. Caney Mountain is only one of the sites I’ve selected for placing traps, but like the previous site it contains some of the highest quality and most beautifully remote xeric dolomite prairie remnants (glades) in the state—especially on the far west side of the area in and around Long Bald Glade Natural Area.
As before, I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree on the west side of the first glade and an ethanol-only trap in another gum bumelia tree on the north side of the main glade about 1/8 of a mile west of the first trap. I also hung a second Lindgren funnel trap here—when I arrived at the site, I’d noticed a large area of post oak woodland on the other side of the road had recently been thinned (via chainsaw). With all the dead wood laying around (in a cool natural community), it almost screamed for a trap, so I baited it with ethanol and hung it right smack in the middle of the renovated area.
By this time, the day was starting to get away and I still had four locations that I wanted to hang traps. With six hours of daylight left, it would be a stretch to get to all four, so I avoided the temptation to spend any more time poking around in this fantastic site and headed to the next location further west.
Mark Twain National Forest “Blackjack Knob” Taney Co., Missouri I’ve been to this knob several times and collected good numbers of Missouri’s disjunct population of the spectacular Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina (prairie tiger beetle) as well as discovered the larva of Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer) in the root of a living Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree. There is lots of gum bumelia at this spot, and since it is right along the highway and I could hang traps here quickly, I added the spot to my list of locations. I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a gum bumelia tree on the south side of the knob and an ethanol-only trap in another gum bumelia tree on the north side of the knob about 300 feet north of the first trap.
Mark Twain National Forest Hercules Glades Wilderness Taney Co., Missouri Hercules Glades Wilderness contains some of the largest intact remnants of xeric dolomite prairie in the entire White River Hills region. Unlike those of other areas managed by state and federal conservation agencies, this designated wilderness has a “no management” mandate. As a result, there has been no effort to remove woody vegetation, either by chainsaw or by prescribed burning. While plenty of intact glade habitat remains, the margins and surrounding dry post oak woodlands are heavily colonized by Juniperus virginiana (eastern red-cedar)—a native tree that was historically restricted to bluffs and ledges but has since adapted to encroaching in glades and prairies as a result of fire suppression over the past one and a half centuries. I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a red-cedar near a Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree at the north end of the first glade and an ethanol-only trap in another red-cedar near gum bumelia about 450 feet to the southeast.
Along the trail in the dry oak-juniper woodland before reaching the glade, I found a Geotrupes splendidus (splendid earth-boring beetle) on its back waving its legs in the air. I flipped it over, took a photograph, and popped it in a vial.
Mincy Conservation Area Taney Co., Missouri Mincy Conservation Area is another area in Taney Co. with high quality remnant xeric dolomite prairie (glades). I have been here many times, and I couldn’t imagine placing traps in the White River Hills and not including this place. I hung a wine:ethanol trap in a Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree at the north end of the glade across the road from the campground area and an ethanol-only trap in another gum bumelia at the southwest end about 1/8 mile from the first trap.
Roaring River State Park ChuteRidge Glade Barry Co., Missouri I got here right at sunset, so I knew I would have to work quickly to get two traps hung before I completely ran out of daylight. This high-quality xeric dolomite prairie remnant (glade) has undergone extensive renovation over the past 25 years since I first began coming here, and it’s character is now much improved compared to those early days. I hung a red wine:ethanol trap in a Quercus stellata (post oak) tree near some Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in the treeline about halfway up the slope at mid-glade. It was at that time that I noticed the bait bottle was missing from the second trap, so I had to hustle back to the car in the waiting light to retrieve another trap. It was too dark by then to wander back up into the main glade, so I walked the 2-track near the road to the north end of the glade and then east up the slope until I encountered an area where gum bumelia was growing, hanging an ethanol-only trap in a nearby hickory tree about 1/6 mile north of the first trap.
As I walked the 2-track, I heard the call of nighthawks flying overhead—a familiar sound during the day and early evening when in the glades. Once I started hanging the trap, the oncoming cloak of darkness was announced by the whip-poor-wills (a relative of the nighthawk, both species belonging to the “goatsucker” family). If that was not enough, a Chuck-wills-widow—yet another nighthawk relative—joined the chorus! It was a magical moment of pure natural history to celebrate the completion of my trap placing effort, after which I pointed the car towards west Texas (or at least Fort Smith, Arkansas) for the night before the long drive tomorrow.
Day 3 – Travel to West Texas
GoldMine Canyon Val Verde Co., Texas Today was a long, lonely, 11-hour drive from Ft. Smith, Arkansas to Dave Barker’s cabin above Gold Mine Canyon. I first came here last year a bit earlier in May with Rich Thoma to meet up with Dan Heffern, Brian Raber, and Ed Riley. Dave has been kind enough to make his cabin available to naturalists interested in studying the flora and fauna of the area around his cabin, and after getting a taste of the area last year I wanted to come back again and see it a tad bit later in the season. This time I met up with Jason Hansen, Joshua Basham, and Tyler Hedlund. The area got some rain in late April but has been dry since—and looked it. Nevertheless, insect activity at the lights (mercury-vapor and ultraviolet) was fairly high, although mostly moths and blister beetles. I did pick up one elaphidiine, a series of Hybosorus illigeri, and a few photogenic robber flies.
Eventually the wind picked up to the point where I was worried about my light setup being blown down, so I took down the setup and searched (unsuccessfully) for Moneilema cactus beetles on the nearby Opuntia sp. (pricklypear cactus).
Day 4 – Devils River Area
Gold Mine Canyon Val Verde Co., Texas We stayed in the vicinity of the cabin to see what we could find. I wasn’t optimistic because of how dry everything looked but headed up the 2-track leading east of the cabin. Even though I was here earlier in May last year, things didn’t seem as far along—the Diospyros texanus (Texas persimmon) trees were just beginning to leaf out, and I didn’t see any of the plants in bloom that I’d seen last year such as Coreopsis or Opuntia. As I walked the 2-track, I noted a persimmon with emergence holes in the trunk that matched the size and shape expected for Spectralia robusta. The holes appeared fresh, suggesting there could still be some beetles inside, so I flagged the branch for later collection and rearing. Having flagged the tree, I decided I should beat the branches just in case, and a fresh adult landed on the sheet—sweet! I’ve collected this species before, but it was many years ago and I’d forgotten how pulverescent the adults are and how (unfortunately) the pulverescence rubs off when touched or placed in the kill vial, making it almost impossible to preserve. I focused on beating persimmons for the next hour, ending up with seven specimens, all of which were collected in the immediate vicinity of the tree that I’d originally flagged.
I had beaten a few other trees as well but wasn’t seeing anything, and by now temperatures were starting to soar, so I went back to the cabin to rehydrate and trade my aerial net for my sweep net so I could do some general sweeping. I worked my way back to the farthest point I’d gone before and shortly afterwards encountered Echinocereus enneacanthus intermedius (strawberry cactus) in bloom. To my surprise, I saw several Acmaeodera adults on the blossom, so I collected them with my aspirator and immediately thought of the larger clump of strawberry cactus blooms I’d checked earlier and not seen anything and then passed by this time. Again, there were quite a few Acmaeodera adults on the blossoms. As I collected the adults, others continued to fly in to the flowers, so I roamed back and forth between the two clumps collecting the adults until no more were seen. There were at least four species—the commonly encountered A. quadravittatoides and A. neoneglecta, the much rarer A. starrae (which I collected for the first time last year in Comstock) [Edit: I now regard these as A. robigo, also quite rare], and a fourth species that I didn’t immediatelyrecognize. In shuffling through the possibilities in my mind, A. riograndei came up based on my recollection of Nelson’s illustration of the species in the original description. I walked further east down the 2-track and encountered another cluster of plants in bloom, allowing me to increase my series of all four species. By then, temperatures were approaching 100°F and I was also hungry, so I returned to the cabin to rehydrate, eat, and rest to avoid pushing myself too hard. When Jason returned to the cabin later, he had also found the same four species on cactus flowers, and we both agreed the mystery species was A. riograndei—the first time either of us had seen this very rarely collected species.
Once I felt energetic enough, I braved one more trip even further down the 2-track to where it crosses the canyon, the latter in which Joshua had seen strawberry cactus flowers in bloom and collected all four species himself. I hoped to find a few more A. riograndei, as I had only a handful of specimens of that species. Joshua came along, and together were located and worked as many plants in bloom as we could find. It was hard work—the plants were very sparsely distributed and mostly on the steep-sloped portions of the canyon walls or up on top where footing was precarious. Most plants had the two common species, and I managed to collect several more A. starrae as well, but I never saw another A. riograndei until after we’d been out there for a couple of hours and I was almost ready to collapse from the heat (temps were by then ~105°F!). On the same flower that I finally found A. riograndei, I also found a fifth species—A. gillespiensis, a west Texas specialty. That was one of the last plants in bloom that I found before working my way back down into the canyon and heading back to the canyon. I really thought I was going to collapse from the heat before I got there, and I needed the rest of the afternoon to rehydrate and all evening to recover. It was too windy to blacklight, which was probably fortunate because I really needed to take it easy during the evening and let myself recover.
Day 5 – Devils River area (cont.)
Devils River near Dry Devils River Val Verde Co., Texas We carpooled to a spot along the west side of Devils River that required fording the river and then traversing some of the roughest, rockiest roads I’ve ever traveled (my new Bronco Sport Badlands, chosen for just such roads, handled everything perfectly). There is a stand of mature Carya illinoiensis (pecan) along the river that Joshua and I headed straight for, suspecting they might harbor Anthaxia caryae. We spent a fair bit of time beating the lower reachable branches, and I spent even more time afterwards using the extensible net to sweep the upper branches. A single adult—on one of the first few branches that I beat—was all we got for our efforts. I also collected a little chlamisine chrysomelid by sweeping Salvia sp., but otherwise I saw little insect activity. Joshua had been beating the nearby oaks while I was working the pecans, and when I passed by he said he hadn’t gotten anything off the oaks either. I walked back up to the bluffs overlooking the river to see if I could find cacti in bloom but found no Opuntia (pricklypear cactus) and only the infrequent Echinocereus enneacanthaintermedius (strawberry cactus) in bloom. Despite the generally poor condition of most of the flowers, I still managed to collect the same four Acmaeodera that we collected yesterday—including several A. starrae and two A. riograndei. While I looked for cacti, I also beat any Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon) that I encountered hoping to find more Spectralia robusta or the small Agrilus sp. that Tyler collected yesterday off the same at Gold Mine Canyon (I’m thinking it must be A. lautuellus), but all I collected was a single weevil and a single tenebrionid. By this time it was getting hotter than blazes, and we all returned to the car, drank some fluids and ate a bit, and decided the best way to spend the next two hours—the hottest part of the day—was by sitting in the river. We had no swim trunks, but underwear served the purpose just as well!
Gold Mine Canyon Val Verde Co., Texas After cooling off in the river and returning to the cabin, Jason and Joshua wanted to go check out the patches of Echinocereus enneacanthaintermedius (strawberry cactus) from which we’d collected so many Acmaeodera to look for more A. riograndei, and Tyler and I decided to hike down to the canyon where he had collected a few Agrilus sp. on Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon). Along the way we beat some of the persimmon trees where Tyler had collected a few Spectralia robusta but found only a single epitragine tenebrionid. We also encountered a single strawberry cactus patch with a couple of closed blooms, and as I approached to see if any Acmaeodera were on the flowers I saw one approaching the flowers in flight. I instinctively swiped the net and caught it, and when I pulled it from the net I saw it was another A. riograndei. I must have around ten specimens of this species now—a nice series of a rare species for my collection. We had to pick a rough and precarious path to reach the canyon bottom, but once we did we started beating the persimmons on which he’d collected the Agrilus sp. (prob. A. lautuellus). Almost immediately he found another one and gave it to me (what a guy!), and we continued working the trees down the canyon. We did not see any more for awhile, but then suddenly I hit a hit spot where I collected one or a few off of successive plants, ending up with a total of nine specimens. Tyler never did find another one after that first specimen (but he’d collected a small series yesterday so he was fine). Once we worked all the persimmon that we could find, we worked our way up the canyon walls on the south side to look for more strawberry cactus flowers with Acmaeodera. We found a few plants here and there, but in all cases the flowers were closed and no Acmaeodera were seen—I suspect the flowers close and the Acmaeodera stop flying as a matter of routine at this time of day (now early evening). As we worked our way east above the canyon to a point where we could cross back over to the cabin, we beat persimmon, but I collected only a single anthribid. By this time we were hungry and thirsty and hoofed it back to the canyon to eat and get ready for blacklighting.
Winds were not as bad as they were last night (and I was feeling much better than I did last night, having taken better care to keep myself fueled and hydrated), so we were anxious to put up the lights and see if we could collect cerambycids. I put up my mercury-vapor/ultraviolet light combination just east of the cabin, while Jason set up his mercury-vapor light on the west side. I picked up a few miscellaneous insects from each over the next hour after it got dark, but I hadn’t yet seen a single cerambycid and started exploring the surrounding area with Tyler. Not far from my lights I found an elaphidiine cerambycid on the 2-track—most likely it had been pulled to the area by the mercury-vapor lamp but landed in the area rather than coming all the way to the light. I tried (and failed) to photograph a mutillid female, so I collected it instead, and we found a cool Stenomorpha sp. [Edit: since identified as S.furcata] (family Tenebrionidae) and some very impressive arachnids (two Hogna carolinensis wolf spiders—one juvenile and one adult female, a Centruroides vittatus scorpion, and a sun spider—Eremobates sp.)—all of which I did manage to photograph! Coming back to the lights, my generator had run out of gas and the lights died, so we brought the ultraviolet lights over to Jason’s setup and turned off his mercury-vapor lamp to encourage cerambycids that had been attracted to the area to come on in to the lights. A couple of Lagocheirus sp. turned up (Jason and Tyler got them), and I got a couple of Aneflomorpha sp. and one Elaphidionopsis fasciatipennis—a species I have not collected commonly. This would be the last beetle I collected on the evening, bringing to a close a second hot but relatively successful day of collecting. Tomorrow we will leave the cabin and start working our way west towards the Davis Mountains.
Day 6 – To Comstock area
22 mi N Del Rio – Jct Hwys 277 & 377 Val Verde Co., Texas We left Dave’s cabin in the morning, and on our way out to the Comstock area we stopped at this intersection where last May I collected Agrilus obtusus on Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna). I got four more this time as well in the small patch of plants just inside the fence, but when I went up the north side where there used to be many more plants, I was disappointed to find that the highway department had dumped multiple loads of gravel over the area. Still, there were other plants in flower closer to the roadside, and when I went to look at them I noticed right away Batyle suturalis, Acmaeodera ornatoides, A. neoneglecta, and A. mixta on flowers of Thelosperma simplicifolium (slender greenthread). Over the next half hour or so, I collected more of the same plus a few additional species (including A. paradisjuncta) in smaller numbers. Another Batyle was taken off the flowers of Ratibida columnifera, but then I noticed Acmaeodera starrae on the small, low-growing flowers of Pinaropappus roseus (white rock-lettuce) and focused on those flowers, ending up with a fair series collected almost exclusively on the flowers of that plant save for single exceptions on the flowers of Sida abutifolia (spreading sida) and Stenaria nigricans (diamond-flowers). I found it interesting that no A. starrae were taken on the flowers of the much more abundant Thelosperma. To the contrary, I did find a few individuals of A. mixta and A. neoneglecta on the flowers of Pinaropappus.
11.5 mi SE Comstock on Hwy 90 Val Verde Co., Texas Jason has collected Agrilus esperanzae and Acmaeodera opuntiae at this spot during previous visits—two species I’ve not yet collected myself, so we stopped here to try our luck. Sweeping along the mesquite/acacia fence line produced only one Agrilus—not A. esperanzae (probably A. addendus)—and a smattering of other beetles; however, we were successful in our quest for A. opuntia, which we found on the flowers of Tiquilia canescens (shrubby tiquilia). They were not common and required a lot of effort to see and capture—sweeping was ineffective because of the very low-growing nature of the plants, and since the beetles are among the smallest Acmaeodera there are I had to crouch over each flowering plant and inspect carefully (under overwhelming heat). Fortunately, I was able to successfully aspirate them once I did see them, and I ended up with a small handful along with similar numbers of A. neoneglecta and A. starrae. The adults of A. opuntiae are unlike those I have in my collection collected by Ed Riley further south—the vittae are more broken, giving them a linearly-spotted rather than vittate appearance. One cool find was the blister beetle Pleuropasta reticulata—one of the two I captured going to Tyler since he had actually targeted that species for the trip.
After a hydration break, I went to the other side of the highway where a nice stand of Thelosperma filifolium (stiff greenthread) was hosting Acmaeodera and off which I collected a few A. miliaris and A. princeps amongst the more common A. mixta. There were also a few flowering Tiquilia plants on that side, and while I did collect a few more A. starrae and A. neoneglecta I did not see A. opuntiae. By then the heat had gotten to me and I worked my way back to the car—save for the efforts given to photograph a couple of robber flies and some neonate coreids.
Devils River at Bakers Crossing Val Verde Co., Texas After getting a hotel in town (I’m looking forward to a hot shower instead of a cold river, for once), we headed north on Hwy 163, along which Jason has had good collecting in the past. The first stop just north of Comstock was not productive despite the verdant plant growth, so we continued north to Bakers Crossing at the Devils River. It was now early evening, so the heat had broken, and immediately we started finding beetles by beating the various trees. I collected one Chrysobothris rossi, one Euderces reichei, and a weevil on Sapindus saponaria (soapberry), but it wasn’t until I started beating Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) that the beetles started “raining” onto the sheet! Chrysobothris rossi was abundant—sometimes two or three falling into the sheet at once and scattering immediately despite the cooler temps. It took me a bit of time to perfect my technique to avoid losing as many as I was getting. Smaller numbers were also collected from dead branches of Vachellia constricta (white-thorn acacia), and just as dusk was falling I found numerous Stenosphenus dolosus bedded down on the thorny branches of Zizyphus obtusifolium. I also collected a couple more C. rossi on dead branches of Celtis sp. before calling it quits.
Due to the lateness of the hour, and since it seemed to be such a good spot, we decided to stay out and put up the lights. Jason setup his mercury-vapor (MV) light closer to the river, while I put my MV/ultraviolet lights in the area where I had been beating. I collected a fair number of cerambycids (not a lot) and a variety of other beetles from the two lights while we waited for our coals to heat up so we could cook some dinner (a fiasco to recount on future trips).
Day 7 – Pecos River area
Pecos River at Hwy 90 Val Verde Co., Texas We awoke to much cooler temperatures (hallelujah!) thanks to a cold front that moved through the area last night, though without the 40% forecasted chance of rain (also good). Our plan today was to work the area around the Pecos River and then look for oaks in nearby Seminole Canyon State Park.
On top near where we pulled the vehicles off the road, I beat a Chrysobothris rossi off dead Vachellia rigidula (blackbrush acacia)—many of which had been killed in the great Texas freeze two winters ago. About that time, Jason and Tyler called me over to look at a buprestid larvae they had beaten from a dead branch of the same—it was not chrysobothrine or agriline, and based on the size of the many emergence holes observed in the branches of this tree we suspected either Xenorhipis osborni (which I have reared from this plant at this location in the past) or a small species of Acmaeodera. Jason collected the larva, and we both collected branches to bring back for rearing. Nearby I found another dead tree of the same but noted a complete absence of emergence holes, yet when I broke apart one of the branches I found a buprestid larvae just like the previous (as well as a C. rossi adult on the branch) and collected some branches for rearing from that plant as well.
I noted a few flowers of Ruellia parryi (Parry’s petunia)—in my experience other species of this genus are good attractors of Acmaeodera—but did not see any adults. The day was still cool and cloudy, so I hoped I might see some later after it warmed up and the sun came out.
I crossed over the highway about halfway down since the others had gone further down on the side I was on, wanting to avoid working trees they’d already worked, and found a fence crossover stand at the bottom under the bridge. I’d never been down that far before or noticed the crossover, which gave me access to the old road going all the way down to the river. I started beating Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) along the way, eventually accumulating around 8–10 C. rossi and a couple of Agrilus sp. along with a few other insects. There was also dead Celtis pallida (spiny hackberry) near the bridge, but I only beat a single miscellaneous beetle off one of the plants.
Near the bridge I noticed a small purple flower of Justicia pilosella (Gregg’s tube tongue) that looked like it had been eaten by Acmaeodera. I did not see any adults on it, but as I started to walk away movement caught my eye—movement like that of an adult Acmaeodera dropping from the flower. I used my aspirator to pick through the soil underneath the flower and eventually found the little guy laying there playing dead—presumably A. neoneglecta, which I then aspirated into a vial. There were just a few other plants in flower around that one, none of which showed evidence of feeding or were hosting a beetle.
By that time, Tyler had also found his way across the crossover and down to where I was, so together we explored the vegetation on each side of the old road leading down to the river. At one point while I was beating Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia)—from which I collected a single C. rossi, Tyler called my attention to lycids (netwinged beetles) on Karwinskia humboldtiana (coyotillo). I came over and told him we should look for Elytroleptus—cerambycid beetles that mimic lycids but that are much less frequently encountered. I noticed that the bush was abuzz with bees and Pepsis wasps, unlike many of the other plants of this species that I’d seen further up. Within a few minutes he called out that he’d found one, and within a minute or two I found one as well (I believe they are E. divisus). We searched the stand thoroughly but found no more and continued down the old road—our focus now on inspecting the patches of coyotillo along the way instead of beating the mesquites and acacias (by the way, I never got anything more off the dead acacias after beating the single C. rossi off the first one!). A little ways down the road, Tyler saw another Elytroleptus fly up from a coyotillo bush—also in flower and abuzz with bees and Pepsis wasps, and when he swung his net at it I saw another one fly up from the bush and netted it. This happened twice again on the way down, each of us seeing and netting an adult flying up from a plant and the other one doing the same immediately afterwards. As we neared the bottom of the road, we noticed the plants—more exposed than those further up—were now mostly past flower and were instead setting fruit with no beetles (or bees or Pepsis wasps) being seen.
After exploring the dry river bed for awhile, we headed back up the road and met Jason and Joshua looking at the very same plants from which we had collected the first Elytroleptus—although they had not yet seen that species. Joshua had just taken a swing at a Pepsis wasp on the bush when I saw another Elytroleptus fly up and away. Nobody else saw it, and I took off after it, successfully netting it to “win” the “Elytroleptus competition”! As we all walked up the road past the bridge, I noticed a R. parryi flower that was now hosting several A. neoneglecta, and we further noticed the Tiquilia canescens (woody crinklemat, shrubby tiquilia) flowers that were now open and collected a few A. neoneglecta and one A. starrae—a new western range extension.
I didn’t find anything more the rest of the way up the old road, but once I got back near the vehicle I noticed Acmaeodera adults on flowers of Sida abutifolia (spreading sida)—most of which looked like A. neoneglecta but at least one possibly being A. opuntiae, collecting around half a dozen total. By then everybody was ready to go into town and look for something to eat, so I cut up and bundled the wood I’d collected and we drove back into Comstock. (Ironically, once back in town, we pulled up to the local eatery got out of our cars. As we approached the door, somebody inside turned the sign from “Open” to “Closed”! I joked that probably the motel owner had seen the #Libtardandproud sticker on my car window and called the restaurant to warn them. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!)
Seminole Canyon State Park Rio Grande & Canyon Rim Trails Val Verde Co., Texas After being denied service at the restaurant in Comstock, we drove to the state park and ate lunch at the picnic area (sardines and Triscuits for me) before divvying up the “oak-hunting duties”. We were hoping to see Spectralia roburella, an oak-associate that I have reared from Quercus fusiformis (plateau live oak) wood I collected at this site many years ago but which I still have yet to see in the field. Jason and Tyler took the Windmill Nature Trail, which has a stand of oaks, while Joshua and I took the Canyon Rim Trail (via the Rio Grande Trail), which has a couple of oak stands within a mile of the starting point. None of us had any luck with S. roburella, which I beat thoroughly as well as broke apart some of the dead branches, or anything on the trees for that matter. I did, however, collect a single Chrysobothris analis on Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia) and a few clytrine chrysomelids on Vachellia vernicosa (viscid acacia) along the Rio Grande Trail, and shortly after starting down the Canyon Rim Trail I beat two Spectralia robusta from Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon). This latter capture renewed my enthusiasm for beating persimmon, which I did thoroughly whenever I was not beating oak, but I never saw another individual! At this point, my body was giving out (in spite of the much more tolerable temperatures today), and we regrouped to decide our next move for the trip (hint: we moved west!).
We drove west to Sanderson and ended up in an RV park with tent sites for $7 and a few marvelous metal dinosaurs at the entrance (I was impressed with their selection of the rarely featured Allosaurus instead of the grossly overused Tyrannosaurus). It was not until around 2 am, however (and again at 5 am)—when the train rumbled by behind the campground—that we understood why the tent sites were so cheap!
Day 8 – To Monahans Sandhills
Despite its small size, the city of Sanderson offers a right nice cup of coffee to start the day by way of this retooled automobile dealership.
17 mi N Sanderson, Jct US-285 & FR-2400 Terrell Co., Texas Our plan had been to continue traveling west to Ft. Davis, but the weather forecast for that area called for rain and cool temperatures. We decided instead to travel northwest to Monahans Sandhills State Park where the forecast looked much better. The spot has been on my radar ever since the species Chrysobothris mescalero was described, and I’ve already looked for the species there twice without success. It was a good decision (more on that later). On the way, we saw a roadside area with lots of flowers in bloom, so we made a quick stop to see what might be visiting the flowers. I’m glad we did—I picked up a nice little series of Acmaeodera paradisjuncta along with a few A. mixta and some large bees (for Mike) on flowers of Wedelia hispida (Texas creeping-oxeye).
I found it interesting that they were not on the much more abundant Coreopsis flowers and mentioned this to Tyler, who said he did see one on “this other yellow flower”—which turned out to be Senna roemeriana (two-leaved senna). I told him this was the host plant for Agrilus obtusus and that he should be on the lookout for the adults, which can be seen sitting on the leaves. I walked to another plant a short distance away, and there they were—two adult A. obtusus sitting on a senna plant, which I gave Tyler the chance to see before placing them in the bottle. Heading back towards the cars, we encountered a patch of Croton pottsii (leatherweed). I mentioned to him that this was the host of Agrilus lacustris, and almost immediately afterwards I saw two adults sitting on the foliage of one of the plants. It was a nice little stop that added one more species to my trip list.
Monahans Sandhills State Park Jack Pump Picnic Area Winkler Co., Texas We arrived at the park early in the afternoon and, after checking in with the office, headed to the Jack Pump Picnic Area. Several Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) were lining the parking lot, and with the first whack of a branch an Acmaeoderopsis sp. fell onto my sheet. I then spent a fair bit of time working the mesquites and collected not only a good series of Acmaeoderopsis but two different species of treehoppers and other miscellaneous types of beetles. I remembered collecting Acmaeoderopsis on mesquite a few years ago near Kermit, Texas and recalled their habit of dashing off the beating sheet when the day heated up and finding it easier at that point to net them as they flew to the tips of branches. Temperatures were still relatively moderate, so they were not yet doing that, but I started to look at the higher branches to see if I could see them flying to them anyway. I did not, but I did see small silhouettes of something buzzing around the flowers. I took a swipe with the net, and to my astonishment the net was filled with ghostly pale-yellow bees. I collected a few for Mike Arduser, feeling confident that he would find them of interest.
After working the mesquites around the parking lot (and having a hot dog with the very friendly family enjoying their holiday at the dunes), I moved out onto the dunes to see what might be going on. I had intended to look for stands of Quercus havardii (shin oak) to look for Chrysobothris mescalero but got distracted when I saw more Acmaeoderopsis—now flying to the branch tips of a line of mesquites. I spent a bit more time thus distracted but ended up with a nicer series of the species and then went back to the road to resume my search for stands of oaks. Along the way I collected an Acmaeodera immaculata and a Batyle suturalis on the flowers of Thelesperma megapotamicum (rayless greenthread) and a Lytta reticulata that was feeding on the flowers of Penstemon ambiguus (gilia bearstongue). At that point, Joshua came back with a Chrysobothris sp. that he’d collected on shin oak—it was definitely a member of the C. femorata species group but looked too large to be C. mescalero (could be C. caddo). Nevertheless, we were encouraged to focus our efforts at that point on searching the shin oak stands for the species. For this we decided to move over to the Shinnery Oak Picnic Area, but before doing this we again obliged the very friendly family, who were anxious to share with us more hot dogs!
Monahans Sandhills State Park Shinnery Oak Picnic Area Winkler Co., Texas I searched this area twice last year looking for Chrysobothris mescalero, both times finding branches that looked “flagged” among the abundant stands of Quercus havardii (shin oak) in the area but failing to rear out the beetles. I had also swept the plants a bit each time but came up empty. This time, with four of us trying, we intended to give it a full effort—and it didn’t take long! Jason found the first one… and the second… and I joined him to see exactly where and how he was finding them. He had been sweeping the stands of plants in one of the depressions in the dune, while I was working the plants on the upper slopes and ridge tops. I decided to try working the depression instead and immediately came up with one myself. I worked the depression fully and got four for my efforts, then started working nearby plants that were not in depressions. I reasoned that being nearby they had a better chance of hosting beetles. Apparently this was poor reasoning, because I didn’t encounter any more beetles in the ensuing half-hour of sweeping.
Exhausted, I went back to the car to rehydrate and debate whether I wanted to continue, but the four of us motivated each other and back out we went. This time, I went west of the picnic area and found a depression similar to the first with mostly thigh-high plants… and got another four. I spotted another very nice-looking depression across the road and made my way over, again focusing on the knee-high plants. From this depression I collected three more adults. One final depression—and one more more beetle, and I was able to return to the car satisfied. I was excited to have figured out the secret to collecting these beetles and was anxious to share with the others. As it turned out, each of the others had also learned this secret, and collectively we had a very nice series of the beetle. We sat at the picnic bench and recounted what a good day of collecting it had been and, to celebrate, decided to head into town for pizza!
Day 9 – Davis Mountains
Monahans Sandhills State Park Shinnery Oak Picnic Area Winkler Co., Texas We had hoped to setup lights for insects at Monahans Sandhills State Park last night after returning from our celebratory pizza dinner, but extreme wind made not only that but even camping untenable. We tried to make it work, but the wind eventually blew my tent completely from its moorings, and I had no choice but to run into town and find a motel room.
This morning we set out for the Davis Mountains (our original plan yesterday), but on the way we stopped at this spot to see if we could find Agrilus cochisei on Ambrosia occidentalis (western ragweed). Jason, Tyler, and I had all collected the species in numbers near this spot over the past couple of years, and we wanted to give Joshua the chance to collect them as well. Unfortunately, the plants were not nearly as abundant or well developed as in previous years, and nary a beetle was to be found. While Joshua looked for the beetle, I swept Xanthisma spinulosum (spiny goldenweed), which was in bloom abundantly along the other side of the road. Two Acmaeodera mixta were swept from the flowers, and coming back I saw two more Acmaeodera—one A. neglecta/neoneglecta and one of a new species that Jason is describing—on the same. Back near the car there was a patch of Sphaeralcea angustifolia (narrow-leaved globemallow), which I swept hoping to find one of any number of buprestid/cerambycid species that could be on the plants but ended up only with a few weevils (Bob Anderson will be happy, however). There were a number of other flowers in bloom, but we avoided the temptation to look around further, as the Davis Mountains beckoned!
Davis Mountains, 11 mi W Ft. Davis Point of Rocks Picnic Area Jeff Davis Co., Texas We were a bit disappointed at how dry things looked as we climbed into the Davis Mountains and made our way to Ft. Davis. We noted flowers in bloom along the roadsides, but the grass along the roadsides and covering the hills was bright, crispy brown and the oaks were largely still without any new foliage. Nevertheless, we hoped collecting might still be good as there had been a little bit of rain in recent days. Point of Rocks Roadside Park is one of my staple collecting localities in the Davis Mountains—it’s where I first collected cerambycids of the genus Elytroleptus hiding amongst the much more numerous Lycus beetles—the latter poisonous and colored orange and black to advertise that fact, and the former completely harmless but similarly colored in an effort to fool would-be predators; and it’s also where I first reared what would become the holotype of Mastogenius texanus and later not only collected a good series of the adults but also discovered its larvae in branches of oak. This time, the oaks lining the picnic area showed no signs of new growth, so I didn’t even try beating on them. In addition, the wind was so extreme that trying to use the beating sheet would have been utterly futile. Instead, I walked the roadside inspecting the variety of flowers in bloom for beetle activity. Unfortunately, not a single beetle was seen despite the diversity of blooms, but I did pick up a couple of Lithurgopsis apicalis (orange-tipped woodborer bee) on a flower of Opuntia engelmannii (Engelmann’s prickly pear) for Mike. Having run out of flowers to check, and still thinking beating the oaks would be futile, I went over to the stand of Sapindus saponaria (soapberry), which were just beginning to produce foliage and where I’d collected Elytroleptus so many years ago (1994, I believe), to see if there might be any of the buprestid species associated with soapberry. I swept some of the lower branches, taking care to keep the still-extreme wind from catching my net like a sail, and saw a couple of Agrilus ornatulus inthe net. I noticed when I got low and in certain positions around the grove of trees, I could minimize the wind, so I went back to the car and traded my sweep net for my beating sheet. Using the beating sheet in that kind of wind was a real challenge, but I still managed to collect seven adults of the species along with a number of clytrine chrysomelids. After having done this, I was less pessimistic about our prospects for collecting in the Davis Mountains—if only we could get out of the wind! We huddled and decided to go to Madera Canyon—all the way on the other side of the loop around the mountains, but higher in elevation and possibly more protected from the winds blasting up from the south.
Davis Mountains Madera Canyon Preserve Jeff Davis Co., Texas Arriving at the trailhead parking lot, we were happy to see that the brutal winds that had harassed us for the past couple of days did not follow us up the mountain, and with temperatures not expected to exceed the high 80s it seemed a beautiful day was on tap. Hopefully the collecting would follow suit. We tapped on this plant and that as we entered the preserve, not seeing much (and not yet expecting to), and by the time the trail reached the creek bed crossing and began to ascend the mountain on the opposite side we began scattering in different directions. I continued following the creek bed and noticed that, while most of the oaks still were showing no signs of beginning to leaf out, the occasional tree was leafing out nicely. I beat the first such one that I encountered—Quercus grisea (gray oak) but collected only a few clytrine chrysomelids. Then I noticed a shrub in bloom—Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plum)—and beat a few miscellaneous beetles from it but still no buprestids.
A bit further down the trail I encountered a large Quercus vaseyana (Vasey oak) along the creek bed that, unlike most of the species, had broken bud and was developing new foliage. I whacked a few branches and collected only miscellaneous beetles, but then I whacked a branch and saw a large Agrilus sp. (likely A. albocomus)! At last, not only a buprestid, but one that I had never collected before. I crossed back over the creek bed and noticed another gray oak with fresh foliage, and the first whack produced several beetles, including a strange, narrowly triangular-shaped beetle that I soon realized was Brachys querci. This was even more exciting, as I have only collected a scarce handful of western Brachys—and never this one, making the genus a big target of mine for this trip. Things stood as such for awhile, save for a few miscellaneous beetles that I beat from Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia) and with only the occasional large, sparsely-leaved Vasey oak to beat as I went down the creek bed. I noticed another creek bed joining the one I was on and decided to explore up that valley, shortly encountering a small but well-leaved Vasey oak. I gave the tree a few whacks, and there on the sheet were three more Agrilus and one more Brachys! Okay, it seemed I was onto something by focusing only on oaks with new foliage. After relaying this information to the others, Tyler and I worked together up the valley, working each gray oak with fresh leaves that we could find (no more Vasey oaks were encountered). Over the course of the next hour, we added sparingly to our Brachys totals (with lots of clytrine chrysomelids and other miscellaneous beetles) until I gave a branch a whack and saw what I first thought was a much smaller species of Agrilus but then realized was an Agrilaxia. In this area, it could only be A. texana, a species I hadn’t seen since 1984 (before it was even described) until encountering them on my recent trip to northwestern Oklahoma. Shortly afterwards, Tyler and I came upon two groupings of large, freshly-foliated gray oaks—one bordering the dam of the now-dry Chico Tank and another further up on the western slope leading down to the former waterline. Tyler began working the near group, and I told him that I would go work the farther group because it looked like (and I hoped it would be) the “buprestid motherload”! That comment was prescient, as I just about doubled my series of the three species I’d already collected and added a couple of Chrysobothris axillaris! By the time we finished working the trees, we were exhausted but fully satisfied and began working our way back down the valley to the parking lot. We encountered Jason and Joshua near the trail at the base of a large gray oak—they’d also had great collecting and even found one larva and one adult of A. texana inside a dead branch of the tree. A beautiful mature male Aphonopelma hentzi (Texas brown tarantula) entertained us for a bit, and after spending four hours at the preserve we decided that yet another celebratory dinner at the Mexican restaurant in town was in order.
After dinner, we decided to head west for lodging, but to our surprise the lodge was closed—seemingly abandoned, and we had to double back all the to Alpine to find an open motel. I was biting my fingernails as I pulled into the first gas station I saw with my car’s miles-to-go indicator reading “1” mile! Our greeter at the motel seemed appropriate for the situation.
Day 10 – El Paso area
Rio Bosque Wetland Park El Paso Co., Texas We made the three-hour drive to El Paso for a couple of days of collecting in this area. I would have liked to have spent another day in the Davis Mountains, but Joshua had to fly out of El Paso this afternoon and we had no choice but to move on. It’s a good thing we did! Our first spot to explore in this area was selected based on the recent capture of Knowltonia atrifasciata—a very uncommonly encountered buprestid that none of us have seen belonging to a small genus that none of us have collected—a few years ago at this wetland park right on the Rio Grande River. Our GPS coordinates did not direct us straight to the park, but twice tried to direct us across the border into Mexico! We were too smart for that, and with a little online sleuthing and manual Google Map use we finally found the spot. Despite the name, the place was bone dry, and in what is becoming a daily ritual we had little optimism for how good the results would be. Knowltonia is associated with Atriplex, and we surmised that K. atrifasciata should be associated in this area with A. canescens, which we found occurring abundantly in some areas but not so much in others. I thought beating would be the best way to encounter the species—assuming it was present, so we all grabbed our beating sheets and started working through the area leading from the parking lot. The plants, which are wind-pollinated, were in full flower and released clouds of pollen with each whack of the stick, so in short order I was covered with pollen dust from head to toe. After beating for a while and not seeing anything, I became distracted by the Prosopis pubescens (screwbean mesquite) trees—a species I had never seen before and always wondered if I would be able to distinguish from the “normal” mesquite (P. glandulosa) with which they were interspersed, but which turned out not to be a problem due to their distinctively “corkscrewed” pods. I did get a few beetles of the species—one Chrysobothris rossi and a few miscellaneous beetles.
I turned my attention back to the Atriplex when I noticed emergence holes (which I presumed were the work of Knowltonia) and began breaking/cutting branches showing such holes to see if I could find at least a carcass in decent condition or—better yet—an unemerged adult. The frass was packed tightly in the galleries, which I took to be evidence that the galleries were the work of buprestid larvae and not cerambycids, the latter which I assumed always had open larval galleries kept free of frass by the larvae. For a while, in every stem I broke or cut into, the larval galleries appeared too old and I didn’t encounter either adults (live or dead) or larvae until I happened upon a cerambycid carcass in its pupal chamber in one of the branches. The head was missing, so I wasn’t sure at first if it was a cerambycid, but when I pulled it from the branch and got a better look at it I was convinced it was and placed it in a vial.
About that time, Joshua directed my attention to a nearby Salix gooddingii (Goodding’s willow) tree off which he and Jason had beat a fair series of an Agrilus sp. I assumed it was A. politus, but he said it wasn’t… than I assumed it was A. quadriguttatus, but it had complete and well-developed elytral vittae rather than spots. I couldn’t think of another species it might be and went to the tree to see if I could get some specimens as well, partly pessimistic since two people had already worked the tree but partly optimistic because I had one thing they did not—an extensible handle on my net! I extended the handle to its full length and swept the foliage of the upper branches thoroughly, getting four on that first round (and a Stenelytrana gigas to boot—my first time collecting that species)! I came back to the tree twice more, getting six more Agrilus on the first return and nine more on the second. At first glance, the adults look nothing like anything i was familiar with from Texas (or the U.S. for that matter), especially among willow associates—I’ll have to take a closer look to determine if it represents a species known from Mexico but not yet recorded from the U.S. or possibly even a new species! [We later determined the species to be A. fisherianus, which has not yet been recorded from Texas, so not a new or Mexican species but still a new state record.] By this time, I had given up on seeing Knowltonia and spent a fair bit of time beating both P. pubescens and P. glandulosa—the most significant capture being Acmaeodera delumbis on the former.
Eventually the time came for Jason to take Joshua to the airport, so we said our goodbyes and made plans to meet up with Jason again at San Felipe Park near Fabens. As Jason and Joshua drove away, Tyler and I pondered our next move, and at that moment something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I looked at the Atriplex bush right next to me, and there near the tip of one of the branches was the unmistakable silhouette of a bright blue-green chrysobothrine beetle! I yelled out “That’s it!” and instinctively took a swing at it. Unfortunately, my net was in the wrong position, but I twirled it quickly and took an assertive, albeit one-handed, swipe just as the wary beetle quickly took flight—missing it by inches! There are times in the life of a field entomologist when a missed capture causes true heartbreak, and this was one of them. I was both thrilled we had seen the species after all but dejected beyond belief that I had missed it, perhaps without another chance to look forward to. Okay, time to get to work! We knew with certainly that the beetles were there and that they were active, and we also realized that an aerial net rather than a beating sheet would be the best way to go after them. I called Jason (en route to the airport with Joshua) to tell him to come back here instead, and then Tyler and I began slowly approaching each bush to look for that flash of blue-green near the branch tips, working the same plants we’d already tried beating earlier in the afternoon. It only took about 15 minutes before I spotted movement on a plant and saw the unmistakable silhouette of a chrysobothrine beetle on the back side of a branch near its tip. The beetle made another slight movement, triggering an instantaneous and assertive swipe of my net—this time already in proper position. My heart skipped a beat when I first looked into the net and did not see the beetle, but soon it appeared as it tried to fly up the net—it’s fantastically biramous antennae easily visible and confirming it to be a male. What earlier had been heartbreak turned to elation and vindication—we’d come here to find a very uncommon species, and we would be walking away successful once again. That said, the next hour and a half would further emphasize just how truly fortuitous a capture it was, as we never saw another adult despite combing the area thoroughly.
When I came back to the car, Jason—as yet unsuccessful in his more brief effort to look for the beetle—was tearing apart an Atriplex bush looking for evidence of larvae. This motivated me to give it another crack, but this time instead of working branches with emergence holes, I worked those without. I had noticed larval galleries in nearly every branch I looked at, and when I found fresh-looking frass in a gallery down the middle of an otherwise healthy, living branch I started carefully following the gallery, eventually finding a pupal cell with something in it and cutting away the wood to expose another longhorned beetle (this one teneral). Jason did the same and found two pupae, which he gave to me and which I will keep alive (along with the teneral adult) to let them emerge and harden up. The adult reminded of the genus Amannus, which I thought contained two species further west, but after consulting Larry Bezark’s photographic catalogue of Cerambyidae I realized they were Amannus atriplici—a Texas species that is yet another new one for me.
By this time, we had been in the park for 5½ hours—a record for this trip, so we went into El Paso to have yet another celebratory dinner (Olive Garden this time) and plan our next move.
Day 11 – El Paso to Cloudcroft
Rio Bosque Wetland Park El Paso Co., Texas Last night was another lodging fiasco that had us driving from one closed campground to another closed campground before biting the bullet and securing a motel in Fabens. It was our intention to collect this morning at nearby San Felipe Park, where last year I’d done well with Gyascutus planicosta and several cerambycids. However, as soon as we arrived we heard a series of gunshots (this is Texas, after all!). If that wasn’t enough to give us pause, both Jason and I realized when we looked in the backs of our vehicles that we’d left our beating sheets on the trail at yesterday’s last locality (we’d ditched them in favor of having two hands on the aerial net while looking for Knowltonia atrifasciata). The collecting gods seemed completely against us collecting at our intended location, so we blasted back to Rio Bosque Wetland Park and were relieved to find our beating sheets on the trail right where we’d left them. None of us were keen on going back to the gunshots, so we decided to stay and take another look around for K. atrifasciata. It would also give me a chance to collect potentially-infested stems of Atriplex canescens and rear out a better series of Amannus atriplici. I inspected all the plants carefully in the areas around the two spots where I’d seen the beetles yesterday but did not see any adults. As I did this, I beat a few Prosopis pubescens (screwbean mesquite) and collected a few miscellaneous beetles, then went back to the spot where I’d collected Agrilus fisherianus on Salix gooddingii (Goodding’s willow) and used the extended handled net to sweep four more adults from the upper branches of the tree. Finally, I went back to the plant from which Jason and I had cut pupae and teneral adults of Amannus atriplici (the two pupae we collected yesterday had since emerged as adults inside their vials) and cut several whole branches from the plant to bring back for rearing. A suspicious character got us a little on edge, and we decided we’d seen enough and headed up north into New Mexico.
Hwy 70 at Point of Sands Otero Co., New Mexico Our plan was to go to Cloudcroft and look for the recently-described Brachys rileyi. Before doing that, however, I wanted to stop at Point of Sands, a cool place where White Sands National Monument spills across the park border and down onto Hwy 70. Last July when I stopped here with Jeff Huether, I found a carcass of Sphaerobothris ulkei and figured they might be out at this earlier point in the season. It ended up being a good thing that we stopped here, because little did we know that that plan had already been thwarted by closure of the National Forest due to extreme fire danger (we would not find this out until we were ready to leave).
I crossed the road to start checking the plant host for the species—Ephedra torreyana (Torrey’s jointfir) in this case. Conditions were again not hot with a light breeze—much more pleasant than the blazing hot conditions at the beginning of the trip or the brutal winds that followed. The ground, however, looked parched, and I was not optimistic about anything being out. I had gotten nearly to the end of the Ephedra stands on that side of the road without seeing anything (and was starting to think I never would) when I noticed a bee-like insect hovering around the tip of one of the Ephedra plants. I realized it was an Acmaeodera and quickly netted it. When I pulled it from the net, I was thrilled to see it was Acmeodera recticollis—an uncommonly encountered species that I’ve never collected before. I told Jason and Tyler what I had found, and the three of us spent the next hour working the ephedra plants in the area, collecting a pretty nice series of the species.
I diverted my attention only a couple of times—once when I saw a striking robber fly perched on yucca that I just had to photograph, and then again when Tyler and I found the spectacular adult males and females of Tragidion armatum on flowers of Yucca elata (soaptree yucca). By then, we’d learned that the National Forest was closed but had managed to reserve a camping site at a commercial campground just outside the national forest boundary. Our plans to collect Brachys rileyi today might have been thwarted, but we got an unexpected species for the trip as a consolation, and I was really happy we would not have to worry about accommodations for this evening.
Sacramento Mountains, Mayhill Otero Co., New Mexico All we could do as we drove through the National Forest around Cloudcroft was stare longingly at the Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s oak) while signs posted at any potential pulloff flashed “Closed. No Entry.” Our commercial campground was, however, just outside the National Forest and looked to contain borderline-equivalent habitat, so we remained hopeful that we would be able to find Q. gambelii trees to beat for Brachys rileyi. While setting up camp, we saw a gorgeous red netwinged beetle (family Lycidae) that proved to be Lygistopterus rubripennis, and sweeping the lush vegetation along the nearby spring-fed creek produced several more along with a few other miscellaneous beetles. There was a trail leading from the campsite into the oak-juniper-pine woodland, and walking along it I found several small Q. gambelii—the tree we were looking for. Unfortunately, beating all the branches I could reach on all the trees I could find failed to produce B. rileyi (or anything else), so for the time being our quest for the species remains unfinished.
Further down the trail under a powerline clearing I found stands of Q. havardii, which I swept in hopes of finding Brachys barberi but found only a couple of cryptocephaline chrysomelids and a clerid. I met up with Tyler and Jason on the other side of the creek and swept Cucurbita foetedissima (buffalo gourd) in hopes of finding Adetus brousi (another species I haven’t yet collected myself), but no cigar (and still haven’t collected it myself). There was a stand of Salix exigua (sandbar willow) nearby, and sweeping off of it produced only a series of galerucine chrysomelids.
As dusk approached, I setup the ultraviolet lights only (no mercur vapor lamp since I couldn’t fire up the generator), but I could tell the temperatures were cooling to the point that no beetles would be coming in. This proved to be the case, and with only a few lonely moths sitting on the sheet I turned to roaming the roadsides looking for night-active insects. Tyler and I found several Udeopsylla robusta (robust camel cricket), all barfing, defecating, and assuming hilariously defensive poses in response to our proddings.
Darkling beetles (family Tenebrionidae) were the main things collected, but at the top of the drive I found three Zopherus concolor, with their cool leg “racing stripes,” crawling slowly on the ground. By that time, I was exhausted from yet another long but successful day of collecting and turned in for the night.
Day 12 – Mescalero Sands
Mescalero Sands Recreation Area North Dunes Picnic Area Chaves Co., New Mexico In the morning after breaking camp, we went back to Cloudcroft to see if we could park somewhere along the side of the road and access Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s oak) to look for Brachys rileyi, but all the places we could pull off were well marked “Stop. No Entry” due to the Lincoln National Forest closure. Our quest for B. rileyi would have to wait for another day. With that, we headed for Mescalero Sands, where we hoped to get another shot at collecting another Brachys species we were targeting—B. barberi. We’d hoped to see it at Monahans Sandhills State Park at the beginning of the week but found only the other main target—Chrysobothris mescalero. I was also happy to have another shot at collecting Agrilus hespenheide, a single specimen of which Jason collected at Monahans and still represented in my cabinet by only a single specimen collected many years ago at this very site. We also welcomed the opportunity to find C. mescalero at its type locality. Temperatures were already topping 100°F by the time we arrived, but the tough conditions would mean little to us since we immediately found B. barberi sweeping stands of Quercus havardii (shin oak) very near where we parked. As we were beginning our sweeping, Jason encountered a small white yogurt cup that had been discarded in the dunes and noticed a few Acmaeoderaquadrivittatoides flying in and landing on the white rim of the cup. Jason collected them and then left, after which I emptied the sand and filled the cup with water to let it sit while I swept the stand of oaks next to it. When I returned, there were seven Acmaeodera trapped in the water—two clearly being A. quadrivittatoides but the other five not immediately recognizable (they look like very small A. starrae or A. riograndei—I will be anxious to look at them more closely). Over the next 2½ hours we would sweep the stands of shrubby oaks looking for B. barberi, often collecting none but sometimes getting as many as five individuals per sweeping pass. I worked each discrete stand systematically to avoid duplicative sweeping, as it was hard work in such heat, and in addition to B. barberi I collected two specimens of A. hespenheidei, four specimens of C. mescalero (two got away, as they moved fast in the heat!), two Acmaeodera neglecta, and another small Acmaeodera that looks very much like A. riograndei, which we collected much further south at Gold Mine Canyon in Val Verde Co., Texas. This latter find is significant , as the species had not been recorded before our trip from outside of the Big Bend region—if the ID is correct, the capture represents a new state record and a significant extension of the known range. In addition to the buprestids, treehoppers of the genus Cyrtolobus or near (two species) were abundant on the oaks, along with a gorgeous species of cassidine leaf beetle. I collected nice series of each and a smattering of many different species of beetles in other families. I was having so much success sweeping that eventually I had to force myself to stop and take a break to rest and rehydrate (I’m not 26 anymore!). I thought I wanted to go out for more A. hespenheidei after the break, but after the first sweeping pass I realized my body was done!
Mescalero Sands Recreation Area Vic. North Dunes entrance Chaves Co., New Mexico After finishing with the oaks in the recreation area, we headed out to the highway near the entrance to work the nearby stands of Sapindus saponaria (soapberry). I had good success during my last visit here in 2018 with Agrilus sapindi in these stands, a species I have found very sparingly in other locations and which were best collected here by sweeping the small saplings rather than beating the branches of larger trees. We encountered the species almost immediately after we arrived, collecting them exactly as I’d done before (despite Jason’s skepticism). This also produced a few Agrilus ornatulus, and beating the branches produced one or two of each species as well. Jason also collected one individual of Agrilus limpiae, a species I collected on soapberry during my recent trip to western Oklahoma, but I did not encounter it here. I wonder what it is about this soapberry stand that A. sapindi likes so much?
We were all exhausted after working the sweep nets and beating sheets all day at Mescalero in the +100°F heat, so we ran into town to eat dinner (mine including a large milkshake!) before making the hour+ drive to our campsite near Carlsbad. Before leaving town, however, we had to stop at the alien memorial for photos and to leave our own contributions on the pedestal.
Capitan Reef Rd at Pecos River Chaves Co., New Mexico Jason knew a spot not far from the campground where we could setup the lights, and despite my exhaustion I agreed to go along since it seemed like it could be a good night. It wasn’t a good night—though it wasn’t a bad night either. Only two cerambycids were collected at the mercury vapor/ultraviolet lights—one tiny elaphidiine, and a conversely large Aneflus sp. (maybe A. prolixus). However, there was a smattering of other interesting insects that made the night not a bust—a few clerids of several different species, the same with bostrichids, lots of tiny bruchids (I don’t typically see these at lights—or maybe I just haven’t noticed them), a couple of small melolonthine scarabs, and one darnine treehopper. I had hoped for a greater diversity of beetles, especially longhorned beetles, but considering the success I’d had today I couldn’t complain.
Day 13 – Going solo!
Capitan Reef Rd at Pecos River Chaves Co., New Mexico We came back to the spot where we blacklighted last night to look for Gyascutus planicosta, which Jason had collected a few years ago on Atriplex (saltbush). Gyascutus planicosta adults are among the largest in the family in North America and are powerful fliers, so catching them can be a challenge even for the experienced entomologist. Sadly, we did not see any this time—I suspect we were a bit on the early side for the likes of such. The area was supremely uninteresting—choked with clumps of Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) on raised mounds with ORV paths (apparently a very popular pastime in this area) winding amongst them and a few large, invasive Tamarix (tamarisk, salt cedar) trees. Nevertheless, I managed to beat a few centrotine and one darnine treehoppers and some miscellaneous beetles from the mesquite, and at the furthest point I walked before I’d had enough I encountered a small series of Acmaeoderopsis hulli flying to the tips of mesquite. At this point, it was time to bid Jason and Tyler adieu, as they started heading back to south Texas while I start making my way to Arizona. Jason and I each ended up with 43 species of Buprestidae for the trip, though he will likely get more on his way back to south Texas and I almost certainly will get many more (hopefully a few dozen!) over the next week in Arizona.
Sacramento Mountains, Mayhill Otero Co., New Mexico My path to Arizona took me right by the camp we stayed at two nights ago, where Jason had managed to collect a couple of Taphrocerus chevrolati (but I had not) by sweeping grasses along the side of the road. I did not see any sedges (typically the hosts of Taphrocerus species) mixed in the grasses and thought it was odd that these two individuals would be found on rather dry grasses. Nevertheless, since I had another opportunity I decided to see if I could come up one or two this time. I came up with 10 and don’t quite know what to think about this many individuals in patches of grasses that surely cannot be a larval development host. At any rate, these specimens will come in handy (the first I’ve collected in New Mexico) as I continue with my revision of the North American (north of Mexico) Taphrocerus fauna.
1.8 mi W Cloudcroft on Hwy 82 Otero Co., New Mexico Just west of Cloudcroft, I noticed a lot of Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s oak)—host for Brachys rileyi—along the edge of the road and a large turnout without any “Stop. No entry.” signs posted where I could seemingly park the car. I hoped maybe staying along the roadside would not be a problem with the National Forest closure and began beating the trees looking for the beetle. I’d worked the trees less than 15 minutes, collecting a few miscellaneous beetles and treehoppers, when a Forest Service vehicle pulled up alongside me and, in a friendly voice that didn’t belie whether they thought I was doing something wrong, asked what I was doing. I replied that I was collecting beetles, to which they smiled and explained that the National Forest is closed and I was in violation of the order. Clear enough! I thought of asking if I could just move along or did I need to go to jail, but I decided not to tempt fate and promised to leave at once. I was kind of surprised they left without sticking around to make sure I actually did leave at once—I suppose I must have a trustworthy face.
Hwy 70 at Point of Sands Otero Co., New Mexico My route to (eventually) Arizona also took me by this spot that Jason and Tyler and I had visited two days ago, where we ended up finding Acmaeodera recticollis on Ephedra torreyana (Torreys’ jointfir). I’d gotten a modest series and wanted to see if I could get a few more, but what I really wanted was to find Sphaerobothris ulkei, which utilizes the same plant as a larval host. Tyler had seen two adults when we were here before but had not manage to capture them, both flying beyond the fence when he saw them. Winds were as severe as I’ve ever experienced, and at one point I had to use the extended handle of my net to prevent my hat from escaping on the other side of the barbed-wire fence lining the roadside. The A. recticollis adults were not nearly so abundant today as they were two days ago, but I managed another modest series with which I can be satisfied. I never did see a S. ulkei adult, although three times a similarly shaped/sized insect fooled me into thinking that I had one. I also checked the Yucca elata (soaptree yucca) for more Tragidion armatum but struck out.
One interesting story—as I was checking the Ephedra, a Border Patrol vehicle pulled up to check out my vehicle, then circled back around to check out me (there is a Border Patrol station just up the highway). The officer explained that they had been notified about a person “walking along the fence” and came to check up on it. It ended up being a very pleasant conversation as I explained what I was doing, each answer bringing up another question out of seemingly genuine interest. You know you’ve exceeded expectations when a Border Patrol officer extends their hand to shake yours when they’re ready to leave.
Organ Mountains—Desert Peaks National Monument Pine Tree National Recreational Trail Doña Ana Co., New Mexico For my final stop of the day, I’d planned to hike a trail on the other side of the mountains where Chrysobothris culbersoniana—a species I’ve not yet collected—has been recorded. However, as at the previous site the winds were so severe that using a beating sheet would have been impossible. I decided to instead take one more shot at Brachys rileyi. BugGuide shows a photo of a specimen collected at “Aguirre Springs” (presumably Aguirre Spring Campground), and iNaturalist shows another specimen with geo-coordinates very close to that spot along the Pine Tree Trail.
Since both records state the beetles were collected on Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s oak), I kept an eye out for such. I never saw any on the parts of the trail that I hiked, but there was Q. grisea (gray oak) and the occasional Q. arizonica (Arizona white oak), and off the former I beat a few miscellaneous beetles but no Brachys querci (which has also been recorded here and which does utilize gray oak). At a few places I encountered Celtis reticulata (netveined hackberry), off which I beat a few more miscellaneous beetles including a single Agrilus leconteicelticola. In the meantime, I began to wonder if the geo-coordinates were accurate and left a comment on the iNaturalist record asking about it, hoping I might hear back before I left the area.
Eventually I made it to the spot indicated by the geo coordinates on iNaturalist, but still the only oaks present were gray oaks. Unfortunately, by then I still had not heard back from the iNaturalist user who posted the record, so I surmised it was more likely that they had collected the species on gray oak and misidentified the host (I would not be surprised if this species turns out to use other oaks as hosts, as this is common among oak-associated Brachys) than the geo coordinates being incorrect. By then, I’d beaten enough oaks to conclude that neither Brachys species was active at the moment and headed back to the car.
After I got into town later that evening, I saw a response from the iNaturalist user, who stated that the beetle was actually collected on the upper part of the Pine Tree Loop—not where indicated by the geo coordinates. Unbeknownst to me, Gambel’s oak does occur on the upper part of the loop, and in the user’s opinion the host ID rather than the geo coordinates should have been given weight for locating the plants. This is debatable—both are important and should be reported accurately, and the episode illustrates the importance of being cautious about relying on crowd-sourced data.
Day 14 – Travel Day (Las Cruces to Hereford)
Sunday was a day off from collecting while I drove west to the home of Norm Woodley and Steve Lingafelter in Hereford, Arizona. Norm and Steve are experts in Buprestidae and Cerambycidae, respectively, and were kind enough to host me during the third week of my trip for some pre-monsoon collecting in southeast Arizona. Insect numbers and diversity at this time of year may not compare with those seen once the monsoons start (usually in early to mid-July); however, there are a number of buprestid species (especially in the genera Agrilus and Brachys) that are generally seen earlier in the season and disappear by the time the monsoons arrive. I’ve collected a number of times in southeast Arizona during and after the monsoons; however, this would be my first attempt at collecting in the area before the monsoons. Thus, it was my hope that I would encounter many species that I haven’t seen before, especially some of those that are completely lacking in my collection. I didn’t arrive at Norm and Steve’s until late afternoon, so instead of collecting we enjoyed grilled burgers and fine spirits.
Day 15 – Dragoon & Huachuca Mountains
Before leaving for the Dragoon Mountains, Steve and I set out two jug traps in the wash on the south side of their house—one on the south side of wash baited with 50:50 red wine:ethanol and another on the north side baited with pure ethanol.
W side Dragoon Mountains 3.0 mi NE Rd 687 on N Middlemarch Rd Cochise Co., Arizona A few years ago, Norm discovered one of the rarest Acmaeodera species in North America—Acmaeodera horni—on flowers of Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plume) at a spot in the Dragoon Mountains. That was undoubtedly the biggest of the several priorities I had this week as I spend the last part of this three-week trip collecting in southeastern Arizona with Norm and Steve. The “horni spot” was first on our agenda for this first day of collecting with them, since Norm has seen them as late as June 1st but mostly in mid-May. When we arrived, we noticed the plants were a bit past peak bloom, as only a few sporadic flowers were present on the plants compared to the much more numerous fruiting structures. The plants are primarily along Clifford Wash, so we walked down the wash, looking at any flower we could find. At first I got distracted by the abundance of Acmaeodera quadrivitttatoides on the flowers and quickly collected my share. When Norm and I met up again about 15 minutes later, he had found two but I had yet to see one. Knowing they were still out, however, renewed my motivation to continue searching. After a while, I encountered Steve, and he too had caught one, while I still had yet to see one. I continued searching, and eventually I heard Norm call out my name. I came to where he was, and there it was—sitting on a flower that I had looked at not five minutes earlier! I easily netted the beetle, happy (and relieved) to have caught one but still wishing somewhat I could have found one on my own. I will just have to do that sometime in the future (with a mid-May trip). While I was looking for the beetle, I also collected a modest series of what may be Acmaeodera variegata to go along with the many A. quadravittatoides and three A. horni (Norm gave me his two). I also collected a couple of A. variegata and A. quadrivittatoides on flowers of Verbesina encelioides (cowpen daisy), as well as a very small lycid (the smallest I’ve ever seen) and a couple of chrysomelids on the white flowers of Mimosa aculeaticarpa.
After scouring the patches of Fallugia one more time to ensure we had not left any A. horni behind, we drove 0.4 miles back down the road to another spot where the wash crossed the road and where Fallugia is again fairly abundant. We checked the plants thoroughly, and while A. variegata and A. quadrivittatoides were present, A. horni was not. With that, we said goodbye to the “horni spot” and proceeded to another spot where we suspected Tragidion armatum could be found on Yucca elata (soaptree yucca).
W side Dragoon Mountains 0.4 mi N of N Middlemarch Rd on Rd 687 Cochise Co., Arizona This location was very different from the previous, with mesquites dotting a dry grass plain and the occasional Yucca elata (soaptree yucca)—many sending up flowering stalks. I checked a few for Tragidion armatum but didn’t see any beetles on the stalks, and then I got the idea to use my extended net handle to pry the rosette of stiff, sharp leaves away from the base of the stalk to see if any adults were hiding there. Success! I found one female hiding in the rosette of the first plant I checked, another female in the third plant I checked, a male and a female in the fourth plant I checked (but then no more in any of the many plants I checked after that).
3.0 mi NE Hwy 80 on N Middlemarch Rd Cochise Co., Arizona As a final stop for the day (not considering blacklighting for insects at nightfall), we stopped at a spot where there is a stand of Sapindus saponaria (soapberry), off which Norm has collected a new species of Agrilus that he is describing. I let him sweep the plants to try to get more for the species description, while I headed towards an old gnarled Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) off which Norm said he has routinely collected a variety of buprestids. I didn’t have quite the luck with it myself, collecting only a single Chrysobothris rossi and a few other miscellaneous beetles, but a neighboring mesquite with lusher foliage did produce a new species for the trip—Acmaeoderopsis junki and a second C. rossi. A large, partially fallen Vachellia constricta (whitethorn acacia) in full bloom looked particularly inviting for buprestids, but I beat only a few miscellaneous beetles from it. It turned out that Norm had already worked it and gotten a mating pair of Chrysobothris merkelii from it. I swept the soapberry after Norm had finished with it, but as he’d only gotten a single specimen of the Agrilus after working it, I didn’t have much expectation of finding another one (and I didn’t). By this time we were hot and tired, and a quick stop in nearby Tombstone with the hope of ice cream and drinks was singing her siren song.
E side Huachuca Mountains Lower Hunter Canyon Cochise Co., Arizona After dinner, Steven and I went to nearby Hunter Canyon for some pre-monsoon blacklighting. Hunter Canyon is not nearly as well known as Miller Canyon, its much more famous neighbor to the north, but has similar habitat and is right in the heart of one of the coolest natural history spectacles of the insect world—the mass emergence of the cerambycid species Megapurpuricenus magnificus (formerly Crioprosopis magnificus)! This species develops as larvae in the trunks of living oaks and emerge once every three years in synchrony right after the first rains of the summer monsoons. For a brief few days afterwards, one can easily see a hundred adults flying high in the canopy—a true spectacle given their enormous size and fantastic red/black coloration. The spectacle last for only a few days, so seeing it requires careful planning and a bit of luck. The last emergence here was in 2021, so I am making plans to visit in 2024 in hopes of seeing this incredible phenomenon with my own eyes. For this evening, however, I would have to content myself with whatever pre-monsoon species might happen to be out and about. We set up our sheets just a bit out of sight from each other (to avoid competing for the same insects), each of us using one 175-w mercury-vapor (MV) bulb and two (me) or four (Steve) 15-w ultraviolet (UV) light bulbs. Since getting my MV bulb last year I have started using the setup/technique recommended by Steve and other cerambycid specialists—a vertical sheet with ground cloth on both sides, the MV on a tripod or stand raised to a level above the top of the sheet, and at least one UV light hanging on each side of the sheet. The MV light will attract beetles from a distance, but due to its brightness the beetles may land in the vicinity rather than on the sheet itself. For this reason, the MV light is then turned off after about an hour and all the nearby vegetation shaken or beaten to disturb the beetles, which are then attracted to the sheet itself by the UV lights. After a while, the MV light is turned back in and the cycle repeated. On this night, however, such technique would not be terribly important, as the number of beetles flying was rather small. The first cerambycid—Anelaphus simile—came to Steve’s sheet, and later an Anelaphus brevipes would also appear. A couple of the former also came to my sheet, and from both sheets I picked a smattering of miscellaneous beetles in other families. One of the more exciting finds of the night was a very late-occurring female of the spring species Knulliana sonorensis (I do not accept the current placement of this taxon as a subspecies of K. cincta), which was crawling on the ground in the parking lot and which may have been attracted to a pile of recently cut oaks that were near Steve’s lights. This prompted a search for other individuals that may have been so attracted, but the only thing we found was a headless carcass of Acmaeodera sp. (perhaps A. decipiens). When the expected 9:30 p.m. flush of cerambycids did not materialize, we called it a night, took down the lights, and headed back the house for some French Open replay action.
Day 16 – Huachuca Mountains (cont.)
W side Huachuca Mountains Lower Copper Canyon Cochise Co., Arizona I knew it would be difficult to top yesterday’s Acmaeodera horni experience, but I still had hopes of collecting at least a few species that I’ve never seen in the field before, especially if they represented species not present in my collection. Copper Canyon is a famous locality for collecting, and Steve and Norm like to visit this spot regularly due to the variety of interesting species they have seen over the years here. We walked the lower mile or so of the trail up the canyon, beating primarily the different oak species looking for mostly Agrilus and Brachys. Many of the Arizona species of Agrilus and most of the Brachys occur prior to the monsoons, and since I’ve only visited Arizona during or after the monsoons I’ve not collected many of the Arizona species in these genera.
It took a while for the collecting to pick up, but eventually we started focusing on the occasional trees with newly flushed foliage and had good success. Quercus arizonicus (Arizona white oak) was the most productive, yielding good series of Agrilus quercus and A. chiricahuae as well as a couple of Brachys cephalicus—all species I’ve never collected before. Quercus emoryi (Emory oak) was less productive (owing to the fact that only a few trees were flush with fresh leaves), yielding two more B. cephalicus and an A. chiricahuae. Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) was the least productive—no buprestids were collected off these trees, defying Norm’s expectations. Other than buprestids, a variety of other insects—mostly leaf beetles, weevils, and a good variety of treehoppers—were collected from all three oak species. About a mile up, the trail crossed a wash and got steeper and narrower, and I found it difficult to beat off of anything except trees right along the trail, so I turned around and joined Norm in slowly working our way back down the trail, beating/sweeping the trees along the way and adding slightly to our series. Once back at the bottom, I hung a jug trap baited with ethanol near the wash next to a large silverleaf oak, which Steve will check during the rest of the season and which hopefully will produce some nice species of longhorned beetles.
Before moving to our next spot, we made a quick visit to the nearby U.S./Mexico border. The Nazi-esque barbed wire atop steel cross bars was a far cry from the promised “big, beautiful wall” as it slashed across the landscape and up over the mountains. I joked with Norm that we should stick our nets over the fence and sweep for insects so we could label them as having been collected in Mexico!
W side Huachuca Mountains Lower Ida Canyon Cochise Co., Arizona After a solid three hours at Copper Canyon, we were beat but wanted to check nearby Ida Canyon, the lower reaches of which has a stand of sedges from which Norm has collected several species of Taphrocerus. The sedge patch was completely dry and no Taphrocerus were found, so we beat/swept a bit on the oaks—again focusing on those occasional trees with a fresh flush of foliage. I got one Agrilus quercus on Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) and two Brachys cephalicus off of a single Quercus emoryi (Emory oak) along with a smattering of miscellaneous beetles off each. Once again, Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) produced a smattering of miscellaneous insects but no buprestids. Beetle activity didn’t seem to be as high here as at Copper Canyon, so we didn’t spend too much time here and headed home for dinner before another night of blacklighting.
Huachuca Mountains Montezuma Pass Cochise Co., Arizona On the way back to Norm’s and Steve’s home, we stopped at the ever-scenic Montezuma Pass, which offers spectacular views of the U.S./Mexico border to both the east and the west. A large Cylindropuntia imbricata (tree cholla) in full bloom added a splash of color to the tawny-colored view.
E side Huachuca Mountains Upper Miller Canyon Rd Cochise Co., Arizona This spot near the top of Miller Canyon Rd is another of Steve’s favorite blacklighting spots, so we set up our lights here in the same manner as last night—just out of sight of each other along the trail and both setups using both ultraviolet and mercury-vapor lamps. Both light setups produced a smattering of miscellaneous insects but few longhorned beetles, a few Anelaphus (probably A. simile and A. brevipes) coming to my light but none coming to Steve’s. Who knows why this happens?
Day 17 – Chiricahua Mountains
E side Chiricahua Mountains Herb Martyr Campground Cochise Co., Arizona The Chiricahuae Mountains are about a two-hour drive from Norm’s and Steve’s place, so our plan for the day was for Norm and I to spend the day collecting in Cave Creek Canyon and then Steve meet up with me to blacklight. Our target for this first spot of the day was Agrilus howdeni, which Norm has collected on the fresh leaves of Platanus wrightii (western sycamore) during June. This spot is very near the type locality for the species (Southwestern Research Station), and though it was the first day of June we hoped it would already be out. The stop had an inauspicious start—as soon as we got out of the car we saw a large Chrysobothris land on the sheet metal eave of the campground outhouse. It escaped Norm’s grasp but returned, only to then escape my net as well. Not a good start, but I did at least beat a longhorned beetle (probably Sternidius decorus) from Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) before we headed down to the creek bed where the sycamores could be found. Once in the creek bed, I beat a few miscellaneous beetles off of Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) before turning my attention to the sycamores. We quickly realized that A. howdeni was not only present, but occurred in the biggest numbers Norm had ever seen—apparently the species is an earlier spring species than realized and the individuals seen later in June were probably hangers on. Collecting for me was slow at first, as I was limited by my beating sheet and 6-ft extensible handled net to the lower branches of the trees, while Norm was able to reach the higher branches with his much longer net handle. Eventually, however, after hiking up the creek bed a fair distance I encountered several trees with plenty of low growing branches from which I was able to collect a good series of adults and then make my way back. Back at the car, Norm and I both checked the outhouse again hoping that the Chrysobothris had returned, but no such luck. I did notice, however, a few small Robinia neomexicana (New Mexican locust), from which I swept a single Agrilus egenus, and then Norm saw a large Buprestis (probably B. laeviventris) land on the parking lot sign and nabbed it. Having gotten our fill of A. howdeni, we decided to move up to a higher elevation spot where Gayle Nelson had once collected the very rare Brachys apachei on Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak).
E side Chiricahua Mountains Rd 42 at East Turkey Creek Cochise Co., Arizona
The forest type was different at this higher-elevation spot, with pine and fir sharing the canopy with oaks. I had intended to focus on the oaks in hopes of finding the rare Brachys apachei, but I was immediately distracted by large flowering shrubs that turned out to be Ceanothus integerrimus (deerbrush ceanothus) and from which I beat a diversity of miscellaneous beetles and one treehopper (but no buprestids).
I then turned my attention to beating the abundant stands of Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) in earnest. Norm got one Brachys floccosus—a very good find, but I collected only a clerid, a few treehoppers, and one very large and very gravid Judolia instabilis. Occasional lycids turned up in sweeps and in flight, and a single clerid was collected off of one of the few Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) that I beat. We had hoped to go even higher to Rustler Park, but the time was getting away from us so we headed back down the canyon to eat something before meeting up with Steve for blacklighting.
E side Chiricahua Mountains 1.2 mi NW Jct Rd 42 & 42A Cochise Co., Arizona We saw this area along Cave Creek with lush-looking areas near the water’s edge that looked promising for Taphrocerus. Norm swept the areas upstream from where we parked, and I swept the areas downstream—Norm finding a single Taphrocerus (either T. chevrolati or T. sulcifrons) but me sweeping only a single hispine leaf beetle.
On the way back down Cave Creek Canyon to Portal, we passed the property of the Cazier family—originally occupied by Mont Cazier, first director of the American Museum of Natural History’s nearby Southwestern Research Station.
E side Chiricahua Mountains Herb Martyr Campground Cochise Co., Arizona Steve and I agreed that blacklighting at lower elevations would be more productive and decided to try a campground that Steve has done a few times near the Southwestern Research Station. Unfortunately, when we arrived it was already occupied (unusual, according to Steve), so we took the road the rest of the way to Herb Martyr Campground where Norm and I had collected earlier in the day. Fortunately it was vacant, so I set up my UV/MV lights in the spot nearest the parking lot while Steve set his up about 220 feet down the trail. Things looked promising when very early in the evening a male Prionus heroicus came to my lights, but that would be the only longhorned beetle we would see that night! Nevertheless, I picked up a diversity of other insects—especially cryptocephaline leaf beetles (including the smartly-dressed Griburius montezuma) and cyrtolobine treehoppers—to avoid having to consider the evening a waste. When the hoped for “9:30 cerambycid flush” did not materialize, we took down the lights and made the 2-hour drive back to Hereford.
Day 18 –Huachuca Mountains (again!)
E side Huachuca Mountains Lower Carr Canyon Cochise Co., Arizona This is another of Norm’s regular spots, where he has collected a variety of Agrilus and Brachys from oaks over the years. After seeing the success that he has had during the past two days by using a very long-handled, large-rim aerial net to sweep the foliage in the higher canopy of the trees, I decided to give the method a try myself (fortunately, I already have and had brought with me such a net) and see how it compared with my standard approach of beating (which reaches the lower branches only). It was not a good day to make the comparison, as there were very few beetles to be found. I focused on sweeping Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) while Norm preferentially swept Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak), and both of us collected but a single buprestid—mine being the not uncommon Agrilaxia arizonae but Norm’s turning out to be the very rare Mastogenius puncticollis! Otherwise on the oak I collected only a smattering of leaf beetles. I also swept Platanus wrightii (Arizona sycamore) and collected another A. arizonae and a small eumolpine leaf beetle. With our luck running dry in the lower elevations of the canyon, we decided to go up to a higher elevation site for hopefully better luck.
E side Huachuca Mountains Reef Townsite Campgeound Cochise Co., Arizona I first came to this spot during last year’s trip, and while I didn’t collect many insects I did bring a lot of infested wood back home to put in the emergence boxes. That wood (both oak and pine) has been kicking out sawdust ever since, and I am hopeful that I will end up rearing series of some nice species as a result. Again, there is a lot of pine at this higher elevation, but Norm and I focused on Quercus hypoleucoides (silverleaf oak) and Q. arizonica (Arizona white oak), respectively, in an effort to find Agrilus and Brachys. Pickings were slim, but I managed to sweep single specimens of Brachys floccosus and Brachys cephalicus from the latter tree, along with a smattering of other insects (mostly leaf beetles and weevils) while Norm collected a few Agrilus from the former. There was a large, recently wind-thrown silverleaf oak in the campground that we looked at starting out hoping to see Chrysobothris running on the trunk, but none were seen. Norm went back to check periodically, however, and got a Chrysobothris costifrons on the trunk (which he gave to me). I was happy to receive the specimen, although I would have liked to have seen the beetle come to the tree since I have yet to collect the species myself. Despite the few insects collected, I was quite happy with the day, as Brachys floccosus is a very uncommon species that I have not collected previously, and I no doubt would not have collected it had I not been using the long-handled, large-rim aerial net to gain access to the higher branches in the canopy. The technique certainly warrants far more use than I have been giving it.
E side Huachuca Mountains Upper Miller Canyon Rd Cochise Co., Arizona On the way back to Hereford, we stopped off at Norm’s “Taphrocerus spot” near the upper end of Miller Canyon Rd. Norm has collected not only T. chevrolati and T. sulcifrons by sweeping the small patch of sedges at this spot (species I have previously collected at a spot lower down in the canyon during my first visit to Arizona way back in 1987), but also T. leoni—a Mexican species heretofore not formally recorded from the U.S. I have tried, without success, to collect Taphrocerus from the lower spot on several subsequent visits, so I was hopeful that being here earlier in the season would result in better success. It happened quickly! We each got a few specimens, including T. leoni (distinctive in the field due to its shiny appearance, larger size, and distinct pubescent maculations), by sweeping the isolated plants on the north side of the creek bed and more specimens by sweeping the patch of mixed sedges, rushes, and grasses on the south side of the creek bed. Later examination of the specimens under the microscope revealed that all three species were represented—success! Nearby, there were a few Quercus arizonica (Arizona white oak) that had been trimmed a few years ago and were generating vigorous resprouts, off which Norm swept a few Agrilus abditus. This is another species that I have not encountered previously, and Norm generously gave the specimens to me. As this was my last day staying with Norm and Steve and we’d planned to go out for a nice dinner, we called it a day and headed back to the house. Still, despite the few number of specimens collected on the day, I could not be disappointed considering they represented eight species of buprestids—four of which I’d never collected before!
We closed out my week’s visit with Norm and Steve with a tasty dinner at Pizzeria Mimosa, a glass of fine cognac, and the persistent affections of their dog Noxy!
Day 19 – Apache Junction area
Superstition Mountains Needle Vista Viewpoint Maricopa Co., Arizona After bidding adieu to Norm and Steve, I drove north to the Superstition Mountains to meet up with Paul Kaufman for a day of collecting and reconnecting. I first met Paul many years ago when he lived in Missouri and contacted me after collecting Saperda fayi—a very uncommon longhorned beetle that, at the time, had not yet been collected in Missouri. Paul and I spent time in the field a couple of times after that—once in southeast Missouri and another time after he moved to Farmington, New Mexico, and for many years afterwards Paul continued to send me beetles that he’d collected for identification. It was good to see him again after so many years, and I enjoyed chatting as we roamed the mountainous desert looking for beetles.
Paul had arrived first and, upon seeing how dry it was (and had been for a very long time), was not optimistic about our chances of success on the day. Nevertheless, I got out the long-handled net to see what we might find on the upper branches of the mesquites and acacias that dotted the landscape. We quickly became a little more optimistic when a Chrysobothris octocola ended up in my net with the very first tree that I swept, and over the next couple of hours I swept a variety of buprestids from Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) and Vachellia constricta (whitethorn acacia)—including five species of Chrysobothris (C. knulli and C. merkelii both new species for the trip) and a nice series of Acmaeoderopsis sp.
For his part, Paul was surprised at the number of specimens that I managed to collect compared to what his expectations were starting out, and I have to give the credit to my use of the long-handled net, which I now firmly believe is a superior collecting method for buprestids compared to the beating sheet (at least in certain situations). The net bag essentially takes the place of the beating sheet, but since it is deeper the beetles are much less likely to escape like they can when they land on the sheet. Rather than hitting the branch from the top, the net bag is placed over the whole branch tip and gently shaken or placed under the branch and the rim tapped against the branch from below. There is less disturbance to neighboring branches if done carefully, and as a result the entire tree can be sampled in the same amount of time that is required to sample only the lower branches using a beating sheet, making it much more efficient. I estimate that on average I collected about twice as many specimens with this technique compared to beating, plus the ability to get into the upper canopy allowed me to capture some species that I would not have encountered by beating only. I am looking forward to making greater use of this technique in other areas and habitats.
Superstition Mountains 1 mi NE Tortilla Flat Maricopa Co., Arizona Having worked the area at Needle Vista Viewpoint sufficiently, we went to another nearby spot in the Superstition Mountains recommended by Norm and Steve.
The trees were quite a bit smaller at this location, and temps were starting to drop as we were later in the day, so I opted for the beating sheet instead of the long-handled net. Almost immediately I beat a single Chrysobothris knulli off of Vachellia constricta (whitethorn acacia), but further beating produced only a series of clytrine leaf beetles. As I was working the tree, I noticed an herbaceous plant clump below that showed evidence of feeding on the leaves, and unfurling the damaged leaves revealed numerous Microrhopala rubrolineata on what turned out to be Ambrosia ambrosioides (canyon ragweed). Interestingly, on many of the leaves with M. rubrolineata, there was also a small chlamasine leaf beetle (possibly Exema sp.) cohabiting the leaf (see photo).
In a small area, we encountered a “hot spot” of buprestids—first I beat Acmaeodera pubiventris lanata from a dead branch of Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite). After I put the specimen in the vial, I noticed an Acmaeoderopsis junki sitting on the sheet that I’d overlooked—it was so pulverescent that I almost didn’t see it! Over the next half hour or so, I/we beat several buprestids from the mesquites in that small area, including Chrysobothris merkelii, C. octocola, and C. rossi along with a few other miscellaneous beetles. Paul also collected a couple of Agrilus (possibly A. felix) from Senegalia greggii (catclaw acacia), but my beatings from the plants produced only a few miscellaneous beetles. Finally, I found Quercus turbinella (turbinella oak, shrub live oak, gray oak—sometimes considered a subspecies of Q. dumosa), one of the few oaks that occur in lower elevation desert chaparral habitats, but beating its dense branches yielded only a single leaf beetle.
By this time, it was getting late in the day and I wanted to setup blacklights back at Needle Vista Viewpoint, so Paul and I said our goodbyes before he headed back home and I headed for Needle Vista. On the way there, I stopped at a couple of scenic turnouts and enjoyed spectacular evening and sunset views to the west.
Superstition Mountains Needle Vista Viewpoint Maricopa Co., Arizona I returned to Needle Vista Viewpoint with just enough time to set up the UV/MV lights and enjoy a nice brew while darkness settled. High temps and low wind held the promise of a good night, and I was encouraged by the number and diversity of insects that began to flock to the lights as the last vestiges of sunlight silhouetted the mountains behind me and a stunning crescent moon blazed over them. Cryptocephaline leaf beetles came to the lights in numbers, and eventually the longhorned beetles started coming—sporadically at first, and then regularly once the “9:30 ‘bycid flight” began. Most of the longhorned beetles were elaphidiines, presumably species of Anelaphus, and around 10:00, just as suddenly as it had begun, the ‘bycid flight ended. It was an appropriately successful last night of blacklighting for my last night in Arizona and the beginning of the long trip back home starting the next morning—with a planned detour into western Oklahoma before finally heading home.
Day 20 – Travel Day (Phoenix to Boise City)
Today’s plan was to drive from Phoenix, Arizona to the area around Black Mesa, Oklahoma in hopes that I would arrive in time to setup blacklights in the area. That plan did not work out, as the distance was just a bit too far (going from Arizona Standard Time to Central Daylight Time also robbed me of an additional two hours!). My route took me through northeastern Arizona and northern New Mexico on roads that I’ve not previously traveled, so I at least got a good look at some parts of the country that I haven’t seen before. It was well after dark by the time I reached the western panhandle of Oklahoma, so blacklighting was not an option. Instead, I headed straight for the motel and hoped for success in the morning.
Day 21 – Oklahoma Panhandle
Black Mesa State Park Cimarron Co., Oklahoma I’ve been to this place twice before, and both times my efforts to collect were thwarted—first by dry conditions during another early June trip in 2013, and then again just four weeks ago by cold, rainy conditions. Still, I can’t help but feel that this area has a lot of potential—if I can just get the timing right. The rainout during my last trip made me think now would be the time, as it was super dry but receiving plenty of moisture while I was there. My only doubt was whether four weeks afterwards would be soon enough or if everything would have already happened and the place had dried out again before I got there. As it turns out, I believe that I may have still been too early (more on my reasoning for that later). I wanted to access the small canyon on the north side of the park, where soapberries and hackberries in the craggy rocks promised to yield a diversity of buprestids associated with those plants, and parked at the Scenic Overlook to hike down into the canyon. Puzzlingly, I did not get anything on either plant, save for a single clytrine leaf beetle on Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry), many of which were still pushing out new foliage. Sweeping the soapberrys, all still pre-bloom, was also fruitless, and even the few flowers that I found failed to produce any buprestids. At least other people will be happy—I collected a few dasytine beetles for Matt Gimmel and a couple of bees for Mike Arduser on flowers of Berlandiera lyrata (lyreleaf greeneyes). Hiking back up above of the canyon, I noticed a lone Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite) in full leaf and flower—a last chance for buprestids—but collected only a few more clytrine leaf beetles. It was a rare “buprestid strike out” for the trip, and I was beginning to think once again I would fail in my effort to unlock the potential of this area in the extreme northwestern corner of extreme northwestern Oklahoma. The day was young, however, and I decided to try my luck at another spot outside the park near Black Mesa Preserve where rocky outcroppings feature stands of oak—unusual in this area and always a potentially good host for buprestids.
1.6 mi E Kenton on Hwy 325 Cimarron Co., Oklahoma I’ve also been to this spot a couple of times before—first during the aforementioned dry-as-a-bone June visit, and again the following year during late June. On that latter visit, I caught a number of Prionus heroicus (then a new state record for Oklahoma) and found buprestid-infested oak branches that I brought back for rearing (sadly, nothing emerged). Otherwise, I did not find much else going on, giving the visit a “too late” feel. This time started out much the same, as I started beating the oaks (ID’d on iNaturalist as Quercus × undulata, or wavyleaf oak). No insects were found at first, but I noticed a small tree that looked recently dead and encountered a chrysobothrine larva shortly after I began splitting branches. I went back to the car to get the hand saw and cut up the branches to bring back for rearing—hopefully I will have better luck this time rearing adults from the wood. I worked a number of oaks on the outcropping without finding anything, noting that many of them were just beginning to push new leaves, before crossing the highway and beating a single leaf beetle from a lone tree in full leaf.
By now I was losing interest in the spot, but I’d seen a few mesquites further down the highway and thought I should at least give them a try. Again, nothing but a few leaf beetles and lots of leaffooted bugs (probably Mozena obtusa), so I finally accepted defeat—it seemed that I was again “too early”—and began working my way back to the car. At least I had the promise of buprestids from the wood I was bringing back for rearing. Rather than retracing my steps, however, I decided to walk the 2-track around the back side of the outcropping back to the car. About halfway up the road I saw an impressive Efferia sp. robber fly and, with not much left to do, occupied myself with trying to photograph it despite its repeated loping flits away from me.
Resuming my trek back to the car, I then noticed Thelesperma megapotamicum (rayless greethread) flowers—with an Acmaeodera mixta adult sitting on one of them! Not that this species is at all uncommon, but if this species was at flowers then perhaps other species were as well. I’d seen precious few flowers to this point, so I began looking intently to make sure I wasn’t walking by any (Thelesperma can be easy to overlook due to its lack of ray flowers). I didn’t see any more flowers until I got back to the car, and there, not five feet from the car, were a few small Xanthisma spinulosum (spiny goldenweed)—each with one or two Acmaeodera sp. prob. neglecta. Finally, buprestids!
I put my plans to leave on hold, set out some white bowl traps along the 2-track, and began searching for other flowers there and in areas adjacent to the highway. I would end up spending several more hours at the spot, finding additional Thelesperma and Xanthisma plants with the aforementioned buprestids on the flowers and also some small black individuals that could either be immaculate forms of the A. neglecta-like species or a different species altogether. Also in the same area, I found a single flowering plant of Calylophus lavandulifolius (lavender leaf sundrops) that, after visiting several times, produced several Acmaeodera (including one individual that I don’t recognize—larger and broader than A. neglecta and with uniform vittae rather than irregular spots)—and a single flowering individual of Senecio flaccidus (threadleaf groundsel) with a few A. mixta.
In the flats above the outcroppings, I noticed Echinocereus v. viridiflorus (green-flower hedgehog cactus) now in bloom (in contrast to earlier in the day at Black Mesa State Park). Most of the flowers on the plants were swarming with dasytine beetles, but a lone plant with a single flower that lacked dasytines had one A. neglecta-like buprestid in the flower. At some point while making the rounds between the flowers, I noticed an A. mixta in flight and successfully netted it.
Once I’d monitored all the flowers in the area to my heart’s content, I picked up the bowl traps—all of which contained numerous Acmaeodera of multiple species (so happy that I saw this method work, first from Mike during last month’s Oklahoma trip, then earlier on this trip by accident in Mescalero Sands).
My impression now, seeing how many of the trees were still pushing out leaves and that buprestid activity was limited to species of Acmaeodera, is that early June is still early season for this area (at least this year), and the timing of the season probably depends much more on the timing of rains—more similar to the western U.S.—than on the calendar and temperatures as in the eastern U.S. As a final effort to maximize my haul, I cut up some recently-cut branches of Juniperus monosperma (one-seed juniper) that I’d noticed earlier, finding a small cerambycid larva (probably Callidium sp.) under the bark when I cut into it. With both batches of wood cut up, bundled, and loaded into the car, it was finally time to make the final push home—or so I thought…
6 mi E Harmon Ellis Co., Oklahoma As I was leaving the Black Mesa area, I remembered a spot in Ellis Co. where I’d looked for Brachys barberi during last month’s western Oklahoma trip with Mike Arduser. Even though I was not successful in finding the species during that trip, I did collect a series of Agrilaxia texana—represented in my cabinet at the time by just two specimens collected decades ago—and one Elytroleptus floridanus—represented previously in my cabinet by just a single specimen and with this most recent collection representing a significant northwestern range extension and new host record for the species. The spot would not be too far out of the way, and since I would need to spend another night on the road anyway another attempt after allowing the season to progress a bit more might be worthwhile. Still, it would be a three-and-a-half-hour drive, which would get me there less than an hour before dusk. When I arrived (around 8:00 p.m.), I was happy to see the stands of Quercus havardii (shin oak) we’re putting out fresh foliage—something they were not yet doing on my previous visit (fresh oak foliage = Brachys!). I began sweeping the stands nearest the car and quickly came up with more A. texana along with a variety of miscellaneous beetles (mostly leaf beetles and weevils), but it wasn’t until I started sweeping stands with larger plants and the copse of tree-like plants that I finally found a couple of B. barberi. There wasn’t much time left to sweep other stands, as by then it was getting too dark to see into the net. I was, however, able to see several longhorned beetles that had bedded down on flowers of Helianthus petiolaris (prairie sunflower) growing near the car and along the road, including Batyle ignicollis, B. suturalis, and Strangalia sexnotata. It wasn’t long before dusk had turned to darkness, and it truly was time to call it a day and officially bring to an end the collecting activities for the trip after 21 days. With nearly 600 miles still to go, tomorrow will be strictly travel with no detours… for a change.
Day 22 – Travel Day (Woodward to St. Louis)
There is nothing sadder than the final travel day home after a long collecting trip—especially one as successful as this one. Nevertheless, I looked forward to starting the day with coffee from my favorite “creationist” coffee shop (which Mike and I discovered on our prior trip to western Oklahoma just a few weeks earlier). I’m not normally one to patronize such overtly evangelical businesses, but I had to admit they served a good cup of Joe. Sadly, a sign on the door read “Permanently Closed”—I suppose proselytizing and sipping Joe just don’t mix.
Arriving home later that evening closed out my longest ever driving trip—5,181 miles! Had Norm and Steve not been kind enough to do the driving while I stayed with them during the final week of my trip, the number of miles would have been even higher.
Following is a preliminary checklist of the Buprestidae collected during the trip—66 species in all! This number surely will increase once I mount and examine all the specimens, since only the species that I recognize with some degree of confidence are listed, but it already exceeds the number of species collected on any other trip I’ve made, at least in the U.S. (trips to South Africa and Mexico probably well exceed this number). Interestingly, of the 66 species collected, 17 are species I’ve never collected (five also being completely new to my collection), despite having already made several trips to many of the areas I visited. This speaks to the importance of repeated visits to the field, especially at different times of the season and in different years, continual refinement of collecting techniques and strategies, and taking advantage of opportunities to learn from others. I’m already planning next year’s trip out west, which will surely involve different timing and multiple field companions.
Preliminary List of Buprestidae Collected 17 May to 6 June 2022 in Illinois, Missouri, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oklahoma *species not previously collected **species new to my collection
Welcome to the 11th “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a very short (4 days) trip to northwestern Oklahoma on May 3–7, 2022. My collecting partner for this trip was long-time friend and hymenopterist Mike Arduser. Mike is one of the best natural historians that I know and, like me, has a special love for the often overlooked beauty of western Oklahoma and its fascinating insect fauna. It had been 13 years, however—too long, in my opinion, since our last joint field trip when we sampled the bee (Mike) and beetle (me) fauna at The Nature Conservancy’s Four Canyon Preserve in Ellis Co. Thus, I was happy for the chance to once again spend some time in the field with such a knowledgeable naturalist in an area we that both know and love.
Day 1 – Gloss Mountain State Park (Major Co.) It took most of the day to get here—Tulsa threw us a couple of obstacles in the form of a construction-mediated wrong turn and a motorcycle engulfed in flames. I’ve been to Gloss Mountain a number of times, but never this early in the season. Skies were sunny (unlike St. Louis when we left this morning), but temps didn’t get much above 60°F and even dropped down into the upper 50s before we finished up at sunset.
Surprisingly, despite the earliness of the season and cool temps, beating was quite productive. Working the low areas around the parking lot, I beat a fair number and diversity of beetles and hemipterans—mostly chrysomelids—but only a single Agrilus sp. off of Prosopis glandulosa.
I knew there were other trees, principally Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) and Sapindus drummondii (soapberry), on top of the mesa and wanted to see if anything was on them. Bingo! Even before reaching the top, I beat a few Agrilus (several spp.) from the Celtis, and up on top I beat quite a few more off the same. There were also additional mesquite trees up top, off which I again beat a single Agrilus sp. along with a few other things, notably a series of ceresine treehoppers. The Sapindus was just starting to leaf out, and I found nothing by beating them other than a single ceresine. A notable find was the pile of larval frass of Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer) at the base of a living Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree—a sure sign of active infestation by a beetle I have yet to formally record from this place.
On the way back down from the top, we hit the sunset perfectly as it “touched” a peak in the foreground! Despite my success here this evening, Mike saw no bees of interest on the few flowers that were found due to the cold temps and chilling winds, so tomorrow we will continue west hoping for warmer conditions on the western edge of Oklahoma.
Back in town, we searched for an open sit-down restaurant—fruitlessly because of the late hour—and ended up with a mediocre breakfast burrito from a fast food shop I’ve never been to before. The local Buick dealership, however, with its 1950s neon lights shining brightly in the night sky, was a taste of Americana that makes these trips so enjoyable. Life on the road!
Day 2 – Black Mesa State Park (Cimmaron Co.) Welp! We awoke this morning to cold temps (low 60s), thick fog, and low hanging clouds, and the forecast for the area showed essentially no improvement through at least the day. Our plan had been to hit a spot about an hour southwest before heading back north to Beaver Dunes State Park, but the forecast for both those areas also was cold and wet. It was not until we looked at the forecast for Black Mesa—our last planned stop of the trip and a 4½-hour-drive to the west—that the forecast seemed to be in our favor, so we decided to blast on out there. We figured we would get there at about 2:00 pm and could spend the rest of the day there collecting, camp there tonight, and start heading back east tomorrow (assuming the forecast improved for the areas we missed).
Wrong! When we got there, it was not only cloudy and cold, but dry as a bone! Even if it had been sunny with warmer temps, there still would not have been any insect activity to speak of. The leaves of oaks and hackberries in the area were just barely starting to break bud, and the only flowers we saw at the park were a large willow in full bloom—but not a single insect visiting them. Knowing that there was no other place where conditions were better that we could drive to within the next couple of hours and collect for at least a short time, we instead decided to make it a hiking day and hike the High Point Trail at nearby Black Mesa Nature Preserve.
Black Mesa Nature Preserve (Cimmaron Co.) When we arrived and looked at the signage, we learned that the hike to the oracle at the official high point would be a more than 8-mile hike! Just reaching the top of the mesa itself would be a more than 3-mile-hike, with the high point another mile on top. Not knowing if we had the appetite for such a distance (or time to do it before sunset) and with the wind cold and biting, we started out anyway and gave ourselves permission to turn around at any point if we felt like it.
Nevertheless, we persevered. We checked the cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata) along the way hoping to see Coenopoeus palmeri (one of the cactus longhorns, which I’m not sure has been recorded from Oklahoma) or at least one of the more widespread Moneilema species, but none were seen (nor really expected). The trail up the side of the mesa was steep and spectacular, and the trail atop the mesa was surreal—especially given the cold winds and low-hanging clouds. Eventually, we made it to the official high point and enjoyed the fun facts carved into each side of the granite obolisk marking the spot.
Coming back down was not much easier than going up, the steepness of the trail jamming my toes into the toe box of my new hiking boots (which performed admirably!), but I did find an insect—a largish black weevil torpidly crawling on the trail. Even on the relatively level lower portion of the trail once we got there was difficult, our legs really starting to feel the miles now. As we hiked the last mile back to the car, the temperature continued to plummet as it started to sprinkle, turning to rain soon after we reached the car and then heavy rain as we headed down the highway back to the east. The irony of the situation—rain coming to a parched landscape just when we are ready to leave—did not escape us. We’ll spend the night in Boise City and hope for a better forecast tomorrow!
Day 3 – Beaver Dunes State Park (Beaver Co.) Temps were down in the mid-40s when we awoke this morning, but skies were sunny and we were heartened by a promising forecast of continued sun and highs in the low to mid-60s. Our first destination—Beaver Dunes—was a relatively short 2-hour drive further east, and when we arrived sunny skies still prevailed. Unfortunately, temps still hovered in the mid-50s with a biting wind that made using the beating sheet difficult to impossible.
That said, I managed to beat a fair series of Agrilus spp. (probably mostly one species) and a few other beetles off living Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) dotting the roadside along the entrance to the Picnic Area. Under the main group of hackberries I noticed new growth of Cucurbita foetedissima (buffalo gourd) along with last year’s dead stems. I’ve never collected Dorcasta cinerea (a longhorn beetle that utilizes buffalo gourd as a larval host), so I began splitting open the old stems to see if I could find unemerged adults. I didn’t, but what I did note inside the stems was evidence of boring by some insects and, eventually, the tiniest little scolytine bark beetles that I’ve ever seen. They were always found right at the node, usually in pairs (perhaps male and female?), and I ended up collecting a series of about a dozen specimens from two different stems.
Also in the main group of hackberries, I noticed a dead branch hanging from the tree, which had fallen but gotten snagged on a lower branch to remain off the ground. The branch was obviously infested and showed a few emergence holes indicative of both buprestids and cerambycids, and when I broke into it I found two unemerged adult Agrilus (different species), which caused me to cut and bundle the branch to being back for rearing. At the entrance, I went to examine the stand of yellow flowers that greeted our arrival, determining them to be Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus (smallflower desert-chicory, Texas false dandelion). While I was on the ground photographing the flowers, I noticed a red and black hister beetle that proved to be Margarinotus bipustulatus—aptly named considering the two red maculations on the elytra. I also noticed a couple of tiger beetle larval burrows in the hard-packed sandy soil and found a long, thin plant stem to “fish” the larvae out. I managed to snag the larva in one of the burrows, which I believe is Tetracha carolina (Carolina metallic tiger beetle) by virtue of the thin white margin around the prothorax and the open habitat in which the larval burrow occurred. If this is true, then it is a second instar because it is slightly smaller than a typical Cicindela sp. third-instar larva.
Afterwards, I went over to the dunes to see if Mike had found anything, but temps were still too cold to see anything flying. He did, however, show me an interesting stand of Penstemon that he’d found and that we determined to be P. fendleri (Fendler’s penstemon). The plants were all on the north side of the dune in apparently protected spots, and I noted that on iNaturalist our observation was the northernmost record for the species (save one suspicious, disjunct Colorado record).
On the way back to the car, I beat a few more beetles off living Celtis reticulata. By now, we’d seen all we needed to see here and decided to head southeast to one of the Brachys barberi locations (that were the reason for this trip in the first place).
5 mi E of Harmon (Ellis Co.) This
Recently, another coleopterist collected Brachys barberi—more typically a southwestern species—on Quercus harvardii (shinnery oak) at this spot. I’ve not managed to find the species myself yet, and as it was collected on May 3rd last year I hoped the timing would be right. Quercus havardii dominated the landscape at this spot, mostly as thick stands of low-growing shrubs but also as a copse of small trees.
At first, I swept the lowest-growing plants, collecting a variety of mostly chrysomelids and curculionids and even one Agrilus sp., before moving to beating along the sunny edges of the patches of taller shrubs and collecting similar species (but no Agrilus sp.). Just to the north, I noticed a stand of individuals tall enough to be considered trees (presumably a clonal stand) and began beating them. Immediately I began collecting not only the chrysomelids and curculionds that I was collecting before, but also several Agrilus spp. and what must be Agrilaxia texana—a species represented in my cabinet by just two specimens that I collected in northeastern Texas way back in 1984.
I worked nearly the full perimeter of the copse, noticing that most of the beetles were being collected only on the south-facing sunny (and leeward) side. When I was just about ready to call it quits, a much larger black and yellow beetle landed on the sheet. For an instant I thought it was a lycid, but it moved characteristically like a longhorned beetle, and I quickly realized that I had collected Elytroleptus floridanus—a quite rare southeastern U.S. species that I have only seen once before when I reared a single individual from dead oak that I collected in the Missouri bootheel (and representing a new state record). I wasn’t sure the species had ever been recorded from Oklahoma, so I found Gryzmala’s revision of the genus online and saw that it had been previously recorded from the state—but all the way over on the east side near the border of Arkansas. All records from Texas as well are from the eastern side of the state, so today’s capture appears to represent a significant northwestern extension of the species’ known geographic range by about 300 miles!
Sadly, I never saw Brachys barberi, but collecting Elytroleptus floridanus (in Oklahoma!) was a pretty good consolation prize.😊
Day 4 – Prologue (“Good to Go” coffee shop) We awoke to bright sunny skies, and though a tad chilly it was still warmer than the previous mornings and with a good forecast to boot! It would take about an hour to drive to the day’s collecting spot—the one and only Gloss Mountain State Park (where we visited briefly a few days ago to start the trip), but not until after an unexpected and hilariously bizarre experience at a coffee shop in town called “Good to Go”.
Mike was the first to notice the velociraptor in the lounge—saddled up for a ride! Okay, that’s cute. Then he noticed the sign on the outdoor display that read “Stegosaurs roamed the Earth about 5,000 years ago.” At first I thought, okay, they’re a little confused on the timeline, but what they’re trying to say is that dinosaurs lived a long time ago.
Then I noticed a granite plaque in the background that clearly read “The Holy Bible”, and it dawned on me that we had entered a creationist’s den! Had we not already ordered our coffee, I might have surreptitiously tiptoed my long-haired hippy butt out of there before somebody pointed at me and began slowly chanting “Lucifer!”
Once we were outside the shop, our coffee secured and the need for hushed tones no longer muffling our reactions, we took a quick walk with the dinosaurs to admire their seeming scientific accuracy. I was impressed with the T. rex in particular, it’s body axis realistically horizontal with the tail straight and strong—not the lumbering, upright, tail-dragging version that I learned about as a kid. At least they were accepting some of the current body of scientific evidence on dinosaurs and ignoring only that dealing with their age—or so I thought…
The stegosaur as well appeared to be fairly accurately rendered, its tail also straight and strong and a youngster trailing closely behind, until I noticed something atop the adult—an angel riding it! ‘God’s creatures big and small’, I guess.
The coup de grace was the information plaque behind the stegosaur. Rather than providing information on dinosaurs, I was instead treated to a barrage of hilariously unsupported claims advocating the idea that humans and dinosaurs once lived together. Each “factoid” on the plaque was more bizarre and quotable than the one before. Did you know that the adult stegosaur probably died 4,000 years ago in the Great Flood, but that the baby—happily—likely survived by getting a ride on the Ark with Noah! And all that scientific evidence that pinpoints the Cretaceous extinction to 65 million years ago? Apparently it has merely been fabricated as part of a global conspiracy because scientists just don’t want to agree with the Bible. I just about lost it, however, when I reached “It is uncertain if humans ever rode Dinosaurs, but there is overwhelming evidence that humans saw living dinosaurs.” I mean—What?!
Our unplanned morning entertainment now done, we hit the road for our next—and final—collecting spot for the trip.
Gloss Mountain State Park (Major Co.) We arrived at about 10 am with a plan to spend the rest of the day there—whether the collecting was good or bad, this would be our final stand. We hiked up to the mesa, stopping at an accessible spot about halfway up to work the trees (me) or set out pan traps (Mike). Beating the Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) yielded a similar assortment of beetles as last time—a couple of Agrilus spp. along with the occasional chrysomelid or curculionoid and a few other beetles, and the same was true with Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite), with the exception that I did not find any Agrilus this time.
Atop the mesa, I decided to do an entire perimeter hike—something I’ve always wanted to do but never actually accomplished. The idea was to beat all of the C. reticulata, P. glandulosa, and Sapindus drummondii (soapberry) that I could find in an effort to “leave no stone unturned” in my quest for beetles. Soon after starting out, I saw a nice Pasimachus elongatus ground beetle running across the mesa top and “forced” it to cooperate for photos by pinning a hind tarsus to the ground with my finger tip (barely visible in the upper left side of the photo). I collected it, as well as another that I saw a short distance away, and then proceeded with the beatings! Beating the C. reticulata was quite productive, with perhaps three Agrilus spp. and numerous other beetles being collected off of nearly every tree that I beat. Beating P. glandulosa also was productive for various beetles, though again no Agrilus were encountered. The biggest surprise came when I started beating S. drummondii, most of which were still in the earliest stages of leafing out. I got nothing from most of the trees (the majority of which were clustered in a small copse near the front of the mesa), but in the back part of the cluster were a couple of trees with noticeably more foliage—beating them yielded perhaps a dozen Agrilus limpiae, a soapberry specialist that I haven’t seen in numbers since 1986 when I collected a series on soapberry in south-central Kansas.
I rarely get anything beating Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia), but I beat most of the trees that I saw anyway and collected one cryptocephaline chrysomelid and two curculionoids. A single Eleodes hispilabris (apparently on its last leg) was seen near the north end of the mesa, which I photographed and collected, and on the way back I encountered a small patch of Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow) in bloom, from the flowers of which I collected a few small melyrid-type beetles and a small halictid bee for Mike. Also on the north part of the mesa I saw a young eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), who posed just long enough for me to get off a shot before blasting away from my approaching lens.
Throughout the hike atop the mesa I kept my eye out for “new-to-me” plants (of which there are many), finding for the first time Toxicodendron rydbergii (western poison ivy) and blooming individuals of Chaetopappa ericoides (rose heath). Physaria gordonii (Gordon’s bladderpod)—a relative of the federally threatened P. filiformis (Missouri bladderpod)—was blooming abundantly atop the mesa. At this point, Mike and I rejoined and relayed to each other our more notable findings. For Mike’s part, he had seen a couple of cacti that I had missed—Escobaria missouriensis (Missouri foxtail cactus) and Echinocereus reichenbachii perbellus (black lace cactus)—and took me to the spots where he had seen them. While retracing our steps, we also found Gaillardia suavis (pincushion daisy, perfumeballs) and the strikingly beautiful Penstemon cobaea (cobaea beardtongue, prairie beardtongue, foxglove penstemon).
By this time, I had been on the mesa top for five hours, and even though temperatures were mild (mid-70s) I desperately needed food and water. Mike, for his part, had also had a wildly successful day with bees, capturing many at the flowers and many more in the various pan traps (both in top and halfway up the slope). I descended the steep slope with its mixture of metal steps, cut rock, and wooden planks and enjoyed a quick feast of sardines and Triscuits (a decades-long bug-collecting-trip staple) washed down with Gatorade before getting back to work on the mesquite around the parking lot. I was committed to trying to find Agrilus on the plants—a single individual of which I’d beaten from the plants three days earlier, and after beating several plants and seeing none (but collecting a great number of clytrine and cryptocephaline chrysomelids along with other insects) I finally found one! I continued to work the trees and collect primarily chrysomelids, but no more Agrilus were seen. I am hopeful that it will be a southwestern species not currently known from Oklahoma—a situation I have found with several other Prosopis-associated beetles in this part of northwestern Oklahoma.
I hadn’t intended to work any additional Prosopis beyond the road into the parking lot, but there were a few particularly large trees along the front of the park next to the highway rest stop. The first one I beat yielded a very large cryptocephaline that I had not seen on any of the other Prosopis, so I continued beating them and collected a nice series along with a few other clytrines, pachybrachines, and curculionoids. At the furthest point west, I recalled having seen during a previous visit a western diamondback rattlesnake a bit further to the west, so I continued to the spot hoping to see another. No such luck, so I tiptoed through the tall grass back to safety and made my way back to the car to wrap up seven and a half hours of collecting on a spectacular day—sadly, the last of the trip!
Epilogue This trip was just a warm-up. In just over one week, I will head out again—this time to western Texas and southern Arizona for sure, and maybe elsewhere depending on how things go. At three weeks, it will be the longest collecting trip I’ve done since I went to South Africa in 1999 and Ecuador 10 years before that. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with a number of other coleopterists at various points during the trip—Jason Hansen, Joshua Basham, and Tyler Hedlund in Texas, and Norm Woodley and Steve Lingafelter in Arizona. If there is time, I may stop off at a place or two in northeastern New Mexico and at Black Mesa on the way back. Look for an iReport on that trip sometime in early-mid June!
The pine flatlands of the southeastern Coastal Plain offer an interesting contrast to the upland forests of my home state of Missouri. Closed canopies of oak and hickory are replaced by open canopies of pond and longleaf pine. Dry glades—islands of prairie dotting the forests—are replaced by bogs and bays—oases of wetland punctuating the sandy scrub. In both places, however, fire plays an important role in shaping and preserving these unique habitats. In this ~10,000-acre preserve, prescribed burns spare the heat-tolerant pines—their trunks blackened and scorched but the living branches high above unharmed—and prevent woody shrubs from choking out herbaceous plants, including famously insectivorous plants such as Venus fly traps, sundews, and pitcher plants. I had yet to have seen any of these plants in their native habitats, and after learning of this place and their presence here from a local resident, Madam and I made a beeline to the preserve for an afternoon of botanical hiking.
Almost immediately after starting down the road from the parking lot, I noticed white blossoms dotting the forest floor. Approaching closer revealed them to be wild azaleas—in this case Rhododendron viscosum (swamp azalea). Individually, the petite plants with their crowns of oversized blooms were quaintly beautiful. En masse, clustered on the forest floor, they were an amazing sight to see.
The going was slow in the beginning, with something new to me at every turn. A species of Nuttallanthus (toadflax)—either N. texanus (Texas toadflax) or N. canadensis (Canada toadflax), depending on details of flower dimensions—bloomed abundantly in the sunny openings. A small purple flower was at first assumed to be a species of Tradescantia (spidorwort) but proved to be the related Callisia graminea (grassleaf roseling)—a new genus for me. A bit further down the road we encountered orange flowers that proved to be Polygala lutea (orange milkwort). This genus is represented in Missouri by several species, all having flowers of pink, yellow, or white.
Flowers were not limited to herbaceous plants. The evergreen woody shrub layer was just coming back to life with new growth, a few of which bore distinctive blossoms identifying them as members of the genus Vaccinium (blueberry). There are several potential species that could be here.
At one point, Madam called me to the other side of the road, pointing to a strange plant at the edge of a wet area and asking “What’s that?” Bingo—I recognized it instantly as one of the so-called “pitcher plants” (genus Sarracenia), among the most dramatically charismatic of the insectivorous plants. Pitcher plants trap insects using a rolled leaf with downward pointing hairs on the inside and the uppermost part of the leaf flared into a lid (or operculum) to prevent rain from diluting the digestive secretions pooled at the bottom of the leaf. Though a bit past bloom, it was easily identifiable as S. flava (yellow pitcher plant). We were thrilled to have seen our first pitcher plant in the wild, and we looked forward to seeing more (hopefully in full bloom).
As we scanned the edge of the wetland looking for more pitcher plants, I noticed tiny white flowers on the small shrubs underfoot. They looked rather “hollyish” to me, and indeed they proved to be Ilex glabra (gallberry), a species of evergreen holly native to the coastal plain of eastern North America and most commonly found in sandy woods and peripheries of swamps and bogs.
At this time of season, I was expecting to see insects well active, and this was certainly the case with butterflies—the most common being a species of swallowtail that oxymoronically reminded me of a small giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) but in reality were Papilio palamedes (Palamedes swallowtail). I’m a beetle guy, however, so I was happy to find a few Acmaeodera tubulus jewel beetles on flowers of Erigeron sp. (fleabane), and when I saw a standing recently-dead pine beyond the wet drainage I decided to check it for other jewel beetles on its trunk. As I started to step across the water, a small purplish plant on a piece of wood in the water caught my eye, and I immediately recognized it as one of the sundews (genus Drosera), another genus of insectivorous plants that capture and digest insects using stalked mucilaginous glands that cover their leaf surfaces. This is one of the largest genera of insectivorous plants, but I take this one to be D. intermedia (spoonleaf sundew).
About a mile and a half from the car, we finally found what we had been hoping to see since soon after we arrived—Sarracenia flava (yellow pitcher plant) in full bloom. A rather large patch of them was visible from afar, their yellow blooms glowing in the sunlight, but sadly most of them were slightly or greatly past peak bloom. A bit further back, however, on the other side of the water, I spotted two single plants in perfect bloom, their petals fresh and intact and making the effort to find a way across the water well worth the effort. Other plants without blooms but with fresh, brightly colored “pitchers” were also seen along the water’s edge.
As we admired the spectacle in front of us, I noticed a clump of red within the vegetation at water’s edge and realized we were looking at another species of pitcher plant—Sarracenia purpurea (purple pitcher plant)! How fortunate we were to see this clump—the only one we saw—which was in perfect bloom and with colorful, freshly-formed pitchers whose squat form contrasted notably from the tall, slender, graceful pitchers of S. flava right next to it.
By now, the April heat had taken a noticeable toll on the conditioning of these two recently-escaped-from-winter Midwesterners. Having found the Holy Grail for the day, we began the long, tired slog back to the car—our legs dragging but our spirits soaring.
For the past few years, I’ve been involved with the Missouri Native Plant Society (MONPS). To this point, however, my involvement has been limited to attending the monthly meetings of the St Louis Chapter—unfortunately, now only via Zoom since the beginning of the pandemic. I hope that soon we can return to in-person meetings (or, even better, a hybrid of the two, which allows person-to-person interaction without excluding participation by those who cannot attend in-person), but one activity that has resumed live are their periodic, multi-day field trips. The Spring 2022 Field Trip, held this past weekend in southwestern Missouri, was my first chance to participate in one of these events, and I looked forward to seeing the remnant prairies, limestone, dolomite, and sandstones glades, and chert woodland that were all on tap while rubbing elbows with some of the state’s best botanists and naturalists—some old friends and others new acquaintances!
Day 1 – Schuette Prairie I wasn’t able to make it to the actual Day 1, so I left St. Louis early in the morning to meet the group at the first stop of the following day—Schuette Prairie in Polk Co. Named after my friend and former Cuivre River State Park naturalist, Bruce Schuette, this recently acquired limestone/dolomite prairie with a wet swale contains many plants more typical of glades such as Silphium terebinthinaceum (prairie dock), Echinacea paradoxa (yellow coneflower), and Rudbeckia missouriensis (Missouri coneflower). Of course, on this cold, overcast, early-April morning, it was far too early to see any of these highly charismatic plant species (although some of the more astute botanists were about to point them out by their barely emergent foliage, which was easy to find in the recently-burned northern half of the parcel). Abundantly in bloom, however, was the more subdued Erythronium mesochoreum (prairie fawn lily, midland fawnlily, prairie dogtooth violet). Distinguished from the similar E. albidum (white trout lily) that occurs abundantly further east by its narrower, folded, usually unmottled leaves, all but a few of which remained stubbornly closed against the stiff, cold wind.
Precious few other blooms were seen—I recall somebody mentioning they had seen Viola sororia (common violet), and I photographed this little clump of Fragaria virginica (wild strawberry) that will eventually provide food for one of the area’s many box turtles.
Speaking of box turtles, I found this completely naked, bleached carapace and at first hoped that it might have been from an ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata)—limited in Missouri to western prairies and a species I have not yet seen. However, the presence of a midline ridge and its relatively more domed shape suggest it is from a three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis).
Many other carapaces were seen (though none in such good shape), and in fact bones of many types were easy to find in the burned portion of the prairie. This disarticulated skull from what appears to be a young calf (Bos taurus) was perhaps the most impressive bone find, but we did also find a dried skeleton of a smaller individual. Being the lone entomologist of the group, I just had to turn over the carcass and search for beetles and managed to capture a skin beetle (family Trogidae) and one other small unidentified beetle (but, unfortunately, no Necrobia rufipes [red-legged ham beetle]).
Rocky Barrens Conservation Area Later in the morning, the group caravaned to Rocky Barrens Conservation Area, a 281-acre area in Greene Co. featuring Mississippian limestone glades and site for the federally-endangered Physaria filiformis (Missouri bladder-pod). This plant, in the mustard family, is found only in four counties in southwest Missouri. The plants were readily found, but we were too early to see them in bloom—or anything else, for that matter. For me, however, the glade alone was still interesting, and I couldn’t help but take note of the similarities—and differences—between this limestone example and the dolomite glades south of St. Louis with which I am so much more familiar. Almost immediately, I noted the presence of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia), host for Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer)—surely one of North America’s most beautiful longhorned beetles! I didn’t see any frass piles at the base of any of the trees, the presence of which would indicate larval activity, but I’m sure the beetle is here. It would be interesting to come back during the season and look for it. While I didn’t find any signs of the beetle, I couldn’t miss the bright orange-yellow gold-eye lichens (Teloschistes chrysophthalmus) colonizing it’s branches.
Another tree that caught my interest was Celtis tenuifolia (dwarf hackberry). I see these small, gnarly versions of the genus in glades and other xeric habitats, and they always catch my interest because of the diversity of interesting woodboring beetles associated with it. As I looked at the trees, I noticed one small tree in particular that was the perfect stage of dead—branches brittle but bark mostly still intact with a little bit of peeling on the trunk revealing woodboring beetle larval galleries underneath! There were only a few emergence holes present—strong evidence that the tree was still infested and worth bringing back to put in an emergence box to trap the emerging adult beetles. With luck, I’ll be pinning a series of Agrilus ferrisi next winter!
Corry Flatrocks Conservation Area After lunch at a nearby city park, the group caravaned to Corry Flatrocks Consevation Area in Dade Co.—site of another federally-endangered plant, Mononeuria minima (formerly Geocarpon minima) (tiny-Tim, earth fruit). The sandstone glades at this site are among the largest in the area and, thus, host a large population of the plant. By this time of day, the sun had been out for awhile and the day had warmed considerably, so we hoped to see other flowering plants as well. Among the first that we encountered while walking towards the glade proper was Ranunculus fascicularis (early buttercup), distinguished from other “large-flowered buttercups” by its canescent (grayish due to hairiness) leaves with long and narrow lobes, their tips bluntly pointed or rounded. The dry, gladey habitat also distinguishes the species from the similar R. hispidus (hairy buttercup), which flowers at the same time but prefers moister habitats.
On the glade proper, we quickly encountered tiny little saxifrages in bloom, which turned out to be Micranthes texana (Texas saxifrage), restricted in Missouri to this part of the state (and thus with a high CC value of 9) and distinguished from the more widespread M. virginiensis (early saxifrage) by its small, compact stature. These first individuals we encountered had especially reddish-tinged flowers.
As soon as we reached the more open part of the glade with large expanses Of exposed rock, the group dropped to their hands and knees to find the diminutive plants we were looking for.
The plants were not uncommon, even abundant, in shallow, sand-filled depressions in the rock. Nevertheless, careful observation was still required to see and recognize them. Fortunately, the plants were already in bloom, their tiny styles barely visible to the naked eye within the green, not-much-bigger, petalless flowers. Photographing these plants, and especially those in bloom, proved to be a task almost beyond the capabilities of the smart phones that most in the group were using (me included).
The glades stretched on for quite a distance, inviting further exploration. At the margins, white flowering trees were noticed, and moving closer they proved to be Amelanchier arborea (downy serviceberry, common serviceberry)—among the first we have seen open this spring. (I typically see the first blooms of these trees in the final days of March, at least around my home in east-central Missouri.) an even closer looked revealed tiny insects (also among the first insects I have seen active this spring) flying around and crawling about on the flowers. These proved to be parasitic hymenopterans—family ID is still pending, but I suspect they will prove to be a species in one of the many families of “microhymenopterans” that are egg parasitoids. I am not sure whether they were visiting the flowers as pollinators (which behavior I am not aware of) or in hopes of encountering other pollinators which could potentially serve as hosts—a subject with which I will need to follow up.
Near the back end of the glade, we encountered a few more Micranthes texana (Texas saxifrage), these having more typical white flowers in perfect peak bloom.
Also in that part of the glade we found a few scattered individuals of Selenia aurea (golden selenia). While not quite as conservative as M. texana (CC value = 6), it has a similar range in the U.S. and in Missouri is also restricted to a handful of counties in the southwestern part of the state. The plant is known to occur in large colonies (which I have seen at nearby Corry Branch Glade)—its brilliant yellow flowers forming a spectacular display.
To this point, the only insect I had seen besides the microhymenopterans was a skin beetle (family Trogidae), which I found when I kicked over some dried mammal scats. However, on the way back to the cars we finally encountered an insect large enough in size and striking enough in appearance to pique the interest of not just me but the group as a whole—a large caterpillar feeding on the foliage of Penstemon digitalis (smooth beard-tongue). It’s appearance—dark with longitudinal yellow stripes and blue spotting—immediately called to mind one of the tiger moths (formerly Arctiidae, now a subfamily in the Erebidae), specifically the genus Haploa (commonly called haploa moths). A little detective work on BugGuide comparing photos and recorded host plants narrowed the likely choice to H. confusa (confused haploa moth).
Day 2 – Lead Mines Conservation Area The final day of the MONPS Field Trip featured a morning trip to Lead Mine Conservation Area in Dallas Co. Of particular interest to the group were several parcels within the area designated as Niangua River Hills Natural Area and featuring a diversity of habitats including dolomite glades, chert woodlands, and calcareous wet meadows (fens). Most in the group visited the northern parcel to see the dolomite glades; however, a few of us—primarily from St. Louis and well-familiar with dolomite glades—opted to visit the smaller southern unit of the natural area to see the fen and riparian woodland we needs to pass through to get there. It was a much warmer morning than yesterday, though still chilly starting out, so blooms were sparse as we hiked the woodland trail searching for any hint of color. At one point, someone noticed a shrub a bit off the trail with large, reddish pink flowers—the color seeming a bit unexpected for the situation. Bushwhacking toward it, we realized it was Chaenomelesspeciosa (common flowering quince), a common, ornamental non-native plant that rarely—but obviously sometimes—escapes cultivation. While the group looked at the plant, I saw my first insect of the day—Paraulacizes irrorata (speckled sharpshooter), one of our largest and most recognizable leafhoppers, sitting head-down on the stem of a small sapling.
Among the first native blooms we saw was Ranunculus hispidus (hairy buttercup). Though similarly “large-flowered” as R. fascicularis (early buttercup), it differs by its sprawling growth habit, differently shaped-leaves, and preference for moist habitats. Buttercups are a favorite flower host for jewel beetles (family Buprestidae) in the genus Acmaeodera, and one species —A. tubulus—is among our earliest-emerging beetles in the spring, so I checked each buttercup flower that I saw hoping to see these little beetles signaling the beginning of insect activity for the season. Sadly, none were seen.
At last we reached the fen—a large open area on the toe-slopes of the adjacent hillside where water draining through the underlying strata emerged to the surface to maintain a continually wet environment. The fen here is special, as two species of Cyprepedium (lady’s slipper orchids) are know to occur in the fen (and in fact, all four of the state’s Cyprepedium spp. can be found with Lead Mine Conservation Area). At this early date, the orchids would not be anywhere close to blooming; however, the group looked for evidence of their presence, walking gingerly through the fen so as to avoid inadvertently stepping upon any emergent foliage. No putative clumps were found, but already in my mind I’m thinking a mid-May trip back to the fen might be warranted! Unlike the orchids, Castilleja coccinea (Indian paintbrush) was abundantly evident throughout the fen, with an occasional plant almost ready to burst forth their scarlet blooms. Senescent flower stems of composites, presumably Rudbeckia, were also seen throughout the glade, which, combined with the abundance of Castilleja, created the promise of a stunning early-summer display across the fen.
During our time in the fen, two species of butterflies were seen flitting about the herbaceous vegetation: tiny blue Celastrina ladon (spring azure), and one of the dustywing skippers in the genus Erynnis. The former were impossible to photograph due to their persistent flitting and skittish behavior, and the latter almost were as well. Only when I locked the focus on a preset 2x zoom and fired shots in rapid succession while moving the smartphone ever closer to the subject did I manage this one imperfect but passable photograph of the last one I tried. The genus Erynnis is diverse and notoriously difficult to identify, and my expertise with skippers and butterflies pales compared to my skills with beetles, so the ID will have to remain Erynnis sp. until a more authoritative opinion is offered. [Edit 4/6/22, 11:38 am: According to my lepidopterist friend Phillip Koenig, Erynnis horatius and E. juvenalis both fly in early spring, and they cannot be reliably separated from the dorsal side. Erynnis juvenalis has one or two dots on the ventral hind wing that E. horatius lacks and only flies in the early spring, while E. horatius can be seen through the summer. If only I could turn the picture over to see what it looks like on the ventral side!]
Returning through the riparian woodlands after visiting the fen, the day had warmed considerably, and numerous flowers not seen earlier were suddenly in full bloom. These included Erythronium mesochorium (prairie fawn lily midland fawnlily, prairie dogtooth violet)—the same species we saw yesterday so reluctantly in bloom at Schuette Prairie. Most were of the familiar form with unmottled leaves; however, we found one individual with notably mottled leaves that resembled those of E. albidum (white dogtooth violet) (1st photo). Nevertheless, the leaves were still narrower than that species and folded, and the plant was growing a mere 12” from another individual with no trace of mottling (2nd photo).
Claytonia virginca (spring beauty) was also blooming in abundance as we took the trail back. I am always amazed at the variability seen in the flowers of this species—from pure white to vividly pink-striped to pink at the tips. This especially vivid pink individual was about as pink as they come.
Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) also was popping up regularly. We had seen isolated plants sitting the trailsides when we first part through—their flowers tightly folded in stubborn response to the chilly morning temperatures. By early afternoon, however, they were spread wide open as invitation to any of the flying insects that had surely also been awakened by the warmer temperatures of the afternoon. While most were seen as isolated individuals, a particularly idyllic clump captured our attention, almost begging “photograph me!”
With that, we rejoined the main group to recount the days experiences and cement new relationships before heading back towards our respective home areas.
Long Ridge Conservation Area On the way back home, I decided to check out this conservation area in Franklin Co., which I’ve never visited before. The afternoon had gotten quite warm, so I reasoned that maybe today would be the day when insects start coming out in abundance. I was right! As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) in full bloom, and walking up to it I immediately saw an abundance of bees and small beetles all over the flowers. The latter turned out to be Orsodacne atra (a leaf beetle) and Ischnomera ruficollis (rednecked false blister beetles).
Inside the woods along the Blue Trail, there were the usual suspects in bloom—Claytonia virginica (spring beauty), Cardamine concatenata (toothwort), Antennaria parlinii (Parlin’s pussytoes) and Ranunculus hispidus (hairy buttercups).
Eventually I happened upon an Amelanchier arborea (downy serviceberry) in full bloom. There were more O. atra and I. ruficollis on the flowers (though not so many as on the Mexican plum), along with a Mecaphesa sp. crab spider that had caught and was feeding on a male Andrena carlini (Carlin’s mining bee)*.
On the back third of the trail, I found two fallen branches under a Quercus shumardii (Shumard’s oak) that had been pruned by longhorned beetles—presumably Anelaphus villosus. At the end of the trail I found a third such branch of the same species of oak. All three will be placed in an emergence box, and hopefully the culprits will emerge as adults.
This week’s destination for the WGNSS Botany Group outing was St. Joe State Park, where the western portion of the Bicyle/Hiking Trail runs along a prime example of dry post oak woodland. Such woodlands were common in Missouri during pre-settlement times but have been largely eliminated from the present-day landscape due to incompatible land management practices, including fire suppression. Post oak woodlands depend upon periodic fires to maintain an open canopy, allowing a rich ground layer of native grasses and forbs to flourish in the abundant sunlight. In pre-settlement times, this happened naturally as a result of lightning strikes; however, remnant post oak woodlands exist today largely as a result of active landscape management including the use of prescribed burns and selective thinning. Evidence of these practices was easy to find in this remarkably restored example of an original post oak woodland.
At the end of January, there is still a lot of winter left to endure—far too early to be thinking about the still-distant-spring even at our “middlin’ latitudes.” Nevertheless, even at this early date, the buds of Ulmus rubra (slippery elm) are noticeably swollen. (I’ve always felt “slippery” was a misnomer for this species. I know it refers to the slippery texture of the inner bark when chewed, but the leaves are rough, and the twigs are rough, and the buds are rough as well—and who even does that [chews the inner bark] anymore?!) It is this roughness to the leaves that most easily distinguishes U. rubra from the similar U. americana (American elm), but during winter it’s fuzzy, rusty-red buds provide the clue instead. If one has a pocketknife, a slice into the bark to look for alternating light/dark layers (the absence of which signifies U. rubra) can also be used.
The rich ground layer of a post oak woodland dazzles during spring and summer, the temporal sequence of floral displays belying the diversity that produces it. This diversity does not disappear during the winter, nor does the evidence of it—it merely expresses itself in different form. To recognize the plants that are there, one must train their eyes to see these different versions of them. Bright yellow flowers are replaced by dry seed boxes… fleshy green leaves with purple ball inflorescences are replaced by naked stems with dehiscent pods… delicate white petals are replaced by prickly pods. The ability to recognize the elements of a landscape at any moment—not just at their most beautiful—makes it easier to enjoy the landscape itself at any moment. Following are some of the plants we saw, no doubt distinctive when in bloom, but also recognizable when not if one knows what to look for.
During the previous week’s outing at Hawn State Park, the group spent a fair amount of time distinguishing Missouri’s five species of Betulaceae—all of which can be found growing together along the banks of Pickle Creek. One is not likely to see three of them along the margins of a dry post oak woodland, but the two remaining—Corylus americana (American hazelnut) and Ostrya virginiana (American hop hornbeam), both much more tolerant of drier situations—were seen in abundance. These two species also happen to be the two that are most often confused with each other—especially during winter, giving the group another opportunity to study their subtle differences. Both develop male catkins during the winter, but those of C. americana tend to be larger, lighter in color, and frequently occurring singly along the branch. The winter twigs are a bit more distinctive—with tiny hairs and rounded buds in the former, versus hairless with pointed buds in the latter. Of course, of the two, only O. virginiana produces the distinctive hops-like fruits that often persist into the winter, so their presence immediately identifies any plant possessing them.
Direct comparisons of winter twigs proves to be a useful identification technique for other similar species pairs—even those in the same genus. Acer saccharum (sugar maple) and A. rubrum (red maple) often grow in close proximity and are similar enough to be frequently confused. When twigs of the two are placed next to each other, however, the differences are apparent. Color alone—A. rubrum usually exhibiting a reddish tinge to the twigs and buds—is not always diagnostic, and both species have what could be called pointed buds. Touch the tips, however—the buds of A. saccharum are sharp enough to prick the finger, while those of A. rubrum are blunted just enough to avoid feeling the prick.
Along the length of the trail, I noted an abundance of dry, persistent flower stalks of Hydrangea arborescens (American hydrangea) colonizing the bordering rock ledges. Normally found in moist (and frequently inaccessible) situations, its presence in a dry post oak woodland suggests drainage through the layers of dolomite underneath the woodland reaches the surface in these exposed toe-slopes, keeping them persistently moist. While the promised floral display in June is reason enough to return, my interest in woodboring beetles provides additional motivation, as its flowers are a favorite of a diverse group of woodboring beetles call flower longhorns (subfamily Lepturinae)—some of which having been associated only with this plant. Time to mark the calendar!