North America’s most “extreme” jewel beetle

When Chuck Bellamy passed away two years ago, he left behind a remarkable legacy of study on the family Buprestidae (jewel beetles) that includes not only his insect collection—surely one of the best in the world in terms of representation of genera and species in the family—but also his extensive library of primary literature. Both of these assets, built over a period of decades, are now housed in the California State Collection of Arthropods at the CDFA Plant Pest Diagnostics Laboratory in Sacramento, California. Chuck, however, was not just a jewel beetle collector and taxonomist—he was also a skilled photographer, focusing (pun intended) largely, though not exclusively, on his beloved jewel beetles. Digital cameras were still far in the future when Chuck began photographing these beetles, and as a result the bulk of his photographic legacy exists in the form of 35mm slides. I was the fortunate recipient of his slide collection, numbering in the thousands, and have been slowly scanning his slides into digital format with the goal to eventually make them available to the larger community of buprestid workers. Some of his best photos were published in a memorial issue of The Coleopterists Bulletin (2014, volume 68, number 1), and I featured a few additional photos in this post shortly before the publication of that issue. There remain slides, however, of many additional species, a large number of which surely represent the only field photographs of live adults. As I convert his slides to digital format, I hope to share some of the more interesting here.

For the first of these featured species, I can think of no better one than Lepismadora algodones. This tiny little jewel beetle is the only representative of the genus, which was not even known until 1986 when it was discovered by Mimi & Rob Velten in the Algodones Sand Hills of southeastern California. The species and genus were described the following year (Velten & Bellamy 1987), making Lepismadora the most recently discovered new genus of jewel beetle in the U.S. The recentness of its discovery is remarkable, since southern California in general and the Algodones Sand Dunes in particular were thought to have been relatively well collected at the time of the beetle’s discovery. Also remarkable is the distant relationship of this monotypic genus to any other North American species; its closest known relative being the genus Eudiadora—known only from Argentina (Bellamy 1991).

Lepismadora algodones

Lepismadora algodones Velten, in Velten & Bellamy, 1987 (Coleoptera: Buprestidae)

Even more remarkable, however, are its highly localized distribution and extreme habitat. The entire type series (one male holotype and 159 paratypes) and all individuals collected since its description have been found only in a single old canal on the west side of the Algodones dunes. Summer temperatures in the dunes routinely reach in excess of 110°F and are even higher in the depressed canal where the beetles are found. Astoundingly, the adults are active only during the hottest hours of the day (ca. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), during which time they can be found on the flowers and foliage of fanleaf crinklematTiquilia plicata (Boraginaceae). The reason for the beetle’s highly restricted distribution is a mystery, as the plant on which the beetles are found is rather widespread across the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. A final mystery is the still unknown larval host plant—it could be T. plicata, but it could just as likely be something completely different.

Algodones Dunes

Old canal on the west side of Algodones Sand Hills, type locality of Lepismadora algodones.

I moved to California a few years after the species was described and, of course, soon set out to find it for myself. I had driven to southern California from my home in Sacramento to meet the late Gayle Nelson (another important mentor of mine), who told me where to find the beetle and what the host plant looked like but also warned me about the extreme heat I would encounter. His advice was to hike the canal until I had half a bottle of water, then turn around and hike back. Mindful of his advice, I arrived at the dunes the next day around mid-morning, filled my water bottle and hydrated myself as much as I could, and climbed down into the canal. The heat was overpowering—more so down in the canal and far beyond anything I had ever experienced to that point, and after quickly recognizing the host plants I began tapping their tiny, prostrate branches over my beating sheet and looking for the beetles. I went as far as I could down the canal, perhaps 200 yards, before I had to turn around, but I had not yet seen any beetles and was starting to lose hope. I continued to tap host plants on the way back, though by then not really expecting to see anything. About halfway back I saw something laying on the ground a short distance ahead. As I approached I saw it was a small plastic vial with a white cap, and when I picked it up I saw inside a dried out T. plicata twig and a dead adult beetle—unmistakably L. algodones! While excited to have found the species, it was at the same time a bit unsatisfying for the specimen to be one that somebody else had collected before me and then lost (for all I know, it could have been Chuck Bellamy, considering that the beetle was apparently intended to be kept alive, possibly for photography!). I slipped the vial into my pocket, started tapping branches again, and found three additional adults in the immediate vicinity of where I had found the vial (and doing much to soothe my dissatisfaction with the first specimen). Those would be the only specimens that I would find that day, though I would succeed in finding another individual on a subsequent visit two years later.

REFERENCES:

Bellamy, C. L. 1991. A revision of the genus Eudiadora Obenberger (Coleoptera: Buprestidae). Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington 93(2):409-419 [Biodiversity Heritage Library].

Velten, R. K. & C. L. Bellamy. 1987. A new genus and species of Coroebini Bedel from southern California with a discussion of its relationships in the tribe (Coleoptera, Buprestidae). The Coleopterists Bulletin 41(1):185–192 [pdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2015

Crossidius hirtipes rhodopus in Adobe Valley, California

Crossidius hirtipes rhodopus | Adobe Valley, Mono Co., California

Crossidius hirtipes rhodopus Linsley, 1955 | Adobe Valley, Mono Co., California

On Day 7 of last August’s Great Basin Collecting Trip, we left Bishop and headed back north to the Mono Basin to look for Crossidius hirtipes rhodopus, a distinctive reddish subspecies known only from the Mono Basin. I’d seen this beetle before—almost 20 years ago during one of several trips to the type locality of Nanularia monoensis (described by my late friend Chuck Bellamy in his 1987 revision of the genus), so we drove south of Mono Lake on Hwy 120 through Adobe Valley on our way to the Benton Range where I last saw them. Of course, C. h. rhodopus occurs more broadly in the Mono Basin than just the Benton Range, and as we drove through the valley we saw robust stands of the beetle’s host plant, yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), in full bloom stretching across the floor of the valley to the towering White Mountains in the distance. Impatience can sometimes be a virtue, and in this case our decision to stop and check the plants rather than waiting until we got to the Benton Range paid off—not only were the beetles out in force, allowing us to photograph and collect to our heart’s content, but we saw only a few beetles on but a single flowering plant during our subsequent visit to the Benton Range. Apparently the rains that had caused such a profusion of bloom in the Adobe Valley had not graced the Benton Range, resulting in the driest conditions I have seen during my several visits there.

This subspecies is one of the more darkly colored subspecies

This subspecies is one of the more darkly colored subspecies

Crossidius h. rhodopus is among the most distinctive of all the C. hirtipes subspecies due to its dark reddish-brown coloration. It closely resembles C. h. nubilus, which we had seen the day before at its only known locality further south at Westgaard Pass between the White and Inyo Mountains, but it is not as dark as that subspecies and lacks the extensive clouding of black on the apical portions of the elytra. The red-brown legs and brown antennae becoming darker at the tip further characterize C. h. rhodopus, originally described as a full species (Linsley 1955) but later regarded as a subspecies of the widely distributed and highly polytopic C. hirtipes LeConte, 1854 (Linsley & Chemsak 1961).

Yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) abounds in the valley, as the White Mountains loom in the background.

Yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) abounds below the magnificent White Mountains.

Those who are unfamiliar with the Mono Basin are missing one of California’s greatest natural treasures. A closed, internal-drainage basin bordered to the west by the massive Sierra Nevada Mountains (with Yosemite National Park lying just over the peaks), to the east by the Cowtrack Mountain, to the north by the Bodie Hills, and to the South by the north ridge of the Long Valley, the eerily beautiful Mono Lake is its most prominent feature. Do not, however, neglect other areas of the basin, which offer their own uniquely dramatic beauty. Adobe Valley, stretching south of the lake towards the White Mountains and famous for the wild mustang that live there, is one such area.

A handsome male rests on yellow rabbitbrush flowers (studio shot).

A robustly handsome female perches a terminal flower cluster of yellow rabbitbrush (studio shot).

REFERENCES:

Linsley, E. G. 1955. Notes and descriptions of some species of Crossidius. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 31(2):63–66.

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

© Ted C. MacRae 2014

The sublimely beautiful Crossidius coralinus caeruleipennis

Crossidius coralinus caeruleipennis | Inyo Co. nr. Bishop, California

Crossidius coralinus caeruleipennis | Owens Valley nr. Bishop, California

Before driving up into the White Mountains to look for Crossidius hirtipes nubilus and see the grotesquely beautiful trees at Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, we made a short two-mile drive north of our hotel in Bishop, California to try our hand with a C. coralinus subspecies that I referred tangentially in my previous postC. c. caeruleipennis. This has to be among the most beautiful subspecies that I’ve seen yet of what must be considered one of North America’s most attractive species of longhorned beetle. In contrast to the other “orange” subspecies, C. c. monoensis, which we had collected the previous day but that I did not even recognize as C. coralinus because of its color and very small size, I knew exactly what I was looking for on this day as we began to scan the gray rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) plants that stretched out across the Owens Valley sage grassland as far as the eye could see. At first we were worried that we might be a little late, as most of the plants appeared to be somewhat past peak bloom, but it wasn’t long before we found the first individual sitting atop a flower cluster, and then another, and another...

Males are completely orange.

Males are solid, sublimely orange with strikingly contrasting black legs and antennae.

Crossidius c. caeruleipennis is immediately distinguishable from C. c. temprans (and most of the other C. coralinus ssp. that we collected on the trip further north in Nevada and east in Utah and Colorado) by its bright orange rather than dark red coloration. The subspecies is restricted to the Owens Valley of eastern California and greatly resembles another of the orange subspecies that we collected on the trip, C. c. monoensis. That subspecies is found just a short distance north in the Mono Basin, though at much higher elevations, and is easily distinguished from C. c. caeruleipennis by its smaller average size, by having the black markings of the elytra more expanded apically in females and at least present in males, and by the presence of black bands along the apical and basal margins of the pronotum (Linsley & Chemsak 1961).

Females have a distinct apical blue-black marking on the elytra

Females are distinguished by the apical blue-black marking on the elytra and their shorter antennae.

As it turned out, the beetle was as abundant as any we had seen on the trip to that point. Not that it didn’t require some effort to collect them—they were still rather sparsely distributed among the plants and definitely showed preference for plants that were not as far past peak bloom. However, the habitat was extensive—we could have wandered freely for hours on end without looking at the same plant twice (although that did not stop me from re-checking a few plants that were in peak bloom and seemed to be especially favored). The males were simply gorgeous—a bright, creamy orange that sadly takes on a dull quality in preserved specimens and with long black legs and antennae. The females are no dogs either, less strikingly orange due to the blue-black apical markings on the elytra, but certainly more robust than the males in a subspecies that is already one of the larger of the species. Temperatures climbed rapidly at this relatively southern and lower elevation locality compared to most of the others that we visited during the trip, so the beetles became quite active very quickly after we began to see them. I had only a short window of time in which to attempt field photographs, and while I’m not completely satisfied with the ones that I show here, they were the best that I could manage and still get the blue sky background that I desire for “beetles on flowers” photographs.

Sage grassland and gray rabbitbrush dominate the Owens Valley where C. coralinus caeruleipennis is found.

Gray rabbitbrush dominates the Owens Valley sage grassland where C. coralinus caeruleipennis occurs.

REFERENCE:

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

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

Clouded beetles amidst spectacular scenery

“Westerly from Westgard Pass is a view equaled in few parts of America. In the middle distance, a dozen miles away and nearly a mile below, lies the fertile Owens Valley, extending at right angles north and south over a hundred miles, and on the farther side, distant a score of miles, tower the snow-clad Sierras, with serrated crests and symmetric domes and peaks outlined against the sky at an approximate height of two and one-half miles vertical above the level of the ocean, and extending north and south far as the eye can see. The vision is rich reward for a journey of a thousand leagues.”—A. L. Westgard, March 1915

View of Westgard Pass from higher up in the White Mountains near Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

View to Westgard Pass from higher up in the White Mountains near Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

After a morning spent searching for Crossidius coralinus caeruleipennis (perhaps the most sublimely beautiful of the subspecies) in the high desert sage of the wide open Owens Valley floor near Bishop, California, we made the short drive south to Big Pine, turned sharply left, and began the slow, twisting ascent through a narrow gap between the White Mountains to the north and the Inyo Mountains to the south. Eventually reaching an elevation of 7,313 ft,  Westgard Pass serves as access to Earth’s oldest living things! and, in doing so, provides some of the most striking scenery in the entire Basin and Range Province of eastern California.

Westgard Pass, Inyo Co., California.

Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus (small plants with yellow flowers) host Crossidius hirtipes nubilus adults.

Field mate Jeff Huether and I no doubt wanted to see the grotesquely beautiful trees growing in Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and were happy to enjoy the magnificent scenery along the way, but our trek to Westgard Pass had also a strictly entomological purpose—to search for Crossidius hirtipes nubilus, among the most uniquely colored and geographically restricted of the C. hirtipes subspecies. Approaching the summit, the narrow, rocky gorge opened up to a broad expanse of pinyon/juniper woodland, and nestled among the ubiquitous sage we found the plant we were looking for—yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) in full bloom.

Crossidius hirtipes nubilus (male) on flowers of Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus.

Crossidius hirtipes nubilus (male) on flowers of Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus (field photo).

It took a while, however, before we found the beetles that we were looking for. Robust gray rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) plants in full bloom conspicuously dominated the roadsides and demanded our initial attentions, but our only reward was the widespread Crossidius ater. Not even a single Crossidius coralinus specimen could be claimed as consolation. Still, we knew the real quarry was further back from the roadsides, on the much smaller and less conspicuous yellow rabbitbrush that serves as an adult host for Crossidius hirtipes and most of its subspecies. Once we turned our attentions to these smaller plants we found the first adult fairly quickly, but precious few were seen considering the many plants that we examined until we finally zeroed in on one area just south of the summit where the beetles seemed to occur with slightly greater frequency. While not numerous, we eventually found enough beetles for us to declare, “Let’s go see the bristlecone pines!”

In addition to their longer antennae, males are distinguished by xxx.

In addition to longer antennae, males are distinguished by less extensive clouding (studio photo).

This subspecies is among the most distinctive of all the C. hirtipes subspecies due to the combination of dark reddish-brown coloration and extreme, dark clouded area of the elytra (Linsley & Chemsak 1961). It most closely resembles C. h. rhodopus, which occurs further north in the Mono Basin, but that subspecies is not as dark and lacks the extensive clouding of black on the apical portions of the elytra.

Females have the elytral markings xxx.

Females have the markings greatly expanded to almost completely cover the elytra (studio photo).

The dark clouding actually represents an expansion of the dark stripe found along the suture of the elytra of many C. hirtipes subspecies, most of which exhibit sexual dimorphism in the degree to which this stripe is developed. In some subspecies the stripe is present in the females but absent in the males, while in others the stripe is present in both but more fully developed in the female. In C. h. nubilus the sutural stripe reaches an extreme state of development, covering much of the apical two-thirds of the elytra in the male and being so greatly expanded in females that almost the entire elytra are covered except for two small subbasal patches revealing the ground color of the elytra.

REFERENCES:

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

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

Earth’s oldest living things!

Westgard Pass

A view down towards Westgaard Pass.

I’ve mentioned before that I am never happier than when I am in the field, especially when it’s an extended insect collecting trip. One problem I face on these trips, however, is the conflict between my desire to stay focused on the task at hand (collecting insects) versus indulging my broader natural history interests—landscapes, botany, geology, etc. The urge to explore increases the further west I go, as the landscape becomes more diverse and unfamiliar, and reaches its zenith in the king of landscapes that is California.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Approaching Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest from the south.

During our Great Basin collecting trip last August, field mate Jeff Huether and I visited the White Mountains near Bishop to look for Crossidius hirtipes nubilus, an isolated subspecies of longhorned beetle (family Cerambycidae) known only from the vicinity of Westgaard Pass. At 7,282′ elevation, the landscape around Westgaard Pass is beautiful enough, but we also knew that lying another 3,000′ above us was one of the most stunning landscapes that anyone even remotely interested in natural history could possibly imagine—Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (ABPF)!

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Entering the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

While Jeff had previously visited this magical place, I’d not yet had the chance despite my five years in California back in the 1990s (too many places, not enough time!). I had mentioned this to Jeff earlier in the trip, so with small but adequate series of C. hirtipes nubilus in our bottles Jeff suggested we take a break from insect collecting and visit ABPF. I was excited enough about the prospect of seeing these ancient trees, but I could not have anticipated just how bizarre and otherworldly a landscape we were about to see!

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Bristlecones growing in the harshest sites tend to be the longest-lived.

ABPF is, of course, named for the Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) that occur here, one of three closely related pine species found in scattered, high mountain localities across the western U.S. and widely regarded to be the longest-lived of any non-clonal organism. The oldest known individual tree in the world, measured in 2012 at 5,062 years of age, is a bristlecone that occurs at this very site (although its identity and precise location are kept secret—for sadly obvious reasons), and nearly two dozen additional trees exceeding 4,000 years of age are known to occur here as well. True—there are clonal plants such as creosote bush and quaking aspen that are believed to survive as distinct genotypes for longer periods of time. However, the individual plants themselves are short-lived and quickly replaced by new sprouts from the clonal root mat. A 6,000-year old clonal patch of aspen may be technically older than a 4,000-year old bristlecone, but in my mind only the latter is bona fide ancient!

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Most older bristlecones have trunks with large sections of exposed dead wood.

In the White Mountains, bristlecone pines are restricted to exposures of white dolomite (giving the mountains their name), usually between 10,000′ and 11,500′ in elevation. We could see the sharp demarcation between the white dolomite—heavily colonized by bristlecones—and non-dolomitic bedrock colonized by shrubs but devoid of pines as we approached ABPF from the south.

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Dead bristlecones stand with main limbs intact for centuries.

Great Basin bristlecones occur also in the Inyo Mountains and other high mountains sites in Nevada and Utah. Most of these other sites have milder climates that offer more favorable growing conditions for the trees, and as a result the trees at these sites grow faster but—ironically—also die younger (Lanner 1999). Greater moisture availability and soils with more organic matter favor denser stands of trees as well as a richer shrub layer. This results in a greater fuel load that can carry fires, which are generally absent in the White Mountains groves with their widely spaced trees and sterile, rock substrate. Moreover, the harsh, dry conditions in the White Mountains inhibit the growth of fungi that can penetrate and colonize trunks at injury points, and there is a general lack of other threats that exist at milder sites such as bark beetles, sapsuckers, and even porcupines!

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

Unlike other pines growing at high elevations, such as whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), which develops an almost shrubby, beaten-down form in the face of constant battering by fierce winter winds, Great Basin bristlecones grow solidly upright and develop massive branches supporting a spreading crown. As the trees get older, their outer branches become long and pendulous, drooping under the cumulative weight of numerous, tightly packed needle clusters that can remain on the tree for up to 40 years! (The needles of most pines are shed after just a few years.)

Pinus longaeva male catkins

Bright, reddish-brown male catkins emerge near the tips of the densely needeled branches.

Most of the trees at ABPF grow on steep slopes of barren dolomite with virtually no soil layer, and the trunks of older trees usually bear large sections of exposed dead wood. Over the course of their very long lives, erosion of the rocks on the steep slopes around them gradually exposes roots, killing them and resulting in death of the trunk sections and branches that they feed. In many cases nearly the entire trunk is dead, but the tree lives on in a narrow ribbon of living bark snaking or spiraling up the trunk and connecting the last surviving roots to a single living branch.

Pinus longaeva sapling

A bristlecone sapling represents the promise of enduring life in the face of harsh conditions.

Eventually death does come, but it can take centuries for the dry, cold air to decompose the standing carcass and even millenia for the hard, resinous wood to break down completely once the tree finally does fall. The oldest existing wood at ABPF has been dated to more than 9,000 years old! It is almost incomprehensible to imagine stepping over a log that began life as a sapling shortly after the last glacial retreat and the arrival of the first humans to step foot in North America!

Pinus longaeva cone

Bristlecones are named for, well.. the bristles on their cones!

Why do Great Basin bristlecones live so long? It’s tempting to presume that the dry, high elevation environment, with its long, harsh winters and short, cool growing season enables an unusually slow metabolism that somehow translates to longevity. There is no evidence to support this, however. Perhaps characteristics such as its extremely decay-resistant wood play a part, but there are a few other species of pine that are also extraordinarily long-lived, yet still fall far short of the great ages that can be attained by Great Basin bristlecone pine. These include limber pine (Pinus flexilis), which co-occurs with Great Basin bristlecone pine in the White Mountains, but this species maxes out at about 2,000 years of age. Likewise, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata) in Colorado can reach around 2,500 years of age. (Interestingly, limber pine occurs here as well, but in this area it reaches at best only about 1,500 years of age.) Even Great Basin bristlecones themselves growing at other sites, as noted above, are unable to match the longevity of the trees growing here in the White Mountains. Perhaps, as California conifer expert Ronald Lanner remarked, the question is not why these trees “live so long”, but why they “take so long to die”.

Bristlecone Pine Ancient Forest

A raven perches atop a fine, massively trunked specimen.

REFERENCE:

Lanner, R. M. 1999. Conifers of California. Cachuma Press, Los Olivos, California, 274 pp. [description].

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

Beetles by Chuck

A few months before his passing last August, Chuck Bellamy asked me if I was would like to have his photographic slide collection. I was, of course, deeply honored by this request, for in addition to becoming one of the most prolific students ever of jewel beetles, Chuck had for years photographed live adult beetles in the field and major type specimen holdings such as those at The Natural History Museum in London and the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris. As uncomfortable as it was discussing with him matters related to his impending mortality, I also knew that it was important to him that his slides end up in the hands of someone who would appreciate their great scientific value and, hopefully, make them available to the larger community of jewel beetle enthusiasts. A few weeks after he passed, three large, white, cardboard boxes showed up at my office—each one containing six or seven portfolio box binders with several hundred slides.

Chuck will be honored in an upcoming issue of The Coleopterists Bulletin. In addition to personal remembrances and a suite of papers describing new species of beetles named after him, the issue will feature some of Chuck’s best live adult images scanned from slides in the collection that I received. Choosing the photos was not easy, but I eventually narrowed down to 15 that I thought best represented the taxonomic diversity of jewel beetles, ranked them from most to least favorite, sent scanned images to fellow buprestophile Rick Westcott for him to do likewise, and tallied the combined rankings to determine the final selections. Six of the photos will appear on a plate within the issue, and a seventh will appear on the cover. I won’t spoil the surprise here by revealing what species were selected. Rather, I’ll just whet appetites by posting the photos that were not selected (despite which I think you’ll agree that they are still good photos).

Julodis chevrolati Laporte | Sep 2000, W. Springbok, Schaaprivier, Northern Cape Prov., RSA.

Julodis chevrolati Laporte | Sep 2000, W. Springbok, Schaaprivier, Northern Cape Prov., RSA.

Acmaeodera (s. str.) griffithi Fall | Apr 2001, Mohawk Valley, Yuma Co., Arizona, USA.

Acmaeodera (s. str.) griffithi Fall | Apr 2001, Mohawk Valley, Yuma Co., Arizona, USA.

Polycesta (Arizonica) aruensis Obenberger | Apr 2001, Frink Springs, Imperial Co., California, USA.

Polycesta (Arizonica) aruensis Obenberger | Apr 2001, Frink Springs, Imperial Co., California, USA.

Evides pubiventris  (Laporte & Gory) | Jan 1999, Geelhoutbosch, Northern [Limpopo] Prov., RSA.

Evides pubiventris (Laporte & Gory) | Jan 1999, Geelhoutbosch, Northern [Limpopo] Prov., RSA.

Castiarina klugii (Gory & Laporte) | Australia.

Castiarina klugii (Gory & Laporte) | Australia.

Temognatha chalcodera (Thomson) | Western Australia.

Temognatha chalcodera (Thomson) | Western Australia.

Sphaerobothris (s. str.) platti (Cazier) | 1998,  E. Jacumba, San Diego Co., California, USA.

Sphaerobothris (s. str.) platti (Cazier) | 1998, E. Jacumba, San Diego Co., California, USA.

Dystaxia elegans Fall | 1998, Warner Springs, San Diego Co., California, USA.

Dystaxia elegans Fall | 1998, Warner Springs, San Diego Co., California, USA.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014, photos by Charles L. Bellamy

The wondrously and eerily beautiful Mono Lake

During my recent Great Basin collecting trip, we stopped briefly at one of my favorite places in the world—Mono Lake in eastern California. My last visit was almost 20 years ago, so it was a thrill for me to see the strange tufa moonscape once again after so many years.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake has no eventual outlet to the ocean. As a result dissolved salts in runoff from the surrounding landscape have accumulated in the lake, resulting in water with high pH levels.

Mono Lake

The late day shadows created a black/white tufa landscape.

Mono Lake

Conservation actions have raised lake levels from their historical lows resulting from diversion of water to Los Angeles, but they have still not recovered to their former levels.

Mono Lake

I held the camera barely above the water’s surface to get this shot. It took several tries to get just a thin sliver of perfectly horizontal water. Yes, it would have been easier to hold the camera higher, look through the viewfinder and then crop, but I wanted the widest view possible (besides, doing that would seem like “cheating”).

Mono Lake

Tufa forms when calcium from underwater springs comes into contact with carbonates in the lake water, causing a chemical reaction that produces calcium carbonate (limestone). The calcium carbonate settles around the underwater spring and over time builds a tufa tower. This happens only underwater, and the tufa towers seen here are visible only because of the lowered lake level resulting from water diversion. Unless the lake level is restored completely, these towers are “dead” and will eventually erode away.

Mono Lake

Smoke and haze from the Rim Fire burning near Yosemite boils over the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake supports the second largest nesting population of California gulls after Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

Mono Lake

The water level at Mono Lake has dropped not only in recent years because of humans, but over several thousand years. At the end of the last ice age the water level was hundreds of feet higher than today and the lake 5 times its present size.

Mono Lake

Late day shadows, wildfire haze, and perfectly still waters create a surreal scene.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

GBCT Beetle #5: Crossidius coralinus monoensis

Crossidius coralinus monoensis (male) | Mono Co., California

Crossidius coralinus monoensis (male) | Mono Co., California

After spending the first four days of our Great Basin Collecting Trip (GBCT) traveling around west-central Nevada, we dropped down into California and traveled south next to the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada towards Mono Basin. We had two goals for the day: 1) a very localized population of Crossidius hirtipes known from “Kennedy Meadow” and described originally by Chemsak & Linsley (1959) as C. rhodopus flavescens but transferred to a subspecies of C. hirtipes in their revision of the genus (Linsley & Chemsak 1961), and 2) the stunningly beautiful C. coralinus monoensis! Before reaching the first destination, we were temporarily distracted by the inviting shores of Topaz Lake just after crossing the Nevada/California state line, where we found only a few extremely wary Cicindela oregona oregona darting across its muddy banks. We then spent a good portion of the day in a futile attempt to find C. h. flavescens—one of only two Crossidius subspecies we did not find out of the 16 species/subspecies that we had targeted for the trip. Our failure to find this subspecies was largely a consequence of going to “Kennedy Meadows” in Tuolumne Co. rather than “Kennedy Meadow” further to the south in Tulare Co.! (Note to self: pay attention not only to the name of the locality but also the county!)

Crossidius coralinus monoensis (female) | Mono Co., California

Crossidius coralinus monoensis (female) | Mono Co., California

As a consequence of the day’s distractions and diversions, we didn’t arrive at the C. coralinus monoensis locality until quite late in the day. Fortunately, we were looking for a C. coralinus subspecies rather than a C. hirtipes subspecies, as the latter seem to have the habit of retreating down from the flower heads of their host plants starting around 5 p.m. and not coming back up until mid-morning the following day. Crossidius coralinus subspecies, on the other hand, seem to stay put on the flower heads through the night, perhaps burying themselves inside the flower heads but not retreating down from the plant. As a result, they may still be found during the late afternoon and early evening hours. Because of this, we still had a chance of finding them (if they were there) despite our late arrival, and only a few minutes passed before I found a male (first photo) on flowers of gray rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa). The appearance was so strikingly different that I wasn’t even sure what I had found at first—I knew it wasn’t a C. hirtipes subspecies, but the bright orange coloration and relatively smaller size were quite different from the larger, red/black C. coralinus subspecies that I had seen to that point. Once I found a female, however (second photo), I realized that we had found C. coralinus monoensis.

Mono Basin near Mammoth Lakes (7000 ft)—locality for Crossidius coralinus monoensis

Mono Basin near Mammoth Lakes (7000 ft)—locality for Crossidius coralinus monoensis

This subspecies is immediately distinguishable from the C. c. temprans we were collecting further north in Nevada (and, in fact, most other C. coralinus subspecies) by its bright orange rather than dark red coloration. We found only a handful of individuals (as we did two days later when we passed by the site again), and their average size was considerably smaller than the former as well. The subspecies does greatly resemble C. c. caeruleipennis, found still further south at much lower elevations in Owen’s Valley (and a target for the following day) but differs by its smaller average size and presence of distinctly expanded black elytral markings and apical and basal black pronotal bands.

REFERENCES:

Chemsak, J. A. & E. G. Linsley. 1959. Descriptions of some new Cerambycidae from Mexico and southwestern United States. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 32(3):111–114 [preview].

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

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013