Back in mid-July, I was fortunate to have the chance to host a couple of beetle colleagues from out-of-state and to show them a few of Missouri’s premier habitats. Art Evans is a scarab specialist from Virginia who has published several books on beetles—most recently “Beetles of Eastern North America” and “Beetles of Western North America.” Bob Anderson is a weevil specialist from the Canadian National Collection in Ottawa. I’ve been in the field with Art a couple of times, both out west in Arizona, while this is my first time in the field with Bob. They are passing through as they work their way west for a 4-week collecting trip, and since neither has ever collected in Missouri it was a perfect opportunity to spend a few days together.
Sand Prairie Conservation Area
We met up at Sand Prairie Conservation Area in southeastern Missouri, which contains a high quality sand prairie remnant—one of Missouri’s rarest and most endangered natural communities. This is the place where a few years ago I discovered two scarab beetles not previously known to occur in Missouri—including Strategus antaeus (smooth ox beetle), the second largest beetle in eastern North America.
I was hoping there might still be jewel beetles (family Buprestidae) on the Quercus spp. (oaks) and Diospyros virginiana (persimmon) trees ringing the perimeter of the sand blowout area, and my hopes increased when I swept two Dicerca obscura off high branches of the latter. Those would be the last buprestids I saw there. Sweeping the high branches of Quercus marilandica (blackjack oak) and southern Q. falcata (red oak) produced only epitragine tenebrionids.
I looked for live individuals of S. antaeus but, as is typical, only saw bits and pieces of carcasses near the base of certain oaks. Under one I did collect an almost intact female carcass (missing only the head), and the head and pronotum of a super-major male.
Continued sweeping of high branches finally produced something besides epitragines—an Enoclerus sp. Returning to the vehicles, I exchanged my long-handled net for a sweep net and swept the Polygonellum americanum (American jointweed), collecting only a single Cryptocephalus sp. For their part, Bob and Art collected a small variety of beetles, including some weevils that Bob found interesting.
Otter Slough Conservation Area
After Art and Bob had seen enough of Sand Prairie, I took them to Otter Slough Conservation Area. This area features sloughs and wet bottomland forests where I’ve collected many good species, most notably Agrilus concinnus—formerly considered very rare until I determined it to be a later-season species associated with species of Hibiscus (rose mallow)—and an undescribed species of Taphrocerus that I’ve found on Carex hyalinolepis here but nowhere else in the state (despite finding the host plant). I alerted Art and Bob to these possibilities and started down the 2-track where I’ve seen these species before.
Unfortunately, the 2-track was completely overgrown to the point of being impassable (it’s been many years since I last walked it), so I opted instead to walk the perimeter of Mudsnake Marsh where I’ve also seen the two species. The marsh was dry—first time I’ve seen it like that, allowing me to check Hibiscus plants in the marsh interior as well as along the edge. No A. concinnus were seen on any of the plants—just a few Paragrilus tenuis and good numbers of Chaetocnema quadricollis (hibiscus flea beetle).
Failing to find A. concinnus, I swept the Carex along the perimeter on the edge of the wet bottomland forest side and even in a spot where I had collected Taphrocerus abundantly in previous years, but to no avail and finding instead only one chrysomelid. Collecting was slim at Sand Prairie, and it was even slimmer here at Otter Slough, so it appears seems we have definitely entered the “summer doldrums” stage of the collecting season—at least for beating and sweeping.
Holly Ridge Natural Area
After going into bearby Dexter to get a motel room and eat some dinner (Dexter Bar-B-Q pulled pork—pretty good!), I took Art and Bob to Holly Ridge Natural Area for an evening of blacklighting. I wanted to come here to 1) avoid the hoards of aquatic insects that would come to our sheets if we blacklighted at Otter Slough and 2) give myself a chance (however outside) of getting Saperda obliqua—known from only a single specimen collected at Hawn State Park but likely here as well due to the stands of Alnus serrulata (hazel alder).
Bob and Art agreed it looked like a good spot to blacklight when we arrived, so Art placed his light setup in the parking lot, while I placed mine about 100 meters into the mesic lowland deciduous forest. I had high hopes for the evening—it was warm (89°F) and humid, and we were two days past the full moon so moonlight would not be an issue for at least two hours after sunset.
A lot of insects ended up coming to the lights, but not a lot of cerambycids (and certainly not S. obliqua). Nevertheless, I picked up one Enaphalodes atomarius and a few Lepturges confluens, along with some telamonine treehoppers and other miscellaneous beetles—all at my light setup.
We also saw Elytrimitatrix undata and several other miscellaneous beetles on the trunk of a large standing Quercus sp., and E. atomarius and another E. undata at Art’s lights, all of which I let him collect. He was also happy to see the many Lucanus capreolus and Neocicada hieroglyphica that came to both our lights. By 10:30 pm few additional insects were coming to the lights, so we broke them down and heads back to Dexter.
Long Bald Glade Natural Area
It took us all morning to drive across southern Missouri to reach this near the easternmost limits of the White River Hills, a fantastic region in the extreme southwest of Missouri featuring dry oak/juniper woodland surrounding extensive dolomite glades atop rounded knobs. It is my favorite region of the state for collecting insects, and I wanted Art and Bob to see the area before they continue on to western Texas. I also have jug traps and a Lindgren funnel trap placed here, so coming here would give me a chance to service them before checking the rest during the next two days on the way back to St. Louis.
By the time we arrived, temperatures were already soaring, and I was disappointed to see that conditions were very dry. Nevertheless, you never know how collecting will be until you try. I started out by checking the Lindgren funnel trap, which I had placed in actively-restored dry post oak woodland and was pleased to see a variety of beetles, including a series of Neoclytus scutellatus. In addition to re-baiting with ethanol-only, I added a pheromone lure (Fuscumol Lure MR, #P655-MR, Chemtica International) to the trap to increase the attractiveness of the trap to cerambycids.
The ethanol/red wine trap had a nice variety of beetles that caught the attention of Art and Bob and included Plinthocoelium suaveolens, Stenelytrana emarginata, Eburia quadrigeminata, undetermined elaphidiines, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, Cnephus mutilatus, miscellaneous beetles, and a cicada. The ethanol-only trap, however, was much less productive, yielding no cerambycids and just one E. sepulchralis, a few C. mutilatus, and some miscellaneous beetles. This continues the trend noticed four weeks ago during the first round of trap collections, when it appeared that the ethanol/red wine traps yielded higher numbers and diversity of not only beetles but also bycatch of other insects (primarily moths, flies, and wasps), suggesting that red wine possesses additional components attractive to beetles that more than make up for the reduction in ethanol content resulting from mixing the two.
The condition of the glade vegetation was extremely dry, and as I walked between the traps I didn’t see a single plant in bloom. I encountered Bob on the way back to the car and mentioned this to him, and I suggested to both Art and Bob that instead of spending time here we should look at locations further west that may have gotten more rain. They agreed, so we cut our visit short and headed further west.
Mincy Conservation Area
As we traveled west, we passed two locations where I had placed traps, but the entire area still looked exceedingly dry so we didn’t stop. By the time we reached Branson, however, conditions looked much better, and I suggested to Art and Bob that we visit Mincy Conservation Area just south of town since we were now in an area that looked like it had received some rain. Mincy is another of my favorite localities in this area due to the presence of high-quality dolomite glades, and in fact it is one of the localities where I have placed jug traps. Beetle numbers and diversity were much higher in the ethanol/red wine trap, which had Plinthocoelium suaveolens, Eburia quadrigeminata, elaphidiines, Neoclytus scutellatus, Strangalia luteicornis, Acmaeoderatexana, Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, elaterids, Cnephus mutilatus, mordellids, and a cicada, while the ethanol-only trap yieldedmost of the same but in lower numbers. While servicing the traps, I noticed an Acmaeodera on the flower of Liatris hirsuta (hairy blazingstar). I at first assumed it was A. pulchella, a common summertime species here, but looking more closely at it I realized it was A. texana, a very uncommon species in Missouri that I have not seen for many years. I looked at other Liatris flowers but didn’t see any, so I swept the surrounding herbaceous vegetation of this xeric dolomite prairie and found one more (plus a few chrysomelids). We had originally planned to go further west to Roaring River State Park for an evening of blacklighting. Hiwever, seeing that the vegetation looked good here and that the area had obviously gotten some rain, I suggested that we stay here instead of taking a chance on moving to an area where we were not sure what conditions were like. This also would allow us to spend more time collecting—we could go into Branson for dinner and return here quickly rather than driving another hour to Roaring River. Art and Bob agreed this was a good idea, so we headed into town and enjoyed Mexican cuisine at Los Poblanos (I had crispy tacos and, in a true rarity, resisted the siren call of the beans, rice, chips and salsa that would have totally derailed my 3-week stretch of healthy eating).
We returned with still about an hour before it would start getting dark, so I decided to continue sweeping the glade vegetation to look for more Acmaeodera texana. I paid particular attention to any flowers (primarily Liatris hirsuta and Rudbeckia missouriensis), since those were the plants most likely to have the beetles on them. Most sweeps, while not yielding A. texana, did produce hispine leaf beetles in the genera Anisostena and Microrhopala—certainly interesting enough to collect and motivate me to continue sweeping. After going through one particular area and looking at the sweep contents on the net, I saw the unmistakable shape of an Agrilus. This was not, however, just any Agrilus, but rather A. impexus—one of North America’s rarest Buprestidae! I recognized it because some years ago I received two specimens from another person who collected them sweeping prairie vegetation at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in west-central Missouri. I identified them as this species but noted they were much larger than specimens collected commonly in the southwestern U.S. I sent the specimens to Henry Hespenheide, who not only confirmed their identity but also determined they were not conspecific with a more common but as yet undescribed southwestern species going under the same name. In reality, true A. impexus is very rare, known from only a handful of specimens—most many decades old—collected in the tallgrass as prairie region of the central U.S., and the common but unnamed southwestern species was described as A. paraimpexus. I have swept tallgrass prairies abundantly ever since but failed to find the species—until now. I alerted Art and Bob to the find and worked up to the brink of darkness sweeping the area to look for more. I never did, but Bob, on his last sweep of vegetation before closing darkness, found another (right in the same area where I had collected mine)!
As exciting as this find was, darkness prevented continuing to look for it, and I had to take advantage of what little light remained to setup my lights. I felt a few sprinkles as I did this but didn’t think much about it, assuming it would pass, and fired up the generator. The sprinkles continued, however, and gradually increased to the point where I worried about the mercury-vapor bulb. Art had also set up his lights but waited on turning on the mercury-vapor light, and together we hoped against hope that it would blow over and we would be able to proceed with blacklighting. It was all in vain though, as temps continued to drop and light sprinkles turned to steady drizzle. With darkness well developed and absolutely no insects flying around the ultraviolet lights (which we had left on, it was clear that it would be pointless to continue. With that, we took our lights down and said our goodbyes, as their plans were to head towards Texas in the morning while I went to Roaring River to begin checking the rest of my jug traps as I worked my way back to St. Louis. It seemed an inappropriately inauspicious end to an otherwise successful stop and fun trip with two exceptional coleopterists. I’m already looking forward to the next chance I get to spend time in the field with each of them!
Roaring River State Park—Chute Ridge Glade
First stop of the day to service jug traps, and the area has apparently gotten more rain as the glade vegetation looked reasonably lush. I was hoping to see more Glycobius speciosus here after getting a single individual in the ethanol/red wine trap last time, but that was not the case. The trap was, however, still full of beetles, including numerous Plinthocoelium suaveolens and a variety of other longhorns such as Eburia quadrigeminata, Elytrimitatrix undatus, and elaphidiines, scarabs like Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, and E. sepulchralis, and other beetles such ad elaterids, one Chrysobothris chlorocephala?, one Chariessa pilosa, mordellids, and Cnestus mutilatus. The ethanol-only trap, as before, had fewer individuals and lower diversity. Between checking the traps, I swept the herbaceous glade vegetation and didn’t get much, but after checking the second trap I swept along the roadside and got five more Agrilus impexus, effectively doubling the known series of this species! I was very happy to have collected more of this very rare species after the two that Bob and I collected yesterday at Mincy Conservation Area.
Hercules Glades Wilderness
The jug traps here didn’t produce much last time, and I wasn’t expecting much this time either. The ethanol/red wine trap had Plinthocoelium suaveolens, Eburia quadrigeminata, a few elaphidiines, one Cotinis nitida, several Euphoria fulgida, a couple of elaterids, and a clerid, while the ethanol-only trap had one cicada, one elaterid, and one miscellaneous beetle. I also collected Cicindela sexguttata and Cicindelidia rufiventris on the rocky-clay path through dry oak-juniper woodland; however, sweeping the herbaceous glade vegetation produced nothing. The area has been quite dry, but I believe the low trap numbers are also due to the lack of vegetational diversity here due to the lack of any management via prescribed burns.
There is lots of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) at this Mark Twain National Forest site along Hwy 160 in Taney Co., and last time I checked the jug traps here there was already Plinthocoelium suaveolens in them. As a result, I expected to see lots of them this time, and such was the case. The ethanol/red wine trap had nearly three dozen P. suaveolens along with Stenelytrana emarginata, Eburia quadrigeminata, a few elaphidiines, Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, and elaterids m. The ethanol-only trap had far fewer P. suaveolens (only 2) but similar numbers and diversity of other beetles. The area looks quite dry, but I swept the herbaceous glade vegetation anyway in hopes that I would find more Agrilus impexus. I did not, but I did collect about a dozen Taphrocerus “howardi” (the quotation marks are a story for another day), which was surprising to me given how crispy brown the vegetation looked.
Bald Hill Glade Natural Area
This was my best locality last time in terms of trap numbers (at least the ethanol/red wine trap, not so much the ethanol-only trap). This is also one of two localities where I have a Lindgren funnel trap, which had a nice diversity of cerambycids (Neoclytus scutellatus, Eburia quadrigeminata, Aegomorphus modestus, Xylotrechus colonus, an elaphidiine, and an undet. cerambycid), scarabs (Cotinis nitida, Anomala sp.), elaterids, (scolytines (C. mutilatus), and other miscellaneous beetles. The area looked quite dry—both in the glade proper and in the surrounding dry upland deciduous forest, but trap numbers (again, only in the former) were incredible. In fact, there were so many beetles in the ethanol/red wine trap that I skipped sorting them in the field and brought the whole unsorted catch back to the car to sort out later. Part of this decision was due to the dark line of clouds I noticed to the north and that seemed to be moving closer. I hustled to the ethanol-only trap and quickly sorted its much sparser contents (only three Plinthocoelium suaveolens and a few E. quadrigeminata, E. fulgida, and elaterids), all the time keeping an eye on the approaching front. As I started the half-mile hike back, the winds really started picking up and the temps began to drop, and it became clear it would be a race to reach the car before the skies opened up. There isn’t much that phases me when I’m out in the field, but bushwhacking a half-mile stretch of abandoned, overgrown 2-track under dark, ominous clouds and with increasingly gusty winds had me feeling a bit nervous. I almost made it to the car before the rain started but did get wet in the final stretch. Still, I was able to get out of the area and back onto asphalt before the real deluge started. All traps were re-baited with the same bait, and a pheromone lure (Fuscumol Lure MR, #P655-MR, Chemtica International) was added to the Lindgren funnel. Sweeping herbaceous glade vegetation leading to the ethanol-red wine trap produced only a single Exema sp.
That evening in the hotel room, I sorted the contents of the ethanol/red wine trap and recovered a nice diversity of cerambycids (Plinthocoelium suaveolens, Stenelytrana emarginata, Enaphalodes atomarius, Eburia quadrigeminata, Neoclytus scutellatus, Lepturges confluens, and elaphidiines), one Chrysobothris sp., numerous cetoniine scarabs (Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, E. herbacea, E. sepulchralis), elaterids, and Cnestus mutilatus, a mordellid, and two miscellaneous beetles.
Peck Ranch Conservation Area
I wasn’t optimistic about the jug traps here, since it was rather unremarkable dry-mesic upland deciduous forest—a last minute replacement locality for a dolomite glade that I could not access due to a closed gate. The area got a good rain last night and looked lush anyway, and as it turned out there were huge numbers of beetles in the ethanol/red wine trap. These included one Plinthocoelium suaveolens—unexpected, since I didn’t think there was any gum bumelia in the area, a nice series of Stenelytrana emarginata, lots of Eburia quadrigeminata, Cotinis nitida, and Euphoria fulgida, single specimens of Neoclytus scutellatus, Strangalia luteicornis, and Batyle suturalis, Euphoria sepulchralis, Trigonopeltastes delta, and Chrysobothris sp., and a handful of elaterids, Cnestus mutilatus, and other miscellaneous beetles. As at most previous spots, the ethanol-only trap had fewer numbers and lower diversity of beetles, although this did include one Lepturges sp. not caught yet in ethanol/red wine. Given the success with sweeping at previous spots (Agrilus impexus as two locations and Taphrocerus “howardi” at the last one), I decided sweep the herbaceous roadside vegetation in this dry mesic upland deciduous forest and got singletons of Taphrocerus nicolayi, Acmaeodera pulchella, and Exema sp.—the Taphrocerus definitely making the effort worthwhile.
Stegall Mountain Natural Area
I was not a fan of this spot when I set the traps in mid-May given the fact that the spot and a large surrounding area had been recently burned. Despite that, I did get Purpuricenus in one of the traps last time, so I was more optimistic about it this time. As with the previous spot the area looked lush and got good rain yesterday, and as with the previous spot there were huge numbers of beetles in the ethanol/red wine trap, the most exciting of which were Stenelytrana emarginata, Purpuricenus humeralis, and Knulliana “spinifera” (I think this may actually be an undescribed species). Other longhorns in the trap included lots of Eburia quadrigeminata, Neoclytus scutellatus (may include a few N. mucronatus), and elaterids and small numbers of Batyle suturalis, Enaphalodes atomarius, Lepturges sp., Chrysobothris/Actenodes, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, Cnestus mutilatus and other miscellaneous beetles. I was especially happy to see Purpuricenus once again—the first of this trip. Again, the ethanol-only trap had fewer numbers and lower diversity of beetles, but this did include a single specimen of Phaenops aeneola—only the second known Missouri specimen (I collected the first many years ago at this very location)! Sweeping herbaceous vegetation in the xeric rhyolite prairie around Trap A and dry oak/pine woodland around Trap B produced nothing, but doing so along the roadside in the oak/pibe woodland produced Microrhopala vittata and Exema sp.
Russell Mountain, Jakk’s Glade
This area also looked lush and got more good rains last night. The ethanol/red wine trap was down last time (not vandalized, I just failed to tie the knot on the carabiner securely), so I was anxious to see what it might produce. Like the previous spots on this side of the state, there were huge numbers of beetles in it, including Stenelytrana emarginata, Purpuricenus humeralis, Eburia quadrigeminata, Knulliana “spinifera”, Neoclytus scutellatus (may include a few N. mucronatus), Enaphalodes atomarius, Strangalia luteicornis, undetermined elaphidiines, Chrysobothris sp., Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, E. sepulchralis, and undetermined elaterids (including many very tiny ones that I didn’t collect). The large series of Purpuricenus was unexpected and quite nice and means I’ve now collected species in this genus in all three of the igneous glades where I placed traps (but none in any of the dolomite glades—the opposite of what I expected given the number of individuals of this genus I’ve bait-trapped over the years at dolomite glades in Jefferson Co.). I was also surprised and happy to see the Knulliana, which I think is actually an undescribed species—they looked very similar coming out of the trap as the much more abundant Eburia, so I’ll have to check the collected specimens (both from here and other locations) more closely to see if there are other specimens that I’ve counted as Eburia. As expected, the ethanol-only trap again had far fewer numbers and lower diversity of the same species plus a single Lepturges sp. (same as the previous location). Both traps were re-baited with the same bait, though I started to doubt the value of continuing the bait comparison when ethanol/red wine already seemed far superior to ethanol-only. In the end, I decided to continue the continue the comparisons to allow for the possibility of other species later in the season that might show a different preference (and to allow publication of the study data even if this is not the case). Disappointingly, sweeping herbaceous vegetation in the xeric igneous prairie around both traps produced nothing.
Hughes Mountain Natural Area
Again, like the previous spots today, the area looks lush and got more rain last night, but the numbers of beetles in the ethanol-red wine trap was not quite as overwhelming as in other locations. Nevertheless, there still a lot and two very good species : Sphenostethus taslei and Purpuricenus paraxillaris! I’ve only seen the former once before in a bait trap at Victoria Glades, and I’m always happy to see more individuals of the latter (the first new species I ever discovered!). Other beetles in the trap were Eburia quadrigeminata, an undetermined elaphidiine, Strangalia luteicornis, Typocerus velutinus, Xylotrechus colonus, Cotinis nitida, Euphoria fulgida, and various elaterids (including many tiny ones that I didn’t collect). In what is becoming a familiar refrain, the ethanol-only trap again had lower numbers and diversity, with Cnestus mutilatus being the only species not also caught in the ethanol/red wine-baited trap. Sweeping herbaceous vegetation, both in xeric igneous prairie around Trap A and dry post oak woodland around Trap B, produced nothing. This was the last location I was able to visit this day because of the unexpectedly large amount of time it took to sort the large numbers of beetles in many of the traps, so I saved the last two locations for the next day.
St. Joe State Park
Like other areas on this side of the state, the vegetation was lush and got even more rain two nights ago. I’d been very anxious to see this spot, as there is lots of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) in the small xeric dolomite glades remnants and extensive surrounding areas of restored dry post oak woodland, which promise to yield Plinthocoelium suaveolens. Unfortunately, the ethanol/red wine trap was completely missing—not fallen or pulled down by raccoons, but more likely stolen by humans (I probably should have placed this trap further away from the nearby paved bicycle trail). This is first case of trap theft I’ve experienced in a long time. If they had to steal one of the traps, I wish it would have been the ethanol-only trap rather than the ethanol/red wine trap—the former haven’t produced nearly as well as the latter, thus the loss of data would have been less. The ethanol-only trap had only a few beetles representing E. quadrigeminata, Batyle suturalis, Dichelonyx sp., Elateridae, and Cnestus mutilatus. I did not replace the ethanol/red wine trap, but instead re-baited the ethanol-only trap with ethanol/red wine. This means I will need to drop this location from the bait comparison analysis, but I wanted to give myself the best chance for trapping Plinthocoelium, and ethanol/red wine is clearly the better bait for accomplishing this. Sweeping herbaceous vegetation in the xeric dolomite prairie near Trap A and dry post oak woodland around Trap B produced nothing, but I did see an impressive Mydas tibialis (golden legged mydas fly) visiting flowers of Eryngium yuccifolium (rattlesnake master) in the dry post oak woodland.
Salt Lick Point Land & Water Preserve
This is the only locality in Illinois that I placed traps—specifically because last fall I saw good numbers of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia), host for Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer), and one in particular that showed signs of active infestation. Plinthocoelium has not been recorded from Illinois, so a voucher specimen will be important for publishing the record. The area apparently had gotten decent rains to this point, with vegetation in the woodlands looking lush and that in more exposed situations showing a tinge of wilt. Anticipation turned to disappointment when I looked inside the ethanol/red wine trap (placed right next to the infested bumelia tree) and saw lots of Eburia quadrigeminata and elaphidiines but only one Neoclytus acuminatus and no Plinthocoelium or other cerambycids. The infested teee was again churning out frass at the base of the trunk, so the infestation remains active—I will consider bringing screen with me next time so I can place a skirt around the base of the tree and check periodically for the adult once it emerges. In addition to the cerambycids noted above, the ethanol/red wine had Cotinis nitida, Enoclerus sp., Elateridae, Cnestus mutilatus, and other miscellaneous beetles. The ethanol-only trap had lower numbers of beetles, with Neoclytus scutellatus and Lepturges sp. being the only longhorns not represented in the ethanol/red wine trap. Interestingly, the trap also contained a few Buprestidae, which have been scarce in traps to this point (Actenodes sp.—prob. A. acornis or A. simi, Anthaxia sp.—prob. A. cyanella or A. dichroa, and Agrilus sp. Both traps were re-baited with ethanol-red wine to increase the likelihood of picking up P. suaveolens during the remainder of this season, and I will accordingly drop this locality from the bait comparison analysis (along with St. Joe State Park due to the ethanol-red wine trap being stolen) as well, thus limiting the analysis to the remaining 10 locations in Missouri.
Sweeping herbaceous vegetation in the dry hilltop prairie near the traps produced nothing, but I did find a dead Lucanus capreolus (reddish brown stag beetle) dead on the trail though the dry-mesic upland deciduous forest leading up the them.
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
Today the WGNSS Botany Group ventured into Illinois for its Monday field trip to explore the limestone bluffs and hilltop prairies of Salt Lick Point Land & Water Reserve. This being the first day of autumn, goldenrods and other fall-blooming plants in the great family Asteraceae were expected to dominate the flora, which indeed was the case. Along the steep, rocky trail leading up to the prairies, Solidago buckleyi (Buckley’s goldenrod) and S. ulmifolia (elmleaf goldenrod) bloomed together in the dry-mesic deciduous forest. The former is a near-Missouri specialty, extending just barely into nearby portions of four adjacent states, and can be distinguished by its relatively larger flowers on columnar inflorescences with recurved involucral bracts and its relatively broad leaves with distinct teeth.
As we walked the trail, I heard several cicadas singing, starting with Megatibicen pronotalispronotalis (Walker’s annual cicada) near the bottom and Neotibicen robinsonianus (Robinson’s annual cicada) as we ascended, the latter eventually joined also N. lyricens (lyric cicada). Carcasses of the latter two were also seen along the trail (confirming my IDs based on their songs), and as we reached the second of three significant hilltop prairie remnants Kathy found a live male M. pronotalis in the low vegetation. It’s noisy, rattling alarm screeching as I held it attracted a crowd of gawkers within the group and a flurry of photographs before I secured the specimen in a pill bottle and recorded the location. Like most cicadas, only the males are capable of making sound, which they do by rapidly expanding and contracting hard membranes called tymbals that reside under distinctive plates found on the venter at the base of the abdomen.
Goldenrods were blooming profusely in the prairie, attracting numerous insects including Lycomorpha pholus (black-and-yellow lichen moths)—a mimic of netwinged beetles in the genus Lycus.
As the trail continued along the blufftops, we found a true bluff specialty—Solidago drummondii (bluff or Drummond’s goldenrod). Like S. buckleyi, this species also is very nearly a Missouri endemic and is found exclusively on or very near limestone/dolomite bluffs. It’s habitat and very wide, toothed leaves on short petioles easily distinguish this species from other goldenrods.
In the interface between the dry-mesic deciduous forest and another hilltop prairie, we saw a nice patch of Agalinis tenuifolia (slender false foxglove), distinguished by its thin, branching stems, opposite, linear leaves with long, thin pedicels, and small flowers with upper lip arching over and enclosing the stamens.
As I photographed the plant, I heard others in the group on the prairie saying “We need an entomologist,” and as I approached the group I found them surrounding a Brickellia eupatorioides (false boneset) hosting two individuals of the large, black planthopper, Poblicia fulginosa. Although normally very wary, both individuals cooperated nicely for photos, and I succeeded in capturing a photo showing the bright red markings on their abdomen in obvious contrast to the otherwise dark, somber coloration of the insect. In fact, the dorsal portion of the abdomen is entirely bright red, presumably serving a “flash coloration” function similar to the brightly colored abdomen of jewel beetles or hind wings of underwing moths to confuse potential predators by its high visibility in flight and sudden disappearance when the insect lands and folds its wings over the abdomen.
As we continued past the hilltop prairie, several individuals of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia or woolly buckthorn) were found along the dry ridgetop trail. Whenever I see S. lanuginosum, I look for signs of Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer)—arguably North America’s most beautiful longhorned beetle. No signs were seen at the first tree, but at the second the telltale frass (digested sawdust ejected by the larvae that bore through the main roots of living trees) was easily spotted at the base of the trunk. This beetle is distributed across the southeastern and south-central U.S. wherever it’s host can be found, occurring reliably as far north as the dolomite glades south of St. Louis; however, I am unaware of any records of this beetle from Illinois.
After a long, steep, rocky descent back down, we found many more S. drummondii perched poetically on the vertical limestone bluff face at the bottom.
The walk back to the parking lot gave us the opportunity to study several additional fall-blooming asters including Solidago altissimum (tall goldenrod), S. gigantea (giant goldenrod), Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke), and Smallanthia uvedalia (bearsfoot). While H. tuberosus is easily recognized by gestalt, John Oliver pointed out the main identifying characters that distinguish the species from the mutitude of other sunflowers such as leaves becoming alternate at the upper reaches of the stem, the rough, scabrous stem, and the basal “wings” on the distal portion of the leaf petioles, particularly the lower leaves.
Smallanthia uvedalia, on the other hand, is much less common but immediately recognizable by its unique flower heads with few, well-spaced ray florets and large, maple-like leaves.
At the beginning of the season I was planning to spend the first week of June collecting insects in southeastern New Mexico. Family issues intervened, however, and left me with a week of vacation time and no plans on how to use it. I’ve never been one to not use vacation time, so I quickly came up with a backup plan—a Friday here and a Monday there to create several 3–4 day weekends. Long weekends may not allow travel to far off and exotic places, but they do allow me to travel a bit further than I would for a regular weekend. I also took advantage of my frequent travel for work to stop off at favorite collecting sites for an evening of blacklighting (much more fun than sitting in a hotel room) or a half-day in the field before getting back home. I always have my big camera with me for serious insect photography when the opportunity arises, but I also take frequent iPhone snapshots to document the “flavor” of my time in the field. In previous years, I’ve collected snapshots from my extended trips into “iReports”, which were later followed by posts featuring subjects that I spent “quality camera time” with (see 2013 western Oklahoma, 2013 Great Basin, and 2014 Great Plains). I’ve decided to do the same thing now, only instead of a single trip this report covers an entire summer. I realize few people have the patience for long-reads; nevertheless, enough readers have told me that they like my trip reports and all of their gory details to make this a worthwhile exercise. If you’re not among them, scan the photos—all of which were taken with a stock iPhone 5S and processed using Photoshop Elements version 11—and you’re done!
Searching for the Ghost Tiger Beetle
Central/Northwest Missouri (12–14 June 2015)
In mid-June my good friend, colleague, and fellow cicindelophile Chris Brown and I followed the Missouri River Valley across the state and and up along its northwestern border to visit previously known and potentially new sites for Ellipsoptera lepida—the Ghost Tiger Beetle. We first saw this lovely white species back in 2000 while visiting some of the large sand deposits laid down in central and east-central Missouri by the 1993 flood. In the years since these sites have become increasingly encroached by forests of eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), making them less and less suitable for the beetle (it also remains one of only two tiger beetles known to occur in Missouri that I have not yet photographed). In the meantime several new sand deposits have been laid down in northwestern Missouri by flooding in 2011, so the question has come up whether the beetle has yet occupied these new sites. We started out at a couple of potentially new sites in east-central Missouri (and did not find the beetle), then went to one of two known sites in central Missouri. We did not find the beetle there either, but we did find this eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos).
Hognose snakes are well known for their vaired repertoire of defensive behaviors—from flattening of the head and hissing to rolling over and playing dead (a behavior called thanatosis)—the latter behavior often accompanied by bleeding from the mouth and even defecating onto itself. This one, however, was content to simply flatten its head and hiss, its tongue constantly flickering.
The flattened head is an attempt by the snake to make itself appear larger and more imposing.
Standing its ground as tenaciously as it did, I took advantage of the opportunity to close in tight and take a burst series of photos, which I used to create this animated gif of the snake’s constantly flickering tongue.
After an evening of driving to northwest Missouri and a stay in one of our favorite local hotels (eh hem…), we awoke to find the scene below at our first destination.
Ted MacRae & Chris Brown look out over a flooded Thurnau Conservation Area, Holt Co.
No tiger beetles there! What to do now. One thing I love about modern times is the ability to pull out the smart phone and scan satellite images of the nearby landscape. Doing this we were able to locate a large sand deposit just to the south and navigate local, often unmarked roads to eventually wind up at a spot where we could access the area on foot. But before we did this we needed gas, and the only gas station for miles was a Sinclair station with a bona fide, original green dinosaur—one of the most potent and iconic corporate symbols ever! I remember these from my childhood, but this is the first one I’ve seen in years.
An authentic Sinclair dinosaur guards the only gas station for miles.
Rain the night before had made the roads muddy, and it was only with some difficulty that we finally located a way to access the sand deposits we had seen on the satellite images. Even then we needed to hike a half-mile to access the sand plain, but once we got there this is what we saw:
Sand plain deposited 2011 along Missouri River, Thurnau Conservation Area, Holt Co.
At first we were optimistic—the habitat looked perfect for not only E. lepida but also the more commonly seen Cicindela formosa generosa (Eastern Big Sand Tiger Beetle) and, at least in this area, C. scutellaris lecontei (LeConte’s Tiger Beetle). We saw no adults however, as we searched the plain, and we wondered if the cool, cloudy conditions that lingered from the previous evening’s storms were suppressing adult activity. After awhile, however, we noted that we hadn’t even found evidence of larval burrows, and that is when we began to think that maybe four years wasn’t long enough for populations to establish in such a vast expanse of new habitat. Eventually Chris did find a single E. lepida adult—a nice record but certainly not evidence of a healthy population.
Seemingly perfect habitat, but void of active adults or evidence of larval burrows.
The next sand plain we visited was a little further north at Corning Conservation Area, also in Holt Co. and also laid down by the 2011 flood. Once again we saw no active tiger beetles in the area, and by this point we were convinced that the species were not just inactive but had not yet even colonized the plains. It should be noted that large sand expanses such as these actually are not exactly a natural process, but rather the result of river channeling and the use of levees to protect adjacent farmland. Before such existed, the river existed as an intricate system of braided channels that rarely experienced catastrophic flooding. Nowadays, with the river confined to a single, narrow channel, the river valley doesn’t experience a normal ebb and flow of water. Only when water levels reach such extreme levels in the narrow channel that they breach a levee does the adjacent valley flood, with the area immediately downstream from the levee breach receiving huge amounts of sand and mud scoured from the breach zone. Tiger beetle species adapted to ephemeral sand plain habitats along big rivers probably
Another sand plain deposited in 2011 at Corning Conservation Area, Holt. Co.
Cottonwoods and willows were already colonizing the edge of the plain, and the latter were heavily infested by large blue leaf beetles. As far as I know the only species of Altica in Missouri associated with willow is A. subplicata, although admittedly it is a large, diverse genus and there could be other willow-associates within the state that I am unaware of. The beetles seemed especially fond of the smaller plants (1–3′ in height), while taller plants were relatively untouched.
Beetles congregated heavily on smaller willow plants.
Despite the heavy adult feeding we could find no larvae on the foliage.
Few other insects were seen. I did see a large, standing, dead cottonwood (Populus deltoides) and checked it out hoping hoping to find a Buprestis confluenta adult or two on its naked trunk (a species I found for the first time last year and still have yet to find in Missouri, although it is known from the state). No such luck, but I did collect a couple of large mordellids off of the tree. Let me say also that there were some interesting other plants in the area…
Wild hemp (Cannabis sativa)
After satisfying ourselves that Corning also was not yet colonized by the tiger beetles, we drove further north into Atchison Co., the northwesternmost county in the state, to check out one more sand plain deposited by the 2011 flood at Nishnabotna Conservation Area. The sand plain at this area was much smaller than the two previous plains we had visited, and it was also far less accessible, requiring a bushwhacking hike through thick vegetation that was quite rank in some areas. Nevertheless, we soldiered on, motivated by the hope that maybe the third time would be a charm and we would find the beetles that we were searching for. The hike was not all bad—eagles were abundant in the area, and in one distant tree we could see a female perched near her nest with two large nestlings sitting in it. The passing storm system and sinking sun combined to create a rainbow that arched gracefully over the tree with the nest, resulting in one of the more memorable visions from the trip.
Rainbow over eagle’s nest (tree is located at left one-third of photo).
By the time we got close enough to get a better photograph of the nest the female had departed, but the two nestlings could still be seen sitting in the nest. Sadly, the rather great effort we made to hike to the sand plain was not rewarded with any tiger beetles, and in fact the sand plain was little more than a narrow, already highly vegetated ridge that will probably be completely encroached before the tiger beetles ever find it.
Eagles in nest
Ellipsoptera lepida was not the only tiger beetle we were hoping to see on the trip. The Sandy Stream Tiger Beetle, E. macra, has also been recorded from this part of the state, and being members of the genus Ellipsoptera both species can be attracted to lights at night. In one last effort to see either of these species, we went to Watson Access on the Nishnabotna River, near its confluence with the Missouri River. Thunder clouds retreating to the east were illuminated by the low hanging sun to the west, creating spectacular views in both directions. Unfortunately, the insect collecting at the blacklights after sunset was not near as interesting as the sky views that preceded it.
Sunset lit thunderclouds to the east…
… and a bright colored sunset to the west on the Nishnabotna River, Atchison Co.
The next day we had to start making our way back to St. Louis. But while we were in the area we decided to check on the status of one of Missouri’s rarest tiger beetles, Parvindela celeripes (formerly Cylindera celeripes)—the Swift Tiger Beetle. Not known to occur in Missouri until 2010, this tiny, flightless species is apparently restricted in the state to just three small remnants of loess hilltop prairie in Atchison and Holt Counties. We were close to one of these—Brickyard Hill Conservation Area (where Chris and I first discovered the beetles) so stopped by to see if adults were active and how abundant they were. To our great surprise, we found adults active almost immediately upon entering the site, and even more pleasantly surprising the adults were found not just in the two small areas of the remnant where we had seen them before but also in the altered pasture (planted with brome for forage) on the hillside below the remnant (foreground in photo below). This was significant in our minds, as it was the very first time we have observed this beetle in substantially altered habitat. The beetle was observed in relatively good numbers as well, bolstering our hopes that the beetles were capabale of persisting in these small areas and possibly utilized altered pastureland adjacent to the remnants.
Brickyard Hill Conservation Area, loess hilltop prairie habitat for Parvindela celeripes
As we made our way back towards St. Louis, there was one more site created by the 1993 flood where we observed E. lepida in the early 2000s that we wanted to check out and see how the beetle was doing. In the years since we first came to Overton Bottoms, much of its perimeter has converted to cottonwood forest; however, a large central plain with open sand exposures and bunch grasses persists—presumably providing acceptable habitat for the species. Chris had seen a few beetles here in a brief visit last summer, but this time we saw no beetles despite a rather thorough search of the central plain. It seemed untenable to think that the beetles were no longer present, and we eventually decided (hoped) that the season was still too young (E. lepida is a summer species, and the season, to this point, had been rather cool and wet). The photos below show what the central plain looks like—both from the human (first photo) and the beetle (second photo) perspective. I resolved to return later in the month to see if our hunch was correct.
Big Muddy NFWR, Overton Bottoms, south unit, sand plain habitat for Ellipsoptera lepida
A tiger beetle’s eye view of its sand plain habitat
It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I get caught by rain while out in the field, and this time we got caught by a rather ominous thunderstorm. The rain didn’t really become too heavy until shortly before we reached the car, but the lightning was a constant concern that made bushwhacking back more than a mile through thick brush one of the more unnerving experiences that I’ve had to date.
Trying for Prionus—part 1
South-central Kansas (26–29 June 2015)
Last summer Jeff Huether and I traveled to several locations in eastern Colorado and New Mexico and western Oklahoma to find several Great Plains species of longhorned beetles in the genus Prionus using recently developed lures impregnated with prionic acid—a principal sex pheromone component for the genus. These lures are extraordinarily attractive to males of all species in the genus, and on that trip we managed to attract P. integer, P. fissicornis, and P. heroicus and progress further in our eventual goal to collect all of the species in the genus for an eventual molecular phylogenetic analysis. One species that remains uncollected by pheromones (or any other method) is P. simplex, known only from the type specimen labeled simply “Ks.” A number of Prionus species in the Great Plains are associated with sand dune habitats, so we had the idea that maybe P. simplex could be found at the dunes near Medora—a popular historical collecting site, especially with the help of prionic acid lures. Perhaps a long shot, but there’s only one way to find out, so we contacted scarab specialist Mary Liz Jameson at Wichita State University, who graciously hosted Jeff, his son Mark Huether, and I for a day in the field at Sand Hills State Park. We didn’t expect Prionus to be active until dusk, during which time we planned to place lure-baited pitfall traps and also setup blacklights as another method for attracting the adult males (females don’t fly). Until then, we occupied ourselves with some day collecting—always interesting in dune habitats because of the unique sand-adapted flora and the often unusual insects associated with them.
Sand Hills State Park (“Medora Dunes”), Kansas
Milkweeds (genus Asclepias) are a favorite of mine, and I was stunned to see a yellow-flowered form of butterfly milkweed (A. tuberosus). Eventually I would see plants with flowers ranging from yellow to light orange to the more familiar dark orange that I know from southern Missouri. I checked the plants whenever I saw them for the presence of milkweed beetles, longhorned beetles in the genus Tetraopes (in Missouri the diminutive T. quinquemaculatus is most often associated with this plant), but saw none.
Asclepias tuberosus “yellow form”
In the drier areas of the dunes, however, we began to see another milkweed that I recognized as sand milkweed (A. arenicola). I mentioned to Jeff and Mary Liz that a much rarer species of milkweed beetle, T. pilosus, was associated with this plant and to be on the lookout for it (I had found a single adult on this plant at a dune in western Oklahoma a few years back). Both the beetle and the plant are restricted to the Quaternary sandhills of the midwestern U.S., and within minutes of me telling them to be on the alert we found the first adult! During the course of the afternoon we found the species to be quite common in the area, always in association with A. arenicola, and I was happy to finally have a nice series of these beetles for my collection.
Two Sandhills specialties—Tetraopes pilosus on Asclepias arenaria
Milkweed beetles weren’t the only insects associated with sand milkweed in the area—on several plants we saw Monarch butterfly larvae, some nearing completion of the larval stage as the one shown in the photo below. Monarchs have been in the news quite a bit lately as their overwintering populations show declines in recent years for reasons that are not fully understood but may be related to recent droughts diminishing availability of nectaring plants for migrating adults and reduction of available food plants as agricultural lands in the U.S. become increasingly efficient.
Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) larva on Asclepias arenaria
We found some other interesting insects such as the spectacular Plectrodera scalator, cottonwood borer, and the southern Great Plains specialty scarab, Strigodermaknausi, both of which I took the time to photograph with the big camera—separate posts on those species will appear in the future. Sadly, no Prionus came to either our lures or our lights that evening, but some interesting other insects were seen during the day and even at the lights despite unseasonably cool temperatures and a bright moon. I’ll post photographs of these insects, taken with the “big” camera, in the coming weeks. In the meantime, my thanks to Mary Liz for hosting us—I look forward to our next chance to spend some time in the field together.
Ted MacRae shows Mark Huether, Jeff Huether, and Mary Liz Jameson how to take a panoramic selfie.
The following day, Adam James Hefel—at the time a graduate student at Wichita State University—and I traveled northwest of Wichita to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Adam has recently become interested in tiger beetles and had observed several interesting species on the margins of the salt marshes at Quivira. Several of these species were on my “still to photograph” list (and one even on my “still to see” list), so I was happy to have access to some local knowledge to help me
Quivira NWR – salt marsh habitat for halophilic tiger beetles
The saline flats of the central U.S. are hyperdiverse for tiger beetles. Adam has seen six species in the saling flats of Quivira, including the saline specialists Cicindela fulgida, C. wllistoni, Ellipsoptera nevadica knausi, Eunota togata, and E. circumpicta johnsonii (formerly Habroscelimorpha) (both red and green forms) and the ubiquitous Cicindelidia punctulata. We managed to find all of these except C. willistoni, which is a spring/fall species—unusual for a saline specialist, but the extreme heat of the day made them exceedingly difficult to approach (and virtually impossible to photograph).
Tiger beetles are found most often in alkaline flats with sparse vegetation
The wide open central flats are devoid of not only vegetation but tiger beetles (and life in general!).
Ever fascinated by the diversity of milkweeds to be found in the central U.S., an unfamiliar Asclepias growing in the higher, drier areas around a salt marsh caught my attention. Of course, I checked them for milkweed beetles and quickly found a number of Tetraopes tetraophthalmus individuals. John Oliver kindly identified the milkweed from my photos as Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed), which does not occur in Missouri (hence the reason I was not familiar with it) but that gets common in the Great Plains and foothills of the Rocky Mountain.
Asclepias speciosa, or showy milkweed.
The specific epithet “specioosa” refers to the large, showy flowers.
Tiger beetles were not the only wildlife encountered on the saline flats. Killdeer and western snowy plover adults were abundant in the area, and we found this next with eggs along the lightly vegetated edge of a saline flat around Big Salt Marsh. Cheryl Miller suggested they are probably plover eggs, since killdeer don’t usually scrape out a cup or put debris around the eggs, while snowy plovers are known to nest on or near salt flats and frequently surround their eggs with twigs, small bones or other debris.
Western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus) nest with eggs at the edge of an open flat
During the drive into the refuge, I noted several stands of large cottonwood (Populus deltoides), many of which were half- or completely dead. To some, these trees may be just ugly, half-dead trees. For me, however, they offer an opportunity to look for the gorgeous and rarely encountered Buprestis confluens, a species which I found for the first time just last year (not too far from hear in north-central Oklahoma). After getting our fill of tiger beetles, we drove to a parking lot surrounded by some of these trees, and even before I got out of the car I could see an adult B. confluens sitting on the trunk of a large, dead tree at the edge of the parking lot! I quickly secured the specimen, then spotted the half-dead tree in the photo below and walked towards it to look for more. I did not see any adults sitting on the trunk, but what I did see was truly incredible—two adults just beginning to emerge from the trunk! Waiting for one of the adults to emerge naturally (we “helped” the other one along) and photographing the sequence would occupy the next hour, but what an experience (and, of course, photos to come in a separate post).
This large, half-dead Populus deltoides “screams” Buprestis confluenta!
Wild hemp (Cannabis sativa) fills the are with a pungent aroma.
After a break from the heat and something to eat in the nearest town (20 miles away), I returned to the cottonwoods, broke out the hatchet, and began chopping. Cottonwood is an amazingly soft wood compared to hardwoods such as oak and hickory, but dead cottonwood is still tough, and only after much effort did I manage to chop out two pupae (one of which later successfully emerged as an adult) and two unemerged adults, resulting in a nice, if still rather small, series of a species that until last year was not represented in my collection and until this time by only a single specimen.
Exposed Buprestis confluenta pupa in its pupal chamber.
With the setting sun illuminating distant thunderclouds, I returned to the salt marshes to setup blacklights for the evening in hopes of attracting some of the tiger beetles that we had seen earlier in the day—not in attempt to collect more specimens, but rather to take advantage of their attraction to the lights and reduced skittishness in the cool, night air in an attempt to photograph them (I already had live specimens for studio photographs if necessary, but I prefer actual field photographs whenever possible). Eunota togata was not attracted to the lights, but both E. nevadica knausi and E. circumpicta johnsonii came to the lights in numbers (both red and green forms of the latter), and I succeeded in getting some real nice photographs as a result.
Thundercloud illuminated by setting sun
On the way back home, and again with the sun dropping close to the horizon, I stopped by Overton Bottoms again to look for Ellipsoptera lepida. Chris and I hadn’t see it here two weeks ago, and I was thinking (hoping) that it might have still a bit early in the season. This time I found them, and although they were not numerous and were apparently confined to the southernmost exposures of the central sand plain, they were still plentiful enough to allow me to get the field shots that I’ve wanted of this species for so long (and providing fodder for yet another future post). This species never seems to be encountered in great numbers, and although I have seen them on a number of occasions it always amazes me just how difficult they are to see!
Another pass through Overton Bottoms looking for Ellipsoptera lepida, this time with success!
Tryin’ for Prionus—part 2
South-central Kansas (11–12 July 2015)
Although our long-shot effort for Prionus simplex at the dunes near Medora, Kansas didn’t pan out, another species we hoped to see was P.debilis—a rather uncommonly collected species that occurs in the tallgrass prairies of the eastern Great Plains and, to our knowledge, had not yet been demonstrated to be attracted to prionic acid. I’d only seen this species once myself, some 30 years ago when I collected four males at lights near the southwestern edge of Missouri. As it happens, longtime cerambycid collector Dan Heffern grew up in P. debilis-land near Yates Center—not too far from where we were just a few weeks ago. When I mentioned my search for the species, he told me how commonly he used to see it around his home—especially around the 4th of July—and put me in contact with a friend who still lives in the area and has several tallgrass prairie remnants on his land. I made arrangements to visit the following weekend, and with prionic acid impregnated lures in the cooler and blacklights and sheets in the cargo area I set off. As I passed south through eastern Kansas I began to see nice tallgrass prairie remnants about 20 miles from my destination, so I took a chance and set a trap as a backup in case things didn’t pan out near Yates Center.
Trap baited with prionic acid lure
Things did pan out, however, although for a long time it did not appear they would. Dan’s friend kept me company while I placed a couple of traps and setup the blacklights, and for a couple of hours after sunset no beetles were seen (although we did enjoy good beer and better conversation). Just when I was ready to throw in the towel I saw a male crawling on the ground near one of the lights, and over the course of the next hour I found nearly a dozen males crawling on the ground in the general area around the lights but never actually at the lights. Interestingly, no males were actually seen in flight, nor were any attracted to the trap placed near one of the lights; however, after I took down the lights and checked the other trap there were five males in it. This likely represents the first demonstration of attraction to prionic acid by males P. debilis. I brought a couple of live males home for photography, taking this iPhone shot of a sleeping beetle in the meantime.
Prionus debilis “sleeping”in its cage after being taken near an ultraviolet light
One the way back home the next morning, success already “in the bag”, I stopped to check the trap I had placed the previous day. Filled with anticipation as I approached the trap, I was elated to find 21 males in the trap!
Prionus debilis in prionic acid lure-baited trap
The male antennae of this and other Prionus species show numerous adaptations that are all designed to maximize the ability to detect sex pheromones emitted into the air by females. They are both hyper-segmented and flabellate, providing maximum surface area for poriferous areas filled with chemical receptors. Larval habits for this species remain unknown, but Lingafelter (2007) states “Larvae may feed in living roots of primarily Quercus and Castanea, but also Vitis, Pyrus, and Zea mays.” I am not sure of the source of this information and don’t really believe it, either, as I think it much more likely that they feed on roots of bunch grasses such as bluestems (Andropogon spp.) and other grass species common in the tallgrass prairies.
Prionus debilis “looking” out over its tallgrass prairie habitat
Before reaching St. Louis, I decided to stop off at the last two known sites for Missouri’s endangered (possibly extirpated), disjunct, all-blue population of Eunota circumpicta johnsonii (Johnson’s Tiger Beetle). This didn’t go well—I first tried Blue Lick Conservation Area in Cooper County, where Chris Brown and I made the last known sighting of this beetle in the state 12 years ago at a salt spring about 500 yards further down the road in the photo below. I’m unsure what adaptations adults and larvae may have for surviving prolonged flooding, but it certainly cannot be helpful for the beetle. I then visited nearby Boone’s Lick State Historic Site in Howard County, and while the site was not flooded the two small areas where salt springs were located during our survey were even more heavily encroached by vegetation than before. Not only were no beetles seen, there did not even seem to be the slightest possibility that beetles could occur there. I keep hoping that the beetle will, someday, be seen again, but in reality I think I am just having trouble accepting the fact that I may have actually witnessed the extirpation of this incredibly beautiful and unusual population of beetles.
Flooded road leading to last known Missouri site for Eunota circumpicta johnsonii
Chillin’ after work
Sand Prairie – Scrub Oak Preserve, central Illinois (15 July 2015)
By the time mid-July rolls along, temperatures are not the only thing heating up. My travel for work also reaches a fever pitch as I begin traveling to research plots in Illinois and Tennessee every two weeks. It takes three days to make the +1,000-mile round trip, which means that I have two nights and an occasional afternoon stop to collect insects—much more fun than checking into hotel right after work, eating dinner at Applebee’s, and spending the evening switching back and forth between FOX and MSNBC to see who can make the most outrageous statement because IFC just isn’t offered. One of my favorite spots along this route to set up a blacklight is Sand Prairie – Scrub Oak Preserve in Mason County, Illinois. Nothing too spectacular showed up at the lights there this season, but as they say a bad day (or night) of bug collecting is better than a good day of just about anything else.
Calling all insects—the blacklight awaits you!
On this particular night a number of hawk moths (family Sphingidae) came to the lights, among the prettier of which included this Paonias excaecata (blinded sphinx) (kindly identified by Robert Velten).
More chillin’ after work
Pinewoods Lake, southeast Missouri (28 July 2015)
Another species of Prionus that I hadn’t seen for many years was P. pocularis, a species found in the pineywoods across the southeastern U.S. and, thus, reaching its northwestern distributional limits in the shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) forests of the Ozark Highlands in southern Missouri. Like P. debilis, I had only seen this species once before—two males at a blacklight at Pinewoods Lake National Forest Recreation Area in Carter County many years ago. Unlike P. debilis, however, these were seen later in summer, as were a few other specimens known from the state. That being the case, I decided to try the prionic acid lures at Pinewoods Lake while traveling back up from Tennessee. I arrived at the lake shortly before sunset and, after getting the traps put out and the lights setup, had the chance to look out over the lake and its surrounding forests where I had collected so many insects back in the 1980s as a young, eager, budding coleopterist.
Pinewoods Lake at dusk
Quite some time passed and no Prionus beetles were seen at the light or in the trap (but several other longhorned beetles did occur). Recalling my experience with P. debilis in Kansas a few weeks earlier, I remained hopeful, and eventually my optimism was rewarded when I found this single male floating in the trap’s ethanol preservative. Curiously, it would be the only male seen that night, although several individuals of the related and much more common P. imbricornis were attracted to the prionic acid lures.
Prionus pocularis in prionic acid lure-baited trap | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri
Several other insects did come to the blacklights, among the more photogenic being this underwing moth (genus Catacola, family Noctuidae) identified by Mathew L. Brust as Catocala neogama.
Catocala neogama at ultraviolet light | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri
Even more photogenic than underwings are royal moths (family Saturniidae), including this imperial moth, Eacles imperialis.
Eacles imperialis (imperial moth) at ultraviolet light | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri
Among the longhorned beetles I mentioned that did come to the lights was this Orthosoma brunneum (brown prionid). This species is closely related to prionid beetles (both are in the subfamily Prioninae). However, it is not a member of the genus Prionus, and, thus, is not attracted to prionic acid. It is perhaps no coincidence that males of this species do not exhibit the hypersegmentation and flabellate modifications of their antennae possessed by males in the genus Prionus, though they may still rely on sex pheromones for locating females.
Orthosoma brunneum at ultraviolet light | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri
Even spiders were coming to the blacklights, perhaps attracted not by the light itself but by the ready availability of potential prey.
Latrodectus mactans (black widow) at ultraviolet light | Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri
White River Hills region, southwest Missouri (1–2 August 2015)
Although I had succeeded in finding Prionus pocularis earlier in the week at Pinewoods Lake, I wasn’t satisfied with having found just a single individual. I had nothing on the calendar the following weekend, so I decided to make a run down to one of my favorite areas in all of Missouri—the White River Hills of extreme southwest Missouri. The only other record of the species in Missouri is from that area, with its abundance of shortleaf pine forests (the species breeds in decadent pines), and I though how nice it would be to find more individuals in a part of the state that I love so much. The plan was to drive down, set a prionic acid trap or two once I got into the pine forests of the area, and then find a good spot to setup some blacklights with one more prionic acid trap that I could monitor. The plan was executed perfectly, and I ended up setting up the lights on a ridge just south of Roaring River State Park; however, the beetles never came. Nevertheless, like I said earlier a bad day/night of bug collecting is still better than just about anything else, and there was plenty at and near the lights to keep the night interesting. Once was this tiny walkingstick nymph that I found hanging out at the tip of a blade of grass. I was intrigued by the rather peculiar position adopted by the resting animal, with its forelegs and antennae extended straight out in front of the body with their tips resting on the grass blade.
Undetermined walkingstick nymph | Mark Twain N.F., Barry Co., Missouri
One thing I love about blacklighting for insects is the sounds of the night—katydids fill the black night with raspy calls while Whip-Poor-Wills and their country cousins the Poor-Will’s-Widows hoot and cluck in the distance.
Undetermined katydid | Mark Twain N.F., Barry Co., Missouri
As I was photographing the walkingstick, I felt something crawling on my neck. After many years of doing this, I’ve learned not to freak out and slap wildly at something crawling on my neck, because 1) more often than not it is something interesting and 2) even if it isn’t particularly interesting it’s almost never capable of biting or stinging. Still, I don’t want to just grab it unseen or pin it against my neck—instead I kind of “scoop” it away with my fingers and toss it onto the ground beside me in one swift, assertive movement. This night’s mystery neck crawler was about as interesting as they get—Dynastes tityus (eastern Hercules beetle), the largest beetle in eastern North America. This one is a female by virtue of its lack of any horns on the head and pronotum.
Female Dynastes tityus (eastern Hercules beetle) | Mark Twain N.F., Barry Co., Missouri
After pulling the lights down for the night, I drove to Mincy Conservation Area, one of the many dolomite glades in the area in the next county over and one that I had not visited for some time. There are no hotels in the area, and my bones are a little too old to be sleeping on the ground, so I just pulled into the campground, took off my shoes, changed into PJs, and laid the driver’s seat all the way back for a surprisingly comfortable night’s sleep. My frugalness would have its reward, although I did not know it until I awoke early the next morning to a hauntingly beautiful fog. I’d never seen the glades in such manner—so serene. I knew the rising sun would quickly burn off the fog and and the moment would be lost if I didn’t act quickly, so I grabbed both big camera and iPhone and, put on some shoes (didn’t bother with changing out of my PJs), and walked the glade taking as many photos as I could. While the quality of the iPhone snaps doesn’t compare with those taken with the big camera, they nevertheless convey the quiet beauty of the glade.
Morning fog over the dolomite glade | Mincy Conservation Area, Taney Co., Missouri
Missouri coneflower (Rudbeckia missouriensis) is a characteristic plant of limestone and dolomite glades in the Ozark Highlands of southern Missouri.
Morning dew makes spider webs abundantly conspicuous.
Morning fog on a spider web | Mincy Conservation Area, Taney Co., Missouri
Eventually the rising sun began to burn through the cool, damp fog, portending another day of searing heat in the xeric glade landscape.
The rising sun begins to burn off the fog | Mincy Conservation Area, Taney Co., Missouri
Heading back to my car as temperatures began to rise quickly, I was struck by the cacophony of cicadas that were already getting into high gear with their droning buzz calls. As I passed underneath one particular tree I noticed the song was coming from a branch very near my head. I like cicadas, but I was there to look for the spectacular Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer), a glade species associated with gum bumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum). Had it been the song of a “normal” cicada like Neotibicen lyricen (lyric cicada) or N. pruinosus (scissor grinder cicada) I would have paid it no mind. It was, instead, unfamiliar and distinctive, and when I searched the branches above me I recognized the beautiful insect responsible for the call as Neotibicen superbus (superb cicada), a southwest Missouri specialty—sumptuous lime-green above and bright white pruinose beneath. I had not seen this spectacular species since the mid 1980s (most of my visits to the area have been in the spring or the fall rather than high summer), so I spent the next couple of hours attempting to photograph an individual in situ with the big camera. This is much, much easier said than done—the bulging eyes of cicadas give them exceptional vision, and they are very skittish and quick to take flight. I knew I had the iPhone photo shown below if all else failed, and for some time every individual I tried to approach ended up fluttering off with a screech before I could even compose a shot, much less press the shutter. Persistence paid off, however, and I eventually succeeded in locating, approaching, and photographing an unusually calm female resting at chest height on the trunk of a persimmon tree. Along the way I checked the gum bumelia trees hoping to spot one of the beautiful longhorned beetles associated with that tree, but none were seen.
It was already high noon by the time I finished up at the Mincy glades, so I began to retrace my steps to check the prionic acid traps that I had set out the day before. Along the way I stopped by Chute Ridge Glade Natural Area in Roaring River State Park, another place where I have seen bumelia borers, so I stopped to try my luck there before continuing on to pick up the traps. Again, none were seen, but in addition to numerous individuals of N. superbus I found another species of cicada, still undetermined by more robust and nearly blackish and with a throatier call that sounding a bit like a machine gun (or table saw hitting a nail!). Despite the lack of bumelia borers, I enjoyed my time on the glade immensely and eventually had to call it quits if I was to get to all of my traps before nightfall.
Still more chillin’ after work
Pinewoods Lake, southeast Missouri (11 August 2015)
Two attempts at Prionus pocularis in the past two weeks had netted me but a single specimen—this species was becoming my summer nemesis. So when I found myself back in Tennessee for field trial work and the timing still right I decided to spend the evening at Pinewoods Lake once again before heading back to St. Louis and see if the third time would be a charm. I found a new restaurant in the tiny nearby town of Ellsinore, and the dinner special that evening was fried catfish—hoo boy! My belly was in a good place after that, filling me with optimism that I would have success tonight. I got to the lake at dusk, quick setup the blacklights and put the prionic acid traps in place, and waited for the bugs to come in.
Pinewoods Lake at dusk, again!
The evening’s first visitor to the lights was a parandrine cerambycid—Neandra brunnea. Believe it or not, this was the first time I have ever seen the species alive (once before finding a dead specimen in a Japanese beetle trap waaaay back in the mid-1980s!)—a pretty nice find. In fact, Pinewoods Lake produced a number of good finds during those days back in the 1980s when I was collecting here regularly—longhorned beetles such as Acanthocinus nodosus, Enaphalodes hispicornis, and the aforementioned Prionus pocularis, male Lucanus elaphus stage beetles, the jewel beetle Dicerca pugionata on ninebark in the draws, and the seldom seen tiger beetle Apterodela unipunctata (formerly Cylindera unipunctata), just to name a few.
Neandra brunnea | Mark Twain N.F., Pinewods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri
Seeing N. brunnea and the prospects of collecting P. pocularis weren’t the only things putting me in a good mood…
Blacklighting is better with beer!
My optimism, unfortunately, would eventually prove to be unfounded, as not only did P. pocularis never show up—either at the blacklights or the prionic acid traps, no other beetles showed up as well, longhorned or otherwise. When that happens, I have no choice but to start paying attention to other insects that show up at the lights. It was slim pickings on this night for some reason, making this already striking moth identified by Alex Harman as Panthea furcilla (tufted white pine caterpillar or eastern panthea) in the family Noctuidae stand out even more so.
Panthea furcilla | Mark Twain N.F., Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri
While walking between the blacklights and the prionic acid traps, something suspended between two trees caught my eye. I recognized it quickly as some type of orb weaver spider (family Araneidae), but I couldn’t exactly figure out exactly what was going on until I took a closer look and saw that there were actually two spiders! I’d never seen orb weaver courtship before, so I excitedly took a few quick shots with the iPhone and then hurried back to the car to get the big camera.
Be very, very careful boy!
Sadly, the male had already departed by the time I got back, so the quick iPhone photos I took are the only record I have of that encounter. Still, I got some good photos of just the female with the big camera, along with the quicker, dirtier iPhone shots—one of which is shown below. According to Eric Eaton these are likely a species in the genus Neoscona.
Neoscona sp. | Mark Twain N.F., Pinewoods Lake, Carter Co., Missouri
Checking out a fen
Coonville Creek Natural Area, southeast Missouri (3 September 2015)
On yet another trip back to St. Louis from Tennessee, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit Coonville Creek Natural Area in St. Francois State Park, an area I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years and the outstanding feature being the calcareous wet meadow, or “fen”, that dominates the upper reaches of the creek drainage. Fen soils are constantly saturated, a result of groundwater from surrounding hills percolating through porous dolomite bedrock before hitting a resistant layer (in this case, sandstone) and seeping out onto the lower slopes. Constantly saturated soils and occasional fires (at least historically) have kept the fen open and treeless, with the cool groundwater allowing “glacial relicts” (i.e., plants common when glaciers covered the area) to persist.
Calcareous wet meadow | Coonville Creek, St. Francois State Park, St. Francois Co., Missouri
I saw a few Cicindela splendida (Splendid Tiger Beetles) on the rocky, clay 2-track leading to the area—a sure sign that fall was just around the corner, a female cicada on herbaceous vegetation in the fen (small, I think it’s not a species of Neotibicen), and a huge, fecund black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia)—I love seeing the latter at this time of year when they have grown to their largest and the females are full of eggs. In reality, however, this visit turned into more of a botanical than an insect collecting experience. Insect activity in general was low, and my attention drifted instead to the diversity of wildflowers that were present on the fen—most new to me. False dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana), great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), and Spiranthes lacera (slender ladies’-tresses orchid)—its tiny white blossoms spiraling up the leafless spike were the most interesting, resulting in lots of time spent looking at them through the big camera.
Argiope aurantia | Coonville Creek, St. Francois Co., Missouri
The always exciting amorpha borer
Otter Slough Conservation Area, southeast Missouri (23 September 2015)
As the dog-days of summer gave way to bright, blue skies and crisp, fall air, a distinctive insect fauna takes advantage of the explosion of goldenrod that blooms across a landscape morphing from shades of green to orange, yellow, and tawny. Many of these insects are widespread and super-abundant—soldier beetles, tachinid flies, bumble and honey bees, and scoliid, tiphiid, and vespid wasps are among the most conspicuous. Megacyllene robiniae, longhorned beetles commonly called locust borers are also common on goldenrod during fall, but much less common is a closely related species that breeds in false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa)—Megacyllene decora, or the amorpha borer. I’ve seen this species several times, yet uncommonly enough that I still target it when I get the chance. One such place is Otter Slough Conservation Area—yet another interesting place along the way between Tennessee and St. Louis. On one of my final trips back this way I stopped by to see if these spectacular beetles would be out. My attention was first caught by egrets congregating in a mud flat exposed by recent dry weather. However, they were not what I was looking for.
There is no shortage of interesting insects to look at as I begin scanning the goldenrod flowers growing along the roadsides and around the edges of the shallow pools managed for fishing and shore birds. A fat, female Stagmomantis carolina (Carolina mantis) sat on one of the first inflorescences that I checked, but she also was not what I was looking for.
After a bit of searching, I found what I was looking for! Over the course of the next two hours (all the time I had left before sundown) I would a total of three adults on goldenrod flowers at three disparate locations within the area—again not very many, making those that I did see a real treat.
Megacyllene decora on goldenrod | Otter Slough, Stoddard Co., Missouri
As dusk fell over the area, insects began bedding down for the night. I was lucky to find the last amorpha borer in the dwindling light as it bedded down next to a bumblebee—perhaps the likely model for the beetle apparent mimetic coloration.
Megacyllene decora and a bumble bee bed down together | Otter Slough, Stoddard Co., Missouri
The sun sinking over the horizon behind the wetlands put an end to the collecting, not only for the day but for the season, at least here in Missouri and surrounding states. It would not be the final day of collecting for me, however, as I managed to scrape together some free time amidst my hectic travel schedule and spend a week in eastern Texas for the Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Hunt. I’ll save that trip for another report and close this one out here, but be on the lookout for higher quality photos over the coming months of the really interesting insects that I encountered over this past season. Let me also say that if you’re still reading at this point, you have my deepest admiration for having the persistence to wade through all 8,376 of the words contained within this post!
Sunset over Plover Pond | Otter Slough, Stoddard Co., Missouri
Lucanus capreolus, female (L) and male (R) | Fort Defiance Park, Illinois
Last month I posted some photos of the very “stag beetle-ish” looking longhorned beetle, Parandra polita. Chestnut brown in color with large, forward projecting mandibles, this member of the longhorned beetle subfamily Parandrinae looks almost nothing like longhorned beetles in other subfamilies but very much like a small species of stag beetle (family Lucanidae). If it weren’t for the straight rather than elbowed antennae, even experienced coleopterists might be fooled by its appearance. The beetle had been attracted to an ultraviolet light setup in wet bottomland forest at the southern tip of Illinois where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet. Perhaps not coincidentally, several true stag beetles representing both males and females of the species Lucanus capreolus were attracted to the lights that night as well.
Males are distinctive by their large, sickle-shaped mandibles.
The genus Lucanus contains the largest stag beetles in North America—the most desirable of the handful of species it contains being L. elaphus (North America’s largest stag beetle) due to the male’s outrageously enlarged mandibles and the species’ general scarcity. Lucanus capreolus nearly matches L. elaphus in size and has an equally broad distribution across eastern North America, but it seems to be a more common species and has the male mandibles only moderately (though still distinctly) larger than the female. Despite its more routine occurrence, I rarely see more than a few individuals at a time, and they are almost always all males. This night, however, I was fortunate to encounter not only males but several females as well. I’ve previously photographed the female of this species (Diminishing Stag Beetle), but this was my first chance to photograph both male and female together.
Females have much smaller mandibles (but are still capable of delivering a painful ‘nip’).
While male L. elaphus are undeniably distinct, I frequently see confusion about how to distinguish male L. capreolus from L. placidus (the third eastern North American species of the genus, occurring more sporadically than L. capreolus), and separating females of all three species can be even more confusing. Male L. elaphus are readily identified by their greatly elongated and multi-toothed mandibles, but a suite of characters may need to be employed for females and non-elaphus males. The best character to use for L. capreolus are the distinctly bicolored femora that are yellowish at the base; however, color can be variable and some individuals will exhibit the more uniform chestnut-brown color typical of L. elaphus. Lucanus placidus, on the other hand, is usually distinctly darker in color than either of the other two species. Surface sculpture of the elytra and pronotum also offer useful characters. The elytra of L. capreolus and L. elaphus are rather smooth, while in L. placidus they are more distinctly punctate/rugose. The pronotum of both L. capreolus and L. placidus, however, is usually distinctly punctate compared to the relatively smooth pronotum of L. elaphus. The shape of the labrum (projection between the mandibles) is also usually distinctive and is not influenced by gender like the mandibles. In L. elaphus the labrum is rather pointed, while in L. capreolus and L. placidus it is more blunt (indeed, in L. placidus the labrum can almost be described as quadrate, or “squared”). Lastly, the number of teeth on the inner margin of the mandibles is usually diagnostic for females of the three species—L. capreolus possessing one tooth, L. placidus possessing two, and L. elaphus possessing more than two.
Unlike most insect groups, male stag beetles rather than females are generally larger.
Parandra (Tavandra) polita | Alexander Co., Illinois
Last week I traveled to northwestern Tennessee to visit research plots, and on the way back I took the opportunity to stop by Fort Defiance Park near Cairo, Illinois. Fort Defiance represents the southernmost tip of Illinois, lying at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and on previous visits I had thought that the wet bottomland forest remnants present there looked like promising habitat for the ant-like tiger beetle (Cylindera cursitans). The type locality of a synonym (Cicindela alata) is in northern Illinois, but the type specimens are considered to have been introduced and, to my knowledge, no bona fide records of the species are known from the southern part of the state. I have taken the species nearby on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River (MacRae et al. 2011), so I thought the chances were good of finding it here as well. And find it I did—in good numbers! Success already in hand, I decided to stick around for nightfall and set up some blacklights to see what other beetles might be attracted from the surrounding forests.
The color and shape of the body and prominent jaws give the appearance of a small stag beetle.
Sadly, not much of interest was coming to the lights. Temperatures and humidity were good, but a waxing moon with clear skies didn’t help. Worse, the sheets were inundated with caddisflies—always a predictable consequence when blacklighting near large rivers but especially annoying because of their habit of flying into your face (and up nostrils, down shirts, in ears…) when checking the sheet for other insects. A few longhorned beetles did show up, as did some male and female reddish-brown stag beetles (Lucanus capreolus), and later a single coppery tiger beetle (Ellipsoptera cuprascens) also made an appearance. By 10 pm, however, I had decided enough was enough and went to one of the sheets to begin taking it down. As I did, I noticed a reddish-brown, large-mandibled beetle sitting on the sheet that, for all intents and purposes, looked like a small stag beetle. I wasn’t fooled, however, as I knew exactly what this beetle was—I had previously seen this species in the form of two individuals at a blacklight in southern Missouri very near to my current location (although it was 28 years ago!). It was Parandra polita, an usual longhorned beetle belonging to the archaic subfamily Parandrinae, and those specimens (MacRae 1994) plus another collected more recently a few miles north—also at a blacklight in wet bottomland forest along the Mississippi River (McDowell & MacRae 2009)—to date represent the only known occurrences of this uncommon species in Missouri.
The entire rather than emarginate eyes distinguish this species from Neandra brunnea,
Linsley (1962) noted the tenebrionid (darkling beetle)-like appearance of beetles in this genus. Perhaps the glabrous, parallel-sided body recalls the appearance of some darkling beetles, but I have always thought these beetles looked more like stag beetles because of the reddish-brown coloration and, notably, fairly large, forward-projecting mandibles that even show the same type of size dimorphism as stag beetles—larger in “major” males, smaller in females and “minor” males. Parandrines differ from most other subfamilies of longhorned beetles by having the antennae short and equal-segmented and the tarsi distinctly pentamerous with slender, padless segments. Another small subfamily of longhorned beetles, the Spondylidinae, shares these characters, but parandrines are easily distinguished from them by several characters including the margined pronotum—also a most lucanid-like character.
Parandra polita also has the mandibles contiguous at the base and a narrower, more flattened body.
Although Parandrines are reasonably diverse in South America and Africa, North America boasts only four taxa, with P. polita and Neandra brunnea being the only two occurring in the eastern part of the continent. Annoyingly, I have collected just as few specimens of the latter as the former, despite the fact that N. brunnea is considered to be the most commonly encountered of all four North American taxa. The specimens were all taken in Japanese beetle traps that I ran while working for the Missouri Department of Agriculture in the 1980s, so I have never actually seen a live individual of that species. Parandra polita and N. brunnea are, however, fairly easy to distinguish, as the former has the mandibles triangular and contiguous at the base while in the latter they are sickle-shaped and well separated at the base. The former also has the eyes entire on the inner margin while the latter has them distinctly emarginate, and in basic gestalt P. polita has a narrower, more flattened body than N. brunnea.
A frontal portrait of this beetle was featured a few days ago in ID Challenge #23. A few people were fooled by its lucanid- and even cucujid-like appearance, but Stephen, Harry Zirlin, Nikola Rahme, Jon Quist, and Ben Coulter all correctly guessed this species. By virtue of being first, Stephen rises above the 5-way tie to get the win. However, I should note that Harry was the first to actually provide names for each of the four requested taxa (as did Jon and Ben subsequently), so he could make a valid claim for the win. Also, nfldkings and froglady made really nice comments about my blog and the featured photo, so I award them with honorable mentions!
Linsley, E. G. 1962. The Cerambycidae of North America. Part II. Taxonomy and classification of the Parandrinae, Prioninae, Spndylinae, and Aseminae. University of California Publications in Entomology 19:1–102, 1 plate [OCLC WorldCat].
MacRae, T. C. 1994. Annotated checklist of the longhorned beetles (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae and Disteniidae) known to occur in Missouri. Insecta Mundi 7(4) (1993):223–252 [pdf].
MacRae, T. C., C. R. Brown & K. Fothergill. 2011. Distribution, seasonal occurrence and conservation status of Cylindera (s. str.) cursitans (LeConte) (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) in Missouri. CICINDELA 43(3):59–74 [pdf].
McDowell, W. T. & T. C. MacRae. 2009. First record of Typocerus deceptus Knull, 1929 (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) in Missouri, with notes on additional species from the state. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 84(4) (2008):341-343 [pdf].
Throughout the soybean growing areas of the southern U.S. and South America, lepidopteran caterpillars are the most important pest complex affecting the crop. Millions of pounds of insecticides are sprayed on the crop each year in an effort to minimize their impact—a practice that is not always successful and entails significant exposure risks to the environment and farm workers alike. A variety of lepidopteran species occur in soybeans, and proper identification is essential to ensure adequate control and avoiding unnecessary applications. While the most important and commonly encountered species are velvetbean caterpillar (Anticarsia gemmatalis) and soybean looper (Chrysodeixis includens), others include soybean podworms (Helicoverpa zea in the U.S.; H. gelotopoeon and—now—H. armigera in Brazil and Argentina), sunflower looper (Rachiplusia nu), bean shoot moth (Crocidosema aporema), and armyworms of the genus Spodoptera. The last group contains several species that can affect soybean, and while they have traditionally been considered minor pests of the crop a number of species have increased in importance during the past few years.
I have been conducting soybean field trials in both the U.S. and South America for many years now and have had an opportunity to photograph most of the species known to occur on soybean in these regions. Identification of armyworm larvae can be rather difficult due to their similarity of appearance, lack of distinctive morphological differences (e.g. number of prolegs), and intraspecific variability in coloration. Conclusive identification is not always possible, especially with younger larvae; however, the different species do exhibit subtle characters that can usually allow for fairly reliable identification of large larvae. Considering the dearth of direct comparative resources—either in print or online—I offer this quick guide to the six armyworm species that I’ve encountered in soybean.
Spodoptera frugiperda (fall armyworm). This is not the most important armyworm pest of soybean, in contrast to its great importance in other crops such as corn and cotton. It is, however, the most widely distributed of the species, occurring in both the southern U.S. and throughout soybean growing areas of Brazil and Argentina. When problems do occur on soybean they are usually a result of larvae moving from grassy weeds to small soybean plants in late-planted or double-crop fields. Larvae can damage all stages of soybean, from seedlings (cutting them off at ground level) to later stages by feeding primarily on foliage and even pods. Larvae are somewhat variable in coloration but are distinctive among armyworms by virtue of the pinaculae (sclerotized tubercles) visible over the dorsum, each bearing a single stout seta. Four pinaculae are present on each of the abdominal segments, with those on the eighth abdominal segment forming a square, and larvae also exhibit a pronounced inverted, white, Y-shaped mark on the head.
Spodoptera exigua (beet armyworm). This species is better known as a pest of vegetables but will occasionally damage soybean in the southern U.S. In soybean larvae prefer to feed on foliage of seedling plants but will, if present during reproductive stages, also feed on blossoms and small pods. Late-instar larvae can be rather variable in appearance, but most tend to be green above and pinkish or yellowish below with a white stripe along the side. Larvae can be confused with Spodoptera eridania (southern armyworm) because of a dark spot that might be present on the side, but in southern armyworm the spot is on the first abdominal segment while in beet armyworm (when present) it is on the mesothorax.
Spodoptera ornithogalli (yellow-striped armyworm). This species is widely distributed throughout North and South America, but its status as an occasional pest of soybean is limited practically to the southeastern U.S. It is often encountered in soybean in low numbers but can reach pest status in double-crop fields with small plants that have been planted after wheat (similar to fall armyworm). Compared to other species in the genus the larvae are rather uniform in appearance, exhibiting paired, black, triangular spots along the back of each abdominal segment with thin to prominent yellow stripes running lengthwise adjacent to and not interrupted by the spots. Larvae oftentimes have an almost black velvety appearance with distinctly contrasting bright yellow stripes.
Spodoptera eridania (southern armyworm) | Union City, Tennessee
Spodoptera eridania (southern armyworm). This species is, like fall armyworm, widely distributed from the southern U.S. through Brazil and Argentina. In the U.S. it occurs only sporadically on soybean, usually causing “hot spots” of damage by groups of many larvae hatching from a single egg mass and skeletonizing the nearby foliage before dispersing as they grow larger. In Brazil and Argentina this species has emerged during recent years as one of the most important armyworm pests of soybean, especially in regions where cotton is also grown. Larvae can be somewhat variable in appearance and, in South America, can be easily confused with those of the black armyworm (S. cosmioides), both of which often exhibit prominent black markings on first and eighth abdominal segments and a subspiracular light-colored line along the length of the thorax and abdomen. Southern armyworm, however, rarely exhibits an additional black marking on top of the mesothoracic segment. Additionally, when the subspiracular line is present it is interrupted by the black marking on the first abdominal segment and is less distinct in front of the spot than behind, and if the line is not present then the black spots on top of the first abdominal segment are larger than those on top of the eighth abdominal segment.
Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm) | Acevedo (Buenos Aires Prov.), Argentina
Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm) | Saenz Peña (Chaco Prov.), Argentina
Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm) | Acevedo (Buenos Aires Prov.), Argentina
Spodoptera cosmioides (black armyworm). No accepted English common name exists for this strictly South American species that was previously considered a synonym of the North and Central American species Spodoptera latifascia. In Brazil it has been referred to by such names as “lagarta preta” (black caterpillar) and “lagarta da vagem” (pod caterpillar). The latter name has also been applied to other soybean pests, including southern armyworm, so to me “black armyworm” seems the most appropriate English name to adopt. Like southern armyworm, this species is a sometimes pest of cotton and in recent years has become increasingly important in soybean throughout Brazil and northern Argentina. Larvae often resemble and can be easily confused with those of southern armyworm; however, there is almost always a dark spot on top of the mesothoracic segment that is lacking in southern armyworm. Additionally, the light-colored subspiracular line, when present, is not interrupted by the black spot on the first abdominal segment and is equally distinct in front of and behind the spot. When the line is not present the black spots on top of the first abdominal segment are smaller than than those on top of the eighth abdominal segment.
Spodoptera albula (gray-streaked armyworm) | Saenz Peña (Chaco Prov.), Argentina
Spodoptera albula (unbarred or gray-streaked armyworm). While known to occur in extreme southern U.S., this species has been cited as a pest of soybean only in Brazil, although its importance has not matched that of southern or black armyworm. Like most armyworms it is polyphagous, but this species seems to prefer amaranth (Amaranthus spp.). Larvae of this species can be distinguished from other South American armyworms that feed on soybean by the trapezoidal black marking on the mesothorax (usually semicircular to slightly trapezoidal in black armyworm), the black marking on the first abdominal segment not larger than that on the sixth abdominal segment, both of which are smaller than those on the seventh and eight abdominal segments, the white-only rather than white and orange dorsolateral stripe, and the triangular black markings on the abdominal segments each with a small white spot in the middle or at the apex of the marking.
This little jumping spider (~8 mm in length) was in one of my soybean fields in west-central Illinois last week. She(?) was quite fidgety and kept jumping from the leaf on which I found her as I tried to carry the leaf out of the field to a more open and convenient place to take photographs. Once I got out to the grassy field border, I managed to get one photograph (not shown but similar to this one) right before she jumped off the leaf yet again. However, I was able to find her and coax her back onto the leaf for this last shot before she jumped off again—never to be found again! I presume this spider belongs to the genus Phidippus based on the cephalic tufts, and within that genus maybe a species in the P. clarus group (corrections welcome!).
When I look at insect macrophotographs, I like to do reverse engineering on the lighting to figure out what was the flash/diffuser setup. I have a few different diffusers that I use depending on which lens I’m using and how important the photographs are. In this case, I was taking photographs of soybean insects for work purposes and didn’t bother putting on the larger concave diffuser that I use when I’m really concerned about getting more even lighting. Instead, I was just using my snap-on Sto-Fens+Gary Fong Puffers. The difference between these two diffuser setups and their effect on lighting is minor in many cases, but when photographing very shiny surfaces (such as the eyes of this spider) the differences are much more apparent, and it is obvious from this photo that I was using a twin flash unit with separate diffusers on each flash head.
There is one more feature apparent about the lighting in this photograph—note that the “left” flash head appears much more diffuse than the “right” flash head. This is because the right diffuser had actually fallen off of the flash head without me noticing (also never to be found again!). As a result, the light from only one of the flash heads was diffused, while that from the other hit the subject in all its harsh glory. I don’t really like the twin highlights that are the hallmark of twin macro flash units, and if I had known I was going to be photographing jumping spiders when I was in the soybean field I would have gone ahead and used my concave diffuser. I’ve also learned, however, that great photographs are not something that I can expect to pop off while concentrating on other activities—I need to concentrate fully on the photographs and spend a good amount of time doing it until I feel like I’ve gotten the shots that I want. I never really liked the Sto-Fen+Puffer diffusers, as they were only marginally better than no diffuser (and this photograph shows it), so losing one of them might be a blessing in disguise as now I’ll be motivated to try out some of the many other diffuser ideas I’ve been toying around with but never really taken the time to sit down and try them out.