2018 Arizona Insect Collecting Trip “iReport”

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

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

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


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

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

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Cave Creek Ranch, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains.

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Cave Creek Ranch, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains.

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

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Majestic peaks loom over the canyon.

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

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Me with Margarethe Brummermann.

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

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Margarethe Brummermann searches for beetles in Sunny Flat Campground.

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Bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia) – family Nymphalidae.

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

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

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

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Sphaerobothris ulkei, collected on Ephedra trifurca.

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

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

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Tetraopes discoideus (family Cerambycidae).

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Rhopalophora meeskei and Lycus sp. on Asclepias sp.

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

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

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New Mexico raspberry (Rubus neomexicanus).

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

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Looking west from the Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona.

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

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Rustler Park, Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona.

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

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

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

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Trachyderes mandibularis female

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

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Giant mesquite bugs (Thasus neocalifornicus).

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

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

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

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

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Box Canyon from just above the dry falls.

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Prickly poppy (Argemone mexicana) blooming along the roadside.

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Hippomelas planicauda mating pair on Mimosa dysocarpa.

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

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Acmaeodera cazieri (left-center).

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Acmaeodera yuccavora.

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

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Datana sp. caterpillars.

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

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Sarcostemma sp. (family Asclepiadaceae).

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

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

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Unidentified plant.

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Me, Art Evans, and Norm Woodley.

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

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A beacon in the night!

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Art, Steve, and Norm checking the lights.

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Chrysina gloriosa.

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A male oz beetle (Strategus aloeus).

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

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Insects whirring around my head!


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

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

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Copper Canyon to the northwest.

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Copper Canyon to the north.

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

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

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

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Bear Canyon to the south.

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Bear Canyon to the north.

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

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

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

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

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

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Turkey vultures hanging out waiting for me to die!

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

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

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Dendrobias mandibularis – major male.

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Them’s some mandibles!

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Gyascutus caelatus on Acacia rigidula.

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

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

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

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Lampetis webbii, collected on Rhus sp.

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Stenaspis solitaria on Acacia rigidula.

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

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Meeting Pat Sullivan!

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

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

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

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

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“Sometimes the best collecting is inside!”


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

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

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Halfway down from the “dry falls”.

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The “dry falls” about halfway up the canyon.

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Pseudovates arizonae – the aptly named Arizona unicorn mantis.

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

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Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains.

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Acanthocephala thomasi on Baccharis sarothroides.

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

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

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Rain headed my way!

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Rain passing into neighboring Florida Canyon.

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

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A gorgeous sunset to start the evening.

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

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A bee assassin bug, Apiomerus flaviventris.

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An ocotillo, or calleta, silkmoth – Eupackardia calleta.

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One of the western riparian tiger beetles.


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

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Euphoria leucographa on Baccharis sarothroides.

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Chalcolepidius smaragdinus on Baccharis sarothroides.

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

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

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

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

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Tragidion sp. mating pair on Baccharis sarothroides.

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Mating pair of Stenaspis verticalis on Baccharis sarothroides.

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Chalcolepidius lenzi at a sap flow on Baccharis sarothroides.

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Lateral view of Chalcolepidius lenzi.

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Barrel cactus in bloom.

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

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Stunning vista during the day! 

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

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Spectacular views from 7000 ft!

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A lichen moth on flowers of Ceanothus sp.

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

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The spectacular vistas just keep on coming!

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

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

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Obligatory dusk shot of Moneilema gigas on Opuntia imbricata.

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Another individual on the same plant.

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Sunset over “Las Cuatro Hermanas”.

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

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

Bicycle ride around Lake Tahoe

Overlooking Emerald Bay from Emerald Bay Pass.

Perhaps some of you have by now deduced that, in addition to insects and natural history, I have a second passion – cycling! In fact, I raced bikes competitively as an amateur for seven years (going by the local nickname “BugMan“) before hanging it up at the end of 2008.  However, even though I’m not racing anymore, I still ride as much as ever, only now it’s purely for the fun of it!  I’m a dedicated roadie, riding year-round and averaging around 5,000-6,000 miles a year.  I love the speed and the smoothness of the road and the opportunity it provides to cover long distances and enjoy the sights (not to mention the resulting freedom to eat like a horse and stay relatively trim!).

One of my most memorable cycling experiences was in 1995, when I joined a group that rode the entire circuit around Lake Tahoe.  I was living in Sacramento at the time and was a relative newbie – the 72-mile ride with 3,500 feet of climbing at elevations ranging from 6,200 feet at lake level to more than 7,000 feet near Carson Pass was without question the most difficult ride I had ever attempted at that point.  Now, as a seasoned ex-racer, such a ride is not extraordinarily difficult for me – in fact, I do rides in the 60-80 mile range with as much climbing or more almost every weekend.  Still, my memories of the challenge and the unbelievable scenery have kept that ride high in the ranks of my most epic, and since we began going back to Lake Tahoe two spring ago I’ve wanted to do it again.  It would not have been possible during our first trip back, as the roads still had quite a bit of snow on them; however, last year the roads were clean and dry, and I resolved to bring my bike with me on this year’s trip in the event that such was again the case.  Madonna del Ghisallo (patron saint of cycling) must have been smiling down upon me, because this year the roads were again in beautiful condition, despite the amount of snow blanketing the surrounding landscapes.  It made for one of the most beautiful bike rides I have ever done in my life.

There was a comforting familiarity to the ride, despite the 15 years since the last – the stunning landscape that I have come to cherish so dearly, the massively shaded solitude of the west shore, lunching on California cuisine in a quaint village along the north shore, and the long climbs and screaming descents through open Jeffrey pine forests along the east shore.  It was also different – I was by myself, yet despite that I was stronger and briming with confidence; not only a seasoned cyclist, but also much more knowledgeable of and closely attuned to the natural history of the area.  I didn’t fear the climbing, I relished it!  I didn’t overcome the challenge, I enjoyed it!  I stopped at a few places to take photographs (taken with my small point-and-shoot, for obvious reasons) and share some of them here – I hope they give you a tiny taste of the flavor of that day.

Near the summit of Emerald Bay Pass, looking back at Mt. Tallac.

High point on Emerald Bay Pass.

The descent to Eagle Falls at Emerald Bay.

 This is an avalanche zone (note deep snow deposits on steep slopes on left side – these extend high up the mountain here).  Moments after taking this photo, an avalanche fell onto the road right as I was descending by this spot. At ~35 mph there was no stopping – I rode right through it as the initial snow drop hit the pavement and then watched in amazement as the main drop dumped onto the road behind me.  It was not big enough to bury anything, but I surely would have crashed had I gotten there just a moment or two later!

Overlooking Emerald Bay from Emerald Bay Pass.

Emerald Bay is a glacial scour formed during the last glacial period ending only 10,000 years ago. Fannette Island, Lake Tahoe’s only island, is thought to be a resistant rib of granite rock that was overridden by the glacial ice. Lateral glacial morraines enclose each side of the bay, and an incomplete terminal morraine connects Emerald Bay to the main lake. Last year, I stood atop the outermost rock of the left side of the terminal morraine and took photographs looking back in this direction

Grove of sugar pines at D. L. Bliss State Park.

Sugar pine, Pinus lambertiana, is among my favorite of all pines.  More common on the west shore due to their preference for higher levels of moisture, their towering, ragged, asymmetrical crowns with long, pendulous cones (usually a foot or more in length) hanging from the branch tips are immediately recognizable from afar.  These majestic trees are the world’s tallest pine and bear the longest cones in the genus; they stand in defiant contrast to the uniformly symmetrical crowns of the more common Jeffrey pines (Pinus jeffreyi) and white firs (Abies concolor) that surrounded them.  For a more thorough treatment of the trees of Lake Tahoe, please visit my three-part series covering the pines, the “other” conifers, and the deciduous trees.

Some might think it was still a little too early in the season for bike riding.

Looking west across Lake Tahoe from Logan Shoals Overlook.

The east shore in Nevada is decidedly drier than California’s west shore.  The forest on the Nevada side is a more open, fire-mediated landscape dominated by Jeffrey pine, as opposed to the denser forests on the west shore with higher incidence of shade-tolerant trees such as white fir and incense-cedar (Libocedrus decurrens).

View of Cave Rock (left center) from Logan Shoals Overlook.

Cave Rock was and still is a sacred place for people of the Washoe tribe, whose ancestors occupied Lake Tahoe during the summers and performed religious ceremonies inside the largest of its caves.  These caves, sitting several hundred feet above the current lake level, were carved by wave action shortly after Lake Tahoe’s formation nearly 3 million years ago when lake levels were much higher than they are today.  The first of two highway tunnels was blasted through the rock in 1931 (much to the dismay of the Washoes), and the second was added in 1957.

Looking north along Lake Tahoe's east shore from atop Logan Shoals Overlook.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Up the Glacial Staircase

During last year’s visit to Lake Tahoe, we attempted to hike Eagle Falls Trail, one of Lake Tahoe’s most scenic and popular trails.  Beginning at the Hwy 89 trailhead above Emerald Bay, this trail climbs a dramatic ‘glacial staircase’ with steep, narrow gorges connecting a series of deep lakes and meadows.  Each of these lakes, and indeed Emerald Bay itself, was formed as a result of glaciers that carved Lake Tahoe’s granite shores until as recently as 10,000 years ago – leaving behind scars of incomparable beauty.  Eagle Lake perches atop one of these steps – only a short, one-mile hike up the trail but rising nearly 2,000 feet above the trailhead.  Summer hikers have trouble enough dealing with this elevation gain, but winter hikers – as we learned last year –  find it impossible without the assistance of snowshoes.  The first steep section just short of Upper Eagle Falls would prevent any further progress, leaving me with only a teasing view up the gorge and a commitment to try again on our next visit.

There was even more snow this year than last – a good 4-6′ it appeared, but our rented snowshoes made this irrelevant (even desirable), and the four of us began the arduous task of climbing the snow-laden slopes all the way up to Eagle Lake.  It was a family affair, so the pace was dictated by 10-yr old Madison, who got us to Eagle Lake – serenely beautiful and frozen solid – in a leisurely 1 hour 45 minutes.  The hike back down the gorge passed more quickly (almost too quickly) but provided spectacular views of Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe below. Those of you with an interest in the geological history of Lake Tahoe may refer to my earlier posts, Lake Tahoe, California (Mar 2008) and Born of Glaciers (Mar 2009).  The rest of you may just enjoy these pretty pictures.

View of Upper Eagle Falls - it was here where our hike last year would end.

View back down the gorge from bridge over Upper Eagle Falls.

Looking back down at Emerald Bay from Eagle Falls Trail.

Further up the trail, one looks back upon this spectacular view of Jake's Peak.

Eagle lake lies at 8,500' elevation (frozen lake surface visible through trees left).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Lake Tahoe – 2010 Preview

How does an entomologist/wannabe botanist-ecologist-geologist-cyclist-nature photographer spend his time on a family vacation?

  • Thursday evening to Saturday late afternoon:
    – Drive from St. Louis to Lake Tahoe.  In between driving shifts:
    – Complete manuscript on Cylindera cursitans surveys
    – Complete manuscript on Dromochorus pruinina surveys.
    – Arrive late afternoon, quick 1-hr bike ride before dark.
  • Sunday:
    – Cross-country skiing with the family: Spooner Lake (~6 miles).
    – Sight-seeing: Sand Harbor Overlook on the east shore.
    – Hang out at the hot tub with the family and a glass of wine.
  • Monday:
    – Drive to Sacramento with the family.
    – Visit buprestid-colleagues Chuck Bellamy (CDFA) and Mark Volkovitsh (Russian Academy of Science).
    – Private lesson from Mark on how to dissect buprestid larvae for taxonomic description.
    – Dinner with my favorite brothers-in-law.
    – Drive back to Lake Tahoe.
  • Tuesday:
    – Snowshoe hike with the family: Emerald Bay to Eagle Lake and back (2 miles, 1,900′ of climbing).
    – Bike ride: South Lake Tahoe to Bliss State Park and back (33 miles, 1,100′ of climbing).
  • Wednesday:
    – Bike ride: all the way around Lake Tahoe (72 miles, 3,500′ of climbing).
    – Hang out at the hot tub with the family and a glass of wine.
  • Thursday:
    – Botanizing and hiking with daughter Madison at Mt. Rose (4 miles, 1,300′ feet of climbing).
    – Hang out at the hot tub with the family and a glass of wine.
  • Friday:
    – Alpine skiing with the family at Heavenly Ski Resort.
    – Join a 2-hour ski tour with US Forest Service rangers discussing natural and cultural history of Lake Tahoe.
    – Hang out at the hot tub with the family and a glass of wine.
  • Saturday morning to Sunday night:
    – Drive from Lake Tahoe back to St. Louis.  In between driving shifts:
    – Process/file photographs from trip (~250).
    – Complete reports for 2009 collecting permits.
    – Complete new applications for 2010 permits.
    – Begin manuscript on Cylindera celeripes conservation status.
  • Monday:
    – Return to work mentally refreshed!

I’ve already shared a bit of the trip with a view of Mt. Rose from 7,000′ and ensuing pismire quagmire.  Today I share some views of one of the most scenic of lakeside spots on the east shore – Sand Harbor Overlook.  I featured this spot in this post from last year’s trip due to its stunning beauty, and this year I was no less impressed.  I still had that same, annoying, afternoon sun to deal with (next year I’ve resolved to get here during the morning) but managed to get some passable photographs.  The one above is my favorite, and I hope you enjoy the following as well. (p.s. if someone knows how to fix a sun-blown sky in Photoshop Elements, please let me know).

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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Pismire Puzzle

I returned home from a much-needed vacation late last night, and even though it was a family trip I have much to share from the past 10 days. However, I must remain coy about where I was for the time being so that I may present this little quiz:

Who am I?

I had planned to post this yesterday, but the best title I could come up with – “Monday Myrmecine Mystery” – was just too similar to a Monday tradition on another blog that we’ve all grown to love.  (Also, I just couldn’t get to it.)  No longer constrained by an M-themed title, I came up with this alternative¹ that I hope will make the 12-year old boy in each of us giggle aloud.

¹ Pismire (from pissemire) is an archaic name of Scandinavian origin for ant. Derived from pisse urine (referring to the smell of formic acid) + mire ant.

What am I doing?

I expect members of the Formicine Guild will jump all over this, so I should probably make this quiz about more than just the name of the ant (which I don’t know, so does that make this an illegal quiz?).  Maybe I should offer double points to non-myrmecologists for a proper ID (but then, I would need the consensus of the myrmecologists – perhaps a conflict of interest?).

Why do I do this?

I could also offer points for correctly guessing what the ant is carrying – which again I wasn’t able to figure out, so I guess points will have to be awarded for the most plausible explanation.  What I do know is the ant carried this carcass while meandering aimlessly over the same patch of ground – occasionally stopping very briefly to dig its jaws into it before resuming its wanderings.  I followed the ant for about 10 minutes, and it never left an area of about 1 square foot – no nest nearby that I could see, no direction to its travels, no apparent purpose to its labors.

This is where I live.

I most definitely know where I was, so firm points are on offer for correctly guessing the answer to that question – either on the basis of the ant ID or the above photograph of its habitat.  Yes, that is snow on the ground – lots of it!

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

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The “buzzard signal fly”

Waterberg RangeDuring our time at Geelhoutbos farm in South Africa’s Northern (now Limpopo) Province, we spent most of our time in the foothills below a magnificent north-facing escarpment of the Waterberg Mountain Range. We were here to collect Buprestidae (including the magnificent Evides, featured previously in this post), and it was in the low bushveld woodland where the greatest diversity of buprestids would be found. Many of the buprestids we encountered were associated with the acacias that abundantly dotted the landscape – especially the iconic “umbrella thorn” (Acacia tortilis) and “sweet thorn” (Acacia karoo), providing sustenance for everything from bitsy beetles (including our beloved buprestids) to giant giraffes. Still, I kept eyeing the mountains, yearning to clamber up on top of the billion year old massif for no other reason than because it was there. Chuck had the good sense to stay down below amongst the acacias and buprestids while I spent an afternoon winding my way up the escarpment in the company of our hostess, Susan Strauss. I didn’t collect many buprestids during that trek, and if success is measured solely by numbers of buprestids collected then Chuck won. But if success also includes the chance to see spectacularly endless vistas from an otherworldly landscape on a once in a lifetime trip, then I didn’t do too badly.

Bromophila caffra

While I didn’t see many buprestids during that afternoon, I did see a few other insects interesting enough to attract my attention and maybe an attempt at a photo. This stunning fly was one of those insects. Even though it exceeded a full inch in length, it still wasn’t the largest fly I had ever seen. However, with its black body, metallic blue wings and large, round, wax-red head it was certainly among the most impressive. A quick scan through my recently acquired Field Guide to Insects of South Africa (Picker et al. 2002) has at last identified this fly as Bromophila caffra. It is a member of the family Platystomatidae, commonly known as signal flies and part of the great superfamily Tephritoidea of fruit fly fame (i.e., true fruit flies – not “the” fruit fly which belongs to the family Drosophilidae and which are more properly called vinegar flies).

Signal flies are interesting on several fronts, firstly because of their catholic tastes – Sivinski (1999) records rotting tree trunks, bulbs, roots and fruit, dried flowers and dead grass stems, dung and fungus as breeding sites, and notes – gruesomely – that mass graves dug in World War II sometimes produced huge numbers of the species Platystoma lugubre. It is some of the Australasian species, however, that have truly made a name for this family. In the tropical rainforests of Guinea and Queensland, males of many species exhibit modifications of their heads that are used in agonistic interactions with sexual rivals. These vary from broadening of the face into a surface used to push against the face of another male, to extremely well-developed stalk eyes used to gauge rival male’s size and strength in face to face combat.

But what about Bromophila caffra? Aside from being one of the most recognizable of flies in Africa, it’s sluggish disposition and apparent noxiousness were obvious even to early naturalists. Marshall (1902) noted the similarity of its coloration (black body, blue wings, red or yellow head) to that of two Pompilus spp. and one sphecid wasp with which it occurred sympatrically. Regarding its habits, he also noted:

The Bromophila fly is very plentiful; it is the most sluggish fly known to me, and settles about on trees and bushes in a very conspicuous manner. It ejects a yellow liquid from the mouth when handled, and was refused when offered to my baboons and Cercopithecus monkey.

Andrew Whittington, commenting on a photo of this species posted on DipteraInfo.com, provides further clues that seem to confirm the noxious qualities of this species, explaining not only its striking color and brazen habits but also the ease with which I obtained the above photograph:

Our knowledge of larval habits is very rudimentary. There appears to be an association with the roots of Terminalia trees (Combretaceae), from which the larvae sequester various toxic compounds (probably cyclic triterpenes) possibly for defense. This may render the adults toxic too, as a defense against predation – not a thoroughly tested hypothesis.
Adults are slow moving and ponderous … and photogenic!

I find it surprising that a large, strikingly distinctive, abundant insect such as Bromophila caffra should lack a common name, but it appears this is the case. None was given in Field Guide to Insects of South Africa, nor amongst the several South African wildlife and dipteran websites which I encountered featuring photos of this insect. In thinking about what common name Bromophila caffra could have, I can’t help but draw comparisons between this insect and the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), or “buzzard,” of North America (despite their belonging to entirely separate phyla). Both species are among the larger members of their respective orders and make their living eating repulsive foodstuffs. Hulking black with naked, red, plastic-like heads, most predators regard them as too vile and noxious to bother with, leaving them free to pass their lives in unmolested disdain. With this in mind, I hereby propose “buzzard signal fly” as the official common name for this insect 😉

Additional photographs of Bromophila caffra can be seen at Joan Young’s fine blog, South African Photographs, and at Biodiversty Explorer, the web of life in Southern Africa. This is the fifth in a series of posts covering a natural history excursion to South Africa in November/December 1999. Click on “South Africa” under “Tags” to see links and summaries for other posts in this series.

REFERENCES:

Marshall, G. A. K. 1902. Five year’s observations and experiments (1896-1901) on the bionomics of South African insects, chiefly directed to the investigation of mimicry and warning colours. Transactions of the Entomological Society of London, 1902:287-584.

Picker, M., C. Griffiths and A. Weaving. 2002. Field Guide to Insects of South Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 444 pp.

Sivinski, J. 1999. Breeding habits and sex in families closely related to Tephritidae: Opportunities for comparative studies of the evolution of fruit fly behavior, pp. 23-39. In: M. Aluja and A. L. Norrbom [eds.], Fruit Flies (Tephritidae): Phylogeny and Evolution of Behavior, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 984 pp.

Top Ten of 2008

For the first post of 2009, I begin with a look back at some of my favorite photos from 2008 (idea stolen from Alex Wild and others).  I initially hesitated to do a “best photos” post since I’m not really a photographer – just an entomologist with a camera.  Nevertheless, and with that caveat in mind, I offer ten photos that represent some of my favorites from this past year. To force some diversity in my picks, I’ve created “winning” categories (otherwise you might just see ten tiger beetles!). Click on the photos to see larger versions, and feel free to vote for your favorite. If so, what did you like about it? Was there a photo I didn’t pick that you liked better?  Enjoy!

Best tiger beetle

Cicindela formosa generosa

From “All the better to see you with, my dear!” (September 2008).  Picking a top tiger beetle photo was tough with so many to choose from.  Ultimately, I decided I really like these face-on shots, and of the several I’ve posted this one of Cicindela formosa generosa has the overall best composition, balance and symmetry.  I considered this one of Cicindela formosa formosa – with its half-cocked jaws, it probably has better personality.  However, the one above got the final nod because it is a true field shot of an unconfined, unmanipulated individual.

Best jewel beetle

Aegelia petelii

From Buppies in the bush(veld) (December 2008).  Although taken back in 1999, I just recently scanned and posted this photo of Agelia petelii from South Africa.  I like the bold, contrasting colors of the beetle combined with the soft colors of the host foliage.  Runners up included these photos of Evides pubiventris with its sumptuous iridescent green blending beautifully with the green background (but suffering slightly from shallow depth of field) and Chrysobothris femorata with its intricate surface sculpturing.

Best longhorned beetle

Tetraopes femoratus

From Rattled in the Black Hills (September 2008).  This was an easy choice – none of the other longhorned beetle photos that I posted during 2008 matched this photo of Tetraopes femoratus for clarity, composition, and the striking contrast between the red color of the beetle and the green color of the host plant.  I especially like the detailing of the body pubescence.

Best non-beetle insect

Proctacanthus milbertii

From Magnificently Monstrous Muscomorphs (November 2008).  I do like other insect besides beetles, and robber flies are hard to beat for their charisma.  This photo of Proctacanthus milbertii (which, as Chris Taylor pointed out, literally translates to “Milbert’s spiny butt”), has great composition and nice, complimentary colors.  I like contrast between the fine detail of the fly and the soft background.

Best non-insect arthropod

Argiope aurantia

From Happy Halloween! (October 2008). I didn’t have many non-insect arthropod photos to choose from, but this photo of a female Argiope aurantia (yellow garden spider) would be deserving of recognition no matter how many I had to choose from. I like the bold, contrasting colors and symmetry of the spider in front of the dappled background of this photo.

Best non-arthropod animal

Prairie rattlesnake (Crotolus viridis)

Another one from Rattled in the Black Hills (September 2008).  This is admittedly not the best photo from a purely technical perspective – it’s a little out of focus, and the color is a bit off.  However, no photo could better convey the moment – confronted with a live, angry prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) (among the more aggressive species in the genus).  The forked tongue and rattle – blurred in motion – were icing on the cake.

Best wildflower

Victoria Glades

From Glades of Jefferson County (July 2008).  I had several wildflower closeups to choose from, but I kept coming back to this field shot of pale purple coneflower (Echincea simulata) and Missouri evening primrose (Oenethera macrocarpa).  The eastern redcedars (Juniperus virginiana) in the background are at once indicative of their preferred habitat (limestone/dolomite glades) and also testament to their threatening encroachment.

Best tree

Calocedrus decurrens

From the very simply and aptly named Lake Tahoe, California (March 2008).  Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), with its reddish, deeply furrowed bark and great height, is one of the most majestic of western conifers.  I was captivated by this tree – beautiful even in death and contrasting nicely with the surrounding green foliage.

Best rockscape

Pipestone National Monument, Old Stone Face

From Pipestone National Monument (April 2008).  “Old Stone Face” is one of Pipestone’s most recognizable geologic features, and the short angle of the sun on this early spring day provided nice detail to the cracks and fissures of the rock – almost appropriately adding a weathered “age” to this old man.

Best landscape

Emerald Isle, Lake Tahoe

Another one from Lake Tahoe, California (March 2008).  Few places on earth are more photogenic than Lake Tahoe, and this perspective overlooking Emerald Bay is among the finest views I’ve seen.  Brilliant blue skies and majestic snow covered mountains reflected perfectly from the still surface, with Fannette Island providing a perfect focal point for the photo.

Best miscellaneous

Water drops, Ozark Trail, Trace Creek SectionFrom Ozark Trail, lower Trace Creek Section (December 2007).  While technically not a 2008 photo, it’s close enough.  This was one of the first macro photographs I took with my camera, and it remains one of my favorites.  A chance occurence of an unlikely subject, created by cold temperatures and heavy moisture-laden air. I like the contrast between the water drops – sharp, round, and clear – with the vertical shapes of the leaf petioles and background trees.  Viewing the image full-sized reveals the reflection of the photographer in the leftmost water drop.

Subsequent edit: Okay, so after I put this post together, I realized I actually featured eleven photos – too much difficulty choosing, I guess. Let’s call it a baker’s ten.