Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle

Great Sand Dunes National Park | Saguache and Alamosa Counties, Colorado (click for 1680 x 887 version)

Last year’s Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip entered its last day as an unqualified success. Travel partner Jeff Huether and I were doing the “Great Western Sand Dune Tour” on a quest to find and photograph some of North America’s most geographically restricted tiger beetles. The first four days featured successful visits to northwestern Colorado’s Maybell Sand Dunes for Cicindela scutellaris yampae and Cicindela formosa gibsoni, southeastern Idaho’s St. Anthony Sand Dunes for Cicindela arenicola, and southwestern Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes for the prize of the trip—Cicindela albissima. The only endemic that we had failed to find was Cicindela waynei at southwestern Idaho’s Bruneau Sand Dunes (hopefully this was a result of poor fall emergence conditions rather than an indication of further decline of this perilously endangered species).

Small sand dune west of GSDNP in the Nature Conservancy's Medano-Zapata Ranch.

Day 5 featured a visit to southwestern Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes to look for the endemic Cicindela theatina. As on every day previous of the trip, the morning drive saw cool but rising temperatures under bright, sunny skies, so we were optimistic about our chances. Between Great Sand Dunes National Park (type locality of the beetle) and The Nature Conservancy’s Medano-Zapata Ranch west of the park, the entire 290 km² range of C. theatina is on protected land. Not knowing whether the beetle would be out and, if so, how extensively it would occur, our plan was to approach the Park from the west through Zapata Ranch and stop at any sand dunes we sighted along the way until we found the beetle.  It didn’t take long—as soon as we entered the Ranch we began to see small sand dunes in the distance, and within minutes after making the 1-km hike towards one particularly promising looking dune we saw the beetles. Even though this was the fifth western sand dune endemic I had seen in as many days, the first moment I laid eyes upon it was no less exciting—flashing red and green on coppery, white marked elytra, it seemed all hair and teeth!

Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle (Cicindela theatina) | Medano-Zapata Ranch

Despite this being my first sighting of the species, there was no doubt about it’s identity. The only other tiger beetle that occurs with and could possibly be mistaken for C. theatina is the blowout tiger beetle, C. lengi; however, the broad marginal band that runs completely around the elytra and the green/brown dorsal coloration of C. theatina are enough to distinguish it from that species. Temperatures were still a bit on the cool side, but the beetles were already remarkably active and skittish. Like the other sand dune species we had already seen, they were enormously difficult to approach—numerous failed attempts were necessary before I encountered the slightly more cooperative female shown in these photos (although she still required several minutes of stalking to get her sufficiently accustomed to my presence to allow these shots).

Like most sand dune tiger beetles, adults are densely hairy on the lateral and ventral surfaces.

Adults ''hug'' the sand for warmth during the cooler morning hours.

The dense covering of white hairs on the lateral and ventral surfaces of the adults belies their adaptation to the abrading sands of their wind-swept habitat. Scouring sands, however, are not the only hardships that the adults must contend with. Temperatures on the dunes can range from as low as 40° F on a chilly morning to nearly 140° F during the heat of the day. Accordingly, much of the adult beetle’s activities revolve around thermoregulation to maintain optimal body temperatures for activity (Pineda and Kondratieff 2003). These include not only stilting, shade-seeking, and mid-day burrowing to avoid excessive warming (see my post  for examples of these behaviors), but basking to gain warmth when temperatures are still a bit too cool for effective foraging (photo above).

Fabulous metallic red and green highlights on the head and pronotum contrast with the reddish brown elytra and their white lateral markings.

Despite the fact that the entire range of this species is encompassed by protected land, WildEarth Guardians filed a petition for federal listing as an endangered species in 2007 (Tweit 2010). Whether protection will be granted remains to be seen—Coral Pink’s C. albissima has a global range only 1.3% the size of C. theatina‘s range (only slightly more than half of which is on protected land), yet that species has been awaiting listing for nearly three decades now! (Too bad C. theatina doesn’t have real fur, feathers, or those endearing mammalian eyes that would surely allow it to jump to the front of the line.)

For the first time in BitB Challenge history, we have a 4-way tie for the win. Dorian Patkus, Mr. Phidippus, Mike Baker, and David Winter all share the honors for . Mr. Phidippus is the big winner, however, as he strengthens his grip on the overall lead with a lead of 13 or more points over his nearest rivals (Roy, Tim Eisele, Mike Baker, and Dennis Haines). The competition is far from over though—a single misstep is all it would take to see the emergence of a new leader before this session is over.


Pineda P. M. and B. C. Kondratieff. 2003. Natural history of the Colorado Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, Cicindela theatina Rotger. Transactions of the American Entomological Society 129(3/4):333–360.

Tweit, S. J. 2010. Beetle Mania. National Parks 84(4):24–25.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Give the Gift of Green

The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

Blue jay, Oklahoma, USA. Photo © Harvey Payne.

One of my favorite conservation organizations is The Nature Conservancy.  It’s hard to argue with their success—more than 119 million acres of land, 5,000 miles of rivers, and 100 marine projects worldwide have received protection as a result of their efforts.  Even more important than the scale of their success is the manner in which it has been achieved using science and a decidedly non-confrontational focus on partnerships.  I have seen this approach in action in my own state of Missouri at Victoria Glade and at Four Canyon Preserve in Oklahoma, where prescribed burns, managed grazing, and removal of woody vegetation are restoring significant examples of our nation’s unique grasslands to their presettlement glory. 

Yangtze River, China. Photo © Dou Weiyang.

The intial focus of the Conservancy’s conservation efforts was simple: preserve wilderness by buying land. As environmental challenges have increased, the Conservancy has adopted a diversity of tactics to acheive sustainable conservation results.  The Conservancy relies heavily on membership to fund these conservation efforts, with 60% of revenues coming from individuals. A fun and creative way to support the work of the Conservancy during this Holiday Season is through their Green Gift Guide, which offers unique gifts that will go twice as far; pleasing the recipient while at the same time helping the Conservancy in their efforts to protect the world’s most precious habitats for future generations. Following are their Top 5 Green Holiday Gifts:     

  1. Adopt an Acre.  You can choose whether your gift protects unbroken swaths of Appalachians forest, mountain streams in the Rockies, meandering Southern bayous or miles of beautiful sandy beaches where US and Mexico border, or Adopt an Acre abroad in Africa, Australia or Costa Rica.
  2. Plant Trees in the Atlantic Forest. Part of the Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees campaign, each tree purchased will be planted in the Atlantic Forest, one of the world’s biggest and most endangered tropical forests.
  3. Adopt a Coral Reef. This unique gift will help protect the coral reefs and beautiful seascapes found in Palau, the Dominican Republic or Papua New Guinea.
  4. Help Save the Northern Jaguar (NEW THIS YEAR). Help to protect the large landscapes that northern jaguars need to flourish. Jaguars roam from as far south as Patagonia all the way to Arizona and New Mexico and your gift will help to provide the dense jungle and scrubland they enjoy.
  5. Give the Gift of Clean Water. Freshwater ecosystems water our crops, light our homes and bring us joy. Help to protect the flow and supply of fresh water and ensuring the well-being of our own species.

For additional eco-friendly holiday gift ideas, visit the Conservancy’s Green Gift Guide.  

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Four Canyon Preserve, Oklahoma


Looking SE into lower Horse Canyon towards Canadian River

On my recent week-long collecting trip, the first three days were spent at Four Canyon Preserve in far northwestern Oklahoma.  This nearly 4,000-acre preserve features a stunning landscape of rugged, wooded canyons dissecting ridges of mixed-grass prairie which provide critical habitat for several rare plants and animals.  Despite years of overgrazing, fire suppression, and invasion by exotic plants, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recognized the restoration potential of this landscape and began management practices to restore its ecological function and integrity after acquiring it in 2004.  The land was rested until April 2008, at which time a wildfire swept through the area and burned approximately 90% of the property.  This event was actually welcomed by TNC, who was already in the process of initiating a prescribed burn – they simply pulled back and let it rip!  The burn, combined with mechanical removal of eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) that had invaded many areas of the preserve, did much to confine woody growth to the canyons proper, and good rains during the past two springs following that burn have resulted in a lush, green, diverse landscape brimming with prairie wildflowers.  The vivid contrast between the green vegetation and the red clay canyons with their white gypsum exposures has created spectacular vistas of a rugged landscape.  This year, cattle have been reintroduced at low levels to simulate the irregular, patchy disturbance experienced in pre-settlement times when native grazers (bison and elk) dotted the landscape.

The flora (Hoagland and Buthod 2007) and avifauna (Patten et al. 2006) of the preserve are well characterized, but (as nearly always seems the case) arthropod and other micro faunas need much additional study.  My hymenopterist colleagues and I were welcomed enthusiastically by TNC staff, who are anxious to incorporate the results of our insect surveys into an overall fauna.  Apoid hymenopterans appear to have benefited greatly from the recent rejuvenation of the preserve’s floral character.  Results for the beetle populations that I encountered, however, were more mixed. Certain groups, such as scarabaeine dung beetles, were quite abundant and diverse (due to the reintroduction of cattle), but others, including the tiger beetles, jewel beetles, and longhorned beetles that I was most interested in finding, existed at rather low and not very diverse levels.  I had hoped to find the very rare Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle) running amongst the clumps of vegetation on the preserve’s red clay exposures but instead saw only the ubiquitous Cicindela punctulata (punctured tiger beetle), and the few jewel beetles that I managed to beat off the lower branches of hackberry (Celtis laevigata) and soapberry (Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii) trees were found only in the small parts of the preserve that escaped last year’s burn.  This seems fairly typical – I generally don’t find many insects in these groups whenever I survey areas that have experienced a significant amount of recent burning.  Some ecologists might take exception to this statement, and they would have little difficulty citing studies that show rapid recolonization of prairies by a majority of prairie insect specialists within two years after a prescribed burn.   Nevertheless, the impact of prescribed burning on invertebrate populations and its potential for causing local extirpations has become a contentious issue among ecologists and entomologists in recent years.  While my experience hardly passes for rigorous investigation, I am becoming increasingly convinced that a certain amount of caution is warranted when designing burn management plans for prairie relicts.

I’ll discuss more about the beetles and other insects (and even some vertebrates) that I saw during my three-day visit to Four Canyon Preserve in future posts.  In the meantime, I share with you some of my photos of this spectacularly beautiful landscape (note the abundance of woody cadavers from last year’s burn in some of the photos).


Looking S into upper reaches of Mulberry Canyon


Looking S into upper reaches of Mulberry Canyon


Looking E across upper Harsha Canyon


Looking SE into Harsha Canyon towards Canadian River


Looking E across lower Harsha Canyon

View of Mulberry Canyon bluffs from Canadian River valley

Looking NE towards Mulberry Canyon bluffs from Canadian River valley


Hoagland, B. W., and A. K. Buthod.  2007.  Vascular flora of the Four Canyons Preserve, Ellis County, Oklahoma.  Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas 1(1):655–664.

Patten, M. A., D. L. Reinking, and D. H. Wolfe.  2006.  Avifauna of the Four Canyon Preserve, Ellis County, Oklahoma.  Publications of the Oklahoma Biological Survey (2nd Series) 7:11-20.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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On the road again!



By the time you read this, I’ll be on the road again for yet another extended bug collecting trip.  I don’t think I am ever happier than when I am on one of these trips – whether it be a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Africa or a one-week jaunt to the nearby plains.  With so many places to see – each with their own unique story – I don’t understand how anyone ever ends up getting bored.  The main destination for this trip is the Nature Conservancy’s recently established Four Canyon Preserve in northwestern Oklahoma.  This nearly 4,000-acre preserve contains a stunning assemblage of rugged, mixedgrass prairie ridges dissected by deep, chinquapin oak-lined canyons that drain into the Canadian River in southern Ellis County.  Although past grazing and fire suppression have reduced shrub cover, lowered vegetation complexity and promoted expansion of eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) throughout the area, the preserve nevertheless supports a number of species of conservation concern such as Cassin’s sparrow, Swainson’s hawk, least tern, and Arkansas River shiner.


As is typical with many protected areas, studies of the biotic diversity of this preserve have dealt primarily with its flora (Hoagland and Buthod 2007) and avifauna (Patten et al. 2006). Arthropods and other microfauna, on the other hand, remain essentially unknown.  I’ll be joining a group of entomologists – primarily hymenopterists – who began conducting surveys of the preserve’s insect fauna last fall.  While my colleagues gaze at the hyperdiversity of asteraceous flowers looking for things with stings, I’ll be staring at the red Permian sandstone and shale exposures – watching for any darting movement between clumps of grama and little bluestem that might indicate the presence of the enigmatic Cicindela celeripes (swift tiger beetle).  I’ve written previously about the occurrence of this rare, flightless tiger beetle in the Loess Hills of Iowa and our ongoing search for this species in northwestern Missouri in my post The Hunt for Cicindela celeripes.  Although this beetle has not yet been recorded at the preserve, it was seen very recently in nearby Alabaster Caverns – some 60 miles to the north, and a historical record is known from just south of the preserve.  My optimism is bolstered by the fact that the Alabaster Caverns individual was observed in late May – much earlier than the typical late June and early July records for this species further north in its stronghold in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  Of course, I will be looking for other things as well – other species of tiger beetles are likely to occur on the reddish loamy upland soils and quaternary alluvial deposits along the Canadian River, and any number of woodboring beetle species are likely to be found on herbaceous flowers and dead branches of the 51 species of woody plants recorded in the preserve.

After getting our fill of Four Canyon Preserve, we’ll visit the world’s largest remaining tract of tallgrass prairie, Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oklahoma.  Encompassing nearly 40,000 acres, we can do nothing more than only scratch its surface.  However, the tallgrass prairie habitat should provide a nice contrast to the mixedgrass prairie of Four Canyon Preserve, and it will be interesting to compare and contrast these two distinctive plant communities and their associated insect faunas.  After a week on the road¹, I’ll return to St. Louis for a brief respite before beginning a hectic four-week survey in northwestern Missouri for – you guessed it – Cicindela celeripes!

¹ I’ll be without internet access, so please forgive my nonresponsiveness to comments. I do have a couple of posts scheduled to appear during my absence.

My thanks to Mike Arduser, an expert hymenopterist and also a good friend, for bringing Four Canyon Preserve to my attention.  His spectacular photographs that I share here were all I needed to convince me to join him on his return trip this season.


Hoagland, B. W., and A. K. Buthod.  2007.  Vascular flora of the Four Canyons Preserve, Ellis County, Oklahoma.  Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas 1(1):655–664.

Patten, M. A., D. L. Reinking, and D. H. Wolfe.  2006.  Avifauna of the Four Canyon Preserve, Ellis County, Oklahoma.  Publications of the Oklahoma Biological Survey (2nd Series) 7:11-20.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Glades of Jefferson County

We stood a moment to contemplate the sublime and beautiful scene before us, which was such an assembly of rocks and water—of hill and valley—of verdant woods and naked peaks—of native fertility and barren magnificence… – Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1818-1819

In the Ozark Border south of St. Louis, a series of natural openings punctuate the dry, rocky forests of Jefferson County. Commonly called “glades” or “cedar glades,” these islands of prairie in a sea of forest are home to plants and animals more commonly associated with the Great Plains region further to the west. Extending in a narrow arc from central Jefferson County east and south into northern Ste. Genevieve County, these glades occur most commonly on south and southwest-facing slopes below forested ridges and are characterized by thin soils and exposed dolomite bedrock of Ordovician age. Glades are, in fact, a common natural feature throughout much of the Ozark Highlands, an extraordinary plateau where the great eastern deciduous forest begins to yield to the western grasslands. A much more extensive system of dolomite glades occurs in the White River Hills of southwest Missouri, where they often extend up steep slopes and over the tops of knobs to form what Schoolcraft called “naked peaks” and are now called “balds” (and spawning the “Baldknobbers” of Branson fame). Additional glade complexes occur throughout the Ozark Highlands on different rock substrates – igneous glades abound in the St. Francois Mountains, sandstone glades dot the Lamotte landscape in Ste. Genevieve County and the northern and western Ozarks, limestone glades can be found in the northern Ozarks near Danville and Lake of the Ozarks, and chert glades occur in extreme southwest Missouri. These different glade systems share a common feature – shallow soils where tree establishment is limited due to summer moisture stress. They differ vegetationally, however, due to differences in hydrology and soil chemistry as a result of their different substrates. Floristically, dolomite glades exhibit a high degree of diversity relative to other glade types.

The term “glade” is derived from the Old English “glad,” meaning a shining place – perhaps the early settlers found their open landscapes a welcome respite after emerging from the confining vastness of the eastern deciduous forest. Whatever the meaning, the glades of Jefferson County hold a special place in my heart, for I “grew up,” entomologically speaking, in those glades. As a young entomologist, fresh out of school, I spent many a day scrambling through the glades and surrounding woodlands. It was here where my interest in beetles, especially woodboring beetles, was born and later grew into a passion. For eight years I visited these glades often – attracted by the extraordinary diversity of insects living within the glades and congregating around its edges. My earliest buprestid and cerambycid papers contain numerous records from “Victoria Glades” and “Valley View Glades” – the two best-preserved examples of the glades that once occurred extensively throughout the area (more on this later). My visits to these glades ended in 1990 when I moved to California, and although I moved back to the St. Louis area in 1995, the focus of my beetle research has more often taken me to places outside of Missouri. It had, in fact, been some 10 years since my last visit to these glades until last week, when I was able to once again spend some time in them.

Ozark glades differ from the true cedar glades of the southeastern U.S. in that they are not a climax habitat – they depend upon periodic fires to prevent succession to forest. Some recent authors have suggested the term “xeric dolomite/limestone prairie” be used to distinguish the fire-dependent glades of the Ozarks from the edaphic climax cedar glades of the southeast (Baskin & Baskin 2000, Baskin et al. 2007). Fires have been largely suppressed throughout Missouri since European settlement, leading to encroachment upon the glades by eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Pure stands of red-cedar have developed on many former glades, crowding out the herbaceous plants that depend upon full sun and leading to soil formation that supports further encroachment by additional woody plant species such as post oak (Quercus stellata), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) from the surrounding woodlands. Fire has returned to many of the Ozark glades situated on lands owned or managed by state and federal agencies such as the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Forest Service, as well as private conservation-minded organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. These agencies have begun adopting cedar removal and fire management techniques to bring back the pre-settlement look and diversity of the Ozark Glades. This is particularly true at Victoria Glades and Valley View Glades, the two largest and most pristine examples of the Jefferson County dolomite glade complex. Fires have been used to kill small red-cedars in the glades, as well as rejuvenate their herbaceous plant communities. Larger red-cedar trees are not killed outright by fire and must be removed by chainsaws. This above distant view of the TNC parcel at Victoria Glades shows many such burned red-cedars. The glades themselves are not the only habitat to benefit from this aggressive management – when I was doing my fieldwork here in the 1980’s the surrounding woodlands were a closed post oak forest bordered by fragrant sumac and with little or no understory in the interior. The photo at right now shows an open savanna with a rich understory of not only sumac and other shrubs, but also many herbaceous plants as well such as black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and American feverfew (Parthenium integrifolium). Such open woodland more closely resembles what Schoolcraft saw across much of the Ozarks during his journey almost two centuries ago.

Victoria and Valley View Glades are dominated by little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). A smaller but highly charismatic non-grass flora is also found on the glades – species such as Missouri evening primrose (Oenethera macrocarpa) (left), pale purple coneflower (Echinacea simulata) (pictured above and below), and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) not only add beautiful color but also support both vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife. The Fremont’s leather flower (Clematis fremontii) is a true endemic, occurring only in this part of Missouri and entirely dependent upon these glades for its survival. Less well studied is the vast insect fauna associated with the glades. It is here where I first discovered the occurrence of Acmaeodera neglecta in Missouri. This small jewel beetle is similar to the broadly occurring A. tubulus but at the time was known only from Texas and surrounding states. In collecting what I thought were adults of A. tubulus on various flowers in the glades, I noticed that some of them were less shining, more strongly punctate, and exhibited elytral patterning that was often coalesced into longitudinal “C-shaped” markings rather than the scattered small spots typical of A. tubulus. These proved to be A. neglecta, which I have since found on many glade habitats throughout the Ozark Highlands. Both species can be seen in this photo feeding on a flower of hairy wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) – the lower individual is A. neglecta, while the upper individual and two inside the flower are A. tubulus. Another interesting insect-plant association I discovered at these glades was the strikingly beautiful Dicerca pugionata – another species of jewel beetle – and its host plant ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius). Only a single Missouri occurrence had been reported for D. pugionata, despite the common occurrence of its host plant along rocky streams and rivers throughout the Ozark Highlands. This plant also grows at Victoria and Valley View Glades along the intermittent streams that drain the glades and in the moist toeslopes along the lower edges of the glades where water that has percolated through the rocks and down the slopes is forced to the surface by an impermeable layer of bedrock. Unlike the tall, robust, lush plants that can be found in more optimal streamside habitats with good moisture availability, the ninebark plants of Victoria and Valley View Glades are small and scraggly, usually with some dieback that results from suboptimal growing conditions. I surmise these plants have reduced capabilities for fending off attacks by insects, including D. pugionata, and as a result a healthy population of the insect thrives at these glades. Some might be inclined to call this beetle a pest, threatening the health of one of the glade’s plants. In reality, the insect finds refuge in these glades – unable to effectively colonize the vast reserves of healthy plants that grow along streams throughout the rest of the Ozarks, it strikes a tenuous balance with plants that are themselves on the edge of survival.

Despite the success in moving Victoria and Valley View Glades closer to their pre-settlement character, the integrity of these areas continues to be challenged. Poachers take anything of real or perceived value, and ATV enthusiasts view the open spaces as nothing more than tarmac. Pale purple coneflower occurs abundantly on these Jefferson County glades (but sparingly in other habitats – primarily rocky roadsides), where they provide a stunning floral display during June and sustain innumerable insect pollinators. Plants in the genus Echinacea also have perceived medicinal value, as herbalists believe their roots contain an effective blood purifier and antibiotic. There are no conclusive human clinical trials to date that fully substantiate this purported immune stimulating effect (McKeown 1999). Nevertheless, demand for herbal use has skyrocketed in recent decades, prompting widespread illegal harvesting of several coneflower species throughout their collective range across the Great Plains and Ozark Highlands. I witnessed massive removals of this plant from both Victoria and Valley View Glades during the 1980’s, but the pictures I took this year suggest that such illegal harvests have been suppressed and that the populations at both sites are recovering nicely.

The same cannot be said for the practice of rock flipping. This was a problem I witnessed back in the 1980’s, and I saw fresh evidence of its continued occurrence at both sites. The thin soils and sloping terrain leave successive layers of dolomite bedrock exposed, the edges of which shatter from repeated freeze-thaw cycles to create rows of loose, flat rocks along the bedrock strata. Lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and scorpions find refuge under these loose rocks, only to be ripped from their homes by flippers and transferred to a dark, cold terrarium to endure a slow, lingering death. As if poaching the glade’s fauna and watching them slowly die isn’t bad enough, the flippers add insult to injury by not even bothering to replace the rock in its original position after stealing its inhabitant, amounting to habitat destruction three times greater than the area of the rock itself. Firstly, the habitat under the rock is destroyed by sudden exposure of the diverse and formerly sheltered microfauna to deadly sunlight. Next, the habitat onto which the rock is flipped is also destroyed, as the plants growing there begin a slow, smothering death. Lastly, the upper surface of the rock, sometimes colonized by mosses and lichens that might have required decades or longer to grow, usually ends up against the ground – its white, sterile underside becoming the new upper surface. Rock flipper scars take years to heal, and nearly all of the flat, loose rocks seen in the more accessible areas of the glades exhibit scars of varying ages next to them. If a scar is fresh (first photo), I generally return to the rock to its original position – the former inhabitants cannot be brought back, but at least the original habitats are saved and can recover quickly. However, if a scar is too old (2nd photo) it is best to leave the rock in its new position – replacing it only prolongs the time required for recovery.

Even more damaging is ATV use. Herbaceous plants and thin soils are no match for the aggressive tread of ATV tires, and it doesn’t take too many passes over an area before the delicate plants are killed and loose soils ripped apart. I witnessed this become a big problem particularly on Victoria Glades during the 1980’s – actually finding myself once in a face-to-face confrontation with an ATV’er. Fortunately, he turned tail and ran, and it appears (for now) that such abuses have stopped, as I saw no evidence of more recent tracks during this visit. But the scars of those tracks laid down more than two decades ago still remain painfully visible. I expect several more decades will pass before they are healed completely.

My return to Victoria and Valley View Glades was a homecoming of sorts, and I was genuinely pleased to see the progress that has been made in managing these areas while revisiting the sites where my love affair with beetles was first kindled. Sadly, however, the larger glade complex of Jefferson County continues to deteriorate. Restoration acreage aside, red-cedar encroachment continues unabated on many of the remaining glade parcels – large and small – that dot the south and southwest facing slopes in this area. It has been conservatively estimated that as much as 70% of the original high quality glades in Missouri are now covered in red-cedar. Many of these are privately held – their owners either do not recognize their ecological significance or are loathe to set fire to them. An example can be seen in the picture here – this small parcel is part of the Victoria Glades complex but lies on private land in red-cedar choked contrast to the Nature Conservancy parcel immediately to the south. Small numbers of herbaceous plants persist here, but without intervention by fire or chainsaw their numbers will continue to dwindle and the glade will die. Aside from the loss of these glades, the continuing reduction of glade habitat complicates management options for preserved glades as well. Many glade associated invertebrates are “fire-sensitive” – i.e., they overwinter in the duff and leaf litter above the soil and are thus vulnerable to spring or fall fires. While these fires are profoundly useful for invigorating the herbaceous flora, they can lead to local extirpation of fire-sensitive invertebrate species within the burn area. Recolonization normally occurs quickly from unburned glades in proximity to the burned areas but can be hampered if source habitat exists as small, highly-fragmented remnants separated by extensive tracts of hostile environment. Grazing also continues to threaten existing remnants in the Jefferson County complex. Grazing rates are higher now than ever before, with greater negative impact due to the use of fencing that prevents grazers from moving to “greener pastures”. Over-grazing eliminates native vegetation through constant depletion of nutrient reserves and disturbance of the delicate soil structure, leading to invasion and establishment of undesirable plant species. Eventually, the glade becomes unproductive for pasture and is abandoned – coupled with fire suppression this leads to rapid woody encroachment. It is truly depressing to drive through Jefferson County and recognize these cedar-choked glades for what they were, able to do nothing but watch in dismay as yet another aspect of Missouri’s natural heritage gradually disappears. The continued loss of these remnant glades makes careful use of fire management on Victoria and Valley View Glades all the more critical – ensuring that a patchwork of unburned, lightly burned, and more heavily burned areas exists at a given time will be critical for preventing invertebrate extirpations within these managed areas.

I close by sharing with you a few more of the many photographs I took during this visit – stiff tickseed (Coreopsis palmata), three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), climbing milkweed (Matelea decipiens – see the excellent post about this plant on Ozark Highlands of Missouri), downy phlox (Phlox pilosa), green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora), and a “deerly” departed native browser.