Revisiting the Highlands tiger beetle (Cicindelidia highlandensis)

In September 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America in Orlando, Florida, which was being held in conjunction with the International Congress of Entomology. My first thought when I made plans to attend these meetings was that this would be a chance for me to get another look at the Highlands tiger beetle (Cicindelidia highlandensis). One of Florida’s rarest endemic tiger beetles, this species is restricted entirely to remnant sand scrub and pine woodland habitats along the Lake Wales Ridge of Polk and Highlands Counties in central Florida (Choate 2003). I was thrilled to have found adults (in good numbers) on my first attempt back in 2009, and I was also thrilled to have successfully managed to photograph the beetle at that time. However, in the years since, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with those photographs—taken during what was my very first year of insect macrophotography. I’ve learned a lot since then about lighting, diffusion, and composition, but perhaps the biggest annoyance of those photographs is the fact that in every one the antennae and/or legs are “clipped”—a result of my being so enamored with my newfound macrophotographic capabilities that I nearly completely ignored other aspects of photographic composition.

Chris Brown photographing Cicindelidia highlandensis

Chris Brown photographs a Highlands tiger beetle.

Chris Brown—long-time field accomplice and himself a tiger beetle aficionado and insect macrophotographer—was also at the meetings, and since he had never seen the Highlands tiger beetle before we made plans to slip away one day and visit the spot where I had seen them back in 2009. I knew our chances of finding them were slim—it was very late in the season (late September), and the species is a so-called “summer species” with peak of adult activity in July and August. We figured, however, that even if we didn’t find adults we would still enjoy the day in the field, and for some time after arriving at the site that’s all it was. Finally, in an open sandy area near a small lake we saw the first adult. I let Chris take his shots, as this was his first opportunity (see photo above), while I continued to search for additional adults. Eventually I found one and began the long process of “whispering” to it to coax it into allowing me the photographs I desired.

Cicindelidia highlandensis

Highlands tiger beetle (Cicindelidia highlandensis).

As you can see in the photograph above, my compositional preferences have changed since I took those first photographs back in 2009. In contrast to the “as close as possible” style that I initially adopted, I now prefer to back off from the beetle enough to include elements of the habitat in which it occurs. While this compositional style may show less detail on the beetle itself, I believe it adds perspective and results in a more interesting and aesthetically pleasing photograph. I also now like to get down as low as I can, often placing the camera directly on the ground rather than always shooting from “elbow-height”, for a more unique perspective of the beetle, and my use of better flash diffusion results in more even lighting and minimizes the distracting specular highlights that are often the hallmark of flash macrophotography.

Cicindelidia highlandensis

This individual demonstrates the thermoregulatory “stilting” behavior of the adults.

Sadly, my flash unit failed soon after I began photographing the beetle, which is a real shame because the beetle began demonstrating the characteristic “stilting” behavior that the adults use for thermoregulation in their hot environment. The photograph above is the only one that I could “rescue” through some rather heavy-handed post-processing to make up for the failure of the flash unit to fire (it is fortunate that I have shifted to routinely using a combination of ambient light and fill-flash rather than flash only, or I would have had not even this photograph to rescue!). I suppose this means I’ll just have to revisit this species once again (now that I have not one but two new flash units!), which isn’t all bad because I would also love to see and photograph once again the moustached tiger beetle (Ellipsoptera hirtilabris), another Florida endemic (or near so) that I saw here also during my first visit but not during this one.

The Highlands tiger beetle belongs to a group of species called the abdominalis species-group, with all four of the included species (C. abdominalis, C. floridana, C. highlandensis, C. scabrosa) occurring in Florida (three of which are endemic or near-endemic to Florida). For those interested, I have seen and photographed all four of the species and presented a “mini-review” with photographs and links to posts with more detailed information about each species, along with a key to the species to allow for their identification.

REFERENCES:

Choate, P. M., Jr. 2003. A Field Guide and Identification Manual for Florida and Eastern U.S. Tiger Beetles.  University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 224 pp.

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

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!

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

Cave Creek Ranch, Cave Creek Canyon, Chiricahua Mountains.

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.

Majestic peaks loom over the canyon.

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

Me with Margarethe Brummermann.

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

Margarethe Brummermann searches for beetles in Sunny Flat Campground.

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).

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

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

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.


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.

Tetraopes discoideus (family Cerambycidae).

Rhopalophora meeskei and Lycus sp. on Asclepias sp.
IMG_3151 (Edited)

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.

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.

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!).

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.

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.

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.

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).

Giant mesquite bugs (Thasus neocalifornicus).

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).

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!


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.

Box Canyon from just above the dry falls.
Prickly poppy (Argemone mexicana) blooming along the roadside.

Hippomelas planicauda mating pair on Mimosa dysocarpa.

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

Acmaeodera cazieri (left-center).

Acmaeodera yuccavora.

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

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…

Sarcostemma sp. (family Asclepiadaceae).

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.

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

Unidentified plant.

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!

A beacon in the night!

Art, Steve, and Norm checking the lights.

Chrysina gloriosa.

A male oz beetle (Strategus aloeus).

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

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.

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).

Copper Canyon to the northwest.

Copper Canyon to the north.

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

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.

Bear Canyon to the south.

Bear Canyon to the north.

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.


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.

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

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

Turkey vultures hanging out waiting for me to die!

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).

Dendrobias mandibularis – major male.

Them’s some mandibles!

Gyascutus caelatus on Acacia rigidula.

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

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.

Lampetis webbii, collected on Rhus sp.

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!).

Meeting Pat Sullivan!

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

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

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

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

“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.

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.

Halfway down from the “dry falls”.

The “dry falls” about halfway up the canyon.

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!

Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Acanthocephala thomasi on Baccharis sarothroides.

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

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

Rain headed my way!

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.

A gorgeous sunset to start the evening.

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

A bee assassin bug, Apiomerus flaviventris.

An ocotillo, or calleta, silkmoth – Eupackardia calleta.

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!

Euphoria leucographa on Baccharis sarothroides.

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.

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

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

Tragidion sp. mating pair on Baccharis sarothroides.

Mating pair of Stenaspis verticalis arizonensis on Baccharis sarothroides.

Chalcolepidius lenzi at a sap flow on Baccharis sarothroides.

Lateral view of Chalcolepidius lenzi.

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!

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.

Spectacular views from 7000 ft!

A lichen moth on flowers of Ceanothus sp.

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

The spectacular vistas just keep on coming!

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).

Obligatory dusk shot of Moneilema gigas on Opuntia imbricata.

Another individual on the same plant.

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. Now, for some light reading during the plane ride home!

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

“Highlights from Nearly 20 Years of Chasing Tiger Beetles in Missouri”

Last night, Chris Brown—my longtime field companion and fellow tiger beetle aficionado—and I gave a presentation to the Entomology Group of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society at Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, Missouri, giving highlights from our nearly 20 of “chasing” tiger beetles in Missouri. Our work not only revealed two new state records (Cicindelidia trifasciata ascendens and Cylindera celeripes), bringing to 24 the total number of tiger beetle species known from the state, but also featured intensive surveys for several species of conservation interest.

It was a fun, lighthearted presentation that emphasized the experiences we had while conducting these surveys and our growth as natural historians as a result of them. Of course, beautiful photographs of tiger beetles were used liberally throughout the presentation (for those who do not know, Chris was my early mentor in the area of insect macrophotography!). While we had a nice local turnout, I realize most of the readership of this blog could not have attended this event in person. Never fear, however, for I have saved the slide deck as a PDF document* that you can download and peruse at your convenience.

* All content is copyrighted and may not be reproduced or distributed without written consent.

© Ted C. MacRae 2019

 

Ellipsoptera lepida – ghost tiger beetle

In the early 2000s, Chris Brown and I were beginning our general survey of Missouri tiger beetles. Our goal was to characterize the occurrence and distribution of all species within the state. At the time, 22 species were known to occur in Missouri, and our work would uncover the presence of two more—one being a vagrant occurrence of the widespread Cicindelidia trifasciata ascendens (ascendent tiger beetle) (Brown & MacRae 2005); the other being the rare Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle) (MacRae & Brown 2011). Of the species already known from the state, however, some were known from only a few records and hadn’t been seen in the field by either Chris or myself. One such species was Ellipsoptera lepida (ghost tiger beetle), an almost pure white species known to occur in deep, dry sand habitats over most of central North America (Pearson et al. 2015). At that time, I had still seen only the more common species in Missouri, and the combination of its name and unusual, mostly-white color put this species high on my “must see” list.

Ellipsoptera lepida (ghost tiger beetle)

My first experience would come quickly. In June 2001, Chris and I visited a recent addition to Weldon Spring Conservation Area on the north side of the Missouri River in St. Charles Co. called Darst Bottoms. The area at one time was productive farmland, but the “Great Floods” of 1993 and 1995 left deep deposits of sand over the area. While no longer suitable for agriculture, the process of succession allowed valuable wildlife habitat to develop, and the area was purchased and added to the Conservation Area. By the time of our visit in 2001, early succession had resulted in young forests of mostly eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) surrounding a vast central plain of white sand. Chris and I didn’t know what to expect on that first visit, both of us being in the early stages of our survey of Missouri tiger beetles, but we figured we would find something interesting.

Ellipsoptera lepida (ghost tiger beetle)

I still remember the moment I first saw E. lepida and realized what it was. We had already found Cicindela formosa generosa (eastern big sand tiger beetle)—the first time I had seen that species in Missouri outside the southeastern lowlands (we would eventually find it at many sites along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and a few smaller interior rivers)—and were searching for additional specimens. We were in a small opening adjacent to the larger central plain when I thought I saw something move near my feet. I stopped to look down but didn’t see anything, so I began walking again while scanning the ground ahead of me. Again, I thought I saw movement nearby and stopped to look, this time pausing a little longer and doing so a little more carefully. That’s when I saw it, and even though I had seen only photographs of the species and museum specimens I recognized it instantly for what it was and yelled out “lepida!” Chris came over to see for himself, and we marveled at the effectiveness of their camouflage—they seemingly were able to disappear right before our eyes even though we were looking right at them.

Sand plain habitat for Ellipsoptera lepida (ghost tiger beetle).

Over the next few years, Chris and I found the species at several sites along or not too distant from the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers—always on sand deposits deep enough to become dry. We never found them in great numbers, sometimes just single individuals while other sand residents were abundant, and not at all sites where we did find more reliable species such as C. f. generosa and C. tranquebarica (oblique-lined tiger beetle). Pearson et al. (2015) mention that despite the broad distribution of this species across central North America that its actual occurrence is rather spotty and localized and that it has disappeared from many sites where it was previously known to occur. This was our experience in Missouri as well, as many of the museum records we had gleaned for the species no longer appeared to support populations of the beetle. This is likely due, at least in part, to the ephemeral nature of the habitats on which the species depends, at least those along the big rivers that are vulnerable to revegetation and succession back to bottomland forest.

Ellipsoptera lepida (ghost tiger beetle)

Of course, all of this occurred long before I took up insect macrophotography in 2009, and while I had managed to photograph most of the tiger beetle species in Missouri in the years that followed, E. lepida was one that I continued to lack. In the summer of 2015 I decided to rectify that situation and, when the time was right, returned to Darst Bottoms in hopes of finding and photographing this species. Imagine my surprise when I hiked into the area and, instead of young cottonwood stands surrounding a vast, barren sand plain, I found mature cottonwood forests surrounding a thickly vegetated sand prairie with only isolated patches of barren sand. Needless to say, with such little suitable habitat for the beetles they were neither abundant nor even common. In fact, the only evidence I found that told me they were still there at all was coyote scat containing unmistakable remains of the adult beetles. Skunked on my first effort, I decided to try another spot where we had seen good populations of the beetle—Overton Bottoms Conservation Area along the Missouri River in Cooper and Monteau Counties in central Missouri, now Overton Bottoms South Unit and part of the Big Muddy National Wildlife Area. Like Darst Bottoms, this area had experienced revegetation and succession in the decade+ since my previous visit; however, unlike the former there still remained a vast central plain that, while vegetated, was sparsely vegetated enough to continue providing suitable habitat for the beetle. It took some work, but I eventually found the beetles localized in one part of the sand plain (see photograph #3), and there were enough of them out at the time of my visit that I succeeded in getting the series of photographs shown in this post.

Ellipsoptera lepida (ghost tiger beetle)

I have fond memories of all 24 tiger beetle species in Missouri—each one presenting a unique collection of experiences that will fuel my love affair with the group for years to come. With E. lepida, the jubilance and excitement of that first, unexpected encounter remains near the top of the list for me.

REFERENCES:

Brown, C. R. & T. C. MacRae. 2005. Occurrence of Cicindela (Cicindelidia) trifasciata ascendens (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) in Missouri. Cicindela 37(1–2):17–19 [pdf].

MacRae, T. C. & C. R. Brown. 2011. Historical and contemporary occurrence of Cylindera (s. str.) celeripes (LeConte) (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelinae) and implications for its conservation. The Coleopterists Bulletin 65(3):230–241 [pdf].

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley, D. P. Duran & C. J. Kazilek. 2015. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press, New York, 264 pp. [Oxford description].

© Ted C. MacRae 2017

Cicindela scutellaris flavoviridis (chartreuse tiger beetle)

In previous posts I have discussed some Texas subspecies of Cicindela scutellaris (festive tiger beetle) and C. formosa (big sand tiger beetle)—two widespread and geographically variable species that occur broadly across eastern North America and that segregate into several distinctive and geographically restricted subspecies (Pearson et al. 2006). With the former species, I actually found two of its Texas subspecies, the second being C. s. flavoviridis (dubbed the “chartreuse tiger beetle” by Erwin & Pearson, 2008). This subspecies occurs in a narrow band from north-central Texas south to central Texas and apparently does not intergrade with rugata (which I featured previously) to the east (Pearson et al. 2006) and minimally with subspecies lecontei to the north (Vaurie 1950).

Cicindela scutellaris flavoviridis

Cicindela scutellaris flavoviridis

This beautiful subspecies usually lacks maculations, at most possessing two tiny ivory white spots along the outer edge of the elytra, and the shining metallic upper body surface is the most stunning shade of greenish-yellow, or chartreuse, color that I have ever seen. It shares with C. s. rugata a more wrinkled pronotum and smoother head than other C. scutellaris subspecies, but the latter is distinguished by its darker blue to blue-green dorsal coloration. Vaurie (1950) regarded C. s. flavoviridis to be intermediate between rugata and scutellaris but more closely related to the latter due to their shared yellow/coppery reflections on the elytra. Cicindela s. flavoviridis can also be confused with immaculate forms of C. sexguttata (six-spotted tiger beetle), but the latter is less robust with a more tapered posterior, and both sexes of C. sexguttata have a whitish labrum—in all C. scutellaris subspecies only males have a white labrum and females have a dark/black labrum.

Cicindela scutellaris flavoviridis

Cicindela scutellaris flavoviridis

Like all of the other C. scutellaris subspecies, this one occurs in deep, dry sand habitats such as dunes, blowouts, and road cuts. I found this population along a tributary of the Red River known as Cobb Hollow” in Montegue Co., Texas in early October 2015, where they occurred in small numbers on deep sand bars alongside the small creek. I actually made two visits to this site one week apart—failing the first time in my efforts to obtain good, in situ field photographs but succeeding on the second visit.

Cicindela scutellaris flavoviridis

Cicindela scutellaris flavoviridis

I am quite satisfied with these photos, especially the first one above that gives a good lateral view of an adult striking an interesting pose on sloped sand, although I would have liked to have gotten at least one with some foliage in the photo to add a bit of perspective. Nevertheless, having now succeed in photographing the four “western” subspecies of C. scutellaris (rugata and flavoviridis in Texas, nominate scutellaris in the Great Plains, and yampae in northwestern Colorado), I am now motivated to get good photographs of the three “eastern” subspecies: lecontei proper (there are populations in northern Missouri), rugifrons along the North Atlantic coast, and unicolor in the southeastern U.S. (although I have photographed an interesting lecontei × unicolor intergrade population in southern Missouri).

REFERENCES:

Erwin, T. L. & D. L. Pearson. 2008. A Treatise on the Western Hemisphere Caraboidea (Coleoptera). Their classification, distributions, and ways of life. Volume II (Carabidae-Nebriiformes 2-Cicindelitae). Pensoft Series Faunistica 84. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, 400 pp [Amazon descriptionbook review].

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley & C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York, 227 pp. [Oxford description].

Vaurie, P. 1950. Four new subspecies of the genus Cicindela (Coleoptera, Cicindelidae). American Museum Novitates 1458:1–6 [AMNH Digital Library pdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2017

Cicindela scutellaris rugata (the “wrinkled tiger beetle”)

During last year’s Fall Tiger Beetle Collecting Trip, I visited several rural cemeteries in northeastern Texas. No, this was not a diversion from my beetle collecting—cemeteries in rural areas can be great places to look for tiger beetles because they tend to be lightly managed parcels of land of low agricultural value, thus retaining to some degree the character of the original landscape. In this case, the cemeteries I visited were located in the northern part of Texas’ Post Oak Savannah, a transitional ecoregion with uplands characterized by deep sandy soils supporting native bunchgrasses and scattered post oaks. It is the open, sandy areas in this region where distinctive subspecific populations of two more broadly distributed tiger beetles can be found—Cicindela scutellaris rugata and Cicindela formosa pigmentosignata. One location where I looked for them was an old cemetery in Henderson County. Within minutes of stepping out of the car, I found the first subspecies—unmistakable by its solid shiny blue coloration.

Cicindela scutellaris rugata

Cicindela scutellaris rugata Vaurie, 1950—Henderson Co., Texas

Cicindela scutellaris rugata, dubbed the “wrinkled tiger beetle” by Erwin & Pearson (2008), is one of seven recognized subspecies of this widely distributed species that shows greater geographical variation than any other species of tiger beetle in North America (Pearson et al. 2006). Across its range the species is found in deep, dry sand habitats that are fully exposed to the sun and lack any standing water. Except in the far southeastern U.S., this species is often found in association with C. formosa (although in Missouri I have noted that C. scutellaris occurs slightly earlier in the spring and slightly later in the fall—perhaps at least in part to avoid direct competition with and possibly even predation by that larger species).

Cicindela scutellaris rugata

The “wrinkled tiger beetle” exhibits solid blue to blue-green coloration with no maculations.

This subspecies is similar in appearance to C. s. unicolor, distributed across the southeastern U.S. and separated from C. s. rugata by the Mississippi River floodplain—both are shiny blue to blue-green in coloration and exhibit no maculations on the elytra. However, C. s. rugata has a more wrinkled pronotum (hence, the subspecific epithet) and smoother head, while C. s. unicolor has a smoother pronotum and more wrinkled head. Another subspecies, C. s. flavoviridis, shares this surface sculpturing but differs in having the elytra colored lighter yellow-green—in this sense C. s. rugata can be considered intermediate between C. s. unicolor to the east and C. s. flavoviridis to the west (Vaurie 1950). Cicindela s. rugata can also be confused with immaculate forms of C. sexguttata (six-spotted tiger beetle), but the latter is less robust with a more tapered posterior, and both sexes of C. sexguttata have a whitish labrum (in all subspecies of C. scutellaris only males have a white labrum, while females have a dark to black labrum).

Cicindela scutellaris rugata

The more wrinkled pronotum and smoother head distinguishes C. s. rugata from C. s. unicolor.

As I have noted for other C. scutellaris subspecies that I have encountered (nominate as well as C. s. leconteiC. s. yampae, and Missouri’s intergrade population of C. s. unicolorC. s. lecontei), adults were fairly abundant during the late morning hours but largely disappeared during the afternoon, probably having dug into their burrows to escape the midday heat (although I did not search for the burrows and dig them out as I have done for the other mentioned subspecies). I did see a very few individuals at another sandy cemetery in neighboring Van Zandt Co. that I visited later in the afternoon (and at both locations I found the stunning C. formosa pigmentosignata—that will be the subject of another post).

REFERENCES:

Erwin, T. L. & D. L. Pearson. 2008. A Treatise on the Western Hemisphere Caraboidea (Coleoptera). Their classification, distributions, and ways of life. Volume II (Carabidae-Nebriiformes 2-Cicindelitae). Pensoft Series Faunistica 84. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, 400 pp [Amazon descriptionbook review].

Pearson, D. L., C. B. Knisley & C. J. Kazilek. 2006. A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United States and Canada. Oxford University Press, New York, 227 pp. [Oxford description].

Vaurie, P. 1950. Four new subspecies of the genus Cicindela (Coleoptera, Cicindelidae). American Museum Novitates 1458:1–6 [AMNH Digital Library pdf].

© Ted C. MacRae 2016

Guest Post: Burrow Hole Blues

For today’s post, I am pleased to introduce nature writer and guest blogger Sharman Apt Russell. Epitomizing the increasingly important role of citizen scientists in conservation and natural history study, Sharman recently engaged in a year-long study of the Western red-bellied tiger beetle. Her experiences studying this little-known insect form the basis of her latest book, Diary of a Citizen Scientist. Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World. With writing that is both humorous and whimsical, Sharman highlights the extraordinary scientific contributions being made by ordinary people. Of course, tiger beetles and citizen science are two subjects right up my own alley, so I’m avidly reading my own copy right now. I hope you’ll pick up a copy too (see ordering information below). The following excerpt from the book was kindly provided by the author.

When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and when you’re looking for the larval burrow hole of a Western red-bellied tiger beetle or Cicindela sedecimpunctata,  you see a surprising number of holes you’ve never seen before. Usually they are not the right size or shape, but you think about them anyway because suddenly you are curious: who lives inside all these holes?

Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetle adult. Photo by Cary Kerst.

Western red-bellied tiger beetle adult. Photo by Cary Kerst.

In Arizona and New Mexico, the Western red-bellied tiger beetle is a common and abundant species that comes out in June, before the summer rains, to congregate around ponds and ditches and river banks. For the last few years, as a citizen scientist, I have been trying to fill in what we don’t know about this insect, which includes what kind of habitat the females lay their eggs. Once these tiger beetle eggs hatch, the tiny larvae start digging vertical burrows, the entrance almost perfect circles in the dirt that increase in size (1-3 millimeters) as the larva goes through three stages or instars and enlarges the burrow. But where are those blankety-blank burrows? Does this beetle oviposit close to water or as much as a half mile away, like Cicindela marutha, the aridland tiger beetle? What kind of soil do Western red-bellies prefer?

Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetle larva. Photo used with permission.

Western red-bellied tiger beetle larva. Photo used with permission.

My entomologist-mentors David Pearson and Barry Knisley, coauthors of A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of  the United States and Canada, want to know the answers to these questions, and I’ve promised them that I would find out. So far, for three years, I’ve broken that promise, looking up and down the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico without success. About this time, in late fall, I start to give up, thinking that the larvae have closed their tunnels in order to overwinter.

On one last walk along the Gila River, a few holes remain to tempt me.

A number of almost-perfect circles in the dirt, eighty feet from the riverbank where I have seen hundreds of adult Western red-bellied tiger beetles congregate in the summer, are too large but still irresistible. Hole after hole, nothing lives there now. Instead something probably emerged months ago.

Tiny perfect circles in the dry upland grass are promising. Tiny ants are passing by, and I can see how the fiercely predacious tiger beetle larvae might lunge from such a hole to catch one of these ants. Then I notice how often the ants are marching into these holes, which are obviously their nests.

Other holes near the trail I am walking have turrets or small mud chimneys. I don’t bother to look inside these, knowing they were not built by the Western red-bellied tiger beetle—whom I have reared up in terrariums. (Yes, I have seen their larval burrow holes, just not in the wild.) Possibly these are the old nests of digger bees whose turrets prevent parasitic flies from flipping their eggs into the burrow to hatch and devour the bee larvae. Similarly, Williston tiger beetles construct turrets like this on salt lake beds in eastern New Mexico.

Closer to the Gila River, in dry cliffs that once marked the river’s channel, I see lots of cicada emergence holes and what I think is the home of a tarantula. Tarantulas start their burrows as spiderlings and live there a lifetime, as long as ten years if male and twenty-five if female. This entrance is over an inch in diameter and covered with a light veil of silk that keeps in humidity and carries vibrations down into the foot-long tunnel with its J-shaped chamber. About three inches long, fully-grown tarantulas hunt beetles and grasshoppers and other small prey at night. Their defense against the foxes and coyotes and raccoons who like to eat them are irritating abdominal hairs that fall off easily and get into a predator’s eyes or nasal passages. (Coatis have learned to dislodge those hairs by vigorously rolling the spider back and forth along the ground.) Most people who walk around the Southwest become fond of tarantulas and think of them as lucky, much like having a roadrunner cross your path. I always give a glad mental shout—hey, neat! a tarantula!

Along the river now are signs of beaver chewing on tree trunks; perhaps a den is nearby. Southwestern beavers tend to make bank dens rather than lodges, a bank den having several entry tunnels with one above the high water mark. Its single inside chamber is about two by three by three feet. Other holes I’ll see on this walk might be made by gophers or ground squirrels, pocket mice or grasshopper mice. Collared lizards and whiptails use the holes made by other animals but occasionally dig their own burrows with a half-inch, half-moon shaped entrance. Wintering snakes also borrow someone else’s hole and sometimes den communally, rattlesnakes and bull snakes and whipsnakes all together. Burrowing owls modify the holes they find by lining the interior with feathers, food debris, and horse and cow dung. A Field Guide to Desert Holes says blandly, “This may be to disguise their scent to predators or as decoration.” Similarly, skunks borrow burrows or make their own, decorating them with a strong musky odor. Coyotes only use dens when birthing and raising pups, often on a hillside or bank, the hole taller than wide. There are a few large mysterious holes near my house that I like to think were made by a badger, a prodigious and powerful digger.

I guess we just see the top half of life. Somewhere, I know, the larvae of the Western red-bellied tiger beetle are bedding down now at the bottom of their tunnels (at least 15 centimeters deep), quiescent, waiting for winter to pass. In the spring, they’ll emerge again to catch prey. Eventually they will pupate into adults, congregating in June along the Gila River. Their life cycle is still a bit of a mystery. Maybe I’ll solve that mystery next year—or the next or the next.  In the meantime, I could be doing worse things with my life than looking for holes.

Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetles mating. Photo by Mike Lewinski.

Western red-bellied tiger beetles mating. Photo by Mike Lewinski.

About the author
Sharman Apt Russell lives in the Gila Valley of southwestern New Mexico and teaches at Western New Mexico University and Antioch University in Los Angeles. Her books related to entomology include Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World (Oregon State University Press, 2014) and An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect (Basic Books, 2005). Her work has been widely anthologized and translated into over ten languages. For more information, please go to her website and consider signing up for her infrequent newsletters www.sharmanaptrussell.com.

Ordering Information
Title: Diary of a Citizen Scientist
Author: Sharman Apt Russell
Publication Date: October 2014
Price: $18.95 paperback
Description: 224 pp., 6×9 inches
ISBN: 978-0-87071-752-9
Ordering: Available in bookstores or by calling 1-800-426-3797. Order online at http://oregonstate.edu/dept/press

© Sharman Apt Russell 2014

Tiger beetles in Argentina’s Chaco forest

The day after I photographed Brasiella argentata on the mud/san banks of the Rio Paraná in Corrientes, Argentina, I decided to drive westward into the heart of Chaco Province. The destination: Chaco National Park, where some of the best remaining examples of the original “Gran Chaco” remain. Once covering nearly a million square kilometers in northern Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, this distinctive ecoregion has been largely converted to a vast, hot sea of cotton fields and mesquite fence-rows. A unique plant community in the Gran Chaco is the quebracho forest that takes its name from quebracho colorado chaqueño (Schinopsis balansae)—a tall, massively-trunked tree (related to, of all things, poison ivy!) with beautiful red wood that has been logged relentlessly wherever it occurs. Chaco National Forest is unique for the largely intact example of this forest it preserves and the mature quebracho trees that it contains.

Odontocheila chrysis | Chaco National Park, Argentina

Odontocheila chrysis (Fabricius, 1801) | Chaco National Park, Argentina

Insect life was not abundant as I walked the dark forest path. The lateness of the season (early April) and long-enduring drought occurring in the region had taken their toll, and I was content to see just about anything. At one point, a flash of movement caught my eye, and as I scanned the forest floor in the area where I had seen it, the familiar silhouette of a Golden Forest Tiger Beetle—Odontocheila chrysis (Fabricius, 1801)—became visible. I was already familiar with this species, having seen fairly good numbers of them at another location further east during my first visit to the area 12 years earlier. Long-legged and fast-flying, this tiger beetle occurs throughout much of South America, where it lives in more shaded areas of forest clear-cuts, secondary forests, savannas, and open scrublands (Erwin & Pearson 2008). The ground-dwelling adults are known to congregate along paths and at large openings on the forest floor, and indeed I had seen them in their greatest numbers on a shaded dirt road around the margins of a temporary mud puddle. When disturbed, the wary adults fly up from the forest floor to land in adjacent bare area of substrate or on the leaves of understory plants.

Superposition eyes are adapted to the dark forest environment in which this species lives.

Superposition eyes are an adaptation to the dark forest environment where this species lives.

I faced a bit of a quandary when I saw this individual—do I collect it as a voucher and studio photograph backup, or do I go ahead and try to get the much more desirable in situ photograph of an unconfined adult in its native habitat. Considering that I had already collected a sufficient number during my earlier trip, I opted for the latter. I am fortunate that I got these two quite acceptable photographs before the adult flashed away in the blink of an eye right after I took the second shot, because I never saw another one the rest of the day or even the trip.  

An interesting feature of O. chrysis is its superposition eyes. In such eyes, each rhabdom (light sensitive unit) in the compound eye receives light through many ommatidial facets. This is in contrast to apposition compound eyes, where each rhabdom receives light from only a single facet. Superposition eyes are designed to increase photon capture, which is an advantage in the dark forest habitats where this beetle prefers to live (Brännström 1999).

Brasiella argentata | Chaco National Park, Argentina

Brasiella argentata (Fabricius, 1801) | Chaco National Park, Argentina

Shortly after photographing O. chrysis, I came upon a small opening where the path was a little wider and sunnier and the soil a little sandier and drier. Immediately I saw the small, zippy flits of the same tiger beetle species I had photographed the previous day on the banks of the Rio Paraná—Brasiella argentata. I could not find in the literature whether this species has superposition or apposition compound eyes, but considering that the species occur in great numbers on sunny river banks and that the few individuals I saw in the forest were in a sunny opening, I’m betting it’s the latter.

I couldn’t help but make another attempt to photograph this species, considering the difficulty I’d had the previous day (and that I wasn’t completely satisfied with any of the photos that I had obtained). More good fortune, despite there being only a few individuals to work with, as I managed to get the above photograph, which I consider far better than any that I already had. These beetles, too, quickly disappeared, and I never saw them again, but knowing I had the photos that I wanted made that okay.

Habitat for Odontocheila chrysis and Brasiella argentata

Quebracho forest habitat for Odontocheila chrysis and Brasiella argentata.

REFERENCES:

Brännström, P. A. 1999. Visual ecology of insect superposition eyes. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Lund University, 142 pp. [abstract].

Erwin, T. L. & D. L. Pearson. 2008. A Treatise on the Western Hemisphere Caraboidea (Coleoptera). Their classification, distributions, and ways of life. Volume II (Carabidae-Nebriiformes 2-Cicindelitae). Pensoft Series Faunistica 84. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, 400 pp. [Amazon descriptionbook review].

© Ted C. MacRae 2014