One Bad Beetle

Almost every tiger beetle trip that I take has a mix of gimmes and stretch goals. That’s alright—it’s impossible to find everything every time out, and if I eschewed the common and was happy only when I found something truly rare, then I would probably find myself rather unsatisfied most of the time. For the stretch goals, however, “success” can mean many things—obviously the best case scenario is to find it in good enough numbers to allow responsible collection of an adequate series and photograph enough individuals in situ to ensure that at least a few shots will have the focus, lighting, and composition that I want. Success can also be something less than that—maybe I find only a few and don’t get a very good series, or I have trouble getting field shots and am not happy with the shots I got…or worse I don’t even get field shots! The least successful version of “success” is when I end up with just one single beetle, and the only photographs I get are very ordinary-looking shots of that one beetle in confinement. Like what happened with Cicindela decemnotata (Badlands Tiger Beetle).


Soda Lake, Wyoming—we searched theses areas of alkaline exposures but never found beetles…

Chris Brown and I knew this species would be a stretch goal when we added “Soda Lake, Wyoming” to the itinerary of our 7th Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip™ (location “H” on this map). Cicindela decemnotata is the westernmost representative (Rocky Mountains from the northwestern Great Plains and northern Great Basin north to Yukon) of a group of species that seem to be closely related and resemble each other in their green coloration varying degrees of red on the head, pronotum and elytra and their variably developed white elytral markings (Pearson et al. 2006). Cicindela limbalis, C. splendida and C. denverensis occur as a partially allopatric species complex further east in the Great Plains, while C. sexguttata, C. patruela and C. denikei occupy more forested regions even further to the east. On this trip we were focusing on Great Plains tiger beetles and the dune specialists of the Yampa River Valley of northwestern Colorado. Our drive from northwestern Nebraska to the Yampa Valley would skirt the eastern edge of C. decemnotata‘s distribution, so we decided to stop by Soda Lake where Matt Brust had seen the species in previous years.


…until we started searching these small ridges of exposed sandy soil.

It took most of the morning to reach the spot, so by the time we arrived we were anxious to get out and start searching the sage brush habitat. For me it was an unfamiliar landscape—at that time my northwesternmost push for tiger beetles yet, and like many western habitats it seemed vast and unending. We were optimistic, however, because it just “looked” like good tiger beetle habitat, with ribbons of alkaline flats weaving through open brush. Of course, as time passes and one starts to recognize that they are again searching ground already covered with no sign of beetles, optimism begins to wane and searches become more deliberate. We were there for almost an hour before I heard Chris call out. He had abandoned the alkaline flats—obvious habitat it would seem—and started looking upon some slightly sandier low ridges a little further to the south. I hustled to where he was standing, and we both looked at the beetle, calmly sitting on the sand, as we deliberated our next move. Should we try to photograph it? It seemed not at all skittish—but what if we failed, it got away, and then we never saw another one? We played it safe, netted it (easily), and placed it in a vial for transfer to a container of native soil should further efforts at finding and photographing the species fail. It was perhaps another 45 minutes before we saw another beetle—I don’t know if it was just a less cooperative individual or the heat of the day had kicked in, but as soon as I started my approach it was gone. We saw another not long after, but same story. Finally we saw one last beetle that seemed to tolerate my approach to the point that I even began looking for it in the view finder—at which point it promptly zipped away. This small prospect of success only served to prolong our vain searching before we eventually we accepted defeat and tried to be happy with the single individual that we had caught and the photographs that we would take of it in its artificial home.

Cicindela decemnotata

Cicindela decemnotata (Badlands Tiger Beetle) | Soda Lake, Wyoming

Part of me really doesn’t like showing photographs of confined tiger beetles—not for any philosophical reasons, but because I just don’t like the way they look. Rarely do they exhibit the elegant stilting and other thermoregulatory behaviors that place them in much more pleasing postures when photographed in situ. Rather, they often have a “hunkered down” look that says “I’m not happy and I don’t want to be here, so I’m not going to smile for the camera!” Since these photos were taken, I have learned a few tricks to deal with confined beetles and achieve more aesthetically pleasing photographs—these include the use of much larger arenas, allowing the beetles more time to accommodate to their environs, and elevating the substrate relative to the camera (maybe a subject for a future post). In the end, however, they are still confined and can’t be passed off as anything but that.

The bold white markings, media band sharply angled and not reaching the edge of the elytra, and ''greasy'' appearance distinguish this species.

The bold white markings, media band sharply angled and not reaching the edge of the elytra, and ”greasy” appearance distinguish this species.

As an aside, tiger beetle pros Barry Knisley, Ryan Woodcock and Mike Kippenhan have recently published the results of an impressive study of this species in which a combination of morphological and molecular evidence support the recognition of four subspecific entities—three described as new (Knisley et al. 2012). The molecular analyses not only support the subspecific distinctions postulated from morphology but also suggest that populations have undergone rapid phylogenetic radiation in the recent geological past. Much of the area occupied by C. decemnotata was covered by an ice shield during the most recent glaciations and, thus, has opened up for colonization only during the past 10,000 years (Pearson and Vogler 2001). The molecular analyses showed a relatively low amount of genetic divergence within C. decemnotata populations, which combined with marked morphological differences suggests recent and rapid radiation—most likely in the wake of glacial recession. A similar situation has been observed with members of the Cicindela maritima species-group, which occupy much the same range as C. decemnotata and, presumably, have experienced similar selection pressures in the recent geological past.


Knisley, C. B., M. R. Woodcock & M. G. Kippenhan. 2012. A morphological and mtDNA analysis of the badlands tiger beetle, Cicindela (s. str.) decemnotata Say, 1817 (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelinae) with the description of three new subspecies. Insecta Mundi 0214:1–49.

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.

Pearson, D. L. and A. P. Vogler.  2001. Tiger Beetles: The Evolution, Ecology, and Diversity of the Cicindelids.  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 333 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae  2012

Another autumn oedipodine

Shortgrass/sage brushland habitat in Medicine Bow Natl. Forest, Wyoming

In September 2010, Chris Brown and I explored shortgrass/sage brushland habitat atop the Laramie Mountains in southeastern Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest (location “J” on this map). We were entering the final days of our 7th Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip™ and, to that point, had found every tiger beetle species we had set out to look for. This day, however, was the official “skunk” day of the trip, for although we did see one Cicindela limbalis (Common Claybank Tiger Beetle)—collected live to become the subject of one of the crappiest tiger beetle photos I’ve ever taken—we did not see the tiger beetle that we were there to see; Cicindela longilabris (Boreal Long-lipped Tiger Beetle). Of course, I rarely have trouble finding consolation on a skunk day, and during fall this is even easier—the deep blue sky, crisp fall air, and vivid colors of a morphing landscape are enough to make even a bad day of insect collecting better than a good day of just about anything else. And then there are the band-winged grasshoppers (family Acrididae, subfamily Oedipodinae)!  When there are no tiger beetles to be had, there are almost always members of this group around, and other than tiger beetles I don’t think there is another group of insects that I enjoy photographing more.

Arphia pseudonietana (red-winged grasshopper) | Medicine Bow Natl. Forest, Wyoming

As we walked the trails not finding tiger beetles, I noticed these very dark grasshoppers every once in a while. They flew with a particularly noisy crackling sound that exposed bright red hind wings before dropping to the ground and instantaneously becoming almost completely invisible. Once I accepted that tiger beetle photography just wasn’t gonna happen that day, I began paying attention to these grasshoppers and, after working a few individuals, finally found one who was willing to let me get close enough for some photos. I’m not terribly fond of this first photo—the perspective is still too high as I had not yet learned by that time to get down flat on my belly for photographing anything on the ground (remember, this was two years ago). Nevertheless, it is the only one that I have that shows the entire body of the grasshopper. Since this location isn’t too far west of the Nebraska border, I figured an identification should be possible using the Nebraska grasshopper guide (Brust et al. 2008)—based on that work and subsequent examination of photos at BugGuide, I surmise this individual represents Arphia pseudonietana (red-winged grasshopper). There are other species of Arphia in Nebraska, some of which are easily confused with A. pseudonietana; however, most of these are more common further east. The only other species in the genus that occurs west into Wyoming is A. conspersa (speckle-winged grasshopper), and although it is similar in appearance and may have red hind wings (though more commonly orange to yellowish), adults are most common during spring and early summer. Arphia pseudonietana adults, on the other hand, are most active during mid-summer through fall.

The pronotum bears a single notch just in front of the middle.

Grasshoppers, particularly in the western states, tend to be loathed by ranchers who see them as competitors with cattle for meager forage resources, especially in dry years. This species does feed preferentially on a variety of grasses such as western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis); however, it doesn’t seem to occur at economically important levels except in association with other, more numerous grasshopper species. I’m glad to know this, because for some reason I just don’t want anybody regarding band-winged grasshoppers of any kind as a pest. Other grasshoppers, fine—just not my beloved bandwings!

I presume this 5th instar nymph also represents A. pseudonietana

Later in the day I came across this presumed 5th-instar grasshopper nymph, and although it was quite skittish I eventually managed to get this single photograph before it resumed its frenetic hopping and I gave up in frustration. This is one of the better “one-shots” that I’ve managed to take—my only criticism being that the focus was just a tad too deep to catch the front metafemoral face. I really didn’t have much time to setup for this shot—once I got the critter reasonably in-frame I fired! Anyway, I’m inclined to think this also represents A. pseudonietana, although I’m less confident in that ID than I am for the adult as I wasn’t able to find a real good comparative photograph. Nymphs of A. pseudonietana are apparently most common from mid-spring to mid summer, so the seasonality is a bit off. I would be grateful to any acridophile who stumbles across this post and can provide an ID confirmation or correction (for either the nymph or the adult). Until then, I leave you with a shot that shows why I love fall regardless of whether I’m finding insects!

Quaking aspen glows under the late September sun.


Brust, M. L., W. W. Hoback and R. J. Wright.  2008. The Grasshoppers (Orthoptera: Acrididae and Romaleidae) of Nebraska.  University of Nebraksa-Lincoln Extension, 138 pp.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

How to deal with a crappy photo of a beautiful beetle

One thing I’ve discovered after trying my hand at insect macrophotography for the past three years is that I take a lot more photos than I can possibly post. As a result, I tend to focus my efforts on more recent photos, especially those that have some kind of interesting natural history story to tell. Photos that don’t get posted soon after I took them tend to accumulate in my virtual “not yet posted” files, and periodically I need to browse through them to re-acquaint myself with any that I may have since forgotten about. Not all of these “other” photos are bad or uninteresting—they just happened to be taken at a time when I had other photos that I was more interested in using. Admittedly, however, there truly are some rather ugly photos in these archives, and the older they are the more frequently I find myself asking, “Why in the heck did I even keep that photo?” (hopefully this indicates improvement in my standards of what constitutes a photo worth keeping).

Cicindela limbalis | nr. Laramie, Wyoming

There is, however, a lesson here to be learned, and that is don’t be too quick to send to the recycle bin a photo that at first sight appears not worth keeping. Take, for example, this photograph of Cicindela limbalis (Common Claybank Tiger Beetle). This pretty little species is broadly distributed in Canada and the northern U.S. from New England across the Great Plains to the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Different populations show differing degrees of maculation, and here in Missouri the species is nearly immaculate. I found the individual in the above photo in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest as an example of the more completely maculated forms. However, since it was the only individual I saw in that location I didn’t try to photograph it in the field. Instead, I captured it and photographed it later in the “studio” (my hotel room). Sadly, this was in September 2010 when I was still a rank beginner in terms of insect macrophotography, and as a result I was far less versed on such details as lighting and composition than I am now. I’m ashamed to say that I thought this photo was “good enough.”

Of course, by today’s standards that is one crappy photo! If it wasn’t the sole photo that I have from that population I wouldn’t hesitate to throw it away. However, since I’ve been putting some effort recently into honing my Photoshop skills, I thought I would see if I could “rescue” from this crappy photo a halfway decent one. I did this as follow:

  • I opened the “Levels” tool, clicked on the “Set White Point” button, and touched the cursor to an area of the upper background. This not only eliminated most of the gray tinge in the background but also brightened up the beetle quite a bit. I brightened the beetle even more by pulling the left slider button in the “Input Levels” box a little more to the right (12). In the case of this photo, such levels adjustments were sufficient, but in some cases I might also slightly reduce shadowing using the “Shadows/Highlights” tool (2–10% is usually enough) or adjust color using the “Adjust Hue/Saturation” tool (whether you increase or decrease saturation, a light touch is best).
  • With the background brightened up, the debris spots were even more visible and needed to be cleaned up. This was easily accomplished with the “Spot Healing Brush” tool. I keep the size setting as small as possible for each spot while still encompassing the entirety of the spot. Debris spots next to or on the surface of the beetle are better dealt with using the “Clone Stamp” tool—this tool is a little more involved than the Spot Healing Brush, since a source point needs to be selected for each spot. However, it is more effective than the Spot Healing Brush for spots that are in areas where the background is not uniform. Again, I use the smallest size possible and carefully consider the source point for each clone to achieve the best results.
  • The last major problem with this photo was its composition. If I were to take it again today, I would angle the front of the beetle higher in the photo and not clip the middle and hind tarsi or antennal tip as I did in this photo. There is not a lot (though there is a little) that can be done about the clipping, but I used the “Straighten” tool to change the angle of the beetle by clicking on the tip of the abdomen and dragging the cursor to somewhere between the lower front leg and antenna. This resulted in a more pleasing pose for the beetle, but of course it also created triangular areas of blank canvas on each side that had to be dealt with. To do this, I cropped the edges of the photo to remove as much of the blank canvas as I could without cropping off any more of the beetle (I did end up cropping a little bit of the left hind leg), then used the Clone Stamp tool to fill the remaining blank areas with white background (this is much more difficult when the background is not as uniform as in this photo). Careful cloning is required in areas that are close to the beetle to prevent unintended alterations, and in this case I even had to clone in a fake lower tarsus for the middle leg and antennal tip for the left antenna to fill gaps that I could not crop. Cloning in new body parts is not always possible, and even when it is possible it’s not easy; however, with care and practice reasonable results can be achieved. In the case of this beetle it was not too difficult since the body parts that needed to be cloned were just short extensions of already blurred parts.

Lastly, I used typical “Unsharp Mask” settings to sharpen the photo, and here is the final result:

This photo won’t win any awards, but it is a completely serviceable illustration of the species.

This is still not a great photo—in addition to the clipping, the focus is a tad too deep and the beetle has assumed that dreaded “ground hugging” pose that I so detest with confined subjects. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be ashamed to use this photo if none better were available.

What alternative techniques would you have used on reworking this photo?

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

Sweet Sixteen!

The 7th Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip™ is officially over – Chris and I rolled back into town a little after midnight last night. It was an amazing trip – perfect weather, unparalleled scenery, and a record-breaking 16 species of tiger beetles seen in 13 localities across four states. Not only does this beat my previous trip record of 13 species, but we did it with only five days in the field. At the time of my previous update, we had visited several locations in the South Dakota Badlands and Nebraska Pine Ridge and found ten different tiger beetle species, including Cicindela pulchra (beautiful tiger beetle) – our top priority for the trip – C. nebraskana (prairie long-lipped tiger beetle), and C. lengi (blowout tiger beetle). Our plan for the next day was to visit the Badlands of Wyoming to look for C. decemnotata (Badlands tiger beetle – appropriately) and the Yampa River Valley of northwestern Colorado to look for C. scutellaris yampae and C. formosa gibsoni, all three of which we managed to find (though with caveats – stay tuned). Our originally planned final field day was to take us back into Wyoming to look for C. longilabris (boreal long-lipped tiger beetle) in the mountains east of Laramie and the Nebraska Sand Hills to look for the delicate little C. limbata before heading back home. However, we were finally paid a visit by “the skunk” and did not see any of these species (although our sighting of C. limbata (common claybank tiger beetle) in Wyoming did officially break the old trip record). Not wanting to end the trip on a disappointing day, we delayed our departure for home yesterday and visited two more sites at the eastern edge of the Nebraska Sand Hills (sites M and N in the above map) – a clay bank site where we saw a robust population of C. denverensis (to augment the single individual we had seen earlier in the trip) and several C. splendida (splendid tiger beetle), and another sand dune/blowout system where we at last succeeded in finding C. limbata.

The day after the end of the Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip™ is usually a somewhat depressing day for me. Not only is the trip over, but likely so is the entire insect collecting season. I know I need the down time to process the specimens and knowledge acquired during the season, but the field work itself remains my favorite aspect of this pursuit. Nevertheless, the experiences from this trip will fuel my memories for years to come, and in the next weeks I’ll share some of the stories that unfolded. Until then, I leave you with this portrait of C. pulchra – looking rather annoyed with me for my persistent efforts to take his photograph.

Cicindela pulchra - the ''beautiful'' tiger beetle

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010

A journey through time


East Humbolt Range, northeastern Nevada

During the past two days, my family and I made the long drive from St. Louis, Missouri to Lake Tahoe, California to enjoy a week of skiing (both alpine and cross-country), snow-shoeing, hiking (at lower elevations), and decompression.  At 1,990 miles, it’s not a drive for the pampered or easily bored (and for those with children, thank goodness for in-car DVD players). Yet, for those willing to explore the little seen wonders of a landscape that most people see only from 30,000 feet, driving cross-country can be a richly rewarding experience.  I have traveled through many parts of the U.S., but this was my first time experiencing the “northern route” between Missouri and California along I-80.  Along the way, I saw:

  • Massive flocks of snow geese roosting in wetlands along the Platte River Valley, rising up at morning’s light in swirling clouds and stringing across the sky in vast, intersecting “V”s as they begin another day on their journey northward.
  • Sandhill cranes in the Nebraska Sand Hills, dropping down from the sky like miniature parachutes as they congregated in fallow corn fields to feed amongst the stubble.
  • The vast, high, arid, lonely expanses of the Wyoming Basin, transitioning from mixed-grass prairie in the east to sagebrush steppe in the west.
  • The stunningly spectacular descent down the western escarpment of the Wasatch Range, where the eastern edge of the Great Basin laps against the western edge of the Rocky Mountains.  (Nightfall unfortunately deprived me of my chance to see the vast Great Salt Lake and the even more expansive stretches of its associated salt flats.)
  • The magnificent Great Basin landscape and its alternating basin and range theme – its broad basins of salt lakes, marshes and mud flats interrupted at regular intervals by craggy, north to south mountain ranges formed as a result of strike-slip faulting during the past 30-50 million years as the thin Basin crust continues to crack and stretch even thinner.
  • The dramatic eastern face of the Sierra Nevada Range, its snow-capped peaks rising massively as a single granite block at the western edge of the Great Basin, and the equally dramatic, tortuous climb up to Spooner Pass at 7,200′ elevation before the 1,000′ drop down into the majestic Lake Tahoe Basin.

Driving across such a vast expanse of North America, especially in the west with its endless vistas and majestic landscapes, invites contemplation about earth and time.  Starting out in the foothills of my beloved Ozark Highlands – born before life itself and weathered for a billion and a half years, driving through the upstart Rocky Mountains – mere babies at only 50-100 million years of age, and finally arriving at the truly young Lake Tahoe – whose mere few million years of age make it a mere infant in geological time, I realized that the vastness of these landscapes, and of the countless tectonic, erosional and sedimentary episodes that shaped them, is surpassed only by the vastness of the time it took to create them.  For those willing to make the investment, driving through these landscapes is more than a trip across the country – it is a journey through time.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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Rattled in the Black Hills

My first day in the Black Hills of South Dakota was spent at McNenny State Fish Hatchery near Spearfish – on the north side of the Black Hills. I went to this place on the advice of my esteemed colleagues in Nebraska, who suggested that I might be able to find several interesting tiger beetle species there: the closely related trio of beauties C. denverensis (green claybank tiger beetle), C. limbalis (common claybank tiger beetle), and C. splendida (splendid tiger beetle) in the red clay eroded banks; C. fulgida (crimson saltflat tiger beetle) and C. tranquebarica kirbyi (oblique-lined tiger beetle) around the lakes; and – again, if I’m lucky – intergrades between the prairie and boreal long-lipped tiger beetles (C. longilabris x nebraskana) along a trail through the shortgrass prairie east of the hatchery. For the first time since Saturday, I awoke to baby blue skies which filled me with an optimism and anticipation that made the 3-hour drive from Chadron, Nebraska to Spearfish, South Dakota seem interminable.

What my esteemed colleagues failed to include on that list of species I might encounter was Crotalus viridis – the prairie rattlesnake! Now folks, I’ve seen a number of rattlesnakes before – mostly in Texas – but I’ve never heard this sound in real life, much less heard it coming from a rattlesnake poised to strike. I encountered this fellow in the eroded red clay slopes above the lake, and even though I wasn’t too terribly close it gave me quite a start (my bravery in taking this photo is vastly exaggerated by the twin miracles of telephoto and cropping!). I walked a little more cautiously afterwards but gradually let my guard down over time. About an hour later, I was startled again by another rattler – I had come within 2 feet of it before it started rattling. I nearly jumped out of my skin, and once I got my heart stuffed back down my throat I noticed several dark juveniles coiled up with her. They slunk away, and I tiptoed back to the car having had my fill of the red clay slopes for the time being.

I did manage some success on the slopes before the rattlers drove me away – not with the claybank and splendid tigers that I had hoped to find, which were largely missing in action save for two individuals of C. limbalis that I spotted amongst the annoyingly similar appearing and ridiculously numerous C. purpurea audubonii (clay path tiger beetle). Success instead came in the form of this cerambycid beetle – Megacyllene comanchei. Recently described from Texas, nothing more was published about this species until I recorded a northern range extension into south-central Kansas (MacRae & Rice 2007). Its occurrence in the Black Hills is not only a new state record for South Dakota but also represents an incredible 700-mile northern range extension – on top of the previous one! Actually, Matt and I each found one individual a few days ago in Sioux County, Nebraska (also a new state record) – I had thought of this species at the time but decided I must be wrong and that I should wait until I got back before making an identification. But the capture of these three additional individuals even further north renewed my suspicions, and consultion of my databases shows good agreement with this species – note the white rather than yellow antemedian elytral band and medial portion of the postmedian elytral band, along with the medial and lateral coelescence of the apical and subapical bands, which distinguish this species from the closely related M. angulifera. The records from this trip show that M. comanchei is much more widely distributed than previously thought. Curiously, all five of the individuals I’ve seen (so far!) were crawling on the ground – an unusual habit for Megacyllene, which are normally found on flowers of goldenrod. The type series was associated with plants in the genus Heterotheca, which I did note growing in the area.

After escaping the snake slopes, I began surveying the lake margins to look for potential tiger beetle habitat. I was especially interested in C. fulgida – Matt and I had seen a single individual along a dry salt creek in Sioux County. The lakeshore around the upper lake was completely surrounded by thick vegetation – no tiger beetles there, but when I arrived at the lower lake I found some small areas of open ground along one side. They didn’t look very extensive, and my initial search of the area showed no activity. Closer inspection, however, showed the presence of larval burrows, and when I grabbed my fishing gear (the nearest grass stem) I promptly managed to extract a couple of larvae. Okay, so there are tiger beetles here, but which one I don’t know – probably C. tranquebarica kirbyi, which we had seen rather commonly at the same dry salt creek in Sioux County. Although the sun would not set for another two hours, it was quite cool already. I wondered if maybe the adults had already started digging in for the night and began looking for evidence of adult burrows. I looked carefully along the edge of the grassline when I saw movement – it was the back end of an adult C. fulgida kicking dirt out as it excavated its burrow. Success! I dug it out, took a few photos (one shown here) and started looking for similar appearing burrows. I not only found several more C. fulgida in their burrows, but also several C. tranquebarica kirbyi. The larvae I collected may or may not represent one of these species – there are other species associated with alkaline habitats that active at other times during the season. I collected a few more larvae, filled a container with soil from the spot – cutting out a section of salt-encrusted surface to place on top, placed all of the collected larvae in it, and watched them immediately start digging new burrows with their shovel-like heads. More babies to take care of!

With tiger beetle success under my belt and the sun setting fast, I decided the day was done and packed up the car. As I was closing the hatch, I happened to look over and saw something of great interest – milkweed! I had, in fact, been looking for milkweed all day long in the hopes – faint, I thought – of encountering the newly described Tetraopes heutheri (Skillman 2007). Mirror Lakes, at the McNenny Fish Hatchery, is the type locality of this species, and although the type series was collected in August I held out hope that the adults might persist until September. These hopes faded quickly, however, as I located milkweed plant after milkweed plant on the shortgrass prairie above the eroded clay slopes – all completely senesced, with nary a sign of any milkweed beetles. The plant I’d just spotted – only a small sprout – was green, and on it were two milkweed beetles! I excitedly took some pictures, then started looking carefully about and found several more on additional small sprouts in the area. Apparently, the sprouts represented regrowth from late-season mowing of the roadside, as several full-sized, completely senescent plants were found in the adjacent unmowed area. My excitement at having “found” T. heutheri (because of their small size and occurrence at the type locality) was short lived – closer examination of the specimens after returning home showed them to be very small individuals of the more common Great Plains species T. femoratus. I did have some doubts when I found the beetles, since the milkweed species on which I found them is not the same species with which T. heutheri was associated (Asclepias verticillata, a small species with narrow, linear leaves).

Day 2 in the Black Hills was spent at nearby Boundary Gulch, just across the border in the northeast corner of Wyoming. This was another attempt to find the C. longilabris x nebraskana intergrades that eluded me at McNenney, and although I failed to find them at this location also, I did find five other species of tiger beetles, including several beautifully marked C. limbalis to go along with the two I found the previous day. After that it was some spurious collecting here and there – including larvae from two spots in the southern Black Hills – as I traveled back to Chadron, Nebraska for the night. On tap for tomorrow – Nebraska’s famed Sand Hills! The beautiful sandy tiger beetle (C. limbata) – vivid white and iridescent green to red – hopefully will be found among the super abundant festive (C. scutellaris) and big sand (C. formosa) tigers, and I’ll get another shot at seeing the C. lengi (blowout tiger beetle) that I missed a few days ago.

A hunting we will go!

Maps have been prepared. Relevant emails from my esteemed colleagues to the northwest have been read and re-read. Summary sheets on the distribution, biology, and biogeography of the many different species I hope to encounter are in hand. Google Earth images of each locality I plan to visit – annotated with potential species occurrences and pinpointing precise locations of their likely habitats – have been assembled into a Powerpoint presentation, and detailed driving directions from Point “A” to Point “B”… all the way to Point “X” (home!) have been determined. All of this has been printed out and organized into a 3-ring binder. Why the extraordinary attention to detail? Because…

It’s time for the annual fall tiger beetle trip!

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The annual fall tiger beetle trip started several years ago when I, along with my friend and colleague Chris, began studying Missouri’s tiger beetle fauna. At first it was a diversion – buprestids and cerambycids are pretty well played out by fall, but tiger beetles across much of the U.S. exhibit a unique spring/fall fauna that is quite distinct from the summer fauna. Chris and I would go to different parts of Missouri, documenting the species encountered to fill in distributional data gaps. It was on these trips that I discovered how much I truly love early fall collecting – the cool air, the crisp smells, the long sharp shadows, and a landscape of foliage ever so lightly tinged with shades of red and yellow while grasses morph into fields of gold. In recent years, I’ve begun adventuring beyond Missouri’s borders on these fall trips, allured by the diversity of species found in the Great Plains – species alien to Missouri in an equally alien landscape. First, it was Barber County, Kansas, with its red gypsum hills inhabited by the aptly named Cicindela pulchra (beautiful tiger beetle) – deep wine-red and iridescent purple flashing across the barren red clay. Then last year I got my first taste of the Sand Hills of Nebraska at their farthest eastern extent. I watched in amazement as Cicindela limbata (sandy tiger beetle) – vivid white and metallic green – danced across the surface of sand blows, undaunted by scouring 30 mph winds. It was on that trip that I decided a long weekend wasn’t cutting it – I needed to take a whole week and get myself into the heart of the Great Plains. The annual fall tiger beetle weekend has just become the annual fall tiger beetle week.

As the map above indicates, I’ve got a rather ambitious itinerary of locations that I’d like to visit – 22 in all. I leave tomorrow, and if I have planned properly (and have a little luck) I might be able to visit all of them in the 9 days I have set aside for the trip. My “trip bible” will be my constant companion, along with my already worn copy of the newly issued Tiger Beetles of South Dakota & Nebraska (Spomer et al. 2008), as I explore deep into the Sand Hills and experience for the first time ever the Black Hills of South Dakota. I’ll even sneak over into Colorado and Wyoming for a spot or two. Unfortunately, my faithful colleague isn’t able to join me. I tried to seduce him with visions of Cicindela limbata and C. lengi (blowout tiger beetle) in the numerous sand blows, C. fulgida (crimson saltflat tiger beetle) around countless alkaline lakes, C. longilabris (Boreal long-lipped tiger beetle) in the high pine forests, and C. nebraskana (prairie long-lipped tiger beetle) and (if we’re really really lucky) C. decemnotata (Badlands tiger beetle) just sneaking into the shortgrass prairies of the extreme northwestern corner of Nebraska. I reminded him of my (wanting) photographic skills and the images we would have to settle for if his talent and equipment didn’t accompany me. I almost had him, but in the end he muttered some lame excuse about his 15-month old baby and wife needing him (just kidding, Chris!).

The map above should be fully interactive, so give it a click and follow me along on this adventure. If you happen to be at any of the spots marked by a balloon and see a khaki-clad fellow – insect net in one hand, camera in the other – how’s about joining me for a bit of tiger beetle hunting.