Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Madera Canyon

The conference has really kept me hopping. I've had no time to blog at all. I haven't been reading or commenting on blogs that I regularly read, either. For much of Sunday and Monday I was without internet access. I'm writing this post from Rio Rico, AZ and having awonderful time. Wish you were all here!

Sandy and Me

Sunday was a transition day. I had to pick up fellow entomologist john at the airport in mid afternoon. Fortunately, I was able to have a very pleasant noon time having lunch with Sandy. He's only the fourth blogger that I've met in person, and was a really great guy. We had good food and better conversation at Rosa's.

After I picked john up, we headed off towards Kitt Peak to do some collecting. This was a bit of a bust, because I didn't know that the road up the mountain closed at 4 PM. We got there at about 3:30. We did a bit of collecting just outside the gate and then headed down to Madera Canyon, where we had rented a cabin. This turned out to be a better situation than I had expected. Madera Canyon is well known as a birding hotspot. It also has great insects. Our plan was to check in, go down the moountain for dinner, and return to blacklight. By the time we got checked in, we realized that it would be dark when we returned. We were too hungry to set up the blacklight before eating, so as a compromise we left the back porch light on. Wow. When we returned, the back door was covered with amazing moths and beetles, including a half dozen Chrysina.

Chrysina lecontei

Chrysina are are amazing green scarab beetles. (Bug Girl: "Ooh! Shiny!") There are three species in Arizona, and we namaged to get all 3 black lighting. There were beautiful scarabs, huge fierce looking longhorn beetles and colorful underwing moths. We put the sheet and black light up, and things got even better. It was the finesst blacklighting experience I have had to date.

Chrysina beyeri. Not the best photo, but it shows off the apple green elytra and blue legs.

The aptly named Chrysina gloriosa. The stripes are metallic chrome colored.

On Monday, we spent the day higking up Mt. Wrightson. We did not get anywhere near the summit, mainly because the collecting was so good. I saw my first ever Arizona hairstreak (sorry, no photo), a bunch of beetles and some cool grasshoppers. My favorite was the blue winged grasshopper.

Blue-winged grasshopper (Trimerotropis cyanipennis)

A peek at the blue wings

It was an amazing day of insects and plants surrounded by gorgeous views. We even saw a feb birds (Painted Redstart, anyone?) Folks on the trail were intrigued by our butterfly nets, and very friendly. Later, when we got to the conference, two colleagues were snickering at us. they were in Madera the same day we were. They ran into some hikers who said they had seen two other entomologists, one from Denver and one from Chicago. Our colleagues knew that we were just up the hill from them.

More adventures to come (heck, more adventures still happening).

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wilcox Playa

Willcox Playa with the Dragoon Mountains in the background

To experience some of the finer things in life, you have to travel. Want some really fine wine? Bordeaux or the Rhine Valley might fit the bill. For art glass, go to Venice. And for the finest in tiger beetles, you have to go to...Willcox, Arizona? Who would have thought. But it's true, this old lakebed hosts over 20 species of tiger beetles, including about 4 that are endmeic or near endemic forms.

Cicindela marutha- the Arid Lands Tiger Beetle

Cicindela ocellata - The Ocellated Tiger Beetle

My day at Willcox was not as good as my visit last year. the reason can be seen in the photo. Many of the salt flats that offered some of the best activity last year have been flooded in the heavy monsoon rains this season. Where there were thousands of beetles across the salt pan last year, there are now hundreds on the edges of the pool. Still, it was a pretty good day. I saw six species. That's three fewer than last year. Sadly, the three that I didn't see were the three I most wanted specimens of. Oh well, I did get some photos. I'm very pleased that my pictures of Cicindela marutha are the first photos of living individuals to be posted on BugGuide.net. I also saw some amazing huge ant mounds.

Cicindela puctulata chihuahuae - The Punctured Tiger Beetle

HUGE ant mound. It's nearly 3 feet high.

My day ended earlier than I would have liked because a huge thuderstorm descended on us. I had a bit of trouble getting out of the Playa due to flooding of the dirt road that leads into it. Fortunately, I was able to make it out in time to get to my much anticipated meeting with Kathie of the Sycamore Canyon blog. Kathie and her husband Gus were delightful hosts and all-around great folks. I really enjoyed meeting them in person. The super yummy homemade pizza for dinner didn't hurt things, either.

Kathie and me. Photo by Gus.

After dinner, Kathie and I went blacklighting in the wash behind her house. It was her first black lighting experience. We saw a bunch of scarab beetles and some really cool sphinx moths. The whole day got my Arizona trip off to a great start. Now I'm about to head off for lunch at Rosa's with Sandy. This is turning into my trip to meet other bloggers in person.

Blacklight setup in wash in Sycamore Canyon. The moths are mostly white-lined sphinx.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Again with the Swamp Metalmarks?

I’ve been having a lot of field time of late. We currently have six different species of butterflies that we are breeding in the lab as part of our restoration efforts. I just came from the lab and we have tons of egg production from most species.

Colleagues and I ventured up behind the Cheddar Curtain yesterday. Our goal was to get swamp metalmark females for egg laying. I haven’t talked much about the metalmarks lately. They are the most significantly endangered species we are working with. They had been extirpated from Illinois. We now have a tiny restored population here, but it's insufficient to carry the species in Illinois for the long run.

The underside of the metalmark is really hard to photograph, but I wanted to show the beautiful yellow color.

Although we made significant progress last year and over the winter, we were ultimately unsuccessful in our efforts. Thingfish23 recently wondered if I shared my failures on the blog. Yup, I do. This one was particularly painful.

Two tiny larvae from August 2007

The metalmark larvae survived the entire winter, continuing to eat, grow, and shed their skins. Starting in late March, we began to experience larval death. It wasn’t a lot at any one time, but here and there, they would just dwindle in numbers. None of them pupated- it was as if they had simply died of old age. Curious. Somehow, we had failed to provide them with an appropriate environmental cue to complete their development.

This year, we will proceed more carefully. We will pay close attention to photoperiod. We will allow at least part of our larval population to over winter in cages outdoors where they can experience low temperatures. But we are trying again, and that’s where yesterday’s trip came in.

We met Su up at one of the know metalmark sites in east central Wisconsin. Su works for the Milwaukee Public Museum and has been doing swamp metalmark restoration in Wisconsin for some time now. The site is a fen- an alkaline, springy area, with lots of sedges and swamp thistle- the caterpillar food plant. There was also a lot of both poison ivy and poison sumac, which caused me to think of Homer, who, no doubt, is glad he wasn’t with us.

It was dim and cloudy the wole time we were at the site. Hence the really mediocre photos (sorry). In spite of the weather, we were pleased to find a robust population of swamp metalmarks this year. We managed to get four very fat females, who are all now producing lots of eggs. Yay. This is proving to be a difficult species to work with- but, as I have mentioned before, the species is in real trouble. There are now rumblings about gathering additional status information for the species. This may represent the earliest stages of moving towards a federal listing process.

I’m optimistic about the future for this species. I don’t have good reason to be, but I must. I refuse to consider the alternative.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Skywatch Friday - Arizona Sands Through the Hourglass

The Whetstone Mountains near Sierra Vista

Where has the time gone? The summer is slipping by so quickly. A week from tomorrow, I'm flying out to Tucson for the annual Invertebrates in Captivity (AKA Bugs in Bondage) Conference. It's one of my favorite events of the year. I'll get out and do a bunch of collectin. We are already putting together a shopping list of critters that we need for the Museum. I hope to do a lot more bug photography. There are numerous species of tiger beetles that I see regularly, but that don't yet appear (at least as live specimens) on BugGuide.Net. I want to hike in Madera Canyon. I have plans to meet blogger Kathie of Sycamore Canyon. I know several other bloggers down that way, perhaps some of us will get to meet up as well.

This year's conference really causes me to reflect on the passage of time. This is the tenth anniversary of my first conference. I remember being immediately welcomed into that community even though I didn't know very much beyond butterflies at that time. People have been so generous with their knowledge. I still sometimes think of my work at the Museum as my"new" job, even though my eleventh anniversary of employment was this past Sunday. The conference involves beautiful surroundings, good people, and great intellectual stimulation. Oh yeah, it also involves lots of great bugs. It's a time where I feel aware of the richness of life, and for that I am always grateful.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fireflies and Femmes Fatales

I'm sitting in my screened porch typing this blog entry. It's dusk and the fireflies are twinkling on my lawn. It has been an excellent year for fireflies here in Illinois. Right in my front yard, there have been dozens flashing every night for weeks now.

A lot of the luminescent acrobatics are about sex. The males fly about and flash in a complex pattern of blinks. The females sit in the grass or on bushes. When one sees flashes in her species' pattern, she waits a precise amount of time and answers with a single flash. The male then descends to mate with her. Usually.

In some cases, female fireflies give the response signal for other species. When a male arrives, instead of getting a little action he becomes a meal. These dangerously deceptive females are known as femme fatale fireflies.

"Don't give me any of that 'hey, Baby' crap. Urrp."

For a long time, I thought that firefly luminescence was all about sex- or occasionally deception. This spring, while preparing my firefly talk, I discovered a new wrinkle. Fireflies are toxic. They contain compounds similar to bufotoxins- the poisons in toad skin. The luminescence may also be a warning or aposematic signal. "Don't eat me- you'll barf. " Some investigators believe that femme fatale fireflies perform their dastardly deeds (sorry, anthropomorphizing) consume males of other species to gain there toxins rather than simply to gain an energy source.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lessons from Summer 2008

Some people might argue that the big lesson from this summer is not to take on too many projects. I think that there are far more important lessans to learn.

For many years, I have known that Baltimore Checkerspot eggs could be either red or yellow. This year, I watched a female in the process of laying a large clutch of bright yellow eggs. The photos did not come out at all well. So I went back and took the following picture. Apparently, they lay yellow eggs which then turn red.

I learned that I can post bigger photos with more detail on my blog, and that the results really would look better.

Delaware skipper (Anatrytone logan) on Asclepias syriaca. Click to embiggen!

I learned that there are some really cool smaller cicadas hanging out on the prairie. This one's only about an inch and a half long.

Cicadetta sp.

And I learned that with persistence (and 2 seasons worth of effort) I could take a decent picture of Typocerus octonotata.

Typocerus octonotata on Coreopsis palmata
This one also embiggens well.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Skywatch Friday: The Apocalypse Begins in 2 Minutes

Arlington Heights, IL. July 10, 7:30 PM

Today's Skywatch is dedicated to UrSpo, who loves a good Midwestern thunderstorm. We got a fine one this evening. About two minutes after I took this photo (while stopped at a red light). the heavens opened with a violent thunderstorms that included hail (my poor car).

It's been a day of violent weather here in Illinois. The above photo is from the second wave of storms that hit. I was lucky. We were out catching butterflies to breed in the lab (more on that in an upcoming post). The first wave of storms did not hit until we were done, and we were safely in the car and on our way before the violence started. We were treated to some dramatic skies on our way out.

Heading back to the car under mammatus clouds

Mammatus Clouds

As always, the other Skywatch posts can be seen at Wiggers World.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008



Photo: University of North Dakota

After my unsuccessful collecting trip last week I've been whining complaining sharing stories about my chigger bites with various acquaintances. I've been surprised at how misunderstood chiggers are. Chiggers are mites too small to be readily visible to the naked eye. When they bite you, they are not burrowing under your skin, nor are they laying eggs there. And unlike mosquitoes, chiggers don't suck your blood. Instead, they inject saliva, which in their case contains a bunch of digestive enzymes, under your skin. They feed on the fluid formed from your partially digested body tissues. Yum! Then they drop off. The extremely itchy and persistent red welt doesn't form until 24-48 hours later. The welt is your body's immunological reaction to the digestive enzymes and other components of the injected saliva. I can personally vouch for the most effective means of coping with the aftermath of a chigger attack: anti-itch hydrocortisone ointment. The relief is not instant, however it dramatically reduces both the itching and the redness. The bites vanish much more quickly than if left untreated- a couple of days versus more than a week.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Media Madness

I'm quoted in a butterfly article in the Bloomington (IL) Pantagraph. Everybody seems to have problems describing the chrysalis.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Week from Hell

You haven't heard much from me this week. There's a reason. Last Friday (6/27) began an interesting time in my life. I drove up to Lake County to partcipate in their BioBlitz. Al large part of my activities involved black lighting.

Not much was coming to the sheet in terms of species diversity. We did get a couple of fishflies and a few geometrid moths.

Note all the mosquitoes on the sheet with the moth. This was representative. The mosquitoes were absolutely fierce. Although none are pictured here, there were considerable numbers of Asian tiger mosquitoes in with the swarms of more familiar species. They are huge and very aggressive. It's like being attacked by a swarm of B25s. The tent where we were doing our identification was full of mosquitoes.

Saturday, I had to leave the BioBlitz to go further into Lake County for a butterfly course that I was teaching at Illinois Beach Stae Park. For some reason, even though the weather was nice there were very few butterflies out. We did manage to get the course in before being chased off site by a severe thunderstorm. I was actually relieved at the storm's arrival. I had a great class- the students were really good- and I was running out of things to say to them. We were looking at other insects (due mostly to the lack of butterflies) and I did get to see a speecies of tiger beetle (Cicindela formosa) that I've only seen once before, and never in Illinois. I got a decent photo.

Cicindela formosa

Sunday was butterfly monitoring at the Fen. While I was there, I tried unsuccessfully for a nice photo of Typocerus sp., an interesting longhorn beetle that has become more abundant on site as our prairies have improved. I had no luck at all with that, and was unable to get my complete monitoring route done before a fast-moving thunderstorm moved in and soaked me to the skin. At least I got a nice picture of the hill prairie in full bloom.

Hill prairie at the height of flowering

The less said about my work week the better. On Thursday, we went out to Grundy County seeking the leadplant flower moth (Schinia lucens). This is a very rare species that we want to do restoration work on. The host plant, leadplant, is an attractive shrub with purple flowers. It's been a very successful component of many prairie restorations, so there are many places the moth could possibly go.

Vincent and Brad in Schinia lucens habitat

Leadplant (Amorpha canescens)

We did not get any moths. I did manage to get a nice photo of milkweed longhorn beetles. I also got the worst case of chiggers I've ever had in my entire life. I'll spare you a photo of my thoroughly bitten legs.

Milkweed Longhorn Beetles (Tetraopes tetropthalmus)

I've spent the week being bitten, wet, and frustrated. I'm now off to the Fen for more butterfly monitoring. Let's see what further disasters can befall me.

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