Gossamer Tapestry

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

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Lichen Grasshopper

Leuronotina ritensis - The Lichen Grasshopper

Two years ago, as a brand new blogger, I posted about the Invertebrates in Captivity Conference. In it, I mentioned that I had an adventure in the Santa Rita Mountains during an unsuccessful quest for an endemic grasshopper. Although I did not find the grasshopper, I did have an unexpected encounter with a bear (and not in a good way). Each of us startled the other. I began yelling and throwing rocks at the bear while trying to look bigger than I am by waving my butterfly net over my head. The bear was looking very puzzled about this bizarre human behavior, and climbed a tree to further ponder the strangeness of the situation. I took advantage and did not run away, but walked purposefully down the trail.

Last year, I wanted to go back (this time with a companion for safety) to try to find the grasshopper. It poured buckets in a monsoon thunderstorm that day. I really wanted to see this grashopper, in part because they have very exacting requirements. They live on bare rock that is covered with lichens, on which they are well camouflaged.

This year, I returned yet again. Although we had a fine day, the lichen grasshopper did not show up. I left vowing to try again next year. Imagine my surprise when I later found a population in a completely different mountain range.

Leuronotina ritensis habitat in the Atascosas Mountains.
The grasshoppers were on the bare patch of rock that is visible in the center of the photo.

Leuronotina ritensis is described in Otte's The North American Grasshoppers as "[p]resently known only from between 5,000 and 8,000 feet on the Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona and from Sierra de los Ajos, at the head of Canyon de Evans, Sonora, Mexico." The book was published nearly 25 years ago, and I have no idea how many other locations it has turned up in in the intervening years. Still, when I find something outside of a reported range from a group that I do not have personal expertise in, I'm reluctant to make the call on my own.

What to do? Easy. Post my photo to BugGuide.net and wait for noted grasshopper expert David Ferguson to weigh in on the matter. David expressed a lack of surprise that it would turn up where it did.

So where did I find my lichen grasshopper? Right off of Ruby Road between Peña Blanca Lake and Sycamore Canyon. As I wrote in my initial post at BugGuide:

These have beautiful dark orange hindwings. They perched on bare, lichen-coverd rocks, on which they are well camouflaged. They were reluctant to move when disturbed. Their habitat and appearance remind me of descriptions of Leuronotina ritensis...

A mounted specimen of Leuronotina ritensis showing the dark orange hindwings

David confirmed that they indeed were Leuronotina ritensis and said that he expected that these would turn up on some of the other mountain "sky islands" of southeast Arizona. He is no doubt correct. They may well have already been reported from the Atascosas where I took mine. The exact spot where I got them was not 100 yards from the road. They probably aren't particularly rare. Still, the opportunity to observe something endemic to a part of the world that I truly love is always special. The fact that I've been looking for 2 years just made finding it that much sweeter.

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At 18:27, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thrill of the hunt - there's nothing like it!

At 23:11, Blogger Ur-spo said...

better yet the thrill of the find!

At 16:20, Blogger Texas Travelers said...

Great post and Magnificent Photo.

Well done.

The 'thrill of the post' and sharing it with others who appreciate the photo. I love the way even the eyes are camouflaged.

Very cool and thanks for sharing the photo and story.

Thanks for the visit.

PS: How are the cheeses' going? I guess they are aging since you have been so busy.

At 04:55, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug, Great image of the Lichen grasshopper.
Isn't nature amazing, particularly with the use of camouflage and how it protects the species.

I guess the bear didn't want a return bout with the Madman brandishing a butterfly net.!!!

At 05:27, Blogger Ecobirder said...

Glad you finally got to see this cool grasshopper. Personally I would like to get a picture of the grasshopper and the bear.

At 12:32, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Ted- Indeed. I've been enjoying reading about similar exploits on your blog.

Spo, Well, there's that. too.

Troy- Thanks. I agree, the camouflaged eyes are really cool. No cheese making recently. I've been saving a couple to take with me next week when I visit my family in Massachusetts.

Roy- Thanks. I agree, striking examples of camouflage can make really compelling images

ecobirder- Welcome to the Tapestry. Several people have asked me whether I had taken pictures of the bear, or why I didn't. My response to all of them has been the same Are you outta your mind? I was by myself and in a fairly remote spot- no way did I want to tangle with the bear.

At 19:42, Blogger Kathie Brown said...

Doug, bravo and congrats! I love this kind of serendipidy! I just found a life bird in Davidson Canyon, one I hoped to find but there was no guarantee as this is not one of the areas it is listed to be in either. I have some new insects up on my latest post if you are interested.

BTW, I'm glad you liked the jelly!

At 17:21, Blogger Zohar said...

Lichen grasshoppers are also common to the glades of Southern Missouri. I encountered quite a few of them over the weekend in a glade on Bell Mountain. When we took pictures of them, we actually couldn't find them at first!


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