Gossamer Tapestry

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Growing up on the coast of Massachusetts, I really enjoyed the natural world. I spent a lot of my childhood mucking in tide pools, chasing butterflies, and gardening with native woodland wildflowers. It was a childhood that did a lot to prepare me for my adult life as a biologist and conservationist. I've lived in Illinois over half of my life now, and it is here that these interests have blossomed into my career and resulted in a lot of interaction with the local conservation community. Although my biological family still lives in Massachusetts and I return frequently, I've never had any contact with the environmental community in the Northeast. That may be changing.

Last August, Leon and I spent a few days with my dad. It was the first time in a while that I'd been back home in the summer. The first time since I'd developed my recent obsession with tiger beetles. While visiting a preserve in my old home town, I happened upon a Massachusetts endemic subspecies of the red-bellied tiger beetle, Cicindela rufiventris hentzii. I got some nice photos, blogged about it, and posted the photos to BugGuide.net.

Yesterday I got an unexpected email from an invertebrate zoologizt from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The email read, in part:
I was perusing BugGuide, and was a bit surprized to find your photo of Cicindela rufiventris hentzii from Agassiz Rock. I was even more surprised when I checked the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program database and realized that this is a new locality record for this critter, which is listed as a Threatened species in Massachusetts.
Wow. And I wasn't even trying to find it. Some further email exchange revealed that there is one extant location in the extreme south of Essex County, an old (1891) record from Gloucester, and my recent find. That's it for Essex County. The habitat that I found it is, however, is one that is very familiar to me from my childhood. I can think of at least half a dozen other locations that could be home to the critter. I'm pretty sure that I know where the Gloucester specimen came from. I'm pretty sure that it's an intact site, so the population may persist. How cool would it be to relocate it after 118 years?

I'm going to be home next June, which is within the flight time for this beetle. The invertebrate zoologist has expressed an interest in having me show him the site where I found it, and scoping out some nearby possibilities. My lack of interaction with the Massachusetts conservation community appears to be ending.

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At 05:14, Blogger Lemuel said...

Such a neat incidence that may lead to further professional contacts and study!

At 07:28, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Lem - Yup. I really enjoy this kind of serendipity.

At 09:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nifty subspecies. We have nominotypical rufiventris here in the Ozarks, but they are never common - a few here, one there. You know I'd love to see a hentzii specimen or two someday (but only if the population is robust).

I also can't help being fascinated with the lichen-encrusted, apparently igneous(?) rock upon which the beetle is resting. Micro- and macro-habitat photos would be interesting to see some day.

Great shots, by the way.

regards -- ted

At 10:36, Blogger Jim Lemire said...

Gloucester's not too far from me. If you need an extra set of hands/eyes out in the field in June let me know. Seriously. I'd love to do some field work again. I'm not completely inexperienced either - I found some nice tiger beetle species while doing an arachnid survey for the Nature Conservancy in a pine barrens in Exeter, RI. I don't recall which species - I was the spider guy, not the beetle guy.

Anyways, drop me an email if you need/want any help.

At 11:54, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Ted- Well, my experience with this species is pretty limited, but so far it's close to what you described with the Ozark subspecies. I saw one, went back the next day and saw one. I have no idea if they were the same individual or not.

The rock is igneous- it's granite. There is a lot of exposed granite on Cape Ann. Rockport, a Cape Ann town, is named for its old granite quarrying and shipping industry. The abandoned quarries might be another good spot to look for this critter.

Jim- I will definitely keep you in mind and get in touch next spring.

At 07:44, Blogger cedrorum said...

Congrats on the find, that is awesome. I can't believe how many times I read on blogs that someone has found some species of flora or fauna in a county that had no records before. It makes me wonder.....

At 17:00, Blogger Doug Taron said...

cedrorum- Part of the fun is that the very first tiger beetle that I ever encountered back home is a listed species.

At 23:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a nice story.

At 10:45, Blogger Doug Taron said...

bev- Thanks. You were one of the people I thought of when I took these photos.


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