Gossamer Tapestry

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

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Another Adventure at Willcox Playa

Greetings from Tucson. I arrived Friday night. Saturday I headed on down to Willcox Playa, but not before a very pleasant breakfast with Adam and Andy at the B Line. The weather was interesting- a mix of clouds and sun. I dodged thunderstorms all the way out to Willcox. Although I spent much of the afternoon wondering if my time would be cut short by rain, it wasn't and the weather ended up helping the photography.

Aridlands Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera marutha)

I've never seen the playa so full of water. Numbers of tiger beetles were not overly impressive. As is often the case there, most of the individuals that I saw were the Aridlands Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera marutha). I've already got some reasonably good images, but I spent the first 45 minutes or so wandering around and snapping a few photos. As I have gained more experience with these beetles, I've come to realize that this is a pretty skittish species. The really gooshy mud that they like to land on also makes my typical technique- crawling on my belly to approach them- highly undesirable.

Aridlands Tiger Beetle (Ellipsoptera marutha)
Red Morph

I did get a look at one of the red color morphs of marutha. I've blogged about color variation in that species before, but I've never gotten a photo of the red form. I was pleased to be able to get close enough to shoot a couple of acceptable frames. Just as I was about to move on from that individual, a mating pair of green morph marutha darted out from under a clump of vegetation. Like a flash the red morph, obviously a male, pounced on the mating pair. For about the next five minutes, the trio of tigers lurched about as the red male tried to dislodge the green one. So intent were they on the struggle that I was able to approach very close to them for photography. In the end, the green male prevailed.

The struggle to breed:
Two male
Ellipsoptera marutha wrestle over a female

Shortly thereafter, clouds began covering the sun with a bit greater frequency. A beautiful Arizona monsoon thunderstorm was crossing the desert a couple of miles west of me. I quickly discovered that the softer light was extremely conducive to photography. The diminished glare rendered it easier to avoid harsh reflections from the metallic elytra of the beetles. The tiger beetles were easier to approach than they would be in full sun. I quickly got a pretty good shot of a Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetle (Cicindelidia sedecimpunctata).

Western Red-bellied Tiger Beetle (Cicindelidia sedecimpunctata)

As the clouds thickened a bit, a pretty green tiger beetle landed rather close to me. I was able to crouch down without scaring it. The mud in that area was not quite as wet and squishy as elsewhere on the playa, so I was able to try my technique of laying flat and inching my way closer to the beetle with my camera extended at arms length in front of me. The stars must have been aligned, because I was able to bring my camera within a foot of the beetle and get a nice series of photos. So intent was I on the approach and the composition of the pictures that I didn't even realize until got up to review them on my camera that my subject was not E. marutha.

Glittering Tiger Beetle (Habroscelimorpha fulgoris)

The Glittering Tiger Beetle (Habroscelimorpha fulgoris) lives in wet, salty mud in the arid Southwest. Subspecies erronea is found at Willcox Playa and nowhere else in the world. I had gotten the front of my tee shirt crusted with salty mud, but it was worth it.

I capped off my day cooling off in Cobban's pool with a glass of wine. This may have been my best visit ever to Willcox Playa.

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At 21:03, Blogger Ur-spo said...

I very much enjoyed seeing you today. I hope you have a good convention week.

At 03:20, Anonymous bev said...

Sounds like a super visit at the Willcox Playa. I wonder if anyone has done much checking for tiger beetles down around Whitewater Draw (to the south of Willcox Playa). One of these years, maybe I'll figure out a way to spend summer instead of winter in Bisbee.

At 03:22, Anonymous bev said...

Oh, and I forgot to say - Awesome photos, Doug! Beautiful work worthy of some salty mud on a tee shirt!

At 11:51, Blogger Kathie Brown said...

Doug, welcome to AZ once again. I am so glad you are here enjoying yourself. I looked at these photos back and forth numerous times and I cannot see the difference between the Airidlands and the Glittering. Perhaps a side by side with some detailed info would help. Anyways, I am so glad you got to see this beetle and all I can say is that you are one dedicated photographer and beetle hunter! And yes, Chochise county has been getting hammered during this monsoon while we are still waiting for more rain over here in Pima county!

At 18:04, Blogger Birdernaturalist said...

Great photos, gorgeous beetles. I'm sorry I'm missing your visit. I'll soon post a photo of a tiger beetle from the Amazon I saw a couple days ago. Stay tuned.

At 11:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post and pics Doug!

At 16:49, Anonymous Margarethe said...

Nice pictures! We saw one H. fulgoris and another sp.(I think)with wider lateral bands but we were less lucky than you ... got some nice small ones though, viridistica and wickhami...


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