Thursday, September 21, 2017

September in Picture Rocks

Our resident pair of ravens visits regularly, but by now without this year's brood of 3. I hope the kids moved on and are healthy! Our dogs have no patients for the ravens' performance of bows and songs of clicks and clucks.

Our biggest Diamondback Rattler by far
Lots of snake activity lately. One night, this 5 footer was caught in our gate. While I held the head, Randy cut him loose. We are a practiced team by now.  This rattler turns up every time when Randy waters the Aloes in front of the house. On the path from the patio we have 2 smaller regulars.

Small Diamondback Rattler
A very tiny Long-nosed Snake
I'm outside at night quite often: there are cacti that only bloom in the dark, Pocket mice rustle on the ground, toads and geckos are hunting and also a very nice little tarantula.

Lesser Long-nosed Bats  Photo by a FB friend
But the most special visitors are the long-nosed bats that regularly empty hummingbird feeders all over Tucson. Randy is quite tired of refilling them every morning. I like the secretive flutter.

White Thorn Acacia
It's still quite hot, so we take our walks into the state-land early, when the shadow of Twin Peak (singular now) still covers our path. Or I make a short late afternoon trip down one of the deeply gauged washes.  White-thorn acacia bushes sprouted fresh leaves and flowers after the rains and are now covered in delicate red pods.

Gyascutus caelatus
A surprising sight: A big Jewel Beetle Gyascutus caelatus is checking the acacia for its  host-plant potential. I used to travel to the Santa Rita Mountains to see these beetles.

Saguaros and Palo Verdes at dusk. Tortollitas in the back
Already, we are thirsting for more rain. The monsoon was good, but could still be better ... but the Saguaros plumped up nicely and the Palo Verdes and Ocotillos sprouted a new crop of leaves..

Laika, now definitely an elderly wolf dog, is still excited about our walks, but today she returned home early.  Randy had stayed home and she probably just missed him.

Mecki and Bilbo tired themselves out too, racing and digging, and trying to find the cattle that is somewhere out there.

Laika was faithfully waiting for us at the gate by the garage. Even though I wasn't worried when she disappeared, I was still happy to find her there.

For the pups it's now time for a dip in the tub. That means that the will not come into the house until dry. In theory. In praxis, Mecki just stormed through the door and is now licking his feet on the carpet right behind me.  Oh well. It's dark by now and the rattlers are roaming.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Santa Rita Mts after the first rains of monsoon 2017

Megathymus ursus, Ursus Giant Skipper
On big rocks in a creek bed with a little water I found a strikingly big Skipper: Megathymus ursus, Ursus Giant Skipper
Butterfly folks always ask if I see these. Now I know why, this is one very impressive skipper! Big and heavy! Rare enough to for mine to be the first for AZ on, even though the type-location is the Catalina Mts in Pima Co (Type-location: where the originally described specimen was found). The inside of the wings has yellowish-gold markings, but It would not sit still to have those photographed.

Campsomeris ephippium male
 Another giant, though his female is even bigger, is this Scoliid Wasp, Campsomeris ephippium reaches more than 2 inches in length. Also impressive was his reaction to being pushed around a little: He made rather convincing stinging motions extending the retractible "trident" at the apex of the abdomen. Those sclerotized genitalia plus that behavior are a good example of intra-species Batesian mimicry.(note: only female hymenopterans have a stinger and venom glands, because the stinger is the ovipositor).
The females are usually busy scouting the ground for big scarab larvae, but males can be found nectaring on flowers. These Mexican wasps are now permanent residents in SE Arizona including the Catalinas (Sabino Canyon). I think we saw the first ones around 2010 in the Huachuca Mountains.

Triscolia ardens females
 There were more Scoliids on the same Acacia - just after the first rains, there were not too many blooming plants. These ladies were big for their kind,- over 3 cm long. Triscolia ardens are quite variable in size. I'm not quite sure if I'm not misidentifying a similar species at times. But individuals of many parasitic species develop by the luck of the draw - dependent on the size of the host that their mother was able to find.

Pogonomyrmex sp. mating
The rain triggered a mating frenzy among Harvester Ants. Hundred of alates (winged males and females ready to mate) crawled and flew to the top of a telephone pole. Up there they did their aerial dance during which males grabbed females and together they tumbled to the ground, usually three to four males per female. I wanted to collect some for the research project of a friend. It was slightly disconcerting to have my most feared nemesis rain down on me by the dozens, but I figured they'd be too busy to sting. I was kind of right: the ones that fell into my shirt from above did no harm...but a lowly worker did crawl up my pant leg. Before I had my boot of and could drop the pants, I got three stings from her.  Still red, hard and itchy three days later.

 A nice Mydas Fly along Proctor Road.
Ammophila Wasp and a nice metallic bee
Macrodactylus uniformis (Western Rose Chafers)
Anomala nimbosa pair
Euphoria monticola (Photo Sue Carnahan) and Euphoria leucographa
Euphoria spp. are day active scarabs. Probably mostly males were flying - in search of females. The pretty green E. monticola stayed in the understory of oak forest, while E. leucographa was 'hill-topping' (aggregations flying around the top of the tree) around all kinds of tall trees in the grassland.

The long face of Lycus arizonensis
Cicindela sedecimpunctata
On the rocks along the creek: our most common Tiger Beetle, not yet in great numbers. 

Arhaphe cicindeloides
Not far from the Tiger Beetle, I found  a nymph of the Largid (Bordered Plant Bugs)  Arhaphe cicindeloides. This species seems to imitate the behavior of the tigers, but if that is mimicry or just being smart and fast when chased I don't know.

Mecki  would like to point out that all the photos above, except the Pogo ones, where a cooperative effort.  From Bear Skippers to Tiger Beetles, we faced and stalked them all of them together, connected by the legally prescribed leash.  How else would she keep the camera steady?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Rediscovering a lost species

Lycus sanguinipennis, Lygistopterus rubripennis, Lycus fulvellus femoratus, Lycus arizonensis
 Two weeks ago, I posted this series of Lycids (Net-winged Beetles) from Mount Lemmon on my blog. Joe Cicero, a friend and former college who has moved to Florida and now probably misses Tucson, commented that there is another smaller species on the mountain.

Joe Cicero's collection of Adoceta apicalis
He was talking about Adoceta apicalis  which he described as a small look-a-like of Lygistopterus rubripennis. In 1950 two North American species in the genus Adoceta were described by Green from only very few specimens each. It seems that no others were found for a long time, maybe until Joe discovered a few specimens some years ago under pine bark on Mt. Lemmon. These were Adoceta apicalis. They are smaller than the Lycids I showed last week, the wings quite parallel sided, and head and pronotum is black. The elytra end in an apical black band.  Joe challenged me to find more of them.

  Lyomorpha regulus, small Milkweed Bug,  Sisenes championi, Ptychoglene phrada.
Last Wednesday, Ceanothus fendleri and Ceanothus integerrimus were in full bloom along the path that crosses an area that was heavily burned several years ago. There were plenty of red and orange things crawling on the flowers, from false blister beetles to moths, seed bugs and tarantula hawks (not pictured).

Some strange Lycids
Leslie Eguchi and I were shooting pictures of many different flower visitors and eventually came across an accumulation of small, narrow Lycids that were mating on the blooming bushes. There seemed to be many dozens of them. (Joe Cicero explains that Lycids not only congregate to mate, the females also come together and oviposit in groups. He thinks that I may have happened upon a mass emergence from a 'group-clutch' like that.)

Mating pair of Adoceta ignita
I was thrilled that I had found Joe's species. But being part of a group of naturalists who usually don't collect and who might be offended, I only collected a few specimens, making sure to get males (there were many) and females (much fewer) both.
Later, from home I sent photos to Joe to report proudly "mission accomplished".

I was pretty disappointed when Joe at first glance called my beetles 'just small Lycus sanguinipennis'  - he had immediately noticed that the pronotum of these guys wasn't black ... and then he thought that maybe I had a new species ...

Male and female of Adoceta ignita
 When I posted my photo on our SW  Arthropods page on Facebook, Arthur Evans had the great idea to share it with an international group that concentrates on a related beetle family, the Soldier Beetles, Net-winged Beetles (Lycids) and Soldier Beetles (Cantharids) are similar enough to interest some of the same taxonomists, and soon we heard back from Michael Geiser in Switzerland:
"It keys out as Adoceta ignita Green, 1950, a species I've never seen before (so the ID is just based on the description). A. ignita was described from two specimens from Arizona and is apparently very rare. I don't know how many times it was found after the description." Soon other specialists in the field like Michael Ivie and Vinicius Ferreira were alerted to our quest and agreed wit Michael Geiser's ID.

We also learned that there is an ongoing discussion about the taxonomic status of the genus Adoceta. In their 2017 paper Motyka et al. merged the genus Adoceta with the genus Lygistopterus. But since until now there were only so few specimens of the American species, these were not part of the genetic sequencing that the study was based on. We will now send a specimen to the lab around Bocak - I'm curious what the result will be. I also thought I would get up the mountain in time to collect a few more specimens, but right now Catalina Highway is closed because of an out of control wild fire. So I'm afraid the species I found may just get lost again.

so far unidentified specimen which has to be another A.ignita in the SWRS collection
 After this blog was published, I got an email from Michele Lanan, the new resident scientist at the AMNH's Southwestern Research Station in the Chiricahuas. She checked the holdings of their collection because every AZ sky island (and Sonoran, too?)   may provide similar habitats, at the right elevation, to the Ceanothus areas in the Catalinas. Sure enough, a so far unidentified treasure was found.  

References to cited papers will be added later

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Midsummer on Mount Lemmon

Admiring those tall stalks of Swertia radiata (Frasera speciosa)  Green Gentian
 With temperatures soaring above 115 Degrees Fahrenheit in Tucson, I was extremely happy to join Debbi Bird's Wednesday Walk-about on the mountain. Thank you, Debbie and Bill Kaufman for inviting me! We headed from Summer Haven (elevation above 8000 feet) up Turkey Run,  but the outings of that little group of naturalists are probably never runs or strenuous hikes but leisurely walks to observe birds and plants. With my enthusiasm for every crawling bug I slowed them down even more.

The lovely, melancholy song of the Hermit Thrush set the tone for our walk. But this individual was too busy for such frivolities 
 People and bugs were very gracious about it. Birds less so - they wanted us to move so they could get on with their business of raising chicks. There went my bugs!

Gasteruption sp. female and Polistes sp. male
 Heracleum lantanum, Cow Parsnip, those super-umbels, where in full bloom, yielding not the hoped-for longhorn beetles but delicate little Carrot Wasps (Gasteruptionsp.) and much sturdier Vespids. The larvae of Gasteruption are predators  or predators-inquilines (consume larval food, not the larvae) of other Hymenoptera that nest in twigs and in wood, hence the long ovipositor. Paper wasps are eusocial colony builders who hunt other insects as food for they larvae. But the guy in the picture is a drone, a male, just out for his own indulgence in sweet nectar (note the hooked antennae).

Saprophytic Orchid

Corallorhiza striata Striped Coral Root
More botanical treasures along the path: The little leafless, chlorophyll-less orchids are sprophyds, meaning that they are depending on decaying organic matter for all their  nutrients including sugars. I'm wondering how directly they can absorb anything like that - are they maybe relying on the mycelium of symbiotic fungi to do the work? Orchids often do ...

Pyrola elliptica    Waxflower Shinleaf, Bombus melanopygus
On the sloping forest floor a little Ericaceae is hiding  in deep shade. But Bumblebees love heather and all its relatives, so Bombus melanopygus (southern color form) zoomed in and put the flash of my mini camera to the test. Luckily, the photo turned out well enough for an identification by our bee-wizzard John Ascher.

Little Wasps, Encyrtus sp.

 On the leaves of Silver-leave oak little ant-like wasps were running about. There tiny wings seemed non-functional (?) enhancing the ant similarity (there will be a follow-up blog to this topic). 

Tenthredinidae (Common Sawflies)
Another Wasp, Tenthredinidae (Common Sawflies) - these are vegetarians and no threat to the beetle. The larvae feed on pine needles or leaves, looking like caterpillars with extra legs, usually feeding in groups. They take on  a characteristic s-shaped position when threatened  - and most predators recognize it as a warning of their high toxicity.

Lycus fulvellus femoratus
 The wasp probably landed on the beetle just because - there were so many of them. It seemed that the Superfamily of the Elateroidea  which includes Click, Firefly and Soldier Beetles was having a big party, or rather fertility ceremony on this first day of summer.  

Discodon bipunctatum, Ellychnia corrusca

We first found the Soldier Beetle Discodon bipunctatum, which I nearly mistook for a firefly. No wonder, he's a close mimic of a toxic beetle in that family (I'm not sure if the soldier beetle, a Cantharid, is toxic as well, it might be, it shares it's name with the substance Cantharidin, but that is supposed to be a historical misnomer)  . Soon we also found the Firefly Ellychnia corrusca (diurnal, no flight display of lights at night). Extremely common.

Lycus arizonensis
 More obvious even than the Fireflies were their other relatives, the Net-winged Beetles (Lycids). Not only are they all red or orange, they were also drifting leisurely in the warm summer air, landing on us and every other surface and congregating along water seeps.

Lygistopterus rubripennis
Our walk could not have been longer than a couple of miles, steadily but not too steeply gaining in elevation. Still, I had the distinct impression that we saw at first mostly Lycus sanguinipennis and
Lygistopterus rubripennis, then a little higher up mostly Lycus fulvellus femoratus. Of course, elevation was not the only changing parameter - we also came closer to some running water, the canopy cover increased and the temperature increased as the day progressed. Lycus arizonensis at least was not found on the way up, but rather common on the way back later in the day. 

Lycus sanguinipennis, Lygistopterus rubripennis, Lycus fulvellus femoratus, Lycus arizonensis
Anyway - it was nice to see four of these rather impressive beetles in great numbers in short succession. I'd  like to point out that the red Lycid with black wingtips that is commonly found in lower Sabino Canyon is another species: Lycus sanguineus, the Blood-red Net Wing Beetle.

Lycus sanguineus
And not only the beetles had their midsummer night's rites scheduled for this hot June day and night. Adhering to old pagan traditions, there was also a lot of activity among fairies, elves, spirits and sprites of the fores and when they invited us into their garden, some of us seemed quite tempted to stay ...

Oh, no! They did!!!!

To see more photos of Turkey Run and also Marshall Gulch insects go to the flickr album here

 Leslie Eguchi has added her excellent insect photos from our trip to the flickr album. Thank you, Leslie!