Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

I hope we can all have a wonderful time enjoying nature, friends, family and whatever else you find worthwhile in 2013. I know I had some great experiences during 2012!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Natural History in my Genes

          Earlier this month my Grandma passed away leaving behind alot (ALOT) of nik-naks and du-dads scattered around her and her Husbands house. After the family took possession of the larger, more obvious keep sakes, it was my job to photograph a section of her little belongings to be sent out in family letters encase anyone wants to keep anything else before it goes to a thrift store of the garbage. I did the best I could because I wanted as little thrown away as possible.

A small section of misc ornaments.

A ways into the project, I noticed an insect in a little bowl. On closer inspection, I saw it was a True Bug in the family Pentatomidae (Stink or Shield Bugs). For the sake of time, I submitted it to Bugguide and the genus Chlorochroa came up as a good match, likely the species C. sayi.

Chlorochroa sayi Stål

It was quite a surprise, especially when I heard the rumor that bees and other bugs were found in various areas, preserved for visual enjoyment. Well, this explains her Son's fascination with natural history and her Grandson's as well. This common species is nothing special of course, but it is alot more special to me now.

Preserved Butterfly with artificial body

There were also a series of Lepidoptera laminated with a paper over it's main body sections. I photographed the best two. I didn't figure out the species on these, however. They may not even be American species. Any suggestions on the Lep's taxonomy beyond the order would be nice.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Odd Odonata Ordeals in Orem

          As I was walking home from the grocer store, I came by some broken dragonfly(?) body parts on a white fence. I stopped to take a picture, then noticed how many total broken carcases there were; about eight to a dozen over the length of the fence.

Various body parts of Odonata on fence posts. Orem, Utah.

I didn't see any parts on the ground, only on the fence. Some parts were in snow and some in what looked like bird scat. See here for more pictures.

It's quite chilly here in Orem, and quite beautiful all at once. I had my camera on me with this walk because it had recently snowed, clearing out the air, which is ideal for photographing our local mountains.

Cascade Mountain
Eastern boarder of Provo, east of Orem

There are two highly recognizable mountains in view from just about anywhere in Orem; Mt. Cascade to the east and Timpanogos to the north east.

Timpanogos Mountain
North east of Orem

I have a view of Timp from my bedroom window. This adds to a mountainous feel when I'm in town, especially when the air has been cleaned out from a snow storm. It's also nice to have hikes within a 15 minute drive from home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Better Shots on C. taedatus

          After reading the comment on the last post, I went back to the (unofficial) photography desk and tried again. I learned a few things this time around:

  1) It is vital to snap a picture the moment it drifts into focus.
  2) Even though this camera has a "shake reducing" tool, it is important to have my arms in a rested
      position when I shoot.
  3) Simply have a wide plane of the target's surface parallel to the camera's lens, or accept that
      getting a clear shot of a steep surface will require more effort and/or time.

As always, this is only a reflection of my own understanding and skills. It worked, though!

Carabus taedatus

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Gift that Keeps on Giving

          Something that I've been looking forward to for a long time is owning a camera to learn photography. With a little help from my Uncle (Sam), this wish finally came true. The first thing I did was charge it (given), but this was the first thing I did even before reading the manual, I refused to wait any longer than I had to to start photographing!

I pinned up one of my Carabus taedatus specimens (which I have dozens too many of), but this individual I pinned specifically to look alive and active, something I've watched other bugologists do. A post by the blogger and macro photographer Ted C. MacRae comes readily to mind. Still though, I have hardly any skills with a camera, and I've not yet used one to photograph anything smaller than a cat. I knew this wouldn't exactly be a 'point, shoot and you have a good picture' experience, but I also didn't exactly know how to get that desired shot. So, I used what skills I had over the coarse of a few minutes and this is what the outcome was:

Carabus taedatus
Pic's without pigment matching backgound

Nothing award winning, I know. Frankly, I knew they wouldn't be from the start. I did have an idea though: to surround the bug with a paper similar to it's own body's pigment. This tricks the camera into focusing on the applied color because it fills most of the screen, and thereby also focusing on the target.

Better focused pics with a pigment matching background

These new shots were a little more focused, and that made me happy. To me, shots as focused as these are more than satisfying. At this point in my blogging, I'm more interested in giving a visual on whatever I am blogging about than to get thee highest resolution photographs. But with this new technique comes a new problem: The background! Oh well, I'm sure there will be plenty of time in the future to perfect photos, after all, this was simply to get acquainted with my camera. If any of you readers out there have any tips or advise on bettering staged photos, I'd love to hear what it may be.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Happy Holidays!

          This morning I hit the road to the great state of Utah! I won't be returning to Fresno until early January, so there may not be any posts until then. However, for the sake of this blog's development, I'd like to share a photo of a rather attractive Jewel beetle my dear friend, Johnny, captured and saved for me during one of his retreats to Shaver Lake. Shaver Lake also happens to be one of my favorite places to hunt for bugs, here in the Central Valley.

Chalcophora angulicollis

This is obviously a larger Bup than not, but what makes this bug even more special is that it is the only species of it's genus (Chalcophora) that is well established in the western U.S. C. liberta is one to consider, but only makes it to Texas from the east coast, while C. angulicollis ranges from British Columbia south to California, west to South Dakota and Texas. It's safe to say it generally hangs out west of the Rocky Mountains.

The fellow must have been present on that fatal summer day because the Shaver Lake area (and much of the Sierra's, respectably) contain one of it's larval host plants: Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa). In fact, it was apparently rescued (or rather, stolen) from a pile of wood blocks with a bystanding group of boys deciding how they were going to kill it. Many thanks to Johnny for standing tall, and killing it first, purposefully.

A similar spot as where the specimen above was found.

Branch pile that was successful in attracting Buprestis lyrata,
and is also capable of producing Chalcophora angusticollis.
The two Jewel beetles share the same host: Ponderosa Pine.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

An Omus Hot Spot

          There are numerous countries I dream of visiting to witness the fauna of, most notably countries of Africa. One attraction is that Manticora and Mantica Tiger beetles occur there, representing the last tribe of Tiger beetles I'm missing from my collection (after Cicindelini, Magacephalini, Amblycheilini and Collyridini.) -wait a minute, though. Something is missing here. I live in one of the 3 states and single provenance that has a Tiger genus all to itself; Omus. Also, North America is the only continent containing the tribe Amblycheilini with the genera Omus and Amblycheila. In reminding myself of this, I don't feel as unsatisfied.

Omus californicus
intermedius Leng.

Look at the beast! If I lived in another country, I'm sure I'd be dying to visit the Pacific Northwest.

I've encountered this species on several occasions during my times in California, not this year, however. Next spring I plan on setting up a pitfall trap at a hidden hilltop in the Sierra National Forest where I found a condensed population of about dozen specimens, (excluding specimens I didn't find in those few minutes.) The reason for a single trap is to simply not have another occasion where I collect dozens of unneeded specimens, when this native and unique species could be repopulating at this spot at a  healthy rate.

Another gem at this spot happens to be another ground dweller, Metrius contractus (Family: Carabidae, Subfamily: Paussinae). This is another species I'm desperate to collect a few more of. I only found one specimen on that day, and it some how lost it's right antenna. I recently cleaned this specimen up (as not seen in this photo, (apologies for the laziness)) and relaxed it with boiling water, then braced the left antenna close to it's body to prevent some of the risk of it's disappearance in it's years to come. I also went through the collection and relabeled this, and many other specimens with larger labels from my earliest collecting, saving space in the collection and thereby money.

Metrius contractus

The bombardier beetle Metrius contractus discharges its defensive secretion
 as a froth that clings to its body. When attacked from the rear, it allows the
 froth to build up over the gland openings near the abdominal tip; when attacked
 from the front, it conveys the secretion forwards along special elytral tracks.
 M. contractus has two-chambered defensive glands typical of bombardier beetles, 
and its secretion, like that of other bombardiers, is quinonoid and hot. Its frothing 
mechanism, however, is unique for bombardiers and possibly illustrative of the 
ancestral glandular discharge mechanism of these beetles. M. contractus, thus, 
could be the least derived of extant bombardiers. (1)

...just another example of how awesome Ground beetles are. Omus also has it's own secretion, a black liquid released from it's mouth organs, streaming onto it's mandibles when attempting to bite some unlucky creature, including myself on a particular occasion.

Sierra National Forest:
Habitat for Omus californicus
and Metrius contractus

I have three of the six or seven Omus species in my collection: O. californicus, O. audouini and O. dejeanii. The next species I have targeted is Omus submetallicus, the most geographically restricted of the species only being found on the north-facing slopes of Warthan Canyon in Fresno and Monterey Counties, California. I shall post updates on the two different Omus collecting plans next spring.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Pacific Pleasantry

          Here's a neat Bycid I collected last August in decent numbers at lights at Shaver Lake:

Ortholeptura valida (LeConte)

One of the reasons I find this species interesting is because it's nocturnal, which is uncommon for the subfamily it belongs to (Lepturinae). This genus is also almost completely restricted to the Pacific Coast of North America; O. obscura is the northern most occuring of the three species, from Washington and Oregon over to Idaho. O. insignis occures from central California down to north Baja California and O. valida, being the commonest, also has the widest distribution: stretching from British Colombia to northern Baja. The largest specimen I found was about an inch long, the smallest, about half that legnth. Needless to say, finding this species made that campout an enjoyable one. The unit tray of this species also looks pretty nice in my collection, if I might add. (Not to boast ...of course).

Shaver Lake

Fresno is in central/southern California, so I'm hoping to see O. insignis at a light some warm summer night in the future. What would be even more exciting, would be to find O. obscura in northern Utah, which is where I don't think it has been reported. This may be a strech, but the state's fauna has surprised me before.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Super Scarabs

A very interesting post recently came out by Matthew Cobb on the blog "Why Evolution Is True" about a newly discovered Aphodiine Scarab from Cambodia.

Scarab belonging to the Corythoderini tribe allows itself to
be carried by a termite. Cambodia, Southeast Asia.

This is a stunning example of how natural selection helps this termitophilic beetle get it's nutrients. By not only tricking a colony of termites by granting it access to their stock pile of food, it lets the termite actually carry it directly to the food with it's perfectly sculpted handle on it's back for a termite to grip. This is all made possible by the beetle developing the scent of foods that a termite's brood might eat themselves.

A clearer picture of this beetle's morphology.

Looks like beetles win again! Now that I've seen these I feel like going to Asia to collect them! Sadly, money is too much a factor with a hobby such as entomology. Maybe I'll get lucky and get to tag along on an exciting biological field trip sometime that's already being funded. Maybe.

In the meantime, we have a good enough biota in North America. Another great example of a "Super Scarab" would be Cremastocheilus, Anteater Scarabs. These, I have been lucky enough to collect.

Anteater Scarab Beetle - Cremastocheilus

These scarabs have found a way to carry a fume unique to an ant colony's, and use it to sneak into that specific ant colony. Once in, they lay eggs (which are possibly even nurtured after by some ants), and once they hatch, the larvae likely prey on the ant larvae, or feed on vegetation collected by some ants (the adults may even do this too, but this is all hard to predict considering it takes place beyond our scope of vision!) Because these particular insects associate with ants, a common term for these would be "myrmecophiles."

I strongly recommend a visit to the original website linked by the two uppermost pictures, "How the Beetle Got His Handles." It's a good, entertaining tale!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Big Baldy Nov 2012

          Last Wednesday (Nov 21) Sam, Michael, Drew (A friend of Sam's) and I took off on a little day hike at Big Baldy in Tulare County. The hike was nothing vigorous itself, (enough to take a nap at the top), but really just a good place to be in mid November, as the weather was perfect for a hike.

Parked at the Trail head.

After we reached the top, we decided the assent went be too quickly to just head back down. Rather, we ate lunch at the top, took some pictures, horsed around with snowballs, etc. Michael and I even took short naps.The view also enticed us to linger: even though we were on the other side of the Sierras, we could see across the central valley which lead our eyes to the coastal range!

Michael (L) Me (R) On top of Big Baldy

Maybe an hour after we reached the top of the mountain, we began our descent. On the way down, we took a little bit of a different rout. This turned out to be good because it lead us into seeing some wildlife! No, not a bear or a cougar, but bugs! And Mushrooms!!

Sulfur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare)
Commonly found on hardwoods and conifers.
 Fruiting fall through spring time.

Despite how common this shroom can be, the bugs were a different story... As we were walking through a meadow with a few inches of snow, we saw a variety of little creatures walking along the surface including a wingless wasp likely in the genus Gelis (Family: Ichneumonidae), some Leiodids (Round Fungus Beetles) and last but not least, we found Bembidion abundantly, running on the snow surface in search of prey.

Bembidion sp.

*Many thanks to Sam Wells for the photographs that have been taken with his camera for the sake of this blog. All photos in this post are copyrighted under his name. I should be photo independent come Christmas time.

Yours truly: sitting on a stump, enjoying life. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

 Let us all recognize what we have and give back what we can!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Little Biased in Taxonomy

          There will never be an end to taxonomic adjustifications, as probably all taxonomists will tell you. Biologists are still discovering new species and higher groups of organisms abundantly, and with these new discoveries comes new taxonomic responsibilities: making room for their name on the scroll of taxonomy. Everybody who has worked in a collection arranging specimens into their phylogenetic ranking have asked them selves; "Do I include the Tiger beetles in the Ground beetles?" or likewise, a question to that same effect.

In most Insect collections, the specimens are arranged at the very least to family level. Most entomologists also tend the place their focus's on family level groups. Could this be coincidental? Maybe. But weather the arrangement of collections affects the taxonomic level of interest in an entomologist, or the taxonomic level of interest in entomologist affects organization in a collection, it does not change the question: "Is taxonomy biased?" Whoa. This is bold, of course. After all, like an honest referee, there are more honest taxonomists than not. But how about in a collection that you manage your self or you know the manager of, does it line up with with your/his/her personal likings all too well?

Sandia Mtns. Leptotyphlininae, lateral left view
Leptotyphlininae in the Staphylinidae, used to be ranked at family level.
Copyright: Edward L. Ruden 2011
Under Creative Commons License 

A little while ago, Sam Wells was telling me a story about finding an uncommon family, Leptotyphlinidae. He combed a series out of a dead beavers fur, shortly after it had died (where this group can sometimes be found). Towards the end of the conversation, he stated: "I think they're now considered Staphylinids, though." "Oh, that's not quite as exciting..." I joked. (For the record, Rove beetles are cool! Just not a family I've really studied.) -Here (me being the guilty party) is an example of this biased I'm talking about.

At the Bean Museum, Shawn Clark (Collection Manager and Chrysomelidae (Leaf beetles) specialist) chooses not to include the Bruchinae/dae in the Chrysomelidae. Do I think this is bad? Definitely not. In my own collection I treat Cicindelinae as Carabidae, even though this happens to be more popular ranking, how can we ever come to a mutual agreement? The truthful answer is that we can't. Evolution is a slow process, we can't exactly pinpoint where Cicindelinae drifted off into Cicindelidae, where is the defining line? Many taxonomists think that numbers should determine that line if the genetics are still corresponding. Other taxonomists will simply pick and choose how to rank their families and other groups.

Omoglymmius - Omoglymmius hamatus
Omoglymmius hamatus (LeConte)
Copyright: Alex Wild 2004
Note: I personally obtained permission to use this photograph.
Thank you, Alex!

I found a few of these Rhysodids last year. Thy were stationed under the bark of log in a mixed Fir and Pine forest in the southern Seirra. Rhysodidae (Wrinkled Bark Beetle) themselves, are in somewhat of a taxonomic limbo. They are being treated more and more as Ground beetles. The similarities are pretty enticing, but if it came to it, I might be a little reluctant to rank it as a Ground beetle in my collection. While I love Ground beetles, I don't want to strip this other awesome group of it's family level pride. I honestly may even look the other way. After all, it is still the same species.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

...and Shield-Winged Insects now presents... Another pitfall trap beetle!

          Well things are slowing down here in Fresno... At least the insect part of life. I haven't collected an alive insect for some time now. But when one door closes, another door opens (as there is no shortage of work to do when you have a growing insect collection and a blog.) I have also been having a lot of back pain this weekend, so I'll cut this one short (sitting at the computer isn't exactly comfortable.)

Carabus (Tomocarabus)
taedatus agasii LeConte

I really hit the jackpot on this Carabus species last year, as I accumulated around seventy to eighty specimens in my Squaw Peak Road pitfall traps over in Utah. It was really quite sad, though, because there were other species of ground beetles coming to the traps much less abundantly, which provoked me into keeping the traps in progress for much longer than was needed for C. taedatus. I have a large number pinned if any one is interested in an exchange. I will also have non-pinned specimens this January once I return from the winter break back home. (I accidentally left the others in Utah!)

Habitat for Carabus taedatus agassii
Squaw Peak Road, Utah County
Copyright: Sam Wells 2011

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Silphidmanic Domino Effect

          Last month, I had an opportunity to exchange beetles with Brad Barnd (a friend I recently met through Bugguide, who also blogs at Midwestbugs). He generously took the extra time to send me the ID's of most of the unidentified material I sent him, and he got as far as his resources would take him with the rest. Outside of the awesome beetles I received in his package, it was thrilling to find out what creatures were in my collection, including this Sexton beetle.

Nicrophorus investigator
Nicrophorus investigator Zetterstedt
Copyright: Guy A. Hanley 1992

I knew only a well focused picture with good lighting could do this species justice, which is why I asked Guy Hanley for permission to use his picture on my blog. Thanks Guy!

It's really interesting how I ended up with this species in my collection, actually. While members of this family make their usual appearance at carrion and sometimes feces, I acquired this species in pitfall traps set up mostly for Ground beetles. As I mentioned in my "Cicindela nebraskana Loves Northern Utah" post, many specimens of insects fell in. What I'm guessing happened, is that the scent of the dead insects drew more and more insects, especially Nicrophorus to the trap, over time creating a domino effect. Dan found thirteen specimens of N. investigator in a single one of his traps! I didn't even use antifreeze in the traps, rather a soap, salt and water solution (I didn't want to be accountable for harming other animals). Another Silphid that came, this time in extremely overwhelming numbers, was Thanatophilus lapponicus (Northern Carrion Beetle).

Beetle found in wood splinters - Thanatophilus lapponicus
Thanatophilus lapponicus (Herbst)
Copyright: Carol Davis 2011 

While I'm in the swing of things, I'll take advantage of another photo. This one belongs to a bug enthusiast from my home state, Utah. Thank you too, Carol!

I've found this species at other places than traps though. Once in a heap of dead birds (unappealing AND odd), and a couple other times out in the open looking for a similar situation. Still, an attractive bug.

Aspen Tree bordered meadow.
Habitat for Nicrophorus investigator
and Thanatophilus lapponicus. 

I think the most attractive Silphid I've seen yet, is N. nigrita. I was taking a walk along a seaside trail in San Louis Obispo County, California, when I saw this species on the trail. I cautiously approached it, and noticed it had Mites all over it. I wasn't sure where the fellow had been, so I was a little reluctant to touch it with my fingers. I battled with it using my forceps, trying to transport it into my vial, when it squirmed out from between the flimsy metal and flew off. Darn! I hope I see this species again, as it definitely was a beauty. I also hope to find other species of this family at future pitfall traps.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bonneville Park and All it's Glory

          One of my favorite places to go in Orem, Utah, is Bonneville Park only two blocks east of my Mother's house. Growing up in Orem, I had many nights where I would jog over there with one of my dogs (Starlight and Grizzly), and do pull ups on the playground, shoot hoops at the court, play keep away with my beloved pooches (or rather they play keep away with me!) and often times just relax on a cool, dark night in this small city in the Wasatch Mountains.

Bird View of Bonneville Park

At the north end you can see the field where I played with my dogs, in the bottom third quadrant to the right, you can see the basketball court and just below that is the playground, my favorite part of the park.

Playground Area
Photographer: Kristin, The Balloon Gal's Blog

As if twisty slides and monkey bars don't get me excited enough, the Stag Beetle, Lucanus mazama certainly does. Especially in the dozens.That's exactly what this playground had to offer, too. I only collected eight or so from the park, because I also found this species pretty consistently throughout the summer months at street lights. More uncommonly, in the actual wild.

On one particular evening, there were so many, the parents, along with there kids, started leaving the park. I recall seeing a dad taking long strides across the wood chips to pick up his kid and carry him to safety. The initial thought of this was crudely funny, but from the standpoint of a father who didn't want to risk his kid's safety, I quickly came to recognize it as noble. After all, they're vicious looking things!

They seem to be common at playgrounds. The person who owns the playground photo, also posted a photo of this species from a different park on her blog. Somebody from Arizona also posted a photo of this species on Bugguide, claiming she found a lot of them at a playground, she was wondering if they could harm children. My answer to this is yes and no. While there are some reports of these fellas breaking sticks, pinching some one's hand and not letting go, etc, I have never heard of them breaking skin or bones. Bites also seem to be uncommon. I've done my best to taunt these buggers into giving me a good pinch (without harming them), but without success. Oddly enough, the shorter mandibles will inflict the most pain if bitten. So watch out for the girls, Bonneville Park goer's!

Lucanus mazama (LeConte)
Left: Average Male
Right: "Sneaker Male"

Dr. Shawn Clark always referred to the smaller males as "sneaker males." As the story goes, while two larger males are battling over a female, the smaller guy will "sneak" in and copulate while the big boys are preoccupied. Clever. We also use this term jokingly at the museum.

Lucanus mazama (LeConte)

Hopefully I'll be able to get some good photograph's of alive specimens when I go back next summer. Until then, this should give you a good idea of their magnificence.

Lucanus mazama was recently classified in the genus Pseudolucanus, and even in Dorcus before that. In fact, L. elaphus was the only one of the four, Now Lucanus species north of Mexico that held the name "Lucanus" before they merged the two genera.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Strange, Awesome and Anomalous Creatures at Forest Lake

          As Fall draws near, and winter approaches just as steadily, I often find myself pondering past collecting experiences in the more "bug productive" part of the years. Around July of 2011, I had a great hike from Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City County, to Aspen Grove in Utah County, Utah. Roughly 30 miles, up and down rocky hills, edging around some of the most beautiful mountain sides for three straight days with limited water, really keeps me in tune with humility.

I definitely wasn't checking every nook and cranny for bugs (as I was more focused on the Pearly Gates of Aspen Grove), but I did collect some goodies. Two nice Judolia (gaurotoides?) showed up along my path. But to see all the other life teaming together in the warm sunny dales of the Wasatch Mountains, was very soothing (despite my aching legs). On the second night, I came to a small lake called Forest Lake. And the critters swimming around in this murky lake were anything but "along my path." Along with hundreds of, what I am guessing to be Ambystoma tigrinum (Tiger Salamander) larvae (as seen here), there was a good number of Acilius semisulcatus.

Acilius semisulcatus Aubé -Male
Missing tip of right eletron,
perhaps bitten off by a Tiger Salamander?

After the photo taking of these guys, I noticed small pieces of lint scattered on their dorsal sides. I really hate this. Non the less, you can see why splashing around with so many strange Forest Lake creatures, (no more bizaar than I), was worth getting a couple specimens.

Acilius semisulcatus Aubé -Female

The sexual dimorphism is pretty clear in this species. If you look closely at the male, you can see his front tarsi modified to suctioning onto the females rather ridged, aquadynamic elytra during copulation.

As I mentioned in my "Cicindela nebraskana Loves Northern Utah" post, many of my old pictures have been lost. This, including the pictures from my little expedition. Luckily, I found a good picture for y'all off the web.

Forest Lake

The summary the link gives for this lake says:

"This lake, with its muddy waters, is not a recreation spot where you want to fish or swim, but it sits in the middle of a tree-lined basin that is green in the summer and changes colors in the fall."

I swam, fished for Acilius, and used this water as fuel for the last 10 miles of the hike... I turned out fine, right???

I can hardly wait to return to this spot, of course taking an easier rout this time around. I'll also have more than just my hands to catch this species next time. Maybe even a chance at photographing some live ones. Oddly, there were no Tigers on the shore. But make no mistake, these diving beetles make up the predatory difference. I'm not sure how much their mandibles would damage human skin, but I was cool with not finding out.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What's a Beetle like you doing in a place like this?

          Last month, my Aunt was walking down a hallway in my house when she told me there was a beetle on the wall. It was night time, and because summer nights in Fresno are generally above 80 degrees F (quite frequently above 90) there are a few bugs you can find commonly at street and porch lights. Cyclocephala (Masked Chafers) were my guess, if it was the equally common but more stunning Polyphylla decemlineata (Ten-lined June Bug), I figured the response wouldn't be as calm. So got up from the computer to see what it might be, and I was baffled.

Polycaon stoutii (LeConte, 1853)

I had a encounter with this bazaar Bostrichid a couple weeks previous at a KOA campground, in San Luis Obispo County (SW of Fresno County). KOA campgrounds are pretty much outdoor hotels, in my eyes at least, but this spot had a wonderful variety of Beetles. I'll save this story for another time.

The question remained: How did this little guy end up in the middle of a city with over half a million people thriving in it? Well, after I did a little more research, I discovered these are notorious for destroying hardwoods anywhere they can find them. I was a little uneasy with the fact I found it in the house. The following weeks, I noticed a few others around the city.

Polycaon stoutii (LeConte, 1853)

The kept it alive until the following morning when it could be photographed. It is another one of those "Pretty, Common" beetles we can over look sometimes. This species is highly variable in size (approximately 1-2 cm), but almost all individuals would be considered a larger example of the family. I'm hoping this is an indication that next year I'll find the magnificent Dinapate wrightii. ;)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sometimes, you just gotta.

          Last year, as I was pinning specimens at the Bean Museum, I over heard Dr. Shawn Clark (Collection Manager) talking on the phone very pleasantly to a friend and very enthusiastic insect taxonomist/hobbyist Dan Cavan. I don't want to spend too much time describing Dan, but as he came in later that day I discovered we had a lot in common. He owned a private insect collection and had one of the largest personal collections of Chrysomelidae in the U.S. As well as this diverse, beautiful and enormous family, he had a good variety of Dynastinae (Rhinoceros Beetles), Lucanidae (Stag Beetles), and giant,colorful insects of all kinds from all around the world.

Shawn introduced me to Dan, and we discussed his recent collecting trip to Tamaulipas, Mexico. I soon learned he had a variety of Beetles and that he also traded insects from all around the world. I told him about my relatively small collection, and we later met up to exchange specimens. When he saw my newly developing collection, he was very generous and he willingly gave me a large number of species I still prize. Far more material than I could compensate with the few specimens I could afford to exchange. One such species is Homoderus mellyi. I just couldn't resist having a beast like this in my collection! This genus pertains to its own tribe, Homoderini. According to Wikispecies, this tribe has only three species represented; H. gladiator, H. mellyi and H. taverniersi. All of these are Africa endemic, this individual of H. mellyi was collected in Cameroon.

Homoderus mellyi Parry
40 mm, excluding mandibles

While studying little critters is very productive means of taxonomic progress, I can't help but sense an undermining idea among some entomologists. This idea is that appreciating some of the larger, and at first glance, prettier specimens has been considered cliche, or even shallow. Perhaps some associate this fascination with people who sell and purchase insects (thereby undoubtedly misusing taxa). I can honestly say, if it weren't for the more noticeable species, I would not of had a spark of interest that lead to burning passion for all nature, unbiasedly. I'm glad to say most naturalists/scientists (that I've met) genuinely enjoy nature unbiasedly.

Sadly, there are also those who couldn't care less to take the time to appreciate much more intricate taxa. The family I am most fond of is Carabidae, or Ground Beetles. This is a prime example of Insecta intricacy and diversity. It is the third largest family of Beetles (behind Curculionidae and Staphilinidae) and at the same time, it is one of the primitive insect groups. I became excited about this family when I first saw a member under a microscope. As Dr. Clark exclaims: "A small bug is a big bug under a microscope." What a fiend it was indeed! I also new that Carabids were extremely common, easy to find, and there was plenty of room for taxonomic growth in this family. Perfect for me. Still though, I enjoy treating my eyes every once in a while to Homoderus mellyi. ;)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Click Beetle that Almost Broke Me

          Throughout my limited time studying and collecting beetles, I have encountered a number of species that would excite field entomologists. From Omus tiger beetles, to ant-eating scarabs, to giant Cerambycids and even rare families that are highly specific in their distributions and habitats. But I think the most memorial experience of all took place in the Mojave Desert of southwest Utah.

I was on a collecting trip around the southwest states with Dr. Shawn Clark, when we pulled over at a place Called "Leeds Creek" in Washington County. We pulled our beating sheets and nets out of the back of  the rental truck and started to wander around the area sampling every kind of plant we saw. I started examining Cacti for Moneilema gigas, but had no luck. As I was walking back to the truck with a vial full of Weevils and Leaf Beetles, I saw a large, black insect flying flying my direction in the corner of my eye. I quickly tried to turn my net around in my hand, (it was in a brush beating position), but swung short by a few inches. As I was running right behind the thing, I noticed it was a Beetle. Eventually it landed on the base of a tree branch, only problem was that this "branch" was fifteen feet off the ground. It was a Click Beetle. I can remember very vividly cranking my neck, looking up at it stunned by it's magnificence.

My mind was scrambling. Should I throw a stick at it and knock it to the ground? No, it would just fly away. Should I wait until it moves further down the tree, then collect it? No... It's going to take off soon if I don't come up with a master plan. "Shawn! I need your help!" He soon came over and was also in aw as I pointed to what my life currently revolved around. He got in the truck, and slowly drove underneath the branch where the monster was perched while I stood on the roof. I am a tall guy, over 6'5" but have an even longer wing span, about 6'6.5". I reached as high as I could with one arm toward the Clicker, slid the rim of the net underneath it's abdomen, pulled down and swung sideways. Pure extacy. It was mine.

Chalcolepidius apacheanus Casey
35 mm

As seen above, it's a pretty beetle. Catching it made for a great day and ultimately made the whole trip. I saw a couple others out, but they were so far that I couldn't chase them down. I've had a few Beetles at my finger tips before, that miraculously have escaped my forceps of doom. Nicrophorus nigrita comes readily to mind.

Utah has a great mixture of Beetles, let's be clear, but it's not exactly a paradise for collectors, typically speaking. Why? First of all there's not much moisture during the summer months. While Arizona is incredibly dry, it has a lower latitude and the monsoon season to really pull the life out of nook's and cranny's. Utah is just a little on the dry side, and when it's not, it has a layer of snow blanketing everything. I find it amazing how Beetle's can adapt.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cicindela nebraskana loves northern Utah

          One Tiger Beetle that you don't see very often is Cicindela nebraskana. This species is and has been considered rare for some time now. Sioux County in north west Nebraska is where the type locality is, and you probably wont find this species anywhere else in the state that is too far from this spot. According to the distribution listed for this species in "A Field Guide to the Tiger Beetles of the United Sates and Canada," -David L. Pearson, C. Barry Knisley & Charles J. Kazilek, it is found in the north west states and across the bottom's of the southern Canadian territories. It's distribution hardly cuts across the corner of Nebraska.

Northern Utah happens to be a gold mine for this "rare" species. At BYU's collection of Arthropods in Provo (Utah Co.), I recall seeing two or three large unit trays filled with this species, with well over an estimated 120 specimens. To put this significance in perspective, there are only eight (give or take one) drawers of Tigers in this collection. There were more specimens of C. nebraskana than almost every other Tiger species! At USU's insect collection in Cache County, I found this species in great abundance as well. This being a solitary Tiger, transfered over to unique locality lables for most specimens.

Cicindela nebraskana Casey

Last year during late August, I set up pitfall traps along Squaw Peak Road which runs behind the eastern slopes of Mount Cascade in Utah County. I had no clue as to what might fall in, but this little collecting strategy was extremely productive at this particular grassy field. It reared over a dozen Carabid species and most of which, in great numbers. C. nebraskana was not one of them, but I was still over joyed with my humble four specimens.

Habitat Shot courtesy of Sam Wells

On this afternoon collecting spurt attended Sam Wells, his son Michael Wells, Shawn Clark (Manager of BYU's Arthropod collection), Lewis (an employee at the collection) and of course, myself. My original habitat shots of the beautiful landscape were lost when my last computer succumbed to old age. Sam was gracious enough to lend me one of his.

Left to Right:
Jon, Michael, Sam, Lewis, Shawn