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. ;)