Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cactus flowers during record June heat in Tucson

Last Thursday I returned from cool, rainy Germany to the announcement of record breaking temps in Tucson. But mornings were beautiful and cacti set to flower were not deterred by a forecast of over 110 Fahrenheit. Their main pollination time is during night and early morning hours anyway.


 On Saturday, our Harrisia vines started the pageant. We raised the vines from seeds that I got from the Arizona Desert Museum. They come in a big red fruit - like a big plum - that contains thousands of seeds. They germinate easily. The vines are usually leaning into big mature trees. In our case they grew faster than the young mesquite that they accompany and we've had to protect the tree from their weight.


Potted Trichocereus plants glowed in deep reds and lively pinks but some flowers showed definite signs of heat stress from the day before. So I'm showing examples from shaded locations here.


We have our own indicator Queen of the Night (native Peniocereus greggii) at the main entrance to the house under a big Ironwood tree. That plant helps us not to miss the one magical night of the blooming desert queens per year. Tohono Chul park also puts an announcement into the Arizona Daily Star at the same time, but we like our independence from mass media. Buds on our cactus had been huge for a while and on Saturday evening they were slowly opening.


 I called my photographer friends from the Gallery Gang and on Sunday Morning Doris Evans showed up just before dawn to search the State Land with me for the blooming queens.
This  morning, a strange 'blood moon' was looming over the desert but set before I could silhouette any queen flowers against it. Maybe a painting idea?


At twilight, we were able to see groups of flowers peaking all over out of the creosote cover of the State Land. Our noses also helped: the fragrance of these moth flowers is strong, sweet, and quite unique.


As photographers we faced the dilemma to flash or not to flash. Each effect can be interesting. But Randy points out that in this shot the brightly illuminated flowers nearly look photoshopped.


We were wondering if the thin branches of Peniocereus greggii usually lean into the protection of creosote bushes - it's possible, because during its dormant time the cactus becomes nearly invisible there.  I did notice how several year of  cattle grazing intensified the pressure: free-standing plants existed before the cattle were brought in, but are mostly gone by now.


The rising sun brought warmer colors and also a new group of pollinators: Honey Bees flew back and forth loaded with the whitish cactus pollen.


Some plants had especially pretty pinkish hues.


 We found probably more than a dozen plants that were new to me, some great producers from last year seemed to be taking a break, and if we had stayed out longer, we could have found many more.


 On Monday morning, yet another species of white-blooming columnar cacti that is imported and builds great clusters here continued the feast for the eyes.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A young Kissing Bug doesn't need much

In late November 2015, I found a nymph of Triatoma rubida marching across the bedroom carpet between two dog beds. My reaction was 'Oh, no, already'? and I caught it in a jar. It looked like it had just had a good meal.  Rather young, not much indication of wings yet. 4th instar?


Planning to photograph it later, I kept it. By the end of February 2016 I marveled that it was alive and seemed to have progressed to the next instar, now showing stubby wing buds. 5th instar.


By the end of May, still the same. In early June, I found the first adults at my black light outside. When I checked on the captive, it also had gone through its last molt exactly on time. This time a complete exuvium was sitting next to him. You can clearly see the dorsal exit-slit, the  inverted tubes of the tracheae and the proboscis.
Adult Kissing Bug and exuvium of the last-instar nymph
The emerged adult is not particularly big, but normal if it is a male. So these bugs probably don't get very many blood meals in nature either, at least not if the victim is a big, well fed, well hydrated dog. I must admit that these Kissing Bugs are not my favorites and get flushed down the toilet at times. But this brave tough guy gets to fend for himself outside now. At a record 109 degree Fahrenheit, he might have preferred the other choice.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Kissing Bug or not?

It's time for the Kissing Bug post again: Yes, we have them in the Southwest US.
In the Soutwestern US, they are neither new nor uncommon
They may carry the microbe that causes Chagas desease (Trypanosoma cruzi) in fact, studies showed that  
about 40 % of the Kissing Bugs around Tucson are infected 
 with Trypanosoma cruzi. .But so far they are not known to transmit it to humans here in AZ. Behavioral differences from tropical species may play a role. 
Some possible cases in Texas were reported (there are different species of Kissing Bugs there, the same genus, Triatoma, plus some others.)
Female Triatoma rubida in Tucson, AZ
 Adult Kissing Bugs fly to lights at this time of the year, from the end of May to the beginning of July. They are NIGHT-ACTIVE. But I have found them sitting under our kitchen light in the morning, still there from their nightly visit. They are very flat and can get through narrow openings under doors.
Nymph of T. rubida, stilll flightless
I've found nymphs (flightless) indoors since January. The dogs may bring them in? We have packrat middens too close to the house and should get rid of those.  That's were most Kissing Bugs grow up.


Side view of the elongate head of a Kissing Bug (conenose) At rest, the sucking mouth parts are folded back. They stretch forward when in use. Photo by Eric Eaton (detail)
Taxonomically, Kissing bugs belong to the order Hemiptera
so they are True Bugs, not Beetles. One characteristic of that group are the piercing, sucking mouth parts.

Several other True Bugs are often mistaken for Kissing Bugs
Let's separate the Kissing Bugs, also called Conenoses, from similar True Bugs that are often mixed up with the real thing.
Eastern Boxelder Bugs Photo by Seth Ausubel
Some hints: if you find bugs on flowers, or anywhere in the sunshine, bugs in big aggregations, on leaves or fruit: Those are NOT Kissing Bugs. Several related species of these
Rhopalidae (Scentless Plant Bugs) and similar Lygaeidae (Seed Bugs) are very common in Arizona. They feed on leaves and milky, fresh seeds piercing them with their probosces and sucking the juice.

 Here are the Small and the Large Milkweed Bug. They are plant suckers and not interested in animal blood at all. Both are smaller than our common Kissing Bugs in AZ.

Some of our Leaf-footed Bugsdon't have actual 'leaves' on their legs
A number of Leaf-footed Bugs (Coreidae) is as large or larger than Kissing Bugs and shape and coloring may be similar. If you see flanges (leaves) along the hind legs, the separation is easy, but not all Coreids actually have those.  The large ones feed on fruit and cactus pads, often in aggregations, usually during the day 




Some Assassin Bugs found in Arizona may resemble Kissing Bugs


 Remember that  
Kissing Bugs are Assassin Bugs, but not all Assassin Bugs are Kissing Bugs
Most Assassin Bugs are predators of other arthropods. Many Assassins look similar to Kissing Bugs. They can be of similar size and also share a similar color scheme of red on black. If you look closely, their heads are not cone shaped like those of the Kissing Bugs.  Hint: if a predatory Assassin Bug bites you it hurts very much. 
If a kissing Bug bites you, it's completely painless and usually goes unnoticed.
Itching welts and inflammations may appear later. The strength of the reaction is dependent  on the immune reaction of the victim. Over time, after repeated exposure,  hypersensitivity can be developed and a person becomes allergic. These allergic reactions can be severe.  

Photo by Tony Palmer
 Here is Triatoma rubida, our most common Kissing Bug, feeding on a Mediterranean Gecko. The reptile made no effort to avoid the painless bite.  The bug injects an anesthetic and an anticoagulant.
 
1 Macrocephalus dorannae; 2 Lophoscutus sp.; 3 Phymata sp.; 4 Pseudozelurus arizonicus; 5 Narvesus carolinensis; 6 Oncocephalus geniculatus; 7 Reduvius sonoraensis; 8 Rhiginia cinctiventris; 9 Triatoma protracta; 10 Triatoma recurva; 11 Triatoma indictiva, 12 Triatoma rubida, 12a Triatoma rubida nymph

We have 3 or 4 species of Kissing Bugs here, all in the genus Triatoma,  In Tucson proper you'll see most likely Triatoma rubida, In Madera Canyon T. protracta is quite common, T recurva I have found at Clear Creek in Yavapai Co. All are night active and come to lights. 

My blog should help you to better identify the bugs you find. To learn more about Chagas disease and the status of vector infection in AZ, I suggest the paper 'Infection of Kissing Bugs with Trypanosoma cruzi, Tucson, Arizona, USA'  by Carolina Reisenman  et al. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Carmenta mariona, a very pretty, rarely photographed Sesiid Moth

I was, and am too busy to write extensive blogs about all my excursions this spring. So here is just a very short note about our Madrean Discovery Expedition Sierra Elenita, Mexico,  April 30 to May 4 2016.
On a sunny, but rather cool morning in this pine-oak area not very many insects were flying. But Chris Roll still succeeded in netting a very nice one whose identity quickly changed from presumed beetle to Sesiid Moth. I kept it over night in my cooler and photographed it in the morning in my tent before it went to our moth expert John Palting to be carefully pinned.
But even John needed some time until he had the correct id, here is what he wrote to me today:

Carmenta mariona (Beutenmuller 1900)

Despite this little moth being so distinctive, I had a hard time figuring it out, in part because the existing photos of it are so poor. They completely lack the beautiful metallic blue of Chris' specimen. The moth is Carmenta mariona (Beutenmuller 1900). It is apparently a borage feeder and was reared from pupae sticking out of the base of Lithospermum incisum near Elgin in April,1983. All records are from early spring. It is rarely collected, probably in part due to this early flight period (not in sync with most sessiids). Margarethe, your photo will probably be the reference for this species for years to come! Beautiful! 
Best, John
 Chris Roll then asked:
John, are you sure this isn't that very rare species, Carmenta elenita???
 John answered:
I know it doesn't look very much like the photos of meriona, but the specimens shown are very worn. The orange fw hind margin is pretty distinctive. But not much is known about the sesiids in general, ) so perhaps it could be elenita...or rolli someday :)' 
 
 So I am glad that I made the extra effort to photograph it , because a life moth just looks different from the best pinned specimen. The only better thing would have been a photo in situ on a plant, but we were not going to risk that.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Gallery Gang on Mount Lemmon


Our group may yet grow back to its old strength in numbers! And haven't we all grown in skills, knowledge, camera size, social media connectedness .. to mention only a few growth aspects.
Bill George (second from right) summed up some history that I had forgotten:  The Gallery Gang,  goes back a few years (just about a decade or so) to when our local newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, had a Reader's Gallery where we could send in photos hoping to have them published in the newspaper. The Gallery Gang were all those selected by the newspaper as "Gallery All Stars"
Each of us had  a full page spread of our photos along with an interview and a bio. We came together after that and did some photo shoots, but as things happen in life we drifted apart - to finally reunite now.
For myself I should add that this interactive Star Gallery was the first step towards social media, including BugGuide and my blog. 


Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Doris Evans
Friday the 20th of May was sunny, cool at first but warming up quickly. I think we might have caught the very end of spring migration - I definitely saw some warblers that I could not identify, and Doris photographed a Rose-breasted Grosbeak that we others all missed and that was way west of its range.


Most birds, though, seemed to be on their home turf by now and busy building nests.  We had been tipped off that there would be a Buff-breasted Flycatcher at Rose Canyon, but we found instead a Cordilleran Flycatcher moving into one of the one ugly, out-of place structure, a huge container trailer that for some obscure reason was parked down there. Actually, Robert Bateman would probably see a beautiful painting in the contrast between the dainty, fluffy bird and the texture of the rusty convoluted entrails of the trailer.

Bill George says that birds aren't quite his 'thing in photography, but his group photo certainly speaks for his skills

Bird photography isn't quite my thing either, and I'm blaming my tools (of course). And the branches, and the dappled light ... and this pose: who can tell that this absolutely devoted singer is a Yellow-eyed Junco? But just click on the link!


Incinerator ridge (views of old mining sites from higher up may explain the name) yielded some elusive warblers, a number of Spotted Towhees and several pairs of Western Tanagers. Doris told me a trick to remember the name: the males sport the colors of a western sunset. Our target birds showed up, too, but later better and more.

Squirrel, Abert's or Arizona Grey? Cliff Chipmunk, Black-headed Grosbeak and Yellow-eyed Junco
At Summerhaven, a feeding station could have provided easy access to a number of critters - I saw our only Abert's squirrel (or tassel-eared squirrel) (Sciurus aberti) there, but not knowing  that we headed soon for the more natural setting of Marshall Gulch. The squirrel really  lacked any tassels. But I was told that they have to be mature to show obvious hair tufts on their ears (?).

Red-faced Warbler by Lois Manowitz
 At Marshall Gulch we headed straight for creek and willows. Actually splashed through the shallow water to get the sun behind us. The scene immediately came alive with chipmunks and birds that were feeding on soft willow leaves, catkins and the bugs that were themselves gnashing on nectar and honeydew. Soon we got great views of the beautiful  Red-faced Warbler that, more than anything,  had drawn us up the mountain. Getting good pictures in that dappled light was quite a different story.


The mournful flute song of Hermit Thrushes rung through the Ponderosa Pines and House Wrens interrupted their constant hunt for insects to belt out their sharp little songs.


A pair of Painted Redstarts chose a nesting site that did NOT meet with the groups approval. So exposed! So close to the road!


But the critters up here were in general not shy of humans. A Pocket Gopher peaked at us from his hole, then very decisively slammed it shut with some soil. But reemerged immediately closer to us. Disappeared again and popped up literally between my feet, where he became the center of attention and stayed.


I held out a stick and he grabbed it, got it stuck across his burrow entrance, corrected quickly and pulled it in. Checked whether it fir the subterranean design, found it wanting and tossed it out of yet another hole. The area was a veritable Swiss cheese. The gopher became our star entertainer of the afternoon.

He smiles at his easily amused fans


 I was of course also looking for insects. Like on my recent Sonora trip, Veined Ctenucha Moths were flying in numbers. House Wrens demonstrated that that their vivid coloration does not necessarily scare predators from eating them.

Arizona Sister by Ned Harris
Two-tailed Swallowtails sailed by and never landed, but Arizona Sisters posed beautifully on the tips of tree branches. They don't nectar on flowers, so that's where we usually see them

Left top and bottom Andrena milwaukeensis (Milwaukee Andrena), top right Megachile Subgenus Megachiloides or Xanthosarus, and buprestid beetle Anthaxia Subgenus Melanthaxia
On blooming Dogwood (one of the small and multi-flowered  species) I found bees that must be specialized on this high altitude habitat that is more similar to a Canadian forest more than an Arizona desert.

Stiletto Fly (house fly sized) and Bot Fly (monster sized)
Much more massive than even the bumble bee, a fly landed with an unmistakable drone: the biggest Bot Fly that I have ever seen.  Jeff Boettner, a friend and Bot Fly specialist, was quite excited about my find: 'This is Cuterebra atrox (male) and this species is known from over 200 males but only 7 females. Not sure why. The males are mostly singletons, so hard to know if these are leks or not? I think you have found this species before on rocks in fall. But there are museum specimens from AZ from June 10 thru Oct 7th- this would be the earliest. The other crazy thing about these guys is that the host mammal is still unknown. So I would love to get DNA from a sample of these.' OK, It'll go into the mail on Monday


In the afternoon Collins Cochran and spouse and Doris Evans and I took the service road to Oracle down the back side of the mountain.One of the reasons to get my new Subaru Forester was that I wanted to be able to do that. Landscape-wise the trip was worth it - beautiful vistas.


But it was so dry that we found few reasons to stop - no freshly green bushes to beat, no flowers to glean for insects - or maybe I was just to tired. Doris was revived by a Red Tail Hawk on the wires above, I stopped for a folk art piece or rather weird cultural statement and the towering flower stalks of yellow blooming agaves.



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Still surprises in my backyard: the Longhorn Beetle Chrotoma dunniana

This week's theme in our Facebook group SW U.S. Arthropods was the beetle family Cerambycidae. Cami Cheatham Schlappy, a  group member, looked it up: the name is derived from  Greek mythology: When the shepherd musician Cerambus  told an insulting story about nymphs, they transformed him into a large wood-chewing beetle with horns. No freedom of expression in antiquity! Our southern neighbors, more familiar with cattle than sheep, call any longhorn beetle 'el torrito', little bull.

Brothylus gemmulatus
At high elevations, Robyn Waayers, who lives among oaks and pines above Julian in California, commonly finds Brothylus gemmulatus on her patio at this time of the year. In Arizona I had to drive up to Mount Lemmon (Catalina Mountains, Pima Co. AZ) to find my first one of this species.

Achryson surinamum, a typical low desert species
In the lower desert around Tucson, AZ, the black light on our garage wall attracts the same regulars each spring.
Those Ceramcycids that suddenly show up in numbers  may have eclosed from their pupae a while ago. They then stayed in the safety of the pupal chamber until some external signal woke them up. Only then did they make the final push out of their pupal chamber.

An adult  longhorn waiting in its pupal chamber in a split log on Mt Graham
 Depending on the species these chambers are situated more or less deeply inside dead or life wood. So  this timely emergence takes some preparation. The larva usually chews an exit hole from that chamber to the outside, because the adult beetle rarely has the mouth parts to do so. This exit stays then  plugged with wood pulp until flight time.
Some twig borers instead prepare a thinned out area within the twig where it will snap off  during a strong wind (we have plenty of that this year!) and set the beetle free.

Anelaphus piceum
 This very non-distinct brown fuzzy smallish bycid is one of the first to show up each year. When I posted my first photo on FB, Steven Lingafelter said: 'I think this is what I've been getting that I'm calling Anelaphus piceum. If you turn the specimen toward you and look down the elytra from the anterior perspective, the elytral pubescence is clearly divided by a few vague, less pubescent rows along the elytral costae, and that is distinctive for this otherwise monotonous species.'
So I looked through my photos: this one clearly shows those lines in the pubescence.


Chrotoma dunniana
 Just when I thought the black light at our garage wall would not bring in any more interesting stuff after about a decade of lighting very often in that same location, a surprise appeared on a warm mid-May night. It flew not quite to the light and began scrambling over the rocks under a Palo Verde Tree. Most experts agree that this longhorn is rarely collected. The only other one on BugGuide.net are Mike Quinn's 2 Texas posts. 
Even Hovore and Giesbert wrote: A single adult of this rarely collected species was reared by us from the root crown of living snakewood, Condalia (prob. globosa var. pubescens).  Hovore, F.T. and E.F. Giesbert. 1976. Notes on the ecology and distribution of western Cerambycidae (Coleoptera). Coleopterists Bulletin, 30(4): 349-360. JSTOR
Range
CA-TX / Baja Calif., Mexico
 
Chrotoma dunniana