Monday, July 22, 2013

New Bug Greeting Cards

My summer is packed with events and activities that all have to do with the insects that finally get plentiful when the monsoon arrives. If you go to the 'Events' page on the top menu you'll see how busy it's getting. At some of these festivals, like Southwest Wings in Sierra Vista at the beginning of August, I will not only present a power-point program and lead a black lighting field trip at night, but also have a booth for my art work.

The art work I sell consists mostly of my watercolor paintings and prints. So for the nature festivals I will bring my cactus flower, wildlife and landscape paintings. Since there is also a focus on insects, I am making greeting cards of some of my bug photos.

I now have 3 new boxes of 7 greeting cards each, one of longhorn Beetles, one of Scarab Beetles and one of Weevils. The back of each box shows the whole assortment and each card is of just one beetle and offers species name and collection location on the back.

I will also have boxes of cards of my beetle collages, each box containing collages of 7 different beetle families, and another favorite in the same style, the grasshoppers of Arizona

The price will be $20 per box, just like my other greeting cards that sell very well. But will these beetle cards go, too? They are so much fun to make... Maybe I'll take a few boxes to the BugGuide meeting. It starts this week, on Thursday - time is flying!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Blooming Texas Rangers

No, not a British slur thrown at a Texan law officer. A flowering bush, Leucophyllum frutescens, imported to our garden from the Chihuahuan Desert. It doesn't belong here, we are in the Sonoran Desert, but it is one of the few deviations from local vegetation that we included. It blooms reliably and profusely for a couple of days about a week after every heavy rain storm, hence its other name, Texan Rain Sage.

Desert Leafcutter Ant - Acromyrmex versicolor
Today I was alerted to its bloom by a line of busy leaf-cutter ants loaded with purple flowers. These ants can schlepp! They removed buds and flowers from the bush, carried them high above their heads along a path and across our brick terrasse, up a three foot wall and then 6 feet down again on the other side to one of their nest entrances.

There they stored their bounty, maybe to dry or at least wilt the material, before tomorrow it will all be carried into one of the subterranean fungus gardens. The gardens provide the only nourishment to these highly organized ants. 

The blooming Rangers also finally attracted bees back to the yard. Mostly just feral honey bees that can be flying in from anywhere in a 2 mile radius. A very hungry Bee Assassin, a female probably needing nutrients to lay a clutch of eggs soon, was stalking the bees.

Apiomerus flaviventris (Yellow-bellied Bee Assassin)
She spread her fore legs and just about jumped a bee. She immediately bit the bee wit her proboscis and injected her paralyzing digestive juice into the victim. The bee made several attempts to sting but couldn't penetrate the exoskeleton of the Assassin. When I checked several hours later, the assassin was still holding its prey, sucking the liquified contents.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Insect Insanity at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

As every summer, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum is offering again its popular Saturday Night events. This Saturday evening will be all about insects. There will be talks in the Theater and exhibits of life bugs in the Baldwin Building next door. There will be huge moths, shiny beetles, endless millipedes and attractive centipedes.

Here is the program for Saturday evening:

6:00 p.m. Macro Photography with Jay Pierstorff and Rhonda Spencer

Learn how to take extreme close-up photos of bugs, coins, stamps, flowers and more. If it is tiny, there is a way to make great images with almost any kind of camera. Jay and Rhonda show you how it's done in this 45 minute class for photography enthusiasts of all skill levels.

7:00 and 8:00 p.m. The Bugman!

Learn new facts and dispel myths about Sonoran Desert insects. Join the "Bugman", University of Arizona Entomologist Dr. Carl Olson as he gives two presentations about the 6, 8, and more-legged creatures of our desert.

6:00 to 9:30 p.m. Insect Insanity

Get a bugs-eye view of many of the arthropods that live in the Sonoran Desert. Experts will be on-hand to answer all your arthropod questions.  
See you there!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Monsoon in the Santa Ritas, Florida and Madera Canyon

On Wednesday I wanted to work my way up through the grassland into Madera Canyon. There was an impressive thunderstorm hanging under Mt. Hopkins and I ended up staying a little further north in Florida Canyon instead. It anyway seemed a good idea to check out the Santa Rita Research Range (SRER) where we'll hold our BugGuide gathering in less than a couple of weeks.

Left: Termite shedding its wings: middle: male following female: right: ant attack
Of course, the rain got me soon anyway. A fast and furious thunderstorm lasted only a few minutes, not even long enough to cool down the air. While the thick drops were falling I noticed a familiar phenomenon: hundreds of lithe, long-winged insects were drifting through the moist air. One swipe of my net caught over a dozen: Winged reproductive members (alates) of a nearby termite colony, probably the ground dwelling desert encrusters. In those colonies the workers actually build little structures in the rainy season. From there, they push out the alates that are ready and waiting as soon as a storm hits. I've watched those flights before: they seem to last only minutes. After that, the wings are shed and the termites are milling around on the ground. Many have found a partner: a male following on the heels of a female who seems to be frantically searching for something. I never saw an actual mating. Maybe she's leading him to the privacy of an underground future nest site for that. Their little journey in tandem is dangerous: birds and whiptail lizards were picking the termites up by dozens and the attacks by several ant species were especially vicious. But if they make it, the pair can look forward to a long married life: they may live and stay together as queen and king of a new colony for decades, mating repeatedly and generating all the offspring to populate it.

Along the dirt road towards SRER yellow grasses told of months of draught. But recently the area had received a fair amount of precipitation: The Desert Broom bushes (Baccharis sarothroides)  were oozing: sugary phloem juice leaked from every scrape or cut to the bark. Scores of big insects were at work improving those sources of sweet rewards by chewing and licking.

I watched the big wasps: While the Tarantula Hawk was by for the biggest, the agile Cricket Hunter had the advantage of huge mandibles and much more intense aggression and won the best spot every time. It was still a little early for the bigger Longhorn Beetles, I saw only a single Stenaspis, but the Giant Agave Bugs were out in force. I think this is a promising begin of our rainy season and the BugGuide group has a lot to look forward to.

 The SRER station was closed and abandoned, but I took a look around anyway. Here are some photos of the facilities: A building for meetings, bunk house and cottages, work sheds and the managers house are all nestled along a permanently trickling creek under lush trees. The Santa Rita Mountains raise on both sides and several paths allow access - climbing continuously but never really steeply.

Hanging Thief, Robber Fly, Bee Assassin
In spite of the stormy weather there were still insects out around the trail, most of the obvious ones were large predatory species.

Black lighting sheet with mostly Scarabs
Monsoon storms usually do not last very long. After a couple of hours the afternoon sun broke through and promised a productive evening for black lighting when I finally made my way to the upper parking lot in Madera Canyon.

Strategus cessus
 It stayed a little bit on the cool side at 72 Degrees Fahrenheit. Some insect species prefer warmer night time temps. I saw only one big Prionus heroicus at a light that I had placed in a very protected spot in the forest. Out in the open, this was the night for Strategus cessus that I had never seen in such numbers. Most S. cessus are smaller than Strategus aloeus and they are all black on top. They have the pronotal depression typical for the genus, but no horns. So I'm not quite sure how to tell males and females apart.

 Eacles oslari found its own camouflaged spot on one of the interpretative signs that were installed by the forest service
Lots of Chrysina beyeri, but no C. lecontei at all, many nice shpingids, but only one big saturniid moth,  Eacles oslari. Over all, a good collecting night that ended eventually when another thunderstorm rolled over the mountains.

 Lophocampa argentata (Silver-spotted Tiger Moth

Monday, July 8, 2013

Queen of the Night Bloom 2013, the real thing

It turns out that the few flowers of Peniocereus greggii that were seen around here nearly two weeks ago were by no means the main event for this summer. The real show happened two nights ago and last night. I had kept an eye on some buds on our neighbors' property to keep up with the timing. Yesterday at sunset they looked like little Chinese lanterns, all puffed up but still closed.

When I checked my black light around 10 pm I was greeted by sweet fragrance and my flashlight reflected from two small white flowers on one plant and 4 on another.

Queen of the Night (Peniocereus greggii)
The diameter of many cactus flowers varies from year to year, probably dependent on the available water.
Last night, I was sure that I smelled more open flowers maybe from across the dirt road, but I couldn't find them in the dark.

So this morning, Randy and the dogs helped me look for more queens. It's not quite like searching for Easter eggs because the stems can be quite tall so the white beacons are visible from the distance as soon as you have formed your search image. Remembering where they bloomed in years before is only helpful to a degree because the cacti tend to take years off between productive seasons, at least here in the wild. I'm sure that the irrigated, shaded specimens at Tohono Chul Park perform reliably year after year.

It was already warm and muggy right after sunrise, so we didn't search all 480 acres of state land. We still came up with a record 19 blooming plants, with anywhere from 1 to 7 flowers. Those were already beginning to wilt but they still attracted some bees. We also saw 5 resting plants, but only because we knew their locations. They are so thin and gray that they are nearly impossible to find.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday Seven

Today's Sunday Seven are all photographed on the garage wall where I keep my black light when it's not raining or to windy. Over time you will probably come to recognize that slump block background. I think it looks better than my dirty white collecting sheet and also doesn't flap in the wind as much. 

Euscirrhopterus cosyra (Staghorn Cholla Moth)
Staghorn Cholla Moths are back. Soon we will find groups of their caterpillars feeding on cholla branches.  I'm  amazed how closely these Owlet Moths resemble the Mesquite Stinger Moths in the Flannel Moth family.

Ligurotettix coquilletti, Desert Clicker Grasshopper
Day and night our creosote bushes seem to emit little clicking noises. A small grasshopper with a lot of attitude is producing them by rubbing his hind tibia against its abdomen. The sounds seem to be territorial markers as the males do not appear to be randomly distributed over the desert but to keep strict distances from each others calling perches.

 Cylindera lemniscata, White-striped Tiger Beetle
Diminutive Tiger Beetles are running along the wall catching his small prey close to the black light. They seem to come out only during the warmest time of the summer, maybe they need the heat to keep up their high activity level and speed.

Hogna carolinensis, Carolina Wolf Spider
Speaking of speed, the records at my wall are certainly held by spiders and relatives. Running Crab spiders, the depicted huge Wolf Spiders and a number of Windscorpions (Solifugae) are taking advantage of my nightly bug parties under UV light.

Anomala arida
Defenseless soft Anomala scarabs and moths are the favorite prey of the predators. 

Epicauta tenella, Blister Beetle

 Blister beetles are better left alone. Their hemolymph (circulatory fluid)  contains toxic cantharidine and the beetles react by 'reflex bleeding' to attacks and inadvertent squeezing. I very carefully keep them out of my shirt collar and so far never developed any blisters.

Dermestes marmoratus
Here is another one that I carefully stay away from. I believe that I can actually smell his dietary preferences from a distance of several meters, probably because I have seen whole aggregations of these guys feeding on cow carcasses. Forensic labs use larvae of this species to quickly and thoroughly clean skeletons.

Female Eretes sticticus, Predatory Diving Beetle
We are living in a very dry part of the Sonoran Desert. But even so, Some water beetles show up regularly at my lights, and curiously, this was the case even before our neighbor installed their cattle tanks. So there's either water around that I don't know about or these guys can fly very far.

Ooops, ....and then there were eight... I don't think you would have noticed :)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Assassin Bugs of Arizona

As a preparation for the BugGuide gathering 2013 in Arizona, I pulled BugGuide's data for Assassin Bugs in Arizona. I found that my own photos are the basis for many of the existing species pages. I also found that I had taken white background photos of all but one of the AZ species that are represented on BugGuide. The one missing was  Pseudozelurus arizonicus photographed by D.R. Swanny from a museum (UMMC) specimen. D.R. Swanny also did most of the identifications and I gave him many of my specimens, so I'm sure that he doesn't mind that I included his photo in the tableaux below.

1 Stenolemoides arizonensis; 2 Emesaya sp.; 3 Zelus tetracanthus ; 4 Zelus renardii; 5  Castolus ferox; 6  Apiomerus cazieri; 7 Apiomerus flaviventris; 8 Apiomerus sissipes; 9 Apiomerus longispinis, 10 Fitchia aptera; 11 Heza similis; 12 Pselliopus marmorosus ; 13 Pselliopus zebra; 14 Rasahus thoracicus; 15 Melanolestes picipes; 16 Rhynocoris ventralis; 17 Homalocoris erythrogaster; 18 Sinea rileyi; 19 Sinea diadema

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

There is a lot of work in these tableaux. Since I composed similar collages of other Arizona insect families, I have learned several things: to always store my work as png files so I can go back and move the elements around. To keep the species names in the legend instead as part of the image file - it's easier to correct mistakes and to follow changes in taxonomy that are inevitable. Last, but not least, to post only a small watermarked version on the internet. My ladybug plate showed all intentions to go viral after it was posted on pintrest, turned up in an African language blog, and on several gardening web sites, but by then it had lost all connections to my name and copyright.

Prints of these and other insect plates are available. Please contact me at