Thursday, August 2, 2018

From San Simon to Paradise

Last Saturday I drove towards the Chiricahua Mountains following the narrow, straight, partly unpaved Road from San Simon on Interstate 10 to Portal at the eastern. edge of the Chiricahuas. The landscape was very flat and nearly uniformly covered in creosote bushes. But in some ares these were in full bloom, telling of recent rains, and at the horizon promising (or threatening)  clouds hung over a beautiful mountain panorama. My friends had indicated that there could be interesting insects in this bleak habitat, but they were delayed by not quite understanding the difference between the Tucson Airport and the Phoenix one - for Easterners they seem to be close to each other - so I struck out on my own with beating sheet and camera. I concentrated on non-creosote areas, mainly along washes that were lined with Mesquites, White Thorn Acacias, ans some herbal plants that began hesitantly to responded to recent rains.

   Shotgun like patterns on Datura leaves indicate the presence of leaf notcher weevil Trichobaris. I found 2 species of the genus.

 The Hawkmoth Manduca sexta (Carolina Sphinx) is not really a tomato specialist, it in fact prefers the local Datura.

Several similar looking Lema species could all be called Datura-phila, Datura-loving. Their larvae protect themselves with fecal shields, this one is just beginning to build one.

 Datura is also the host plant for this tortoise beetle, Plagiometriona clavata

Gratiana pallidula the egg plant tortoise beetle was introduced with agricultural products but is now quite at home on the local Silver-leaf nightshade.

I'm sure that  several leave beetles that like curcubitaceae  were drawn by patches of Coyote Gourd along the road. Paranapiacaba tricincta and Diabrotica undecimpunctata (Spotted Cucumber Beetle)

Very few knee high Acaciella angustissima were in bloom, so all nectar and pollen feeders concentrated on those few bushes. Here a big Sand wasp

Lycus fernandezi, the netwing beetle that can be separated from L. arizonensis by the little nodge in the black end-spot on the elytra. It is smoothly rounded in L. arizonensis

Finally an early Metalmark. There may be thousands when the desert begins to bloom and waves of these butterflies come up from Mexico.

On Mesquite trees I found a form of Cushion Scale. The white fluted part of the insect is an egg sac that can contain up to 1000 eggs. The insect is hermaphroditic, producing sperm that can fertilize its own ova, but in an alternate reproductive strategy it can also make winged males that can fertilize the female part of other individuals.

Two typical mesquite longhorns are Plionoma suturalis and the big black Stenaspis solitaria.

My best find of the afternoon was this little Ripiphorus sp. beetle. With long clear hind-wings and very reduced (orange) elytra, it could easily be mistaken for a wasp or a syrphid and also flies like one.

By the time Cathedral Rock and the entrance to Southfork Canyon came in sight, the wind had picked up enough to turn my beating sheet into kite and I was grateful to be heading straight for Barbara Roth's cozy Bavarian cottage. I never made it to the little town of Paradise, but guess what?