Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Diversion to Southern Utah: The Beetles

We made a trip to southern Utah from July 7 through July 14, camping and exploring. The monsoon rains had begun to fall, but were not too disruptive of our activities, luckily. But they had brought out quite a lot of life, including quite a few beetle species, many of which were real surprises to me. Here is a selection of some of the beetles we saw...

Eleodes caudiferus, a real southern Utah phenomenon! These were rushing around on the dunes at Moquith Mountain Wilderness Study Area, a BLM parcel north of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Some thunderstorms created shade in the late afternoon here, and that coolness seemed to bring out the tenebrionids.
Likely Craniotus sp. The most abundant beetle on the sand at Moquith Mt. WSA.
Eleodes obscurus, a common darkling beetle of Arizona and Utah. Moquith Mt. WSA
Hister beetles in a mating frenzy! Moquith Mt. WSA.
Many Polyphylla came to black lights at Moquith Mountain WSA and the adjacent Ponderosa Grove Campground. 
Lucanus mazama at Moquith Mt. WSA. This surprised me, but I was soon to learn that this is a very common beetle near cottonwoods in S. Utah. This one is a male, with fairly large mandibles.
Moneilema sp. This beetle scurried past one afternoon at our next destination, Long Canyon in Grand Staircase Escalante.
Another Lucanus mazama, this time at Long Canyon. A female, with smaller mandibles. Several were seen at this location. On our last day in Utah, I saw eight L. mazama specimens at the grocery store in Escalante, dead or dying, apparently attracted to the store's lights.
Lichnanthe rathvoni in a Cottonwood-dominated riparian area. Det. Dr. A. Evans.
A dorsal view of the Lichnanthe rathvoni above.
Brown Polyphylla. This one was at the slot canyon in Long Canyon, a magical spot, with a massive old-growth cottonwood growing at its entrance and a clean beautiful, narrow slot with wonderful tall walls extending into the mountainside. 
Ellipsoptera marutha, a VERY common tiger beetle in Long Canyon. 
Out last destination on this trip was the high elevation forest north of the town of Escalante. We camped at Posey Lake, in the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. The story of the "Box" and the "Death" is a complete mystery to us...! This is Odonteus obesus, which came to a black light set up by the lake.
Probably Phaenops drummondi, a small buprestid. It was found on a hike near Posey Lake.
These black elaterids were somewhat common flying in the daytime in the forest. Posey Lake.
Diplotaxis sp., the only predictable beetle coming to lights at Posey Lake. The beetle fauna was almost absent at night here.
A lepturine longhorn. These were found on lupine near Posey Lake.
Trichiotinus sp. on thistle. Near Posey Lake.


  1. Hi Robyn, While not, perhaps, a huge beetle-o-phile, your pictures are wonderful and intriguing. Thank you so much for the post! Mary Hart

    1. Thanks Mary - that means a lot from a non-beetle-lover!

  2. The powerful effects of the chemical and physical structure of monsoonal rains is incredible. As you've stated before, Tarantulas seem to be stimulated by the beginning of Monsoon rains. Everything is, that is what got me fascinated by their effect on plant growth which many times will explode, even if you have plants on regular drip system. I use to love to walk down our dirt road barefoot after a initial Thunderstorm downpour followed by several hours of gentle light showers. It's almost like the energy which stimulates everything around you transmits up through your own feet. Of course at that moment Temps are cooler and humidity perfect and the air filled with fragrance of spicy sweet Redshank and Pine resins. Okay, maybe it's psychological after all *smile*

    Two weeks after those first Monsoon rains, this is when I always went truffle hunting for mycorrhizae sources. In the past many researchers have discounted this as myth or fables [one of the things that irks me about modern intellectualism]. I pour through past history and accounts from old documents to look for just gems of info. People in Africa collect Kalahari Truffles under a variety of Rock Rose in Africa after Thunderstorms. At least some scientists are coming around.

    I once found a Pin Striped Beetle eating Pine needles on a Monterey Pine. They're actually pretty kool. Beetles are presently being demonized for killing millions of trees in the west, but it mostly has to do with the Tree's shutting down their water and nutrient intake in response to high aluminum concentrations. Here in Scandinavia, this is a problem and Acid rains are coming from Poland, Germany and other Central and Western Industrial Nations. But never underestimate the power of good P.R. to mask the problem of forest decline to innocent creatures like beetles who are only responding to environmental cues of disrupted or an unbalanced system.

    Beautiful pics BTW. Love those antenna on the one beetle.

    Looks like you missed all the Chariot Fire excitement. My brother lives in Ranchita and is friends with several volunteer firefighters and State Firefighters from Julian area. He said the belief behind the scenes is that a patrolling state fire person down in the desert below where it started may have been the culprit. The unnamed individual said he saw smoke and drove over to investigate. Oddly his Truck caught fire and burned. The scuttlebutt around many firemen is that his Catalytic converter caught some grass or low scrub on fire and he created this story to cover his butt to save his Job. Who knows, but the officials are not publicly discussing this. Guess I can understand why.

    Thanks again for the post - Cheers, Kevin

  3. Makes sense to me that fungi (including mycorrhizal) would become active after a rain - that's just normal, I would say!

    Yes, we were gone most of the days the Chariot fire, but were getting increasingly worried as it grew and started consuming buildings in Mt. Laguna. Will have to drive over there and see how and where it burned soon. I think it's odd, to say the least, that so many fires in the past two summers have originated near Banner/Shelter Valley/Scissors Crossing. I suppose it's possible that this one was a mistake by a firefighter (a mistake, not arson!), but there really has been a rash of them in that area, when for many, many years, none.

    Maybe the next post can highlight some creatures with backbones ; )

  4. All those new beetles make me quite envious! Beautiful photos!

    1. Thanks M - Utah is a real treasure trove of beetles, and so few were on Bugguide for the state.

  5. I am always amazed at the variety of beetles that you find and how you are able to get them to pose. They are all beautiful, really. My favorite photo is: Trichiotinus assimilis on thistle. Near Posey Lake. Will you be posting any of your findings from your Arizona trip? Take care.

  6. Thanks Linda -- yes, that last beetle there on the thistle was quite exciting to find. One of the tricks to finding insects when you're out and about is just scanning the flowers, the air and the ground for dark blobs -- before long you have a "search image." And I just posted a set of scarab beetles from Arizona. More beetles from Arizona will follow, and then some things with backbones...

  7. The beetle listed as: "Likely Craniotus sp." is actually Eleodes pilosus.

  8. Can you tell me your source for identifying diplotaxis sp.? I think there are some of those in my garden but I'm having a hard time finding any info.

    1. Hi Sara,
      Sorry about the late reply - Diplotaxis sp. beetles are very challenging to ID - usually you need the specimen, and an expert's knowledge to know what you're looking for and at! I would not even make a guess at species for most of them myself. That said, here's the Bugguide page for the genus: https://bugguide.net/node/view/11469/bgpage. It might help a little at least.