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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Our August Trip to the Algodones Dunes

It's been a little over a month since our trip to the Algodones Dunes, about 7.5 miles south of Glamis. I finally have a chance to report some of the things seen on that trip.

There had been moderately heavy rain prior to our arrival, and mud was extensive still. The areas about 8 miles south were off limits to camping as of this year, so we camped just north of that area, in a small Palo Verde pocket on the east side of the main dune system.

Similar fauna to what we observed in 2013 were seen, with some new invertebrates.

Hydrophilus triangularis, a first for me at the dunes. This is a large beetle - over an inch long.

Weevil, still wearing an outfit of dried mud from the rains.

Eburia falli, a nice cerambycid of the dunes. I have seen this species on several occasions there in the past, as well.

Initially I thought that this was Oxygrylius ruginosus, as opposed to Tomarus gibbosus, which is so common west of the deserts. But the apex of the clypeus seems to have two small points, instead of one, so it may be Tomarus. Thanks to Art Evans for pointing out the difference. These beetles were extremely numerous here in the dunes this year in this location.

These beetles liked burrowing. Here's one, taking advantage of the soft sand.

MANY showed up at the black light sheets.

These field crickets were also present in very high numbers.
These little rove beetles were also EXTREMELY abundant.

A sand roach, probably Arenivaga sp.

Scorpions were out in numbers after dark. This one nabbed one of the small dynastines...

...then it snagged one of the ubiquitous crickets! If it had a larder somewhere, it must have been full at the end of this night!

A BIG velvet mite - Dinothrombium sp. A couple were seen near one light, ambling along like fuzzy teddy bears.

I have seen these very pale asilids at the dunes before. This one was determined by Eric Fisher from this photo as Efferia candida, a common species of the Colorado Desert in early summer.

We found a Sidewinder half buried in the sand. They will bury themselves completely with only the eyes protruding. This behavior may explain the sudden appearance of the sidewinder by my leg last year. I probably knelt by a buried one (as Gary suggested).

This is what the Sidewinder's spot looked like in the morning (it never moved over the several hours of early evening while we were active).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Ringtail Seen on Boulder Creek Road

A quick notation of an observation made this past week:

On August 20, 2014 (Wednesday night), I saw a Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) around 11 pm a few miles outside of Cuyamaca Woods, south of the Boulder Creek Fire Station.

This was the best view of this species that I have ever had, as after I first spotted it in the road in front of my car, it meandered fairly casually in front of me (as I slowed the car down and crept after it). After about a minute of clear viewing, it moved off the road and started to climb a large tree. I lost sight of it after that.

There are a fair number of large trees in this area, a small riparian area that parallels the road and boulders here and there.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Some Spiders of Cuyamaca Woods

I periodically write a natural history-related article for our community newsletter, and just completed one on spiders, so thought I'd reproduce the article here...for the pleasure of those spider people out there!

"A Guide to (Some) of the Spiders of Cuyamaca Woods"

I know the small, many-legged ones are not everyone's favorites, but there ARE many fascinating spiders sharing our world here in Cuyamaca Woods - too many to ignore!

If you've lived here for any length of time, there's a good chance you've seen the larger, more dramatic species. The largest spider by far that we have here in the Woods is the tarantula, of course. Usually we see a small number (less than half a dozen) of the "common" tarantula of the area every year, which is a long, lanky, very dark-colored member of the genus Aphonopelma. Tarantulas are not deadly, but can deliver a bite with an intensity reminiscent of a bee or wasp sting. They also possess urticating (irritating) hairs on the tops of their abdomens which come off easily and can lodge in sensitive skin areas, causing a certain amount of discomfort to the victim. So it is not recommended that tarantulas be picked up or played with, despite the temptation for some. Tarantulas breed in the fall, so are sometimes seen in greater numbers in late summer leading into that breeding season (at least that is the pattern that I have tended to see). Watch out for them on the roads as they are slow-movers!

 Tarantula on my property, with my finger to provide scale. July 2012.
Another large spider species which is a regular visitor to my patio in the summer, is the Giant Crab Spider, Olios giganteus. The body length of this spider can reach around one inch, with a leg span of around 3 inches, and it is quite hairy, so it is an attention-grabber! These spiders are fairly docile (as most spiders are) and are not dangerous to humans, even if one were to be bitten by one.

 A full-sized Olios giganteus found by my neighbors right after we moved to Cuyamaca Woods.
Most residents of the Woods are all too aware of the fact that we share the neighborhood with black widow spiders. There are two possible species that could occur in our region, the Western Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus) and the Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans). The female Southern has a small red spot above the spinnerets (the "rear end") which the Western lacks. Both females possess the characteristic reddish hourglass marking on the underside of the abdomen. Black widow spider venom is a potent neurotoxin, and anyone bitten should seek immediate medical attention, and if possible, collect the spider which delivered the bite. We also have Brown Widows, which have somewhat recently been detected in California. Unlike the previous two widow species, which are native to our area, the Brown Widow is non-native, and has a range that seems to be expanding in the United States. The Brown Widow's venom is not considered to be dangerous to humans, although care is recommended around any widow-like spider encountered!

A Western Black Widow, outside my house.
A male Brown Widow on my property. Note the pale hourglass marking, and the enlarged pedipalps (the large ball-like structures at the head-end - they are used by the male to help transfer sperm to the female during mating).

The last spiders I'll mention here are very small, but bursting with personality (and energy). They are the jumping spiders - VERY aptly named little arachnids, which will leap away at the slightest provocation, but if approached slowly and quietly can be observed closely. A jumping spider will very obviously be observing you, as well, with its eight eyes, the four in the front being large, round and shiny, and thus hard to miss. The other eyes are smaller and, when combined with the anterior ("front") eyes, give a jumping spider close to a 360 degree range of vision!

The jumping spider family (Salticidae) is the largest spider family, and for those who are motivated, finding species in Cuyamaca Woods could probably become a full-time hobby (if one chose!). I am slowly trying to photograph jumping spiders as I encounter them in the area, and have encountered the common kinds, which are usually in the genus Phidippus, as well as one which may be an undescribed species - time will tell, and a jumping spider expert has a single specimen of the "mystery" spider.

A colorful jumping spider, Phidippus sp. just outside the house.

For those interested in seeing a few more Cuyamaca Woods spiders (including the "mystery" jumper mentioned above, labeled "Maevia") and other arachnids, see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/39935474@N03/sets/72157646520448242/

These are by no means the only spiders in Cuyamaca Woods - just a tiny cross section of some of the more conspicuous or charismatic. We seem to live in a very rich environment with many species, so keep an eye out for other intriguing eight-legged ones as you go about your business or pleasure in the Woods.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Did the Monsoons Yield in the Anza Borrego Desert?

A quick trip to see.

Gary and I headed down to Coyote Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and then set up a couple black lights in Borrego Springs after dark. Four days previously the area had a great deal of rain (and flooding) from some monsoonal moisture that moved into the area.

Coyote Canyon:

We only made it as far as First Crossing, and the road in to that point was pretty rough and showed places where there had been massive mud piles a couple days earlier.

There had been much more water than this at its peak, judging from the mud and flood-signs. The leading edge of the stream receded and then moved forward again while we watched - strange.

Just past where we parked the truck. The flowering shrub appears to be Petalonyx thurberi.
Nemognatha sp. on Petalonyx. These little blister beetles were abundant on one bush that I saw, and absent on all the others I looked at. They were actively feeding on nectar with their long mouthparts, then would clean their mouthparts carefully after sipping (as shown below)!

Tidying up.

I also saw these stink bugs on the Petalonyx. After a bit of searching on Bugguide.net after returning home I found that they appear to be Agonoscelis puberula (the African Cluster Bug), a non-native True Bug, first collected in the U.S. in 1990.

Honey Bees were out and about (no surprise there).

A carpenter bee at Desert Willow, which was also flowering.

Asbolus verrucosus, a darkling beetle. We had seen these in Coyote Canyon in the spring of this year also.

Raccoon tracks in the mud.

"Cat" or "dog" track? Since there's some debate, I'll attach a couple photos below that are very typical "cat" tracks. The "M" shaped leading edge of the large pad is at least hard to see here, but there is a lack of good claw marks and the spread and overall gestalt seems cat-like, which would mean Bobcat (and not Coyote as I originally thought).

Bobcat track, just west of Shelter Valley, Anza Borrego Desert, August 2012. Better "M" shape...

Mountain Lion track, NAS Miramar, mid-1990s. Nice "M" plus massive size.

Roadrunner track. Very recognizable with two toes forward and two toes back.

After leaving the peaceful retreat of Coyote Canyon, we headed into Borrego Springs proper and set up black lights at a motel (closed for the hot season) with advance permission from the owners. There had been rumor of large beetles there last September, following monsoonal rainfall, and so I was hoping for Derobrachus sp. to come to the lights.

Here are some of the beetles that DID show (no Derobrachus this time!). They are shown roughly in the order in which they arrived at the sheets.

Hybosorus illigeri, a small shiny black beetle, in the Scavenger Scarab Beetle family. This is another non-native, originally from Europe and elsewhere in the Old World. Many came to the light, when in the past, in other locations, I have only seen a couple at a time at lights.

Cyclocephala sp. (possibly C. longula). 

Osmidus guttatus. This is the first I have seen of this species in San Diego County, although I have seen them regularly in Imperial County in the past. This one is a female (the male's antennae would be much longer).

Omorgus suberosus, a type of Hide Beetle. 

At first I thought this was the "common" Diplotaxis that seem to always appear at lights in our deserts in the summer. Then I noticed the hairiness and wondered what it was, as I did not remember hairiness on Diplotaxis in my limited experience. Thanks to Bob Androw at the Carnegie Museum for helping with its determination - it appears to be Diplotaxis fossipalpa, which is fairly hairy for this genus.

Creosote Bush Katydid (Insara covilleae), a very sharp-looking katydid indeed! These have always been uncooperative for photos in the past, but this one stayed put briefly.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Diversion to Southeast Arizona in the Monsoon: Insects and Arachnids

Here are some of the insects (and others) seen on my annual trip to Southeast Arizona when the monsoon rains bring out life forms of all kinds...

This trip lasted from July 24 - 29, 2014.

For insects and arachnids (as for most life) the top priorities are 1) eating and 2), reproducing (not necessarily in that order). That theme keeps showing up in my photos!

Here are some (mostly) non-Coleoptera.

Robber fly with prey, east of Madera Canyon Road.

A large robber fly with what looks like a Mydas fly as prey. East of Madera Canyon Road.

Robber fly with Euphoria (a scarab beetle) prey. I think this may be Diogmates sp. (a hanging thief).

Apiomerus sp. - an assassin bug - after flying into a small spider web. Madera Canyon Road area.
Eupackardia calleta, a Giant Silkmoth. It appeared at my "woodsy" light in the upper Madera Canyon area.

A Jerusalum cricket which showed up at my parking lot light, upper Madera Canyon area.

Now the beetles, which were the focus of the trip. When I arrived at Madera Canyon on the 24th, there had been a long break on the monsoon in that area of Arizona (I would say over a week, based on the radar that I had watched in advance on weather web sites, and from talking to local people). The typical beetle abundance and diversity seemed low along Madera Canyon Road amongst the mesquites, and I wondered if this Colorado Potato Beetle might be a "special" beetle of the trip! So it was the first photographic subject!

Leptinotarsa decemlineata, on some member of the Solanaceae along Madera Canyon Road.

In the next few days, the monsoon came back in a big way, and some fantastic soaking rains fell day and night (but luckily not CONTINUOUSLY day and night in ONE place!) in the areas south of Tucson. Somehow, the storms never really seriously disrupted my activities (as big thunderstorms can completely ruin a black lighting evening). Although the massive storm that raged from around midnight until about 5 am on Saturday night while I was in my tent in Madera Canyon didn't exactly make for peaceful sleeping conditions!

More beetles.

Curculio sp., an acorn weevil. This is a female, with a very long beak. Upper Madera Canyon.

Now the beak-length differences are obvious between the sexes! Curculio sp., upper Madera Canyon.

Copris arizonensis. This well-horned male was lurking in the vicinity of a mercury vapor light near Pena Blanca Lake. This is only the second of this species I have seen, and in both cases the "lurking" behavior was displayed, near, but not "at" a light.

Enaphalodes hispicornis, a large cerambycid (long-horned beetle). Mount Lemmon, Santa Catalina Mountains.

Moneilema gigas, the common Moneilema in Arizona. Typically associated with cactus. The monsoon season is the time to reproduce, as many insects were demonstrating!

Chrysina lecontei, at Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson.

Enoclerus bimaculatus, a clerid or checkered beetle. I have seen this species on every trip to Madera Canyon over the past several years. 

Strategus cessus, an ox beetle. Mount Lemmon again.
Some arachnids now.

A large orb weaver, upper Madera Canyon area. 

The same spider as above. It has distinctive protrusions on the abdomen. I saw what seemed to be a similar species at Peppersauce Canyon a few years previously with Margarethe Brummermann and Eric Eaton. Identity to be determined later.

This seems to be Paraphidippus aurantius, which shows a huge amount of variation in colors and patterns. Margarethe Brummermann spotted it in my campsite in Madera Canyon and we both attempted various photos of it, including in natural light to preserve the green colors. This is one of my best images (not exactly tack-sharp).

Another angle of the same spider.

A scorpion, near Madera Canyon Road. Appears to be an Arizona Stripe-tailed (Vaejovis spinigerus).