Saturday, May 17, 2014

Riley Moore Falls

A cool front moved into the southeast this weekend, following the first real thunderstorms we've seen since moving back. It made for a cool day for a beetling hike, and the activity was pretty limited. We picked another off the long, must-see list of upstate SC waterfalls, Riley Moore Falls, along the Chauga River. The falls was low and broad, with small beach and fantastic swimming hole. Will definitely have to come back on a hot summer day.
Our friend Cicindela sexguttata was shivering beneath the bark of this pine, not even ready to face the day at 10:30.
This pine hosted what was probably our best beetle find of the day. As I was peeling bark a few feet away, Katie started aspirating vigorously, trying to extract something from a borehole. I came over and started picking away at the wood around the hole, opening it up a little more, and then finally between the two of us we managed to extract a quick melandryid, Serropalpus substriatus, I believe (needs to be confirmed under the scope yet). I was surprised to find that the eastern species is supposedly the same as the one I know well from California. But it appears to be. Our teamwork eventually yielded a couple more, although they were too feisty to photograph (see pictures on BugGuide.)

Investigating a small creek I happened upon some specialist carnivory in action. This is a beetle larva, thorax deep in a snail. I'm kicking myself for not having collected the larva (I hated to disturb its meal), but I'm not entirely sure what it is. There are also specialist snail predators in the Lycidae, Lampyridae, and Silphidae, all surprisingly similar in morphology, but I believe this is a carabid, Scaphinotus.
 A couple beetles spotted on the side of the trail: a lycid, Eros humeralis, I believe,
The lagriine tenebrionid Arthromacra aenea,
And a click beetle which I have yet to identify, but have seen on several trips around here.
Finally I'll close with a grab-bag of attractive and interesting non-beetles. The first one's a gorgeous caddisfly for our friend and colleague John Morse (yes, John, I collected it). [This has now been identified as a species of Phryganeidae in the genus Ptilostomis - Thanks, John!]
A very ant-mimicky fly, identified by BugGuiders as a stilt-legged fly (family Micropezidae).
And a truly bizarre caterpillar. At first I was thinking geometrid, but Chris Grinter tells me it's Erebidae, Phyprosopus callitrichoides, the 'Curve-Lined Owlet moth'. A picture of the adult is available on the Moth Photographers Group website.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Love is in the air

Another place to add to the list of beetleful hikes in the SC upcountry: Eastatoe Creek Gorge. Katie and I spent the day meandering and beating our way slowly down this trail. In fact we spent so much time collecting that we never quite made it to the bottom before we had to turn around. That just means we'll have to go back.

The irresistible allure of Spring in the mountains apparently caused many little hearts to go pitter-patter. Courtship and coupling were the order of the day. Hispine leaf beetles were happily mating on their host plants in the sun.

While the trogids were overcome by the intoxicating aroma of coyote dung.

There were numerous other exciting (but unphotographed) finds throughout the day, including a male Platycerus (a small stag beetle), a 'nest' of Galerita under some loose bark (large blue and orange ground beetles, which make quite an impression when 8 of them scatter in all directions!), and a large buprestid (Dicerca, I believe) that landed on a tree trunk in front of me while I was standing on the side of the trail gazing off into the gorge.

Among the most interesting catches was a single individual of Valgus (a small scarab). While these are generally reputed to be associated with termites, this one was in an ant colony, in fact being carried around by the ants. While this may have just been an anomaly (it was a rotten stump, and there may well have been termites nearby), ant- and termite-associated beetles do seem to evolve back and forth from time to time, and experiments with alternate hosts are likely the way such changes happen. Hard to tell if this inscrutable beetle was thinking 'Hmm, I liked it in there' or 'Thanks for getting me out of there'.

Finally, a beetle that turned out not to be a beetle. This moth fooled me into thinking it was a net-winged beetle until I got a little closer.

Compare to the distasteful model species on BugGuide: Calopteron terminale.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A day near Lake Wattacoo

The arrival of spring took a little u-turn partway there, and upstate SC has been unseasonably cool and moist for the past few weeks. This week, however, warming has resumed. And with that, the beetling..

This saturday I met Phil Harpootlian and Kevin Hinson at a site near Lake Wattacoo, in Northern Greenville County. Being out with other avid Coleopterists will always make for a great day. But this one was particularly good, perfectly clear, warm but not hot, and the beetles were waiting for us. Our first destination was Lake Wattacoo itself, a small reservoir with a pitcher-plant bog at its inflow.
The first beetles of the day were small elaterids perching in profusion on leaves along the side of the trail. No beat was complete without a click or two.
Nothing against click beetles, but things did get more exciting quickly, because the Cicindela sexguttata were out in good numbers too. It's hard to believe how common these stunning beetles are. (This was further underscored the next day by seeing one on the side of the driveway in our suburban neighborhood.)
A good bit of the day was spent hunting for good logs for debarking and dismantling. We did find several great logs in various stages of decay, and collected numerous 'typical' under bark things: silvanids, cerylonids (what Kevin calls 'the ubiquitous Philothermus'), colydiine zopherids, tenebrionids (Polypleurus, Uloma, Meracantha, and NOT Alobates), a few Pselaphines and Scydmaenines, a whole lot of cerambycid and buprestid larvae, and, of course, acceptable numbers of histerids (Epierus, Paromalus, a few Acritines). I was hoping for Baconia (two species of which should certainly be around), but I may have to get some flight interception traps (FITs) out to get those. Oh, and did I mention the abundant passalids? I know these are common too, but they are still very fun to see.
Toward the end of the afternoon, we headed up a little higher, and I wandered out to an exposed granitic outcrop. Here we made what may prove to be the day's most interesting discoveries.
A few little seeps trickling over these rocks supported moss and algal mat. Disturbing this a little we found dytiscids.
I can't say for sure what these are yet, but not too long ago Jan Ciegler described Hydrocolus heggiensis, from similar habitats from near the South Carolina/Georgia border, and I'm guessing that's what we've got, or a close relative. Dissection will be necessary to be sure.

Phil and I stayed a while into the evening and set up blacklights. It was a cool, but fairly active night, with about three species each of Phyllophaga and Serica coming in, a beautiful Nicrophorus carrion beetle, several Odontaeus ('earth-boring scarabs'), and a few lepturine cerambycids.

One of the more exciting sightings, however, was not at the black light. We crossed a bustling troop of what have to be army ants (Neivamyrmex) running across the trail (below).
I watched for a while, and did not detect any freeloaders, but these are known to host a number of very interesting staphylinids and histerids. It's extremely rare to find these with hosts, but in the right areas, the myrmecophiles should be flying. Yet another great reason to get some FITs out in this area.