Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hoary Skimmer

This picture of a hoary skimmer (Libellula nodisticta) was lucky in a couple of ways. Most lucky of all was that we even found it. Hoary skimmers are not commonly encountered dragonflies. Kathy Biggs considers it "sporadic" and "sparse" (see her Dragonflies of California).

We came across this individual near Lone Pine, California (in Inyo County) last August as we drove by a small slow-moving stream. Michael and I decided it was worth stopping to see. We were glad we did. The hoary skimmer was triangulating back and forth among the tall cattails and I managed to get close enough for the picture. One never has the appropriate wading boots available at times like this but I managed to get the picture with a bit of lucky maneuvering.

The area around Lone Pine is famous in old westerns. Several movies were filmed in the area. If you stop to eat in one of the local restaurants, you'll see old pictures of celebrities all along the walls. Here's a shot of some of the local landscape.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dead-Leaf Typophyllum

One of the pleasures of visiting tropical America is the discovery of its impressive number of grasshoppers, walking sticks and katydids. Some of these insects reach enormous proportions. A number of years ago while hiking with my friend Mark into the back-country of Honduras (around Mount Botaderos) I nearly smashed a walking stick that was nearly the size of a baton. It was so perfectly camouflaged on a tree that I failed to notice it just inches from my hand. Unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me.

It's not at all uncommon to come upon grasshoppers that are twice the size of the big ones we see in the states. But that said, it is the katydids that really outdo themselves. Earlier this year (in May) I took a trip to Costa Rica with my friend Steve and son Michael. We spent one night at the Wilson Botanical Gardens (southwest of San Vito, near the Panamanian border) and had the privileged of exploring the many trails that wind through various elevations of native forest. Among the many fascinating creatures we saw, this dead-leaf katydid was one of the most impressive. It belongs to the genus Typophyllum and may be the recognized species T. mortuifolium (literally the dead-leaf Typophyllum) but since our knowledge of this group in Central America is so limited, I have no way to confirm this.

The katydid is about two inches long (excluding the antennae) and the mimicry is truly remarkable - even down to the necrotic spots on the wings that look like areas of fungal growth. I found it at night not long after the sun went down near the visitor lodge. The picture of the tropical sunset is from the back porch right after a chestnut-mandibled toucan went squawking through the upper canopy of the Cecropia trees. If you ever make it to Costa Rica, this is a great place to see - but you'll want to spend at least a couple of days there. The facilities are nice and the staff are very accommodating.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lacon rorulenta

Lacon rorulenta is a beautiful coppery-colored click beetle of the northwestern parts of the United States. The beetle itself is only about half an inch long and it's real color is black. It is the thick flat hairs covering its body that give it it's attractive color. Some of these hairs are coppery and others are black. They lay flat over the beetle's body somewhat like shingles so that the entire insect looks brightly colored. I found this individual a couple of weeks ago in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness of Fresno County. This is a bit south of its known distribution but the fact that I was high in the Sierra doesn't make this too unusual. (Many northern species are known to work their way south at higher elevations.)

I was hiking early in the morning from Lake Nelson. The ground above 8,700 feet was frozen and a few small piles of snow were still on the ground from the recent storms that had passed over the Central Valley several days before. There is a rich forest of red firs along the trail at this elevation and it was under the bark of one of these fallen trees that I found the click beetle. Red fir has a thick furrowed bark that doesn't come off until the tree has been dead for well over a year. This picture is of the small red fir grove where I found the beetle.

Overall, it was 10 miles to and from Lake Nelson from the Cliff Lake trailhead near Courtright Reservoir. But the hike was well worth it. As the sun was coming up over the hills to the east, the lake reflected several shades of soft morning blue light with a thin layer of frost on the shore and mist coming from the water. It was a grand sight.