Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Aneides lugubris

The arboreal salamander (Aneides lugubris) is normally a pale creature occuring in the coastal mountains of of the Western US. The first two images here are of the juvenile stage that is quite darker than the adults. In fact when I found this one, it was hard to distinguish from the fungal growth pattern of the log it was on.

I found it at Big Sur Campground a year ago last month. We were camping in a grove of magnificent coastal redwoods. Early in the morning, while the family was still sleeping, I quietly left the campground and followed a small trail up the hill west of camp. It's easy to be completely quiet when the forest floor is covered with fallen redwood leaves in all stages of decay. It's like walking on a carpet with a two-inch pad beneath.

At first light there was still a mist in the redwood canopy and a scent of moist humus in the air. At different places along the trail there were old logs scattered in the understory. They were damp. And when fallen timber remains moist year round, as it happens in this shaded forest, it becomes an open invitation for all kinds of creatures. If a mature coastal tree is home to many kinds of animals and epiphytic plants, a fallen one in decay becomes a veritable hotel for forest creatures.

Sometimes these logs are just too big for me to move. Other times it's quite easy to find out what might be hiding underneath. With this log I happened to get lucky. There turned out to be an attractive amphibian wiling away the cool December morning just waiting for me to take its picture. It's quite an impressive creature for sure. Here is a habitat shot above the forested area where I found it.

Later in my wonderings, I came across another salamader (the third salamaner picture). I'm guessing it is the Santa Lucia Mountains slender salamander (Batrachoseps luciae) but somebody better with amphibians had better be the last word on this id. It doesn't match my field guide as well as I would like - but then again, Mother Nature doesn't always listen to field guides.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Boreus coloradensis

There aren't many insects out and about during the last week of the year - at least not in North America. A little later on you can find small black stoneflies on the snow near mountain streams. A few spiders or midges might also be out. With persistence you might even find a wingless cankerworm or two but December is not known as the best time of the year to look for bugs. Of course you can easily find over-wintering beetles, caterpillars and bugs under rocks and logs but as far as active insects go, your chances are limited. Unless, that is, you're lucky enough to find a scorpionfly. Not any scorpionfly, mind you, but a small black scorpionfly that shows up on the snow much like a tiny piece of dislodged bark or a perhaps a chipped piece of stone. We happened to be just lucky enough a few weeks ago to find some.

These first two images are of small (3-5 mm long) snow scorpionflies of the family Boreidae. They don't look much like other scorpionflies that have colorful wings and lighter-colored bodies but the long rostrum is a bit of a giveaway. The first picture is of a female with her long ovipositor. The second picture is of a male. Erik, Michael and I found these over Christmas break in Rock Canyon above Provo (Utah). It was a bit of an overcast day but once we got into the canyon, the air cleared out and the snow was beautiful. Finding the boreids was a real bonus.

There aren't that many scorpionflies around to begin with - just over 500 species worldwide. Of these only about 30 belong to the family Boreidae, or the snow scorpionflies. Norm Penny is the leading authority on these remarkable insects. His world catalogue indicates that the only species known from Utah is B. coloradensis - so that's what I'm calling these individuals, at least for now. I was a bit surprised to discover that the little creatures can jump. They can't project themselves as far as fleas (which seem to be relatives of the Mecoptera) but they did manage to jump several inches when I approached them. That's a long jump for a creature with legs that are not much bigger than the commas on this page. And to imagine that all this activity (limited though it may be) is managed on a blanket of ice crystals.

I was surprised to find that John Acorn also has a nice image of another species (I think) on the last page of the American Entomologist (Winter 2010). I'm guessing that he found it in Canada but you'll have to ask him.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Macropogon testaceipennis

Here's a beetle you don't see every day. It doesn't have a common name. In fact the family it belongs to doesn't even have a common name that many people recognize. To the scientific community this insect is known as Macropogon testaceipennis and it belongs to the family Artematopodidae. It is known primarily from the Sierra Nevada of California.

Let me put this in a little more perspective. Many common insects are known, at the species level, by a non-Latin name. The monarch butterfly comes readily to mind as does the Japanese beetle or the common green darner (a dragonfly). Many insect watchers are also familiar with the fiery searcher (a big metallic green ground beetle) or the green June beetle (a flighty scarab that likes orchards and comes to lights). Most insects, however, don't have a common name but the family they belong to does. Some examples of family group names are: lady bird beetles (family Coccinellidae), stink bugs (Pentatomidae), click beetles (Elateridae). This works, even though many of us don't recognize individual species in these groups, because we do recognize the overall category - and we have seen species that belong to these families.

But some families don't have these kinds of names. These families tend to be poorly known and have fewer species. The family Artematopodidae is one of these families. I took this picture last June above Dinkey Creek Campground (in Fresno County, California) at an elevation around 7,000 feet. I recognized the obscure beetle at the family level right away but it took me several months to figure out what species it was. The pale coloring on the "shoulders" (the elytral humeral angles) was the troubling part. It wasn't until last month while going through the California State Collection of Arthropods that I noticed a unit tray containing specimens ranging in color from completely pale elytra to completely dark elytra with several individuals having the abbreviated coloring like in this image.

I have no idea what kind of sedge it was on but the area where I found it is a spare rocky riparian landscape with scattered junipers and manzanita. To the few locals who know about it, this is the place called Granite Pools. It's not real easy to get to but hardy hikers manage just fine. The pools are great for swimming once the heavy spring run-off is over. In June when I took this picture there was too much water and swimming wasn't possible yet. If you look close you can see a faint rainbow formed in the cold mountain spray above the tumbling creek.