Monday, December 31, 2012

Icaricia lupini monticola

This is a picture of an individual of Clemence's blue that I found this last July in a mountain meadow south of Sequoia National Park. The elevation was around 7,000 feet.

This has been recognized as a subspecies of the lupine blue because there is a good deal of variaility between populations of the species. This population is particularly attractive with the coppery blue wings. The picture of the meadow is in the Freeman Creek Grove area.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Neduba sierranus

The Yosemite shieldback katydid (Neduba sierranus) is a Sierra Nevada specialty. Unlike its commoner green counterparts that we typically associate with late summer evenings (and that occasonally feed on unprotected citrus fruit) this brown species has no wings and is not green. And it can be active quite late in the year even in the snow.

We found this one hopping across the road in Sequoia National Park during the week of Thanksgiving. There was snow not far away - we were at an elevaton of about 7,000. This particular individual is a mature female. Notice the serrated ovipositer (egg-laying device) behind.  

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Ceruchus Stag Beetles of North America

We have three species of the stag beetle genus Ceruchus in the United States. They live under the bark of dead trees and are fairly small as stag beetles go (less than an inch long). they are often overlooked in the field because of their superficial resemblance to ground beetles or darkling beetles.  Open closer inspection, however, they are easily recognized as stag beetles with their lop-sided clubbed antennae. Another stag beetle genus that looks somewhat like Ceruchus is Platycerus (and related genera). Ceruchus can be separated from these groups by the relatively straight antennae. In Platycerus the first segment of the antennae connect to the remaining segments at a right angle (we call this arrangement geniculate).  In Ceruchus the segments follow each other without an angle. (Look closely at the image of C. punctatus. You can see the antenaae right at the base of the pronotum. The small segments arise from the end of the longer first segment that is just visible. Don't be confused by the curving of the segments near the club. This is typical of most stag beetles.)

One species (C. piceus) occures in southeastern Canada and throughout the northeastern part of the US. The color of this species is variable but is often has a bit more reddish color to it than the deep black which is typical of the genus.

Ceruchus striatus and C. punctatus occur in the western US. Their names are pretty diagnostic. Ceruchus striatus has clear and deep striae (the grooves down its back) whereas C. punctatus lacks the deep striae and has more obvious punctures.

Ceruchus striatus is fairly restricted to Washington, Oregon and parts of British Columbia (with some records in outlying areas). Ceruchus punctatus also occurs in these areas but can be found more commonly in California and Idaho.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Big Baldy

Big Baldy is a very worthwhile, and fairly easy, hike in King's Canyon National Park (in California). It is only a couple of miles from the trail head (which is just a few miles from the park entrance on Highway 180) and climbs maybe 1,000 feet. The top of Big Baldy itself is just over 8,000 feet. We decided to make the effort the day before Thanksgiving.

There was a bit of snow in sections of the trail, which is to be expected in November at this elevation. But the trail was nice and the view on top was well worth the effort. We could see the backbone of the High Sierra to the east, rolling hills in every direction, and even the top of the coastal range far to the west (thanks to Drew's sharp eyes). The valley was hazy but air moving in from the west was clearing up the atmosphere. We watched as rain fell from isolated clouds all around us.

This is definitely a hike for young and old alike - for anyone who likes to be outside and enjoy a walk in the woods - as long as the weather permits. The picture below is of Drew, Jon, and Michael at the trail head.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Epargyreus clarus

Here's a picture of the silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) that I found feeding among lupine near Altamont, Utah this last June. It is a large species, as skippers go, and quite attractive. It occurs throughout the western US and feeds on a number of legumes.

The second picture shows it feeding in flight - sliding its long proboscis into the uneven curves of a cupped-shaped hypanthium. This is quite impressive if you stop to think about it: a relatively heavy insect holding itself in midair and twisting its slender mouthparts through an undulating tunnel to get nectar. Nature seems to know what she's doing.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Silver Beak Tanager

It occurred to me the other day while visiting the Memphis Zoo that there are a lot of fascinating creatures in the zoos of the world that ought to be more digitally recorded and available. There is a tremendous amount of history (can I call it natural history history?) and zookeeper expertise cloistered behind the fences of these animal parks that goes unrecorded. This is especially true, I think, of some of the smaller creatures that don't draw big crowds - but that might be unique organisms (or specialties) of a particular zoo.

So here is a picture of the silver beak tanager (Ramphocelus carbo) from northern South America, a creature that I have never seen in the wild and probably never will. Yet the good folks at the Memphis Zoo have taken care to make it available for visitors to see. What a beautiful bird.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ceruchus punctatus

Here's a picture of Ceruchus punctatus one of the few stag beetle we get in California. It is only about half an inch long (maybe a bit more) - fairly small as stag beetles go, but still impressive.

Michael found it under the bark of a fallen pine at around 7,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada east of Bass Lake this year. It was June and the high country was just starting to open up for the year.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ortholeptura valida

This attractive longhorn beetle (Ortholeptura valida) was fairly abundant this year in the Sierra Nevada between 5,000 and 7,000 feet.  This individual (measuring about an inch long , exclusive of the antennae) came to our light near Shaver Lake (above Fresno, California) a couple of moths ago. We also found a population above Wishon Reservoir (still Fresno County) in July.

Linsey and Chemsak (in the Cerambycidae of North America, Part VI. no. 2) list the host plants as Abies, Tsuga, Pinus, and Pseudotsuga. This individual probably came out of ponderosa pine or white fir - both fairly common around Shaver Lake q.v.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Erynnis species

This is an interesting dusky-wing skipper I found this summer in Altamont, Utah. My best guess is that it is a subspecies of Juvenal's dusky-wing (Erynnis juvenalis) but I'm not certain. These darker skippers often get overlooked and this is too bad. Look closely at the scale patterns on the wings. They are really very intricate.

I found this individual on an overcast summer day among the high desert sagebrush of northern Utah. This is a place that is frequently overlooked by nature-lovers. It can appear bleak at times - but this is an impression of trying to enjoy the area from a car travelling 70 miles an hour. If you get out and look around, you might be impressed.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Graveyard Peak

Graveyard Peak is an infrequently climbed peak in the Sierra Nevada wilderness above Lake Edison (in the eastern end of Fresno County, California). I'm not quite sure what prompted me to climb it, other than a request from my son Michael to climb a mountain this year before the cold weather set in. Graveyard Peak caught my attention as I glanced over several maps looking for possibilities. I'm very glad we climbed it. Not that it was easy - in fact it was quite difficult. But the view along the way, and especially at the top, was indescribable.

Michael, Jon and I left Fresno at 5:00 yesterday morning and drove to Shaver Lake to pick up my friend Chad. We then drove another couple of hours along winding mountain roads to the Devil's Bathtub (an alpine lake) trailhead. It is at a parking area on the west side of the Lake Edison dam. The walk to Devil's Bathtub lake took us a couple of hours and was quite pleasant. It is 4 and a half miles from the trailhead and only climbs about 1,400 feet - not that bad of an ascent. As far as nice alpine Lake go, Devil's Bathtub is something to experience. It is much larger than I expected and has several nice camping areas. And the view is beautiful. You can see the lake with Graveyard peak in the background (upper right corner) in the group picture (below). 

The hike from the lake up to Graveyard Peak (visible above the lake) is quite a different story. It goes up at a steep angle and there is no trail. You have to climb over 2,000 feet through stones and dwarf manzanitas. The last 1,000 feet is all boulders with a few sandy areas between. It isn't easy. There is a trail up to Graveyard Lakes that takes you closer to the peak than the scramble above Devil's Bathtub. But the climb from Graveyard Lakes to the peak is much too steep and dangerous to try unless you're an experience climber.

We didn't risk climbing the last 100 feet to the precarious summit from the ridge. We stopped at the point where I took the picture (above). But the view from ridge was beyond description. We counted over a dozen visible alpine lakes and the long chain of the Sierra backbone along with countless other ridges and forests. We didn't want to come down. 


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Icaricia acmon

Here's a picture of the acmon blue (Icaricia acmon) that I spotted a couple of months ago near San Luis Obispo (California). We were staying at a KOA campground near a local pond that had almost dried up. All that was left was a little water and a lot of mud - perfect for butterflies and wasps that are often attracted to such places.

The native habitat is mixed oak / pine forest with rolling hills. In July it is hot and dry and just holding out for the autumn rains. All, that is, except for the likes of small beauties like the acmon blue that are happy to slake their thirst with muddy water.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Heart Lake

We took a little trip over to the east side of the Sierra Nevada (in California) last weekend. Since I am an early riser, I got out of bed one morning while it was still dark outside and the family was asleep, and hiked to Heart Lake above Mammoth Lakes.

 The lake is not very big and the hike (from the campground and small ghost town above Lake Mary) was maybe a bit over a mile long (each way) with a gain in altitude of maybe 500 feet. The air was cool, changing from the mid 50's at the paarking area to just at freezing at the lake (at around 9,300 feet). But I loved the hike. The air was fresh and the view of the rising sun reflecting off the rim of the Sierra was impressive.

There is also a nice stand of mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) around the lake which is a tree I don't run into very often. You can see them in the following picture.

The view of Lake Mary as the sun comes up is worth the short hike. What beautiful country.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Notarctia proxima

Here's an attractive tiger moth, Notarctia proxima - or less formally, the Mexican tiger moth. I found it this last spring along the Kings River a few miles east of Fresno. Actually, I should say that it found me, or rather, it found my light.

This second image is of the moth on my blacklighting sheet. It's a pale individual, making it a male. The female is darker, especially the hind wings, which also bear several dark areas. I've always loved seeing tiger moths ever since my high school biology teacher, Bob Mower, showed me his impressive collection. At the time tiger moths were considered a separate family (the Arctiidae). They are now considered a subfamily within the Noctudiae.  

The habitat shot is of Avocado Lake (just a stone's throw from the Kings River) at dusk.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ellychnia californica

In February (this year) I posted a picture of Ellychnia megista that I found in the coastal redwoods of California. About a month ago, I came across another Ellychnia (E. californica) species in the Sierra Nevada above Bass Lake.

We were camping at about 5,000 feet near a small shaded stream with several broad-leaf annuals growing along the bank. I discovered it resting on a mossy stone. You can see that the black band on the pronotum is less parallel than in E. megista. It's a bit more triangular. A pretty beetle for sure.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Urocerus californicus

Last month while hiking through Sequoia National Forest at about 7,000 feet, I came across this impressive horntail (Urocerus californicus). There were large cut fir trees and pines about and I expect that it was attracted to these. Horntails are our largest insects in the suborder Symphyta (in the order Hymenoptera). Immature stages feed in rotting wood. This individual was over an inch and a half long (larger with legs and antennae extended).

Horntails are related to bees and wasps. They are not nearly as frequently seen as their more familiar relatives because they don’t visit picnic sites or pollinate flowers. That said, we have several species in the US. My compliments to Nathan Schiff et al. who just recently (last month in fact) published a beautifully illustrated guide to our fauna in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Batyle ignicollis

Last month while wandering among the scrub willows of a tributary of the Duchesne River (near Altamont, Utah) I happened upon this attractive longhorn beetle (Batyle ignicollis). It was resting on the willow leaves in a cobble-strewn riparian habitat.

It is a variable species with a handfull of subspecies sprinkled accross the Western US. It is about an inch long. It isn't an uncommon insect at the right time of year (and in the right place). But then again it isn't all that common either. Finding it made my day.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Laphria fernaldi

There are a handful of robber fly species in the United States that look like bumblebees. They are an impressive group. The best way to tell the difference is to count their wings. Robber flies (as with other flies) have two wings. Bumblebees (as with other bees) have four wings. Of course this isn’t the easiest thing to detect in living individuals. In the field, it’s usually best to look closely at the body. Robber flies are narrower and have a narrow mouth (like a little knife projecting from its head). Bumblebees are typically wider and their mouthparts are usually projecting in and out of flowers. Robber flies, on the other hand, don’t visit flowers – at least not to get pollen and nectar. They are usually looking for other insects to feed on.

I happened upon this male Laphria fernaldi a couple of weeks ago near Altamont, Utah (in Duchesne County). The area is a high desert sagebrush and willow habitat near Lake Fork Creek. This is without doubt one of the most beautiful flies in the US. Not only is it an impressive bee mimic, but the bumblebees that it resembles are those species with an orange or salmon colored spot on the abdomen – not your typical bee. It was kind enough to let me take a picture before it buzzed off.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Freeman Creek Bears

I had my first really good look at a wild bear yesterday morning in the Freeman Creek Grove east of Porterville (California). I was by myself (probably not the best thing) enjoying a short backbacking trip into a forest conataining many sequoias. The entire area is very impressive. There is a nice diversity of trees (besides the sequoias) and the forest is managed to leave many old snags alone. This makes for a habitat rich for bears. The undersotry contains a lot of fallen trees in various stages of decay (harboring bear food).

 Just before bedding down for the night, I discovered a fresh bear scat near a copse of sequoias conatining very suitable sleeping places for bears. I was impressed enough with the area that I decided to move elsewhere to sleep. I also made sure all my food was in a bear canister (which is required by law) that I kept a distance from my camp. Early the next morning I woke up and was enjoying the fresh day in my sleeping bag when I heard the sound of breaking branches and of bark being stripped off of dead trees. I also realized that the sound was not coming from the direction of the trail. I put my shoes on, gathered my camera, and quietly got out of bed. I was a little bit nervous.

I saw the bear before he saw me (I'm assuming it was a male - since I'm guessing it weighed close to 400 pounds, which is bigger than females are known to get). He was light brown and only about 70 feet away. Fortunately there were two fallen logs between him and me. My adrenalin started to take control of my judgment at this point (hence the poor quality of the pictures). Fortunately, I didn't run. I did, however, remember that black bears are not normally aggressive to humans - especially if the humans appear big enough and aren't threatening their cubs.

Just as I thought this, the bear discovered I was nearby (probably cought my scent) and hopped over the first log in my direction. This definitely got my attention. In fact it was a real rush. I was certainly a bit scared (maybe more than a bit). Acting on instinct, I stood up next to the fallen log in front of me and tried to look very big. The bear stopped and looked around. Then it saw me and we watched each other for several seconds. At this point it was only 40 - 50 feet away (I measured the distance later). After a few clumbsy attempts at taking a picture, I watched in releif as he gave me a grunt and then climbed back over the log and hopped away. 

I was stunned and very impressed. I also decided that it was time for me to pick up camp and head on my way. I had only just started to do so when another bear, this one a bit smaller and darker brown, bounced into my camping area. I'm guessing that this was the big boy's girlfriend. We were both startled by each other's presence at the same time. When I reached for my camera, she got spooked and ran away - at least partially. Some 30 feet off, she turned to look back my way. I tried to make my camera work but only got a poor picture. She then left with a huff and I never saw either one of them again. I have, however, been thinking of them a lot. It was a magnificent, yet frightening, experience. Next time, however, I am going camping with a bear-sized can of pepper spray. Just to be on the safe side.   

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Libellula lydia

The common whitetail (Libellula lydia) is a fairly regular visitor of our farm here in Fresno, California. The male with its striking white abdomen is more often photographed (and more approprioately named). The female (like the one below) lacks the bright abdomen but the wing markings are more intricate. This one landed in one of our apricot trees a few weeks ago. The nearest standing water is a small pond half a mile away - not much a distance, really, for these strong fliers. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Libellula saturata

Not all wildlife sitings occur in truly wild places. Especially among insects, sometimes an unusual species shows up in your backyard or in some other developed place. Even weedy abandoned lots can surprise you. I ran into this female flame skimmer (Libellula saturata) about a month ago along a windy road above Dinuba (California).

This is a sere landscape in May and only a narrow belt of vegetation lined the road. I had stopped the car to look at a few phaenopeplas near a distant oak and discovered the dragonfly. There was no water nearby that I could see. Supposedly it had ventured from some other canyon or cattle pond nearer to town. It just goes to show that it pays to keep your eyes open – no matter where you might be.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Strymon melinus

There is nothing unusual about this butterfly, Strymon melinus. In fact it is very prosaicly named the common hairstreak. I found it bouncing around the dry vegetation at Lost Lake (north of Fresno, California) a week ago with its beautiful white, orange and black scales (on the underside of it wings).

It ranges throughout North and Central America and into South America. Yet even given its ubiquity, I couldn't help but admire it yet again as I have done before. As with many insects that we either ignore or shy away from, closer examination can be quite rewarding. A reminder that nature is breathtaking at times.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lazuli Bunting

I've always had a warm place in my heart for birds that are blue. When I saw this lazuli bunting (Passerina amoena) a couple of weeks ago, I spent a lot of time trying to get my unsteady hands to cooperate with my point-and-shoot camera. These pictures don't do justice to the beautiful bird but it's what I was able to manage.

I was a few miles east of Dinuba (California) in the Sierra Nevada foothills in a nice spot for birds in general. I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a picture of several phaenopeplas that were diving in and out of the oaks.

The habitat is a mixed oak woodland with elderberry, poison oak and other assorted shrubs (now dry).