“Bugged on the Ozark Trail”

The Ozark Trail is a renowned resource for recreational activities. Perhaps less well appreciated are the outstanding opportunities for nature study it also offers. Traversing some of the state’s most pristine areas, numerous plants and animals make their homes in the diverse natural habitats found along its length. While reptiles, birds, and mammals may be the most conspicuous animals encountered, they are far from the most diverse or numerous. That honor belongs overwhelmingly to the insects.

The Trail Builder, Late Fall 2008

The above quote is an excerpt from the lead article in the latest issue of The Trail Builder, newsletter of the Ozark Trail Association (click on the banner for a PDF of that issue). Yes, I am the author, and it is purely a matter of coincidence that I ended up authoring the lead article in two different newsletters in the same month (see “Dungers and Chafers – a Trip to South Africa”).

The Mission of the Ozark Trail Association is to develop, maintain, preserve, promote and protect the rugged, natural beauty of the Ozark Trail.–Ozark Trail Association

The Ozark Trail is one of Missouri’s premier hiking resources, stretching from just south of St. Louis southwestward through the Ozark Highlands to the Arkansas border. The vision of a 700-mile through trail connecting to Arkansas’ Ozark Highlands trail is well underway, with almost 550 miles of trail already completed – 350 miles in Missouri. My friend, colleague, and hiking buddy Rich and I began hiking different sections of the Ozark Trail almost 10 years ago, and thus far we have seen 220 of those miles. From the rugged beauty of the Marble Creek and Taum Sauk Sections, traversing the ancient St. Francois Mountains, to spectacular vistas atop towering dolomite bluffs along the Current River and Eleven Point Sections, we’ve experienced the essence of a landscape that Henry Schoolcraft so elegantly described during his 900-mile journey through the Ozarks with companion Levi Pettibone, nearly 200 years previous.

“Bugged on the Ozark Trail” is a short, fun article describing just a few of the insects hikers can expect to see along the Ozark Trail. Missouri is home to perhaps 25,000 species of insects, and many of these are found in the Ozark Highlands by virtue of the diverse natural communities formed within that great landform. Dung beetles, who despite their unappealing diet perform a great service in clearing the trail of waste from horseback riders. My beloved tiger beetles, flashing brilliant green along wooded trails and on rocky glades. Ambush bugs, paradoxically using the beauty of flowers as cover for their deadly intentions. Endangered dragonflies, infuriating deer flies, and endearing butterflies – these are but a few of the insects that can be seen along the Ozark Trail.

Previous issues of The Trail Builder are also available at the Ozark Trail Association website in the archives.

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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