Do you know what time it is?

I’ll give you a few hints:

  • It’s fall.
  • I haven’t collected bugs for a few weeks.
  • A new crop of tiger beetles has emerged from their burrows.

What time is it?

IT’S TIME FOR THE ANNUAL FALL TIGER BEETLE TRIP!

 I don’t think there is any trip during the year that I look forward to more than this one. Hunting for insects is fun no matter what, but it is particularly enjoyable when the sweltering days of summer give way to the cool days of fall – crisp air, pungent, earthy aromas, shadows long and sharp, and skies so blue above a golden, tawny, morphing landscape. How I adore fall, and how I thrill at any chance to travel across the fall landscape chasing after gorgeous tiger beetles that have spent the spring and summer as larvae, hidden in their unseen burrows, growing fat on the few hapless insects that chanced too close to their burrow, until the rains of late summer and early fall trigger their transformation to adulthood – glittering jewels that emerge out into the autumn world for a brief session of dining and play before winter forces them back into their burrows for the long wait to spring.

This year’s edition is somewhat abbreviated – little more than a long weekend due to a combination of job and family responsibilities. Still, five days is a little better than four (and a lot better than none) and is long enough for me to play a hunch that I’ve had ever since I returned from the Red Hills of northwestern Oklahoma this past June. You’ll recall that I had some rather amazing luck on that trip, discovering a robust population of the very rare Cylindera celeripes (Swift Tiger Beetle) and a slight western range extension of the seldom seen Dromochorus pruinina (Frosted Dromo Tiger Beetle). While I was exploring that landscape, the habitat reminded me of another tiger beetle – Cicindela pulchra (Beautiful Tiger Beetle), a glorious species – brilliant purple with glassy wine-red elytra – that I had seen in 2005 in the nearby Gypsum Hills of south-central Kansas. I don’t know if that species occurs in the Red Hills of northwestern Oklahoma or not, but my impression is that the area has not been very well explored. If a species as rare as C. celeripes can be found there, perhaps C. pulchra will occur there as well. The enormous tiger beetle larvae that I saw in their burrows in the Gloss Mountains during June gives me further reason to believe there may now be some impressive adult activity in the area.

Should I not succeed in finding C. pulchra, it will nevertheless be a glorious, though frenetic trip. On Friday I’ll drive 525 miles from St. Louis to the Gloss Mountains, where I’ll explore during the early part of Saturday and then finish the day at Alabaster Caverns State Park. Sunday’s itinerary depends upon whether I succeed at finding C. pulchra in the Gloss Mountains – if I do, I’ll head on over to Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge to photograph some of the fall tiger beetles that were not out during my June trip (hopefully including Eunota togata globicollis, or Alkali Tiger Beetle). If I don’t find C. pulchra in the Gloss Mountains, I’ll explore the Red Hills of Barber Co. Kansas, where I’ve seen this insect in the past and attempt to find and photograph it there, then move on to Salt Plains on Monday. I’m really hoping my C. pulchra hunch plays out, because if it does that gives me an extra day to shoot back east to my beloved White River Hills in southwestern Missouri and photograph its small, disjunct population of Cicindela obsoleta vulturina (Prairie Tiger Beetle) – the largest member of the genus in North America. Regardless of how events play out, I’ll need to blast back to St. Louis on Tuesday, work a couple of days, then leave town again for my niece’s wedding in New York (congratulations Shannon and Tamer).

While I’m gone, you can click on the interactive map to see where I’m going, or you can catch up on several newly issued Blog Carnivals (I’ve been a busy submitter this past month):

  • Circus of the Spineless. With discussion that is restricted to the 95% of life forms that do NOT have vertebrae, CotS #42 is up at Quiche Moraine.  For my part, I have proposed a replacement name for a rather ‘ubiquitous’ species of tiger beetle.
  • Berry Go Round.  After a brief summer vacation, botanical discussions resume with BGR #20 at Further Thoughts.  My contributions cover zygomorphic flowers with oily rewards, a very ungentianlike gentian, and plant-insect relationships.
  • Carnival of Evolution.  From Darwin to Drift to Deleterious Mutation, find it all at CoE #16 hosted by Pleiotropy.  I’ve added a little ‘perspective’ to the discovery of new species.

No longer just a contributor, at the end of this month I will host my first Blog Carnival in the form of Berry Go Round #21.  I know,  it’s strange that a bug dude is jumping into the Carnival hosting pool with a botanical carnival, but duty calls!  Submissions are due to me by Oct. 27, with a scheduled issue date of Oct. 30.  If you’ve never contributed to a Blog Carnival before, it’s a great way to get exposure for your blog and possibly find other blogs of interest.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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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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14 Responses to Do you know what time it is?

  1. Hi Ted. We have just had our first frosts up here in Alberta.

    Do you think the tiger beetles will still be active on warm days after a few frosts have occurred? I’m debating where I should spend my bug photography time prior to getting frozen in!

  2. jason says:

    Cool. You’ll be relatively close to my neck of the woods. This is the best time to see monarch’s migrating, and you’ll be near the flyway funnel for birds and butterflies alike. You couldn’t have picked a better time.

    Be safe, have fun, and good luck with the hunt! I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with during your trip.

    • Hi Jason – how ’bout I just pop down for lunch😉

      For many years I focused exclusively on buprestids and cerambycids, both of which are long petered out by now in most of the U.S. Expanding my sphere of enjoyment to other groups has made me realize what a fascinating time of year this is – I almost look forward to fall more than spring!

  3. Joan says:

    Hello Ted. I am sorry I have been so neglectful lately. For some reason, there are just not enough hours in my day.

    I love fall but just wish it would not go into winter, a season I can do without.🙂

    We had a house near Springfield, in Ava, so if you go through it, say hello to my old house for me will you. I miss it.

    What a great time this is for you and I hope you find many, many wonderful bugs!!🙂

  4. DougT says:

    I was just thinking that it was about time to do your fall tiger hunt. Good luck! In about 3 weeks I’ll be off to northern Florida for a week. I’m hoping to check out some of the Gulf Coast areas and some sandy inland spots. The Florida guide that I have says that I’ll be too late for a bunch of species, but not for everything. After that I’m off for some substantially more exotic fare.

    • I’ve had a spot of cold, cloudy weather – really puts the kabosh on tiger beetle activity. I’ve have had a few successes, but this won’t go down in the memory books like the last several have.

      “Substantially more exotic fare”? Do tell!

  5. DougT says:

    The more exotic fare will be in Malaysia. I leave for a week and a half starting November 1. Sorry to hear that the weather went south on you- on the other hand, finding the C. celeripes larvae is nothing to sneeze at.

    • Malaysia is about as exotic as it gets – have fun!

      I tried to salvage the trip by coming back to the White River Hills of southwest Missouri and looking for our disjunct population of Cicindela obsoleta vulturina – no luck yesterday, and today was steady rain so I had to just come on home. I did get photos of a few other nice things that I’ll share in future posts.

      The celeripes larvae saved the trip – I’ll get a publication out of its description, not to mention the new records I found for the species earlier this year. This year will definitely go down as the “celeripes year” for me!

  6. TR says:

    Do you need a volunteer field assistant? I’m right down the street. I’ve studied zebras in the rift valley and macaws in the Peruvian Amazon – none of that would compare to tiger beetles in the Oklahoma prairies!!!

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