I didn’t mind my late start to the 9th Annual Fall Tiger Beetle Trip—my first stop on Day 1 was only ~30 miles south of St. Louis, so I would get in a good chunk of collecting on the day even though I didn’t leave the house until after noon. I didn’t find the longhorned beetle, Ataxia hubbardi, that I was looking for (and haven’t seen now for more than 23 years), but I did manage to see good numbers of the always impressive jewel beetle, Dicerca pugionata, and a very large, impressive male tarantula (walking on water!). After that, however, the trip would make a very early diversion from its original itinerary. The light drizzle that pestered me all day at Victoria Glades steadily turned to rain as I traveled south towards northern Arkansas, and checking the weather forecast further reduced my optimism as rain was predicted for the next two days. The tiger beetles that I so enjoy are creatures of the sun, and rather than spend the next two days being chased around the Ozark Highlands looking for dry ground, I made a snap call and bolted straight for northwestern Oklahoma, where I had planned to go after two days in northern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri (collecting populations of the disjunct Prairie Tiger Beetle, Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina, for molecular analysis by a collaborator). It was hard driving—five hours on dark, rainy roads to get to Springfield for the night, and another six hours to get to my first destination; Gloss Mountains State Park. I have been here several times over the past few years, discovering resident populations of three very interesting tiger beetles: Cylindera celeripes (Swift Tiger Beetle), Dromochorus pruinina (Frosted Dromo Tiger Beetle), and Amblychelia cylindricollis (Great Plains Giant Tiger Beetle). I did not expect to see any of these species on this trip, as they are all summer species (although I did hold out hope that I might find a few stragglers, especially of the last one). Instead, I was playing a hunch that Cicindela pulchra (Beautiful Tiger Beetle) might be found here because of the similarity of the Red Hills habitat to that just north in south-central Kansas where the species famously occurs (MacRae 2006).
It was worth the drive, as driving west got me out of rain and once past Enid, OK the cloud cover began to break up. By the time of my early afternoon arrival at Gloss Mountains State Park, skies were blue and temps were in the low 70s. Unfortunately, despite these perfect conditions my hunch that C. pulchra might occur here did not prove to be true. Nevertheless, it was a fruitful day as I collected two larvae each of all three of the above tiger beetle species (including 2nd instars of the presently undescribed C. celeripes and 3rd instars of the frightfully enormous A. cylindriformis—what an impressive creature!), photographed several beetles on yellow asteraceous flowers—two of which I show below, saw another male tarantula, and found an adult female of the truly impressive lubber grasshopper, Brachystola magna, that will become my daughters’ newest pet and has already been named ‘Bertha’ by them. My wanderings through the prairie at night with a lamp on my head did not produce any A. cylindricollis adults, but the views of the Milky Way in the dark, cloudless sky above amidst the overwhelming silence of a vast prairie cloaked in darkness were nothing short of spectacular.
Here are two of the beetles that I photographed on the day. This first one is a soldier beetle (family Cantharidae) that is a dead ringer for Chauliognathus limbicollis. I couldn’t find any indication that this species is known from Oklahoma—all of the BugGuide photos of this species were taken in Arizona, while the admittedly outdated key to species in the tribe Chauliognathini (Fender 1964) gives only more western states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas) in its distribution. Still, I saw the species not uncommonly as it fed on yellow asteraceous flowers.
Another beetle that I photographed on flowers of Heterotheca subaxillaris (stiffleaf false goldenaster) was this small blister beetle (family Meloidae) that seems to be a member of the great genus Epicauta. I won’t even attempt a species ID due to the size and difficult taxonomy of this genus; however, this was the only example of this species that I saw amidst abundant individuals of another solid gray species that seemed to prefer the flowers of Gutierezzia sarothrae (broom snakeweed) over H. subaxillaris.
During the day, I found some trees infested with jewel beetle larvae (presumably in the genus Chrysobothris), so I will return in the morning of Day 3 to harvest the wood and bring it back to put up in rearing containers in an attempt to rear out the adults. Afterwards, I will be off to my next destination—Alabaster Caverns State Park.
Fender, K. M. 1964. Tbe Chauliognathini of America North of Mexico (Coleoptera—Cantharidae), Part 2. Northwest Science 38(3):95–106.
MacRae, T. C. 2006. Beetle bits: The “beautiful tiger beetle”. Nature Notes, Journal of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society 78(4):9–12.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012