|A spotless ladybeetle, Cycloneda sanguinea, with|
the morning dew.
This morning Cedric Lee called me up and asked if I wanted to tag along with him down to San Diego. Immediately, I said yes, without knowing what it was about! Not disappointed -- it was to be a meetup with some of So Cal's most enthusiastic malacologists around (that is the study of snails, slugs, and associated shells for those who don't know!).
First though we arrived a little early, so we had some time in the early daylight hours to snoop around some interesting habitat. Cedric had a few spots in mind and I figured we should go for the native corridor along Quail Hollow Drive, primarily because there were no iNaturalist observations from that area yet! We got out the car and delved into the fog, with no particular targets in mind. We found several shells of Helminthoglypta (or, embarrassingly, only he did for the most part!!) and scanned around for other interesting critters. A cluster of prickly pear cactus were most interesting, holding a few personal firsts such as the tiny beetle Cybocephalus californicus, a scale insect called Diaspis echinocacti, and an unusual fly named Stictomyia longicornis, all three known to associate with cacti. The fly was a personal favourite...I mean, just look at this strange critter!
|An unusual fly, Stictomyia longicornis.|
|The scale insect Diaspis echinocacti, at a glance easily dismissed as spots or markings on the |
|Not new for me, but this sandy stilt-puffball, Battarrea phalloides, is always a fun sight. |
The cover of spores on adjacent vegetation and surfaces is quite typical for this species.
We didn't have much more time here sadly but we did make sure to take a wander through a stand of Eucalyptus. With the mist, fog, dense shade, and soaked vegetation, it really felt like we were walking through the Australian rainforest at times.
|Gum tree "rainforest".|
A particular find was of what I can best describe as a fungus that looks like a series of coffee beans growing on a lichenized branch. "Coffee bean fungus" gave no proper search results in Google, but I since identified this as Hysterium pulicare. It is similar to H. angustatum, but differs in the shape and host. As we walked back, an excellent find by Cedric was a series of living decollate snails, Rumina decollata. I have seen the shells a few times, but never living specimens before!! For those who don't know, these introduced snails are actually carnivorous! What a cool find -- thanks Cedric!
|I'm not going insane, right? They do look like coffee beans, don't they? Hysterium pulicare.|
|Decollate snail, Rumina decollata. These snails have a complete spire at birth, but|
decapitate the end of their shell later in life, hence "decollate"!
We soon met with the "crew", namely Susan Hewitt, Jann Vendetti, BJ Stacey, and the two of us. The plan was to comb a local tideline named Cardiff Beach for interesting shells. Certainly I felt like the odd one out since I primarily focus on living organisms, not their remains, but there is a whole suite of unusual intertidal and beach-dwelling insects that are endemic to the Pacific coast. On the streets nearby I picked up the well-named yellow-striped armyworm, a caterpillar of a fairly widespread moth.
|Yellow-striped armyworm, Spodoptera ornithogalli.|
At the beach the pressure was on to find some great species. I turned over a few bits of kelp and soon found a few species. The rove beetles Bledius sp. and Tarphiota geniculata, a beach-dwelling dance fly in the genus Chersodromia, as well as a Cercyon sp., and a sandhopper which I have since keyed out as Megalorchestia benedicti. A surprise find by Cedric was a very bedraggled looking saltmarsh tiger moth. I don't know how this moth was still able to walk!!
|Tiny rove beetle, Tarphiota geniculata. Note the fine hairs across the body. Apparently, these|
are specific to intertidal beetles and function as a "life-jacket" if they get swept
|Saltmarsh tiger moth, Estigmene acraea.|
|Not just any sandhopper; Megalorchestia benedicti, a name larger than the creature itself!|
And to think, those were just the species that I identified! With the day falling short we parted ways with everyone and headed to the San Elijo Lagoon reserve. My first meeting was with a weed named Myoporum parvifolium, a sort of carpet version of the notorious ngaio tree. Down in the wetlands themselves I solved a personal mystery by discovering and capturing a grasshopper in the Salicornia. I had heard grasshoppers calling from this habitat in many parts of California, but this is the first time I've managed to see the singer in question. It is generally accepted that there was no saltmarsh grasshopper, so this really caught my interest!! There has been a bit of disagreement over what this is, but right now the verdict is Orphulella pelidna. A conversation with the rangers was a fun one and they set off warning us not to step onto the reserve itself -- fair enough, but I do wonder what other creatures lurk here, unknown to us. Not to mention the endemic ladybeetles that are known.
|A grasshopper, Orphulella pelidna.|
As we headed back to the car I stumbled across one of my personal favourites for the outing, an enormous caterpillar of the Carolina sphinx moth! Just look at this guy munching on Datura. This was the first non-white-lined sphinx moth caterpillar I had seen from the sphinx moth family, so very exciting!
|Carolina sphinx moth, Manduca sexta.|
Let's take a moment to look at those spiracles!
|They may look like eyes, but spiracles are how caterpillars breathe!|
Speaking of moths, Cedric was well equipped with something I wish I had myself (and I don't mean a car!), which was blacklight gear! We decided to wander around a little more until nightfall, which would give us a chance to see some cool wetland moths (hopefully!). But firset we drove by the north end of the reserve and had a look along that trail. It was surprisingly productive, and I found several new species such as the hoverfly Syritta flaviventris, the lichen Heterodemia leucomela, and a rust on Fremont cottonwood called Melampsora medusae.
|A rust fungus is responsible for the fiery spots on this leaf. Specifically, Melampsora medusae.|
In the open dried meadow spanning the north side of the reserve I encountered an unusual plume moth. I had a very good idea of what this was, but the only documentation of this species in the entire world is an image of a dead, pinned specimen from a museum. The moth I had was extremely different looking, but I knew it had to be it. No other plume moth had complete wings with this row of dark markings -- it was none other than Agdistis americana! This was easily one of the best species I have found in a while, and to my knowledge only the second photos of this species. Certainly, the first photos of the moth in living condition!
|Agdistis americana, an incredible plume moth limited to marshes on the Pacific Coast.|
What's the host plant, I wonder? No one knows yet!
As dusk set in, a flock of 17 greater white-fronted geese flying over the horizon was another surprise. This is a rare bird in southern California on its own, let alone in a quantity that decent. The calls were similar to snow goose, but the birds were dark, and white-rumped. An orb weaving spider, Eustala conchlea, was not uncommon on some local shrubs, but they were extremely skittish and dropped if you made any approach.
The blacklight had its own share of fun, with great species like Tallula fieldi, Cisthene liberomacula, Chionodes lophosella, Bryolyminia viridata, Pelochrista williamsi, and, of all things, a mosquito on my arm which turns out to be Culex erythrothorax!
An incredible day out, and I have Cedric to thank for it. Thanks Cedric!