Saturday, September 10, 2016

Katydid Capers pt. 1

Inyo grasshopper, Trimerotropis inyo.

It was back to Inyo County for me this weekend as I had arranged to meet up with
Jeffrey Cole. Our mission was a little foray into the nearby mountains in search for some particularly interesting katydid and cricket life. The southwestern states are extremely diverse for katydid and cricket life, and like many groups the majority of species are rarely encountered. Our crowning event (hopefully!!) would be hitting high altitudes near North Lake in search of the enigmatic alpine species, Acrodectes.

All was familiar as we arrived at McGee Canyon Road, a site where I had found a wealth of Idiostatus birchimi last year with Dave Wikle. Jeff was hoping to pick up a few of these interesting Idiostatus, a species that is found only in this small part of California and nowhere else in the world. Off the bat aside the sulphur waves of yellow rabbitbrush we encountered a few roadside-dwelling grasshoppers, including what I currently consider my first Inyo grasshopper. Inyo grasshoppers are a species of Trimerotropis, an interesting genus of long-winged grasshoppers featuring coloured wings. From this same site last year I recorded a similar grasshopper but on review that is most likely another species, the smaller and paler McNeill's white grasshopper. These two species are known to co-occur in a number of regions.

Great Basin grasshopper. Trimerotropis species-a.
The rabbitbrush flowers, while lacking the katydid we sought, did hold a few other wonders such as large numbers of micro bee flies, Tachinid flies in the genus Peleteria, and a frit fly in the genus Meromyza. I also happened to notice a small and exceptionally prickly Russian thistle here, which was another introduced species, barbwire Russian thistle. The small fiery hindwings of the moths Pseudanarta caeca and flava were a joy to behold in the dropping sunlight. Before heading off Jeff's deft netting skills caught us another grasshopper that was a lifer for me, the yet-to-be described Great Basin grasshopper. I can understand why this species is not yet named -- it's so plain and boring to look at that the authors put it aside for later!! Actually, I think this dull colour scheme is an interesting spin on a group of mostly hyper-coloured grasshoppers.

Barbwire Russian thistle, Salsola paulsenii.
We made another stop by the entrance of Black Lake Road. Here more Great Basin grasshoppers skittered around as well as some other familiar faces. One plant that was not so familiar was a straggly grey goosefoot, which I have since identified as narrow-leaved goosefoot. Goosefoot are members of the family Amaranthaceae, which for the most part includes generic plants with no discernible features or flowers. This one was no different and truly they are plants loved only by fanatics and madmen...yes, like me.

Narrow-leaved goosefoot, Chenopodium dessicatum.

Before hitting the road I had another new Orthopteran in the form of western sagebrush grasshopper. Upon noticing a wealth of yellow flowering along the roadside I suggested we take a stop just opposite the dwindling Black Lake. Here I realized that the yellow flowering was sadly not a new buckwheat for me, but valley lessingia! I took to the rabbitbrush for consolation, and found a straw coloured leaf beetle, Cryptocephalus spurca. This is one of a few similar and variable species in southern California, and only some individuals are reliably identified on photos.

Cryptocephalus spurca.

Jeff then called me over for a ladybeetle on the only aphid infested sagebrush in the area, which soon became several ladybeetles. It was clear even from a distance that these were one of the unusual native Coccinella, in this case the satellite ladybeetle, C. difficilis, which I had the fortune to encounter last year at McGee Canyon Road. Some thorough examination revealed a wishlist species of mine hiding in the back, the transverse ladybeetle! Seeing either of these species at once was incredible, let alone both, in overall reasonable quantities. An incredible sight, and another long awaited ladybeetle ticked off the list. Thanks Jeff!

Satellite ladybeetle, Coccinella difficilis.
Satellite ladybeetle, Coccinella difficilis.
Transverse ladybeetle, Coccinella transversoguttata.

Giving the rabbitbrush another look I found a third Pseudanarta species with a distinctive white hieroglyph on each wing, Pseudanarta crocea. With nightfall descending it was time to start looking for camp. Along later parts of the road a common plant was fernbush, a tall relative of mountain misery. Twilight was soon here and before long we heard both western tree cricket and MacNeill's shieldback beside the road. With effort good views were had of both unusual species. MacNeill's shieldback in particular was a true oddity. This very large cricket is extremely slow moving and was not intimidated by our presence. The males call only from shrubs halfway up the hillsides, which made getting to them a little tricky. A truly fascinating katydid.

Pseudanarta crocea.

Western tree cricket, Oecanthus californicus.
MacNeill's shieldback, Neduba macneilli.

With our intended campground full we descended to Four Jeffreys Campground. Here we made a quick tour around in the dark, along with a small UV light setup brought in a worthwhile haul of new species, with the moths Prochoerodes truxaliata, Speranza collata, Tetracis formosa, Synchlora aerata, Phaneta tenuiana, and the plume moth Oidaematophorus griscescens. Through the darkness I located the curious night-flowering blooms of coyote tobacco, as well as the tufted form of the few introduced species I've seen thus far, crested wheatgrassIdiostatus katydids were reasonably common at a certain area of sagebrush, and for now their species is unknown.

Coyote tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata.

Prochoerodes truxaliata.

Speranza colata.
Another plume moth with a long, complicated name: Oidaematophorus griscescens.
Mystery Idiostatus...for now.

A highlight of combing rabbitbrush was not only finding both the gloriously overdue Chlorochroa sayi and a single Chlorochroa uhleri in the same area, but also another darker grey individual that turns out to be Chlorochroa ligata! Given I was used to seeing C. uhleri throughout CA on its own I surprised to see both sayi and uhleri together, let alone a third in the same habitat! It seems then that it is not habitat that separates the distribution of these species but something else, clearly geographical in nature.

Chlorochroa uhleri.
Chlorochroa sayi.
Chlorochroa ligata.
Back at the UV light I photographed a few more Piute monkey grasshoppers before hitting the tent. With a fantastic day behind me all I could ask the shimmering stars was what the dawn of a new day would bring.

Piute monkey grasshopper, Morsea piute.

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