On our way back to the great white north we decided to make one final collecting stop at Gentry Creek, Oklahoma. A small campground with several ponds and a stretch of waterfront, its usually busy grounds were devoid of campers, save ourselves and our trusty BIObus. The scattered workers we saw throughout the day took little notice of us, and gave us full leave of the grounds for our collecting. After a successful night sheet, we rose in the morning, collectively filled with anticipation for whatever diversity we might find. When we opened the bus door, however, we were hit in the face with a strong breeze that had picked up over the night. Nonetheless, we set out with our nets, expecting little to be found; surely nothing would be flying around in this wind? As the day progressed we found that in fact, the park was teeming with life, and there were loads of insects hiding wherever we swung our nets. The dragonfly diversity was exceptional, it was perhaps the best site for dragonflies yet, and there were wasps, butterflies, and beetles to be found in abundance, despite the breeze. We ended another successful day collecting with a delicious dinner of salmon and asparagus, thinking simultaneously of the places and sights we had seen, and our loved ones back home with whom we would soon be reunited. Our departure from our last collection site was bittersweet, but like all great adventures, ours was coming to a close. Thankfully, we had the stack of boxes rattling in the back of the bus to remind us of one final fact: we were not coming home empty-handed!
Tiger Beetle Bonanza
BIObus is always on the lookout for Tiger Beetles. These fascinating creatures can easily be overlooked as they scramble along sandy beaches, dirt trails or muddy shorelines. Unlike other ground insects, Tiger Beetles typically run for a quick, short burst, pause for a moment, then run for another short burst. Most will readily take to the wing when you approach, fly 6 to 10 feet, then tumble somewhat awkwardly to the ground.
Getting them into your net is difficult, but it’s even trickier to transfer them from net to jar. Photographing them…that’s still more of a challenge. It often takes 20 minutes of stalking one individual beetle, following it to its next landing point (again and again, crawling on all fours in the mud or sand), before it allows you into a closer comfort zone. Like many insects, Tiger Beetles eventually seem to sense that you’re not a threat and tolerate your presence for a little while. Or…maybe they just tire of the cat and mouse game and appease the persistent paparazzo to get rid of him.
There are about 100 species of Tiger Beetle known in North America, and each one seems to have carved its own special niche into the geography and ecosystem. Most species eat ants and other small insects, crushing them with their over-sized mandibles and mashing them into a consumable paste.
In east Texas, at Caddo Lake State Park, we encountered two nocturnal species of large Tiger Beetles (Tetracha carolina and T. virginica). They ran at incredible speed in a wild, random pattern when disturbed. We found several species of Tiger Beetle at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas panhandle. I’m not an expert, but they appear to include the Black Sky Tiger Beetle Cicindela nigrocoerulea, the Rio Grande Tiger Beetle C. sperata and the Ocellated Tiger Beetle C. ocellata.
At Dead Horse Ranch State Park, in Cottonwood, Arizona, numerous tiny Tigers were drawn to our UV lights. They turned out to be the White-striped Tiger Beetle C. lemniscata. Small, but very handsome carnivores, I think.
Mono Lake Tufa State National Refuge, near Yosemite National Park, in California, is home to several species of interesting Tiger Beetles. I regret not even attempting to photograph them, but there’s only so much time in the day. I hope we can return to the Mono Basin area next year!