Site dismantling, mating Meloidae and Manitobans

Hello faithful readers, and welcome to another exciting addition of my BIObus blog! Today I will be going over the take-down of our Grasslands sites (complete, of course, with a storm, our meeting with a group of students from Manitoba, and), a really cool beetle.

Today was mostly spent taking down the sites we have been taking care of all week. Dismantling a site involves taking down our malaise traps, straining all of our water traps, and generally taking stock of the hail damage from the last two storms. On the way to our first site, I noticed a pair of beetles mating on a leaf. On closer inspection they turned out to be blister beetles (Meloe americanus in the family Meloidae). I’d never seen a blister beetle before, and I was really excited to see one, let alone two mating! Blister beetles have a chemical, cantharidin, in their blood that causes very nasty blistering if it comes in contact with human skin. If that’s not bad enough, they can release that nastiness from their knees when threatened. After some very careful prodding (using anything but our fingers!) we fiddled the mating pair into a jar of ethanol, and as of writing this blog they’re still held together in a macabre, yet beautiful, embrace. It must have been the mating season for a lot of Meloids, because we saw several similar looking species mating all over the grasslands. Very cool!

The weather here is pretty crazy, but we made it through everything Saskatchewan threw at us!
The weather here is pretty crazy, but we made it through everything Saskatchewan threw at us!

After we set down that site, we moved on to our riparian site, where we found all the pan traps demolished by hail. They say take only pictures and leave only footprints, and if the park staff are reading this, I would like to apologize for any tiny yellow plastic shards of obliterated pan trap we couldn’t find. Moving back to the visitor center, we said goodbye to the staff and had a lovely and surprising lunch with a group of students from Manitoba. They were studying architecture and learning the full meaning of prairies, from the geology to ecology. We helped them finish the last of their spaghetti, and headed off to our final site in the badlands, which was being darkened by another storm cloud.

The happy blister beetle couple we found on our way to our site. They're about an inch long each.
The happy blister beetle couple we found on our way to our site. They’re about an inch long each.

While lightning storms are dangerous everywhere, they can be especially dangerous in the prairies where you can be the tallest thing for quite a while. After running to check up with the park staff if it was okay to drive, we raced to our final site. We must have set a world record for site dismantling; the quickly approaching thunder and darkening skies definitely spurred on our work. We got back to the RV just in time and got back with no issues. About thirty minutes later, the storm passed over and we enjoyed our final day in Grasslands. Laura Gardiner, our contact for Grasslands NP, said goodbye to us a few minutes ago, and we’re looking forward to a long day of driving ahead. Next stop, Revelstoke and Glacier!

-Graham

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