Awesome Arthropods and Alpine Adventures

Hello faithful readers, and welcome to my third blog post. We arrived in E.C. Manning Provincial Park, and boy is it a nice place. The friendly park staff set us up right by the Manning Park Lodge, so we have access to the necessities as well as swimming facilities and a game area. We’re being spoiled!

Today we set up our three sites and, as usual, picked three different ecotypes to deploy in. We found one Okanagan type forest, an alpine site 1700 meters above sea level, and a more coastal region that is home to Canada’s only population of pink rhododendrons.  The first site we went to, the Okanagan type forest on the Bonnevier trail, took us up a slowly winding path surrounded by conifer trees to a clearing high above a stream. While we were setting up, we got quite a scare when we saw a deceivingly bear-shaped log!

Me, Joey, Kate and Danielle looking out over the valley from our alpine vantage point near the Dry Ridge Trail.
Me, Joey, Kate and Danielle looking out over the valley from our alpine vantage point near the Dry Ridge Trail.

On a more scientific note, we also came across the first jumping bristletail, order Archaeognatha, that I have ever seen. Archaeognaths are an “ancient” lineage of insects that predate the evolution of wings. They definitely look different from most insects, with their large yet simple eyes and iridescent green scales. Under further examination, you can see why their scientific name means ancient jaw. All insects “further” up the evolutionary tree than Archaeognaths have double jointed mouth parts, where these little guys only have one joint. It’s really amazing to see evolutionary steps reflected in taxonomy, and jumping bristletails are an excellent example. They’re also an excellent example of vaulting athletes, which along with their keen senses prevented us from catching the one we saw. So, unfortunately, we don’t have any real life pictures to share of these guys.

However, we did manage to catch a member of another order I haven’t seen before, a snakefly! Snakeflies, in the order Rhaphidioptera, look sort of like praying mantises without the arms and big nasty jaws. The coolest thing about them, in my opinion, is that their pupae are mobile. Where most insect pupae, like the chrysalises of butterflies, will sit stationary, snakefly pupae look like small wingless adults and can run around in a twitchy puppet like motion. They are also only seen in western Canada, so I’m quite glad I was able to see one during my trip.

One of the Rhaphidiopterans we collected during out five minute sweep at the Bonnevier site. Check out its elongated, snake-like prothorax!
One of the Rhaphidiopterans we collected during our five minute sweep at the Bonnevier site. Check out its elongated, snake-like prothorax!

Our alpine site at the Dry Ridge Trail was definitely the hardest to reach yet. Kate had to maneuver our huge RV up a winding mountain road, and to her credit we went all the way up and down without a hitch. The ride, however treacherous, was definitely worth it though. We could see the whole valley, from the fog draped mountain chains in the distance to the visitor center surrounded by ant sized cars. The mountains are absolutely spectacular, and it’s a real privilege to be able to see them. After enjoying the view, we hiked up the steep rocky trail to the site. It’s quite a difference from the rolling plains of the grasslands, and the difficult terrain was a challenge to tackle. I think our legs are going to get quite the workout over the next week!

Our final coastal site at the Rhododendron Flats was very different from the others. While the alpine area was difficult and rocky, this spot was a bed of mosses and lichen. The fallen trees and frightening logs of the Bonnevier trail were replaced by big leafy bushes with fluffy pink flowers on them. So far, this has been my favourite site. It’s a lush green paradise that we don’t often see living in southern Ontario, and it makes me even more glad to be on this trip.

This is Graham, signing off!