Friday 5: A Collecting Trip!

One of my friends works at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as the curator of arthropods.  She’s been trying to improve their live aquatic insect displays (yay!) and asked if she could go along with me when I went collecting so she could gather a few things for her displays.  We scheduled a date and decided to invite a few friends to make it a fun girl’s collecting trip, so yesterday four female biologists packed into my car and headed out to collect aquatic insects!  (It sounds like the start of a bad joke: three entomologists and an ichthyologist walk into a stream…)  We collected some really great live things and because it’s Friday, I’m going to share 5 of our finds.

Our first stop was Madera Canyon, a beautiful spot in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, AZ.  Madera has a gorgeous, clear, cold stream running through it and often has an incredible diversity of insects.  Armed with soup strainers, feather forceps, and plastic containers and bags of various types, we tackled the stream.  The diversity wasn’t as spectacular as it sometimes is, but we did get a few things I was hoping to find.  Among them were these:

Phylliocus aeneus

The caddisfly Phylliocus aeneus wandering around the rocks.

I love these caddisflies!  They make their cases out of big, broad pieces of sycamore leaves and blend in marvelously with their environment.  However, if you sit and watch the bottom of the stream, you’ll start to see the leaves “walking” about and you know it’s a caddisfly.  This caddisfly is an Arizona native and is quite abundant in Madera  Canyon.

Another Madera find was this:

Neohermes filicornis

Hellgrammite! This is Neohermes filicornis.

Hellgrammite!  I really love these things, and there were a ton of them in the stream ranging from less than half an inch long to 1.5 inches like this one.  This species is Neohermes filicornis, a smaller species than the hellgramites I usually feature here on the blog.  But their small size doesn’t make them any less aggressive!  We had to separate the hellgramites from the rest of our bugs because they were eating them within minutes – and one even started trying to eat another hellgrammite.  These things really don’t like being messed with and seem to react to disturbance by eating everything they can get their giant jaws on.

We also caught a few dragonflies and damselflies, including this tiny skimmer nymph:

Libellulid dragonfly nymph

Libellulid dragonfly nymph. Haven't IDed this beyond family yet.

I haven’t IDed this one beyond family yet because it’s awfully small for easy identification, but I thought it was rather cute.  We also caught some Argia and Haeterina damselfly nymphs, but those went home with someone else.  I love that even though this dragonfly is tiny (about 3/16ths of an inch), you can still see that extensible mouthpart, it’s “mask,” wrapped around the front of its head quite nicely.  Cute!

After collecting caddisflies, hellgrammites, a few beetle species, odonates, and one enormous wasp (I’ll post photos in a few weeks!), the four of us headed over to Las Cienegas, a spring fed system on the eastern side of the Santa Ritas.  I overtopped my hip waders within seconds of getting into the stream, but we found some great things so it was worth it.  Dragonflies and damselflies, Anax junius and Archilestes grandis in particularwere abundant, as were scuds, flatworms, leeches, a variety of small predaceous diving beetles, and these:

Thermonectus nigrofasciatus

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus nigrofasciatus.

This is the predaceous diving beetle Thermonectus nigrofasciatus.  My students all eventually call this the Charlie Brown Beetle, so that’s what I’ve started calling it too.  You can find many of these beetles out in the pooled areas at Las Cienegas, swimming around in the clear water right out where you can see them. Getting them into your soup strainer is a lot harder than you’d expect considering how easy it is to find them, and keeping them in the soup strainer long enough to transfer them into another container for transport is even more difficult!  But it’s worth it.  Look how gorgeous that beetle is!  And, does everyone remember how I can tell that this is a female?  If not, you can find the answer in my Friday 5 post on aquatic insects that suck.

And last, but certainly not least, this is what I actually needed to find:

Abedus herberti

A giant water bug, Abedus herberti, male with eggs

Ah, Abedus herberti.  You all know all about this bug, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

After we finished collecting at Las Cienegas, we sat on one of the many fallen limbs from one of the old, enormous cottonwoods that line the creek and had some lunch.  Then we packed up our treasures and headed back to town.  I got water bugs for my research and some extra aquatics to photograph, my friend from the Desert Museum got bugs for her displays, my ichthyologist friend got bugs for the aquatic insect tank in her office she uses to motivate and educate her student technicians, and my fourth friend went home empty-handed by choice.  We all had a great time visiting some beautiful places, enjoying amazing weather, and collecting bugs.  And I got to do it all with three of my best girlfriends.  What a great day!


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