Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blodgett Peak Bioblitz Report

Back on April 22, 2016, I sat down with a City of Colorado Springs parks official to discuss my idea for having a bioblitz at one of the parks or open spaces in the city. He was enthusiastic enough to turn that concept into four bioblitz events as part of this year's 20th anniversary of TOPS - Trails and Open Spaces. Our first event was held Friday and Saturday, June 16-17, at Blodgett Peak Open Space in the extreme northwest corner of Colorado Springs, up in the foothills and mountains. Here is what happened.

Blodgett Peak from "Base Camp"

First, let me express how grateful I am to City personnel for their organization, and furnishing everything from vehicles to food for the volunteer science teams. Without their hard work in planning, and in coordinating with other City departments, we could not have achieved any of our goals.

The Mammal Team checking traps

A bioblitz, for those not familiar, is usually a 24-hour event designed to record as many species of organisms in a given location as possible. The resulting data often sheds new light on what plants and animals occupy the ecosystem. County and state records for species are not uncommon; and even species new to science have been discovered at bioblitzes. The Blodgett Peak event included scientists looking at mammals, birds, plants, fungi, reptiles and amphibians, and of course invertebrates.

Observations are being recorded on the iNaturalist website. So far, the Blodgett Open Space Bioblitz project has recorded 419 observations tallying 279 "species," which range from actual species to genus-, tribe-, or family-level classification, or even higher. All of this has been accomplished with only seventeen people uploading their records and images. The identifications are vetted by professional experts and citizen scientists from around the globe. Reports continue to trickle in, so keep an eye on this project.

The species tote boards filled up quickly

What did the invertebrate team discover? We started out by setting up three blacklight stations to attract moths and other nocturnal insects Friday night. We had a long wait for darkness, but just past dusk the insects started flying in. We also heard a Northern Pygmy Owl, which was something of a surprise in itself. One of our stations was at the entrance to the Open Space, right by the parking lot, and at the lowest elevation possible. Another station, unmanned, was placed well up the slope and just off of a trail in mostly scrub oat habitat. The last station was placed at an overlook even higher up, where mixed conifer forest habitat begins. Getting to the uphill stations was strenuous exercise.

Without a working flash on either of my two cameras, I was unable to document many of our nighttime visitors, but among our more spectacular species were these, imaged by my wife, Heidi:

Hesperophylax sp. caddisfly

Geometer moth, Euchlaena sp.

Owlet moth, Ulolonche disticha

Acrea Moth, Estigmene acrea

Vashti Sphinx moth, Sphinx vashti

Raspberry Pyrausta moth, Pyrausta signatalis

Spotted Tussock Moth, Lophocampa maculata

The next day came early, given the late night prior, but we persisted and found considerably more interesting species, from grassland habitats to thick forest:

A mating pair of Polyphemus Moths discovered by Tim Leppek

Erik Ostrum netted this gorgeous Two-tailed Swallowtail

Anicia (Variable) Checkerspots were abundant

Horse flies, family Tabanidae, found us!

One of the Vogels netted this male Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly

Putnam's Cicadad, Platypedia putnami was heard, but seldom seen

Pale Snaketail dragonfly, Ophiogomphus severus

Giant Lady Beetle, Anatis lecontei

Male robber fly, Cyrtopogon willistoni

Emerald Flower Scarab, Euphoria fulgida

Special thanks to: Tim Leppek for lending his amazing knack for spotting cryptic insects, and his quality images of them; Erik Ostrum for coming all the way down from the Ft. Collins area to share his expertise in Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths); Sam Johnson for his lifelong expertise in Lepidoptera; Emilie Gray for sharing her own expertise and some equipment; Bell Mead for manning our Mile High Bug Club Booth for the entire day on Saturday; the Vogel family for setting up one of the blacklight stations Friday, and energetically and enthusiastically searching for more species on Saturday.

Several organizations had booths at the bioblitz

We're just getting started with these bioblitzes, so hopefully some of you can join us for the next one, Friday and Saturday, July 14-15 at Jimmy Camp Creek Park on the eastern fringe of Colorado Springs. This is a grassland and sandstone bluffs ecosystem, with a quality riparian corridor and even stands of Ponderosa Pine on the ridges overlooking the creek. It is where we found that stray Mexican Silverspot butterfly this spring, so who knows what else awaits discovery there.

As close to the top as we got (and were allowed)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

What a Spider!

Sometimes you find something that you think might be a major discovery, only to learn that is not the case. Does it diminish your enthusiasm for the whole experience? Not at all. That is especially true when you find something as colorful as a male of the jumping spider Euophrys monadnock. Your expertise is in fact enhanced no matter what expectations you start out with.

The morning of June 8 I found myself granted access to part of Cheyenne Mountain State Park where the public is...."discouraged" from going. It is close, too close, to NORAD installations on the mountain, an important part of national security. One of the perks of being a park volunteer is getting opportunities like this to investigate more pristine and unique habitats.

Anyway, on the ground beneath Ponderosa Pines and understory thickets of Gambel's Oak and other shrubs, I spotted a little (3-4 millimeters) jumping spider hopping over the grass and leaf litter. My initial assumption was that it had to be a species of Habronattus. Members of that genus are often about the same size, usually ground-dwellers rather than arboreal, and frequently adorned with ornate colors in the male gender. Colorado also appears to be an epicenter of Habronattus diversity. I captured the spider in a plastic vial so I could get better images later.

Imagine how puzzled I was when, back at home, an internet search could find no matches with any Habronattus species. I think I finally "Googled" something like "Salticidae, black, orange legs," and lo and behold, I got some image results for Euophrys monadnock. It was not recorded (yet) for Colorado in Bugguide, by online standby. Additional research did find several records of the species for Colorado, even of recent vintage.

The Colorado Spider Survey, based at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science* and supervised by Dr. Paula Cushing, is an amazing resource. There, I found records of this species from Roxborough State Park in Douglas County, on August 9, 2014; Upper Maxwell Falls in Jefferson County, July 29, 2010; Lump Gulch in Gilpin County, June 24, 2009; and 1.6 miles along FR 175 NW of Mt. Pisgah, also in Gilpin County, on August 10, 2009. Using the World Spider Catalog, which has PDF files of almost all the scientific publications devoted to spiders, I found perhaps the original record of Euophrys monadnock for Colorado: collected in the 1890s in "West Cliff," now spelled "Westcliffe," by Theodore Cockerell. The species is one of northerly latitudes and high elevation, found across Canada and south to California, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and along the Rockies.

A Wikipedia article on the species explains the species was first described in 1891 by James Henry Emerton, a preeminent arachnologist of his day. The male gender, anyway, certainly cannot be confused with any other spider. The female is more....subdued, shall we say, but that is the case for most jumping spiders where there is often extreme sexual dimorphism (graphic differences between genders).

The male makes full use of his contrasting colors in displaying to a female. He lifts his front legs, which are adorned with thick brushes of black hair. He also lifts his third pair of legs to expose those bright orange femora, and orients the fourth pair of legs such that the female can see those orange femora as well. Jumping spiders are, unlike web-building spiders, highly visual, with acute eyesight that is not approached by any other land invertebrate.

My wife and I managed to get a few pictures of this highly active spider inside a casserole dish at home, before she released the spider outside the park, but at roughly the same elevation, same habitat, and same mountain for that matter. From a scientific perspective, it is usually preferable to retain the specimen, but considering the utter uniqueness of this species, we felt it was unnecessary to sacrifice this one.

Sources: Banks, Nathan. 1895. "The Arachnida of Colorado," Annals of the New York Academy of Science. 8: 415-434.
Bradley, Richard A. 2013. Common Spiders of North America. Berkeley: University of California Press. 271 pp.
Kaston, B.J. 1972. How to Know the Spiders (3rd edition). Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers. 272 pp.
Jumping spiders (Arachnida: Araneae: Salticidae) of the worldWorld Spider Catalog