Hands on Stoneflies and Sculpin

Hands on Stoneflies and Sculpin: Exploring the Logan River Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Exploring the Logan River
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

Benthic Macroinvertebrate Harvest Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/ Benthic Macroinvertebrate Harvest
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

Merriam-Webster Benthic: of, relating to, or occurring at the bottom of a body of water

Student with a Stonefly Nymph Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/ Student with a Stonefly Nymph
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

Stonefly Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/ Stonefly
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

Sculpin Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS) Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/ Sculpin
Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer

I remember my father on wintery Saturdays mounting his fly tying vice on the kitchen table, and then, from the cavern under the stairs, he’d emerge with his hooks, pheasant and peacock feathers, and other magical threads. I’d watch him spin intricate flies but never realized as a child that they were imitations of creatures I would meet and teach in the wild. When he took me to lakes and rivers to fish, we just used worms and pink marshmallows.

On an animal adaptation learning journey at Wood Camp along the Logan River this fall, our Edith Bowen Laboratory School first graders turned over river rocks, sweeping up all sorts of aquatic critters with nets and buckets to then probe playfully with tweezers and bare fingers. Trip Armstrong, Assistant Director of the National Aquatic Monitoring Center at Utah State University’s Department of Watershed Sciences, led our young investigators and several adult volunteers in identifying these benthic macroinvertebrates, especially the stonefly nymphs we found in every scoop.

These especially intrigued the children because they resemble something from outer space scurrying about on six legs. Stoneflies, both the nymphs and the adult insects, are large compared to mayfly and other critters you find in a river sample, so they stand out in a crowd. The adults have long wings, thus the Greek name Plecoptera meaning “braided wings,” but they are known to be poor fliers. The larvae have two tails or what biologists call cerci, while mayflies have three. Stoneflies have two hooks on their legs; mayflies have one. Stoneflies like oxygen-rich water flowing through their gills along their thorax and under their legs. We noticed some doing push-ups in the bin of river water, indicating it was time to return them to their habitat. Both mayfly and stonefly nymphs are pollution-sensitive, so finding them in such large numbers indicated that this part of the river was very healthy.

When a student approached from the river’s edge with a larger specimen cupped in her hands, I was stunned and a little spooked. “It’s a sculpin,” Armstrong said. These are bottom-dwelling fish that some say are basically big mouths with tails and have unflattering nicknames like “double uglies,” yet I learned later they are quite common. I’d just never met one. In fact, although biologists have determined that the Utah Lake sculpin has been extinct since the 1930s, the native Bear Lake sculpin and sculpin living in the Logan River are sources of food for the Bonneville Cutthroat and other trout.

I guess the lesson, as a wise first grader reminded me this week during our opinion writing session, is “Don’t yuck somebody’s yum.” Stoneflies and sculpin: flyfishers and bigger fish love them. I’m thankful for opportunities to teach in Utah’s wild places because every time I do, I learn something new.

I am Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Edith Bowen Laboratory School (EBLS)
Experiential Learning Eric Newell Director & Photographer https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading

Beaudreau, Andrea. 2017. Why I Love Sculpins (and Why You Should Too). Coastal Fisheries Ecology Lab. https://annebeaudreau.com/2017/09/05/why-i-love-sculpins/

Bouchard, R.W. Jr. 2004. Guide to Aquatic Invertebrates of the Upper Midwest. 2004. https://dep.wv.gov/WWE/getinvolved/sos/Documents/Benthic/UMW/Plecoptera.pdf

Curtis, Jennifer Keats with Stroud Water Research Center. 2020. Arbordale Publishing. https://www.arbordalepublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=CreekCritters

Dickey, Amy. Water Quality and Macroinvertebrates. https://deq.utah.gov/communication/news/water-quality-macroinvertebrates

Larese-Casanova, Mark. 2013. Aquatic Insects, Harbingers of Health. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/aquatic-insects-harbingers-of-health/

Leavitt, Shauna. 2017. Bear Lake Sculpin. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-lake-sculpin-cottus-extensus/

National Aquatic Monitoring Center. https://namc-usu.org/

Pennsylvania League of Angling Youth. 2006. PLAY. https://www.fishandboat.com/LearningCenter/PennsylvaniaLeagueofAnglingYouthPLAY/Documents/AquaticMacrosEnaElpaMayflyPondstream_Allpages.pdf

Stroud Water Research Center. Macroinvertebrate Resources. https://stroudcenter.org/macros/

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Five Aquatic Species You May Not Know Live in Utah. Mottled Sculpin. https://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/962-r657-29–government-records-access-management-act.html

Utah State University Extension. Bugs Don’t Bug Me. https://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/files-ou/Publications/AllBugs.pdf

Zarbock, William. 1952. Life History of the Utah Sculpin. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1577/1548-8659%281951%2981%5B249%3ALHOTUS%5D2.0.CO%3B2

You and I and the Winged Things

You and I and the Winged Things: Late Autumn Evening Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller
Late Autumn Evening
Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller
One of the greatest magics of these late autumn evenings is that of midges, gnats, flies, mosquitoes, and bugs which flitter about in the humble stratosphere of their world between the intermittent cold snaps. They loop and spiral, as if on spiritual roller coasters, gently refracting the setting sun through and upon their bodies so that they seem to glow and become prescient of the night’s stars soon to bloom. When the cool November sun begins to set low, I can look out amongst the naked shrubs and thinning trees, the tall shaggy grasses and dead kaleidoscopic leaves, and see those hidden creatures who only dance in unlovely places the splendid slow waltz of autumnal joy.

Through the cascading shadow, the dance of the waning wing-bearers becomes even more dramatic. As the sun continues to slide below the mountains, the insects increase their pace it seems, and then begins the cataclysm of the birds. Small gray and off-gray birds with different flecks, inflections, songs, and hearts, though unified as the kind that would easily build a good hardy nest in an old dilapidated mug, begin diving through the midges and gnats and flies and mosquitoes. The birds are trapeze artists. Starting from a perch in a nearby tree, they swoop with grace through the air in a dramatic arc. At the nadir of their swing, the snare roll abruptly halts, a sharp inhale of silence descends like thunder and is followed in quicktime by a cymbal crash as the acrobats catch their purse in midair. Then, gently arching back up to the adjacent branch across, a great applause raptures. Like this, the birds dive and breach, avian orcas earning their rich protein in preparation for the imminent changing of the season. The horizon of thin times drives the orchestra of life onwards.

As I watch the fading insects, bugs, winged things, and other wonders I ponder as to why many see them as pests. In the evening glow, it seems an impossible identity for these fellow inhabitants of our world. Do people fear them? Not understand them? Believe they belong in one place and not another? Watching them in that moment, the thought escapes my mind and I am glad. I am glad to forget their supposedly assigned state, and I instead reforge my memories anew in the present, watching them as sparks in the swiftly quenching day. The perpetual creation of the world continues along, with I and you and all we’ve ever known and will know wrapped within it.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
Images: Courtesy & © Friend Weller https://upr.org/
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin https://upr.org/
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Top 20 Identified Insects, Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab, Extension, Utah State University, https://extension.usu.edu/pests/uppdl/top-20-insects

Spider Mountain

Spider Mountain: Spiders on Dish Western Spotted Orbweaver Neoscona oaxacensis Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Spiders on Dish
Western Spotted Orbweaver
Neoscona oaxacensis
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Spiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna West (Spider) Mountain, Utah Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, PhotographerSpiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Spiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna With Microwave Dish for Other Building Occupants West (Spider) Mountain, Utah Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, PhotographerSpiders on Mast for UPR Transponder Antenna With Microwave Dish for Other Building Occupants
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Spiders on Dish for Other Building Occupants. Note Red Former AT&T (Now 'American Tower') Structure Above. West (Spider) Mountain, Utah Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, PhotographerSpiders on Dish for Other Building Occupants
Note Red Former AT&T (Now ‘American Tower’) Structure Above.
Courtesy & © Lyle Bingham, Photographer


Recently, I accompanied Friend Weller, chief radio engineer for Utah Public Radio, on a visit to what local radio engineers affectionately call Spider Mountain. We sought to determine why the Utah County translator would intermittently go off air for minutes to hours. Friend speculated that wasps or spiders were to blame. He explained that this translator receives the signal from Logan via satellite and rebroadcasts it for lower Utah County on 88.7 MHz. It is one of more than 30 translators that re-transmit UPR where mountains block the original signal.

We drove up a gravel road to the top of the dry, desert mountain known locally as West Mountain. This cheatgrass-covered mountain rises nineteen hundred feet from the waters on the south end of Utah Lake. At the base, there are fruit orchards, but climbing higher, we saw few plants rising above the cheatgrass. Near the top, more than 12 structures support antennas that transmit and relay signals across portions of Utah and Juab counties.

As we slowly climbed the gravel road in the UPR pickup, large bodies began to appear, moving on silk threads attached, like guy wires, to anything with height. Mobile spiders guarded each thread. When we passed, they took what appeared to be offensive positions. These spiders’ delicate legs easily span two inches. A unique black and white pattern of diamonds and dots on their back identifies them as western spotted orb weavers. The larger-bodied, grey spiders are females with legs attached to a three-quarter-inch body. The narrower-bodied males measure half an inch. When they move, flashes of red show on the undersides of their legs. These same spiders live along the shores of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake.

The exterior of the equipment building was covered with spiders, as were the transmitting antennas above and the large receiving satellite dish nearby. We could see the problem. Spiders were blocking the signal to the satellite dish feed horn. Using a broom, we gently relocated them. Many took quick exits, dropping on threads of silk from the horn to the dish below, then running to the edge and rappelling to the ground. Others took more defensive or combative positions, only to be invited off with the broom or a gloved hand. After the eviction, we sprayed around the horn and the dish supports.

On previous trips, we had often wondered what these spiders eat. This time we found small flying insects, akin to those found along the shores of Utah Lake. They are likely carried up the mountain on wind currents. Up-hill winds develop every day as the sun warms the surface of the mountain. This time of year, the spiders don’t lack nourishment.

And how did the spiders get up there? Their progenitors were also likely carried uphill on silk parachutes. Once there, the spiders found the tallest location, strung their lines, and thrived on other unfortunates delivered by the same winds. You see, spiders, like predatory birds, are helpful pest control. For a spider, hanging high above the ground on a mountain top is a great place to be. There, the spiders can catch anything that blows or flies by. No wonder they grow so large and multiply so profusely on top of Spider Mountain.

Visit Wildaboututah.org for images of the spiders hanging from the trees, guy wires, antenna masts and satellite dish. We also have links to common spiders found in Utah.

This is Lyle Bingham, and I’m Wild About Utah, Utah Public Radio and Utah’s spiders.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Lyle Bingham’s Wild About Utah Postings

Mitton, Jeff, Spiders disperse on strands of silk | Colorado Arts & Sciences Magazine Archive | University of Colorado Boulder
https://www.colorado.edu/asmagazine-archive/node/585

Narimanov, Nijat; Bonte, Dries; Mason, Paul; Mestre, Laia; Entling, Martin H.; Disentangling the roles of electric fields and wind in spider dispersal experiments
https://bioone.org/journals/the-journal-of-arachnology/volume-49/issue-3/JoA-S-20-063/Disentangling-the-roles-of-electric-fields-and-wind-in-spider/10.1636/JoA-S-20-063.full

Simonneaua, Manon; Courtiala, Cyril; Pétillon, Julien; Phenological and meteorological determinants of spider ballooning in an agricultural landscape – ScienceDirect
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1631069116300919

Davis, Nicky, Neoscona Tree, Lincoln Beach, Utah Lake, Utah, WildUtah.us, August 23, 2018, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_s_neoscona_tree.html

Davis, Nicky, Western Spotted Orbweaver a.k.a. Zig-Zag Spider-Neoscona oaxacensis Female, WildUtah.us, August 20, 2018, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_s_neoscona_oaxacensis_fe_west_utah_lake_20aug2018.html

Davis, Nicky, Western Spotted Orbweaver a.k.a. Zig-Zag Spider-Neoscona oaxacensis Male, WildUtah.us, August 20, 2018, https://www.wildutah.us/html/insects_other/h_s_neoscona_oaxacensis_m_west_utah_lake_20aug2018.html

Davis, Nicky, Spider at Inlet Park, Jordan River Trail, Saratoga, Utah County – Neoscona oaxacensis, Bugguide, Iowa State University, September 17, 2017, https://bugguide.net/node/view/1446087

Eaton, Eric R, Spider Sunday: Western Spotted Orbweaver, Bug Eric, February 12, 2012, http://bugeric.blogspot.com/2012/02/spider-sunday-western-spotted-orbweaver.html


These spiders were blocking the UPR satellite signal received by the Utah County transponder broadcasting at 88.7 MHz. The spiders were identified as Western Orb Weavers, Neoscona oaxacensis, that are also found along the shores of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake.
Courtesy and Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer


More than one type of spider lives on Spider Mountain. The last time we visited Spider Mountain, we hadn’t traveled far before Friend Weller stopped the truck. A Utah tarantula was walking across the road. Yes, did I tell you the spiders on Spider Mountain are big? This guy easily covered a small dinner plate without extending its legs.
We found out that tarantulas are nocturnal and rarely seen except in August and September, when the males are searching for mates. In Utah, we found most tarantulas are identified as Aphonopelma iodius, because they have a triangular dark patch near their eye turrets. We understand our tarantulas are not to be confused with a similar brown-bodied, black-legged species, Aphonopelma chalcodes, the western desert tarantula that are found in Mexico, Arizona, and southern Utah.
Courtesy and Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Visit ‘Spider Mountain’ on https://wildaboututah.org/

Spiders in Utah, SpiderID.com, https://spiderid.com/locations/united-states/utah/



Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle

Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle: White-spotted sawyer Monochamus scutellatus Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
White-spotted sawyer
Monochamus scutellatus
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Longhorn Beetle Crossidius coralinus Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Longhorn Beetle Crossidius coralinus
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

A Childs Sawyer Beetle in Her Naturalist Journal Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer A Childs Sawyer Beetle in Her Naturalist Journal
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Before E. B. White set about crafting Charlotte’s Web in 1949, according to Melissa Sweet’s biography Some Writer, he was “bringing a pail of slops to the barn” that he loved in Maine and thinking about a time not long before when he observed a barn spider spinning her egg sac and depositing her eggs. Weeks later, when he had brought the egg sac in a candy box to New York City, he found hundreds of spiderlings emerging and realized a story emerging as well. Michael Sims, author of The Story of Charlotte’s Web, quotes from a letter White wrote to some schoolchildren: “I didn’t like spiders at first, but then I began watching one of them, and soon saw what a wonderful creature she was and what a skillful weaver. I named her Charlotte.” E. B. White went to Willis J. Gertsch, author of American Spiders and expert at the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Insects and Spiders, to learn. He spent a year studying spiders in order to get the story just right.
Face to Face with a Longhorned Beetle
In northern Utah last week I made a friend who happened to be a white-spotted sawyer beetle named Monochamus scutellatus. My children and I have been fascinated by these insects for years. If you are the most apprehensive and skittish adventurer in your group, chances are that this relatively large forest insect will glide in, land on you, and courageously stay, as if it had something to say. Like E. B. White and the orb weaver Aranea cavatica, this longhorned beetle and I had a face-to-face chat. What you will notice immediately are his long horns. These antennae were twice as long as the rest of his body, and that’s how you would know he was a male. The antennae of the females, in contrast, are typically only half as long. Both male and female have a distinctive white dot at the base of the wings, an easy way to distinguish them from the invasive Asian longhorned or velvet longhorned varieties.

This white-spotted sawyer said he is often misunderstood because of his appearance. He can’t help looking a bit creepy. He also sometimes gets blamed for damaging forests and wanted to set the record straight. He said that as a grub, he fed on the sapwood of evergreen trees that are already dead or nearing it. In fact, sawyer beetles invade trees following forest fires and in the months following mountain pine beetle attacks. They do not, however, kill healthy thriving trees. Sawyer beetles are, though, responsible for the familiar teeth-grinding sounds one hears in a wooded area as the fleshy larvae scrape with their mandibles.

At the other end of Utah perched in Monticello’s rabbitbrush a few days ago, I met a colony of striking Crossidius coralinus. Instead of mostly black bodies, these longhorn beetles boast vibrant reds and many more stories to tell. Thanks to beetle entomologist Ted MacRae, I am able to understand those stories better. I must admit that I will probably still jump when a longhorned beetle initiates a conversation from my forearm, but I now appreciate its point of view. After all, Charles Darwin suggested that “a taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life,” and I will take all the help I can get.

For Wild About Utah, I am Shannon Rhodes.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Cohen, Joel I. Exploring the nature of science through courage and purpose: a case study of Charles Darwin’s way of knowing. SpringerPlus. 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5020019/pdf/40064_2016_Article_3053.pdf ​​

Corrigan, Maureen. How E. B. White Spun Charlotte’s Web. Published July 5, 2011, accessed August 5, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2011/07/05/137452030/how-e-b-white-spun-charlottes-web

MacRae, Ted C. “Big, Black (and Red), and Beautiful: Mini-review of the Cicindelidia abdominalis species-group.” Published July 18, 2014, accessed August 13, 2022. Beetles in the Bush, https://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/mini-review-of-the-cicindelidia-abdominalis-species-group/.

Rodman, Taryn M. et al. Velvet Longhorned Beetle. Utah Pests Fact Sheet. July 2020. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/research/velvet-longhorned-beetle#:~:text=Quick%20Facts,%2C%20%20Davis%2C%20and%20%20Tooele%20%20counties

Spears, Lori et al. Invasive Insect Lookalikes: mistaken insect identity. Utah Pests Fact Sheet. October 2015. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/research/invasive-insect-lookalikes

Strand, Holly. Bark Beetle Mania! Published June 25, 2009. https://wildaboututah.org/bark-beetle-mania/

Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. https://www.melissasweet.net/somewriter

United States Forest Service. Mountain Pine Beetle. 2011. https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5299324.pdf

Utah Pests Quarterly Newsletter. Winter 2021. Vol. XV. Asian Longhorned Beetle: not yet in Utah. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/files/up-newsletter/2021/UtahPestsNews-winter21.pdf