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.

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

Our Mormon Crickets

Mormon Cricket female Anabrus-simplex Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Mormon Cricket female
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Children’s author George Selden described the impact of a cricket’s chirping in the bustle of a subway station in his book “The Cricket in Times Square” like this: “Like ripples around a stone dropped into still water, the circles of silence spread out. …Eyes that looked worried grew soft and peaceful; tongues left off chattering; and ears full of the city’s rustling were rested by the cricket’s melody.” Combine this musical talent with Jiminy Cricket’s gentle reminder to always listen to my conscience, and it is no wonder that I would drift to sleep on summer evenings enamored with cricket songs. How, I thought, could such a beautifully-sounding insect be the villain in Utah’s legend we know as the Miracle of the Gulls, memorialized in Minerva Teichert paintings and Temple Square monuments?

Decades later, near Fremont Indian State Park, I met a Mormon cricket for the first time. I cringed as I watched thousands of these creatures hopping across the mountain path that afternoon, and I understood how merciful those California gulls must have seemed, swooping in to gobble up the insects, as the Mormon pioneers struggled to develop a defensive, crop-saving plan as newcomers to this land.

Mormon Cricket female Anabrus-simplex Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Mormon Cricket female
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Utah settler Mrs. Lorenzo Dow Young captures a bit of the incident in her 1848 journal entry: “May 27: …today to our utter astonishment, the crickets came by millions, sweeping everything before them. They first attacked a patch of beans…, and in twenty minutes there was not a vestige to be seen. They next swept over peas…; took everything clean.” These hordes of insects were not new to the area, however, as we know that explorer Peter Skene Ogden noted “crickets by millions” in his 1825 journal account over 20 years earlier.

Did you know that Mormon crickets are not crickets, grasshoppers, or cicadas, but large shield-backed katydids that walk or hop rather than fly? Their smooth, shiny exoskeleton can be a variety of colors and patterns, like the reddish-brown female I chased and studied this summer in Fishlake National Forest. They have long antennae, and each female has what looks like a long curving stinger extending from her abdomen. This ovipositor allows her to deposit 100 eggs or more that look like gray or purple rice grains just below the soil surface. The males, on the other hand, lack this structure, but they “sing” as a way to attract females, and reward their mates with protein-packed spermatophore prizes.

Katydid or bush cricket Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Katydid or bush cricket
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
These insects can be solitary mountain-dwellers but make headlines when they swarm in huge bands, marching in one direction as omnivores, in search of anything to eat: cultivated crops, succulent forbs, sagebrush and other shrubs, other insects, and even their own kind. Researchers tracking migrations determined they can travel more than 50 miles in a summer, perhaps a mile a day, and for many, including those early Utah settlers and others hoping to shield crops from Mormon cricket devastation, it is a sign of relief to see the last one for the season. They do make for a great story, though.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.

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:

Anderson, Rebecca. Miracle of the Crickets. Utah Humanities. 2011.

Capinera, John and Charles MacVean. Ecology and Management of Mormon Cricket. Department of Entomology Colorado State University. 1987.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Crickets and Seagulls. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/crickets-and-seagulls?lang=eng

Cowan, Frank. Life History, Habits, and Control of the Mormon Cricket. United States Department of Agriculture. 1929. https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/CAT86200155/PDF

Hartley, William. Mormons, Crickets, and Gulls: A New Look at an Old Story. 1970. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume38_1970_number3/s/107089

Kent State University. Study Reveals Mass Migration Of Mormon Crickets Driven By Hunger, Fear. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily.com, 2 March 2006. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060302174524.htm

National Geographic. Giant Swarm of Mormon Crickets. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy3dQJYquoY

Palmer, Matt. Get a Jump on Mormon Cricket and Grasshopper Management. https://extension.usu.edu/pests/slideshows/ppt/03sh-insects-mc.pdf

Selden, George, and Garth Williams. The Cricket in Times Square. New York: Ariel Books, 1960. https://www.amazon.com/Cricket-Times-Square-Chester-Friends/dp/0312380038

University of Wyoming. Mormon Cricket Biology and Management poster. https://owyheecounty.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/MormonCricketbiologymgmtposteruofWYB1191.pdf

The Wild Episode. Mormon Cricket: The Cannibal Swarm.

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

I’m At Home in the Dark

At Home in the Dark: Western Screech Owl Fledgling Courtesy and Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
Western Screech Owl Fledgling
Courtesy & © Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
All year I wait for the summer evenings. All year I long for the oddity of ‘warm and dark,’ of trilling owls flickering from treetop to treetop, and for the scent of hot baked earth cooling as on a sill. Summer evenings evoke in me joy in being out of doors, living within the intact Eden which lies just below our own preconceptions, and deepening my appetite for life. Summer evenings, those dark arid cradles of Utah’s providence, have other benefits, too.

It’s in the dark that you can live in the footsteps of local literatos. We can heed the words of Utah’s Ed Abbey, that: “There’s another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision, though limited, has no sharp or definite boundary.”

It is also in the dark that we can allow our eyes a rest from glowing rectangles, and for the rest of our navigational senses to pick up slack. Our ears listen for how sound meanders in the landscape, detecting the clitter clatter of dogs on the deck, or chickens working their scratch. Our nose picks up the scent of a neighbor’s firepit to the east, and when the wind shifts the humidity from another neighbor’s evening watering to the west.

It is in the dark that we can also learn to see that we share spaces with corpuscularities and nocturalites. Those trilling owls, Western Screech Owls to be exact, who emerge from their deadstand cavities and prowl for rodenta. When one spots a human watching it, it watches back, then dances a shimmy-rumba-polka. I imagine that it’s waiting for us to communicate, too.

The dark also brings the insects galore which fill the nights making good on their pollination out of the heat of the day, playing odds with the primroses and their opening hours, and some finding the blood meal they need from undeeted legs, arms, head, feet, and neck. Friends will tell you when there’s a mosquito on your face. Good friends will smack your face for you.

Lastly, the dark gives us our stars. I often need to remind myself that it isn’t that they are out at night, but that they are just no longer obscured by the light of day. The stars are always there, but in day they are dimmed into the blue sky void, and in our city nights given mute by our love of lights which would make Lycurgus roll over in his simple, unmarked grave. That said, they are still there for us to see as we have for as long as life has existed on this earth, but only if we choose to see them. Long ago, looking up and wondering was our choice, and luckily it still is today.

So as your summer progresses and perhaps you find yourself in need of a sigh of relief from woe, I’d invite you to leave your flashlights, glowing rectangles, and worries inside. Step out of doors at dusk and stay into the evening. Hear the music and laughter of a party down the block. Smell the tapestry of worlds that is held in the wind. Feel the mosquitos live because you live. Choose to look up and see infinity in the stars. Know that the dark is not a scary place to be if you learn to see it for what it is and can be.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire. Touchstone (January 15, 1990) http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Edward-Abbey/dp/0671695886

Western Screech Owl, Overview, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Screech-Owl/overview

Western Screech Owl, Utah Birds, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm
Featured Article by Eric Huish: http://www.utahbirds.org/featarts/2004/OwlBox/OwlBox1.htm
Gallery Pictures: http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm

I’m Out Fishing

I'm Out Fishing: Hatchery Brood Fish Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Hatchery Brood Fish
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Hatchery staff loading about 8 lbs of fingerling trout onto a scale before loading into a plane tank via a funnel. Courtesy & © Mary Heers Hatchery staff loading about 8 lbs of fingerling trout onto a scale before loading into a plane tank via a funnel.
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

The minute I heard there was a well stacked community fishing pond just five miles down the road from where I live, I dusted off my old fishing pole, slipped out of the house, and threw my line into the Wellsville Reservoir. I had the place to myself. There was snow on the ground but the water wasn’t frozen. Within the first hour I felt the tug on the line and reeled in a 12 inch trout. I was hooked! I returned just about every evening to catch my limit of 2. I called all my friends who liked to eat fish, and started to consider adding fresh fish delivery to my resume.

About this time I heard that although trucks from the state hatcheries stocked the community ponds, the hatchery in Kamas delivered fish to high mountain lakes in the Unitas via airplane. A few phone calls later, and I was lucky enough to get invited to watch the loading of the fish.

It was 5 in the morning when I followed the Kamas hatchery truck out onto to tarmac at the Heber airport. A specially designed Cessna 158 was waiting for us. There – just behind the pilot’s seat- was a water tank neatly divided into 7 compartments. 7 levers stuck out from the dashboard that would open and close a portal on the belly of the plane.

The crew got right to work. One pumped water into the plane’s water tank. Another netted about 8 lbs of fingerling trout onto a scale and dumped the lot into a funnel. Suddenly an especially feisty fingerling jumped out of the funnel and landed at my feet. I picked it up, cradling it in the palm of my hand, awed by the sleek beauty of this tiny trout that was exactly the size of my index finger. I wished it well as I tossed it back.

“Flush,” said the man in charge. And another man with a red bucket of water sent the fish through the funnel into the plane. Soon the pilot took off. When he got to his target lake, he would drop down and skim over the tops of the trees on the water’s edge. He would then open the portal in the belly of the plane and the tiny trout would flutter down like leaves into the water below.

If our feisty fingerling can avoid predators (mostly birds and bigger fish) it will grow to about 5 inches by September. When the water temperature drops to 30 degrees the fish become lethargic and stop growing. Next June, if the lake warms up to 50 degrees, the trout will grow 2/3 inch an month. At 60 degrees, the fish will grow an inch a month. But if the water temperature reaches 70, the amount of oxygen in the water will drop. Any higher and the fish will be severely stressed.

Growing up and backpacking with my family, I was always delighted to come across an alpine lake because it meant that I could take off my pack and stop hiking. But once I got hooked on fishing, I found myself agreeing with the poet Edgar Guest:

    “A feller gets a chance to dream
    Out fishing.
    He learns the beauty of the stream
    Out fishing….”

Now, as far as getting up to the high mountain lakes in the Unitas, one thing is for certain. The fish are already there.

This is Mary Heers and I am Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Mary Heers
Photos: Courtesy
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Edgar Guest, 1881–1959, Biography, Poets.org, https://poets.org/poet/edgar-guest

Edgar Albert Guest, Out Fishin’, InternetPoem.com, 2018, https://internetpoem.com/edgar-albert-guest/out-fishin-poem/

Betancourt, Sarah, Flying fish: video shows Utah wildlife agency restocking lake by plane, The Guardian, July 13, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/13/fish-plane-video-utah-lake

Facer, Austin, Who says fish can’t fly?: Aerial stocking places fish in lakes via airplane drop, ABC4 Utah, July 12, 2021, https://www.abc4.com/news/digital-exclusives/who-says-fish-cant-fly-aerial-stocking-places-fish-in-lakes-via-airplane-drop/

Knighton, Conor, In Utah it’s raining fish, CBS Sunday Morning, Oct 24, 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/video/in-utah-its-raining-fish/