Alpine Excursions

Yesterday a beautiful wolf spider I posted to BugGuide nearly four years ago finally got identified: Arctosa alpigena (Lycosidae).


Although it was quite a while ago, I clearly remember taking that picture.  I was standing on a cold, blustery ridge of Mt. Katahdin in Maine with my friends Mike Jones and Liz Willey, and we had seen a few of these distinctive spiders go scurrying by before I managed to corner this one for a few moments among the lichens.  Mike had heard about an endemic wolf spider on Mt. Katahdin, and we wondered if this might be it.  Once I had the name, I immediately looked to see what other photos of this species had been posted, and I saw that it is in fact broadly distributed, but evidently has a distinct habitat preference.  As the name alpigena implies, this spider has only been found in alpine habitats (above treeline), based on the three data points I have to go on.  The other two examples were photographed at 5000 feet on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and on Hurricane Ridge at Olympic National Park in Washington state.

Mike and Liz both have turtle-related PhDs and are pretty much obsessed with turtles, but they both also have a passion for the alpine environment, where there are no turtles to be found.  A little over a year ago they published a book called Eastern Alpine Guide: Natural History and Conservation of Mountain Tundra East of the Rockies.  Noah Charney wrote parts of the Fauna chapter, and various other people helped with other chapters.  I was too busy to be of any help with writing, but I said they could use any of my photographs they wanted, and as a result I have photos sprinkled throughout the book. Out of curiosity I opened it to the invertebrate section yesterday, and sure enough there is a picture of this spider on page 95 (not the photo above, but the one I posted on BugGuide).

Most of the photos I contributed came from a trip I took to Newfoundland with Mike, Liz, Noah, and Will Kemeza a week after the three of us visited Mt. Katahdin.  I was inspired to take another look at my photos from that trip just now, and I picked out 24 that I felt like sharing at the moment.  Although there were lots of interesting flora and fauna, I found the desolate moonscapes to be some of the most striking images.

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I think this is Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum).


In alpine tundra, willows are reduced to scrappy groundcovers.


We camped by this pond for a few nights.

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Noah in the moor that we found to be the source of the din of singing toads we could hear from our tents at night.


American toads were only recently introduced to Newfoundland, but there sure are a lot of them there now.


Cicindela longilabris longilabris, the Boreal Long-lipped Tiger Beetle.

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Ptarmigan nest.

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The night before I took this photo, I dreamed that I was explaining to a ptarmigan that it didn’t need to be afraid of me; I just wanted to take its picture and then I would leave it alone.  I got within a few feet of this one and it never moved.


Tamarack has an interesting sprawling growth habit at treeline.


String bogs.

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Does this arctic hare really deserve three photos?  Sure, why not.


Black-banded Orange (Geometridae: Epelis truncataria). The larval host plants are leatherleaf and bearberry.

A few months later I joined Mike, Liz, and others on a trip to Les Monts Groulx (Uapishka) in the geographic center of Quebec.  It rained almost the entire time, which apparently is typical.

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As soon as we arrived I was incapacitated with a horrible stomach virus.  I mostly lay in my tent and moaned, but at one point the rain stopped and the sun peeked through the clouds for about five minutes.  I stumbled out of my tent to take advantage of the resulting dramatic lighting.

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For more about Mike and Liz’s alpine studies, check out their website, Beyond Ktaadn.  If that white-crowned sparrow looks a little annoyed, it’s because I was holding it by the legs when I took that picture.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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6 Responses to Alpine Excursions

  1. Great photos, looks like an amazing place…

  2. Charlie, These are amazing photos, identifications and comments. Thank you for noticing and sharing the stories of so many living anonymous creatures.

  3. John Pearson says:

    A diversity of beautiful images from across a whole ecological scale: lichens to landscapes! Thanks for sharing these, Charley!

  4. Absolutely beautiful Charley, thank you for starting my day with an abundance of wonder.

  5. Michael says:

    Charley, this was a fantastic post and I thank you for the “arm chair safari”. Probably would never actually get to see this myself and certainly not with your incredible eye and focus on the natural world.

  6. Sue Cloutier says:

    Just lovely photographs and your usual fine writing that really brings us along with you. And such great folks to travel with in the high country. Thank you!

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