Remember at the beginning of last year when I announced that I had finished making keys to the known leaf mines on every plant genus in the US and Canada? I noted that “this project can never really be finished, because more species and life histories are being discovered all the time. But I’ll consider it to be time to start looking into publishing this thing when I’ve finished writing all the introductory chapters, which could conceivably happen by the end of this winter.”
Well, it didn’t happen by the end of that winter. I did do some work on the introductory chapters, but then I got bogged down in writing several large papers describing new species and documenting new information about already named ones. Then it was time to go back to working full-time, which (because much of my work is outdoors) resulted in the collection of ever more leafminers to rear, and dealing with those left little time in the summer for making progress on the book. Some time in December things wound down enough for me to focus on writing again, but once again I gave priority to properly documenting new discoveries. I planned to get to the book later in the winter and in early spring, but then Eric LoPresti invited me and Julia to come and play in the California desert during the “super bloom”. The New England winter was seeming unnecessarily cold and dark and long, so we didn’t take much persuading.
On the way out, we spent some time exploring New Mexico and Arizona, with a little time in Arizona and Texas on the way back. Everywhere we went, we found previously unknown leafminers. In fact, now that I’ve finally had a chance over the past few weeks to sort through my pictures from the trip, I’d say at least 90% of the things we found required adding something to the book. So in a way, I’m making lots of progress, but it’s in the form of expanding what I’ve already written rather than writing those introductory chapters. But wouldn’t it be a shame if I published a “complete” guide to leaf mines that left out so many easily observed southwestern species?
We’ll see how this winter goes—I’ve still got six months of photos to sort through and more papers to write, but I’m optimistic that some substantial forward progress will be made. In the meantime, here are some pretty pictures from the desert (all taken at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California, between March 8 and 11).
A sawfly (Tenthredinidae) visiting flowers of Phacelia (Boraginaceae) or something similar.
This moth is Noctueliopsis aridalis (Crambidae).
Dry, cracking mud in this wash was all that remained of the downpour that brought on the bloom.
There was a variety of fancy blister beetles (Meloidae) out and about. This one is Eupompha elegans elegans.
As I wrote about here, the tiny larvae of blister beetles ride solitary bees back to their nests, where they devour the bees’ provisions. One of the known hosts of E. elegans, Hesperapis (Melittidae), was visiting a flower not far from this beetle.
Julia in Coyote Canyon.
Further down Coyote Canyon, I found these tracks and bill marks of what must have been a snipe probing for food in the mud along a creek. In the east I’ve seen similar feeding sign left by woodcocks.
Another blister beetle, Cysteodemus armatus.
Desert five-spot (Malvaceae: Eremalche rotundifolia), a little mallow on which we found occasional leaf mines.
Sand-verbena (Nyctaginaceae: Abronia), a plant for which Eric has unrelenting enthusiasm. It also has its share of leafminers, one of which we discovered with Eric a few days earlier in another part of California.
A hillside in Hawk Canyon covered with lupine and… oh, one of those evening primroses I could never get straight. There were so many new plants to learn that if something didn’t have any leafminers on it, the name just went in one ear and out the other.
Blister beetle #3: Lytta magister. A number of these were buzzing around on top of a ridge.
In some places the ground was carpeted with these monkey flowers—I think Mimulus bigelovii (Phrymaceae).
Justicia californica (Acanthaceae), known as chuparosa or hummingbird bush.
Jewel beetles (Buprestidae: Acmaeodera vernalis).
Desert harvestman (Sclerosomatidae: Eurybunus).
Eric found this mating pair of Timema (Timematidae), a type of stubby walkingstick that occurs only in the Southwest.
John Ascher, who has identified pretty much every bee I’ve posted on this blog, says the bee in this photo is a male of either Dufourea (Halictidae) or Hesperapis.
More and more Lytta magister.
Ornate checkered beetle (Cleridae: Trichodes ornatus) in a flower of desert chicory (Asteraceae: Rafinesquia neomexicana).
Tiny checkerspot (Nymphalidae: Microtia dymas).
Yellow brittlebush (Asteraceae: Encelia farinosa), red chuparosa, the bluish ones are probably Phacelia crenulata, and the pink ones are more monkey flower.
Megandrena enceliae (Andrenidae).
Red-eared blister beetle (Lytta auriculata), turning pink petals into poop.
Sand blazing star (Loasaceae: Mentzelia involucrata).
These little Perdita bees were big fans of the Mentzelia.
And finally, a leafminer. This “ribbed cocoon maker moth” (Bucculatricidae) was found on desert globemallow (Malvaceae: Sphaeralcea ambigua) and appears to be Bucculatrix sphaeralceae.