In June of last year (2018) I explored part of the Mendocino NF with a good friend of mine, Alex Nguyen. This national forest is one I haven’t explored nearly as much as the others I have been to, but I intend to visit it much more often from now on. The areas we visited were very diverse in both insects and plants and I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of different habitat types at different elevations as well.

Hidden Gems

As we slowly made our way up the mountain, Alex and I encountered a number of different flowering plants that were teeming with insects. The bright purple and pink colored lupines along the sides of the roads were packed with bees. Carpenter bees and bumble bees were the most commonly seen feeding off the nectar from these flowers. The ceanothus bushes were also covered with flowers and those too were inundated with insects. Ants, butterflies, small beetles, and flies were just some of what we saw covering the small white flowers. It took quite a while for us to photograph what we could before moving further up into the forest.

Moving further up into the forest, we ran into an increasing number of manzanita and ceanothus bushes. On those plants were a surprising number of insect species that neither of us had seen before. We found quite a few different insects in and around these bushes, including caterpillars, true bugs, and ants. In addition to everything we had already found up until this point, we also came across some tent caterpillars (Lasiocampidae). They were very active in the tents they constructed and had almost completely cleaned all the vegetation on the ceanothus bushes they were attached to. It was incredible to see these tent structures on almost every ceanothus bush we passed by.

New Territory

As we made our way up to an area unknown to us, we happened to come across the Plaskett Meadows Campground. We stopped here only for a short while to use the restrooms and check out the wet meadows in the area. We found some interesting plants and insects, and after turning over a few logs we eventually found some ant colonies. A new Elaterid (click beetle) I had never seen before was definitely the best find of the area for me, and a couple mating Berytids (stilt bugs) were also found near by. After this short detour, we headed to a more remote area where we would eventually set up camp.

The area where we eventually set up camp, ended up being at the end of a logging road that was no longer in use. There were signs people had been here previously, but not for some time. As Alex and I explored the surroundings, we came across a small spring that seemed to be permanent.

At the campsite we managed to find a couple interesting critters, like more tent caterpillars and berytids, a scutellarid, and a few different butterfly species. Deer would occasionally stroll through the area around our tent and as the sun began to set they casually walked into the forest behind us, only to be seen again in the early morning.

The next morning we decided to head back to an area we went by previously to see if we could get some snapshots of anything new flying into the blooming ceanothus. I was fortunate enough to have my net in hand at the exact moment a moth was flying by. When I caught it in my net I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it was none other than Saturnia mendocino! This was my first time collecting one of these moths and as an added bonus it was a very fresh specimen. I wasn’t able to photograph it at the time but I was able to photograph the specimen after it was curated.

Saturnia mendocino male

After collecting the S.mendocino specimen, I decided to take a break from photographing/collecting insects and photograph the flora that was around me. There were many plants in bloom but the one that caught my attention the most was the flowering Pacific dogwood trees, Cornus nuttallii. The white flower looking structures are actually bracts and the flower part of it is the small green area in the center. Pacific dogwood is common along mid elevation areas of the Cascades and Western Sierra Nevada mountains.

This short trip was packed full of adventure and I am excited to visit the area again this year (2019). A good portion of the mountains south of this place was unfortunately burned by the Mendocino Complex Fire, so I am hoping this place remains untouched throughout the year in order to enjoy it again next year.