Over the past couple years, this annual trip down to the southern region of Arizona has evolved into something far greater than I had anticipated. The previous excursions have all been incredibly unique in their own way, differing in both species diversity and weather patterns each year. I feel all of these factors have aided in transforming this once simple trip into a full on expedition. These amazing expeditions have their own flare to them and would not have been nearly as successful as they are now without the help and support of all the wonderful people who were apart of them. The 2019 Arizona Expedition was a huge success and has now become one of my favorite trips to that region.
The Huachuca Mountains
The drive down to southern Arizona was a rough start to the trip, but the sixteen or so hours of driving is definitely worth it once we arrived at our destination. We arrived at Parker Canyon Lake in the late afternoon and were greeted with an amazing sunset that painted the entire sky with orange, red, pink, and yellow colors. After we set up camp, we ate dinner, discussed our plans for the next day and all went to sleep. Early the next morning we ate breakfast, prepared our equipment, and were ready to head out on our new adventures.
To begin this amazing excursion we decided to take a drive over to the east side of the Huachuca Mountain range. We drove down Montezuma Canyon Road, which was one of the highlights of the trip due to all the stops we made along the way to find insects and visit canyons none of us had been to or even heard of before. The road itself is about three to five miles north of the border between the US and Mexico, so we could clearly see the actual border fence and Mexico. The entire region we were passing through was just gorgeous scenery after gorgeous scenery. All of which eventually became everyone’s favorite landscape to see driving up and down that road.
We briefly stopped by a few canyons and washes to check out the insect diversity but quickly moved on, as we were on somewhat of time constraint. We were headed towards our first destination, Ramsey Canyon, to visit the house of a very famous entomologist who lives in that part of the state. Pat Sullivan, who is a very well known entomologist, has a gathering of entomologists every year at his home which he calls “Infestation”. This year happened to be “Infestation 12”, meaning this was the 12th year he has been putting on this event. We met so many wonderful people and had such a wonderful time, not to mention all the very cool insects we were able to collect. Some of which I had not seen yet in all the previous times I had visited this mountain range.
The gathering we attended was very enjoyable and we were able to meet so many entomologists who we had only heard about in conversation. These wonderful people included Steven Kutcher, Rick Rodgers, Margarethe Brummermann, Pat Sullivan (it was his house after all), and Brent Karner. We all had an amazing time and were able to hear the stories and experiences everyone shared with us. After all the festivities and insect collecting was over, we headed back to our campsite. Unfortunately we had to quickly strap down and secure everything at our site because a very strong wind was whipping through the area. It nearly blew away two tents and our canopy! Thankfully we made it back in time to get everything tightly fashioned to the ground and surrounding trees so we could sleep soundly through the rest of the windy night.
The Return to Florida Canyon
The next morning, we set out to visit some classic locations for both day and night collecting. Madera Canyon is a must visit location for any biologist due to its rich diversity in both flora and fauna. Our group stopped here to explore and see what we could collect but unfortunately it was very dry and there was not a whole lot of activity. The rains hadn’t reached this area yet so the collecting was very disappointing. However, we did manage to run into Rick Rodgers and his wife while he was out collecting robber flies (Asilids). Afterwards we headed to Green Valley to gather supplies for the night collecting in Florida Canyon.
As the sun began slowly set on Green Valley, we made our way over to Florida Canyon. Once we arrived, everyone helped set up our sheet and lights, as well as the chairs and a quick dinner. After the sun went down I turned on the generators and plugged in the lights The glow of the UV and MV lights slowly but surely began to draw in the insects. At first it was the small stuff, but after about an hour the larger flashier subjects began to move in. Large sphingids began hitting the sheet and they were followed closely by large beetles and antlions. This area was just as productive as I remember and I was very happy to see this kind of insect activity again here.
New Finds and Familiar Faces
Once we returned to the campsite, we decided on leaving the next day as a rest day in order to process all the specimens and explore the nearby areas around the campground. The weather was fairly nice with the exception of a few thunderstorms that decided to roll through the area. We found a few areas that had very different habitat types that I was not expecting at all. Mixed pine and oak forests were the dominant habitat types and to our surprise was rich in arthropod diversity. We enjoyed the remainder of the day back at camp, despite a sudden down poor that created a minor flood in one of our tents.
For the remainder of the evening we watched the storms pass by the surrounding mountain ranges in the distance. It was an amazing display of the true nature of these storms in the desert. We ended up setting up the sheet for a short period of time before we felt a few drops of rain and decided to turn in for the night. Not much was flying to the sheet either so I had a good feeling the next night would be very good. So we prepared our gear and got some rest for the next day.
The next morning we headed over to Patagonia Lake and took advantage of the nice weather to check out the areas around the lake. This was also where we had access to showers, along with very nice and clean restrooms. The insect activity was a bit lower than previous years but that was fine with me. I found some interesting species that I had not seen before and others I was glad to see again. Unfortunately, our exploration of the area was cut short due to a very large thunderstorm that made its way over us in a very short amount of time. This time the rain came down so hard that it was almost difficult to hear what each of us were trying to say to each other in conversation. But after a few minutes the storm passed and we took advantage of this break to head back to camp.
When we arrived back at camp we immediately set up the sheet knowing it would be a fantastic night in terms of weather and the fact that it was a new moon. After a nice meal and some quick prep for the night collecting ahead, we were ready for what was to come. I had turned on both the MV and UV lights and within minutes insects began to show up to the sheet. The usual small moths and beetles came first, followed by the larger moths and large beetles. The stars of the night were definitely the Cerambycids and Saturniids that crashed into and near the sheet. We couldn’t believe how many different species were showing up and so quickly as well. By around 10 pm we had seen at least a dozen species of Sphingids and quite a few different Saturniids. The large beetles also made themselves known, as well as the always welcomed Chrysina gloriosa. This by far ended up being one of, not the best night of the whole trip.
A New Day, A New Adventure
After an incredible night of blacklighting, we woke up early and prepared to head over to Miller Canyon. Once we put away the catch from the night before, we ate breakfast, readied the vehicles, and set off to the east side of the Huachucas. On our way to Miller Canyon we ran into Pat Sullivan and two of his colleagues near Copper Canyon. They advised us that Miller Canyon was a very good place for day collecting and reassured us we would find some cool insects there. On the way there, we decided made a quick stop at the Coronado National Monument visitor center, which ended up being a very wise decision due to the fast approaching and loud thunderstorm over the horizon.
After the thunderstorm passed over the visitor center, we continued to Miller Canyon. However, Miller Canyon was still being drenched by the thunderstorm that passed over so we made a quick stop in Ash Canyon instead. This was the first time we had been to this canyon and it was unfortunately a little too dry. There were some notable finds like the Chrysina beyeri on its host plant Emory oak (Quercus emoryi) and an agile Ground Mantis (Litaneutria minor) that Lohit managed to spot while looking for any signs of the illusive Arizona unicorn mantis (Pseudovates arizonae). I managed to find what I believe is a tiger moth caterpillar and a very green Lynx spider on some flowers. Once we finished exploring the canyon we moved into Miller Canyon.
We arrived at Miller Canyon and were glad to see the recent storms had brought the canyon some much needed precipitation. The canyon was very green and we could see many things flying around. As we drove into the canyon we noticed there was not much in bloom, but I still had high hopes for what we could potentially find. Once we parked and grabbed our gear, we all fanned out and began to explore the canyon. It wasn’t long before we ended up finding something none of us were expecting.
Marko had spotted a very large click beetle on a sycamore tree stump. He managed to knock it down into his net and we were amazed and in awe by the color and size of this beetle! Soon after each member of the group began to search the surrounding sycamore trees, and eventually most of the group had found one. The beetle itself ended up being an Arizona Eyed Click beetle, Alaus zunianus, which was a first record of this species for me after five years of hosting these expeditions to Arizona. Every year since I’ve been going to the southern region of the state has always presented new species I have never seen before. I hope this pattern continues in the future as I continue to explore this region.
Cannot Wait For the Next Adventure
As we left Miller Canyon, we headed into Sierra Vista to load up on a few more supplies before our departure back home. As we were driving back to the campgrounds we saw a number of tarantulas crossing the road. We ended up picking one up along the way and after arriving at the campsite, found one more. As we set up the light for one last night, we packed supplies away in the vehicles in preparation for our departure the following afternoon. The light didn’t bring in many species that we hadn’t already encountered but that gave us opportunities to enjoy the stars and take photos of the insects that ended up on the sheet.
After a long week of collecting and travelling around the southern region of the state, our adventure had finally come to an end and it was time to head back home. With a long drive ahead we quickly packed up our campsite and said our last goodbyes to the area until our return next year. The weather made us pack up a little more quickly than we would’ve liked but having that be part of the experience made it worth while. Around sixteen hours later we finally made back to Davis. We unloaded all the vehicles and eventually said our goodbyes to everyone that was part of the Arizona 2019 crew. This year’s trip was by far one of the best and I look forward to what next year will have in store.