As the monsoon season brings rejoicing rain to the region, insects start to emerge in booming quantities with one goal: find a mate. One of the most easily recognized insects in our desert is the Green Fig Beetle, Cotinis mutabilis, which can be spotted from a distance as it clumsily buzzes around and bumps into trees, buildings, and often people. Many kids growing up in the southwest (California to Texas), have enjoyed keeping Fig Beetles as pets and even ‘flying them’ by tying a string around it as a little leash in order to keep it close.
This large insect is part of the Scarab family, which means the larvae are white grubs that curl into a ‘c’ shape when disturbed – you can often find these grubs in your garden or compost. Luckily, the Green Fig Beetle larvae are not eating your plant’s living roots, but are there eating the decaying material like fallen leaves. The grubs eat and grow 2-3 months before making a small cell from dirt that it will use to pupate; these cells are a tad smaller than a ping-pong ball and will protect the metamorphosing creature from drying out, becoming deformed, and predation.
Males usually emerge from underground pupal cells first; beginning their oafish flights in search of food and females. Once a good source of food is found, these beetles will congregate to it and it isn’t unusual to see dozens on one tree. The adults will eat a variety of fruits on trees and shrubs, while figs seem to be one of their favorites (hence the namesake). You can attract some of these harmless beetles to your yard by leaving a piece of fruit out overnight… cantaloupe seems to be another favorite.
These beetles are most notable for having iridescent green bodies with brown or yellow highlights, and closely related species can be brown or even jet black. We aren’t sure why these beetles have this coloration, but they are quite beautiful and are sometimes used in jewelry-making. Some folks may call these beetles “June bugs,” but that is a misnomer. ‘June bug’ is commonly used to describe a wide variety of insects across the globe and can be misleading, because a june bug in Ohio is a very different critter than a june bug in Wyoming. While it is always best to use scientific names, they are hard to remember, so for this insect, the common names that are most accurate are Green Fig beetle or Figeater beetle.
By Jean Boris
Pima Master Naturalists hosted a table at the 9th Annual SE Arizona Bird Festival, Nature Expo. on August 8 – 11th, 2019. The Bird Festival is hosted by Tucson Audubon Society, with lots of great field trips through out SE Arizona, workshops and speakers as well as activities for kids.
It was awesome to see so many volunteers support the chapter and take an active role in educating the public about our mission, our training class and what is expected of a certified master naturalist We had 19 volunteers staff the table over 4 days. Special thanks to volunteers: Emily Bennett, Janel Feierabend, Carol Anderson, Jane Williamson-Davenport, Franklin Lane, Josh Ruddick, Diana Holmes, Penny Miller Barbara Rose Gaynor, Carrie Barcom , Jean Boris, Suzanne Bott, Meck Slagle, Kathe Sudano, Peggy Ollerhead, Karen Vandergrift, Monica Wnuk, Gail Gault and Kathleen Mclin. We had contact with over 300 individuals and 67 new emails.
You never know who you might meet at these events!
Special thanks to Carrie Barcom for creating the eye catching photo displays for our table.
Kudos to Suzanne Bott who loaned us her nest collection and birds that the kids just love to touch.
Meck and Janel engaging!
August 5-9, 2020
Save the date for next year and celebrate 10 years of birding and festivals!
By Franklin Lane & Deborah Huie
On Saturday August 3rd, Deb Huie (cohort 1) and I made a trip into the wild, Huachucas to retrieve SD cards from our (4) cameras placed in support of the United States Geological Survey/University of Arizona Spotted Cat Monitoring Project. The project (since 2013) is headed by Dr. Melanie Culver and has over (60) cameras in the various ranges along the Arizona border south of Interstate 10. We’ve worked this particular set of cameras since 2017. Access requires approval and coordination with Fort Huachuca Environmental and Natural Resources, Military Police and Weapons Range Control. The cameras are somewhat remote so require Deb’s off road driving skills to approach.
Photo: Franklin Lane
The back country roads and subsequent trailheads are off Garden Canyon. This recreational area of the Fort is open to the public but does require a day pass available at the Fort Huachuca Main Gate. Garden Canyon is very popular with ‘birders’ and a regular venue of Southwest Wings, a non-profit educational organization which hosts Arizona’s oldest Birding Festivals. The main road into the canyon, while not paved, does not require x4 wheel drive or high clearance. There are picnic areas and a pretty rare pictograph site.
Photo: Deb Huie
Our first set of cameras is still on the Fort and so access requires not only approval to monitor but a renewable permit to install. They are near a perennial spring so there is a tremendous amount of animal traffic. Everything from Coatis to a dozen different bears.
Now, how does this work? Photo: Deb Huie
The second set of cameras is a little more challenging.to service and require a (6) mile roundtrip hike. They are actually off Fort Huachuca in the Coronado National Forest. We exit the Fort boundary through Wilderness Gate 2 along the Crest Trail
Photo: Deb Huie
While a difficult climb from 6300’ to over 8400’ the trail is beautiful and offers some stunning views
In addition to wildlife these remote, higher cameras also capture a great deal of human foot traffic from heavily armed Border Patrol agents to recreational and non-recreational hikers. In March 2017 we retrieved snaps of a male jaguar from this set of cameras. Unfortunately he eventually returned to Mexico and was subsequently poached. The Project’s big cat experts identified the animal from its spotted coat; as unique as our fingerprints.
The Huachuca Mountains are a beautiful range. They can also be accessed from the south and west without going through the Fort. Good information can be found at the Coronado National Monument Visitor Center. These mountains are, however, a lot “wilder’ in many respects than our local Santa Catalinas. Plan carefully!
Both Photos: Deb Huie
PCMN Spring Assessment – 31 July 2019
By Franklin Lane & Jessie Rack
Taking advantage of a beautiful (cloudy) morning, a team of Pima County Master Naturalists met at the Douglas Spring trail head to complete a ‘Monsoon’ cycle spring assessment for Sky Island Alliance (SIA). The team was joined by an SIA intern; University of Utah graduate student Taylor Cunningham. Taylor is involved in an exciting new field of study called Environmental Humanities.
The target was Rock Spring, located about a 2+ mile hike into the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. The spring is behind (and once fed) the cattle tank at the intersection of Three Tank Trail and Carrillo Trail. Old timers might remember the tank when it contained up to a meter of water and dozens of Koi (a colored variety of Amur Carp) to control mosquitos. The tank was drained sometime after 2004.
PCMN participants: Franklin Lane (Cohort 1), Jean Boris (2), Jessie Rack (3), Peggy Ollerhead (3), Dre Hoerr (3).
Photos by Jessie Rack unless as noted.
The hike in was even more deliberate than last year when Cameron (Cohort 2) and Hank Verbais (1) assisted in the assessment. There were so many interesting things to examine along the trail plus we had our collective expertise to truly appreciate and discuss. Among the insects were a Cactus Longhorn Beetle (Moneilema gigas) and a Leaf Footed Bug (probably Mozena lunata). The Longhorn is a pretty large, flightless beetle that feeds on both cholla and prickly pear.
We also spotted several Graham’s fishhook cacti (Mammillaria grahamii) in bloom. Including this one with a visiting honey bee!
Once at the spring it took the team less than an hour to sample water quality, measure the three distinct pools, capture flow data and record the saturation levels for each section of the 62m run. Another task was to record any new flora and fauna. Everyone in cohort 3 already knows how passionate and enthusiastic PCMN resident herpetologist Dr. Jessie Rack can be. But all Tucson probably heard her whoop when she spotted the biggest Sonoran desert toad (Incilius alvarius – also known as the Colorado River toad) any of us had ever seen!
I. alvarius is the largest native toad in the United States. It can get up to 7.5”. This guy had to be close to that. They have paratoid (skin) glands that produce 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin. These are both toxic entheogens that can kill even large dogs. Interestingly, raccoons have developed a cool method to flip them on their back and eat them from the belly side to avoid the glands. Humans have been known to capture and dry the toxin for burning and inhalation. Supposedly providing a “warm sensation”, euphoria and hallucinations.
The team also spotted some Spikemoss, (Selaginella sp.) not previously seen and reconfirmed a large stand of Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis) seen for the first time during the ‘pre-summer’ assessment in June.
Thanks Peggy for expert record keeping and observations.
Jessie and Taylor use a field expedient depth gauge.
The sun caught us for the hike out so it did warm up. We still managed to spot some Arizona Blue-eyes (Evolvulus arizonicus) and Coues’ Senna (Senna covesii).
Critter Cam program hosted by the Coalition For Sonoran Desert Protection, Catalina State Park
The Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection conducts a citizen science project in which community members maintain wildlife cameras. This has helped us obtain important information about our wildlife using linkages between some of Tucson’s open spaces. Community school districts have become involved by incorporating our pictures into their curriculum, teaching their classes about how technology is used in wildlife management and field biology. Our critter cam day is a field trip in which we bring these school groups out into one of our open spaces, Catalina State Park, and they get to use what they have learned in class within one of our local state parks. Over 400 fourth graders participated in this year’s event held in early March.
Some of our fellow Master Naturalists from Cohort 3 volunteered for the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection (Peggy Ollerhead, Vicki Ettleman and Kathleen Sudano). For this event, our role was to conduct stations that students rotated through, teaching them about Sonoran Desert wildlife, our wildlife’s adaptions here in the desert, and ways to monitor or study them. I volunteered teaching identifying local fauna tracks and lessons on wildlife pheromones.
As part of the event, I helped with a fun nature hike. Our students made observations on the local fauna and flora while documenting their observations on a coordinate system. At the end of the hike we came across a critter cam and talked about how technology is important in field biology. We brain stormed ideas on how this might give a scientist an advantage with their research!
It was so much fun at such a beautiful location!”
Presenters: Cecil Schwalbe, retired Arizona State Herpetologist and Dr. Tom Biuso, physician at TMC spoke, who about snake bite treatments.
Attendees: Penny Miller(C2), Diana Holmes (C2), Dan Collins(C2), Vicki Ettelman(C3), Kathe Sudano (C3), Jenna Marvin(C3), Doug Hoerr(C3), Andrea Hoerr(C3), Carrie Barcom(C2), Sharon Overstreet(C2), Jessie Rack(C3), Jean Boris(C2), Josh Ruddick(C1), Peggy Ollerhead(C3), Kathy Carter McLin(C3), Meck Slagle(C3), Don Featherstone(C1), Marilyn Liss (C2)
Eighteen of us were gathered on the first Saturday in May (4th, 2019) to attend a class titled Master Naturalist Rattlesnake Handling. The setting was Penny Miller’s fabulous west side garage and we were all feeling a mix of excitement and curiosity. The presenter, Cecil Schwalbe, retired AZ state herpetologist, with a shock of wizardly white hair and eyes the color of the Arizona sky, told us outright that mistakes were made. We listened and leaned forward. He also told us that because of his experience (getting bit by a Gila Monster and being transported to the local ER) none of us today were going to make those same mistakes. I watched individuals sigh with relief and smile.
As per numerous press releases, Schwalbe, who is from Texas and studied mechanical engineering at Rice University, pursued ecology research at Washington State and the UA, earning a master’s degree and doctorate along the way. In 1984, he was appointed state herpetologist by Arizona Game and Fish.
For decades, Schwalbe has toured with his reptiles across Arizona. At his presentations, he lets kids pet his Gila monster which he has had since 1985, one of the world’s most dangerous lizards. In the wild, they spend up to 95 percent of their lives underground. While Schwalbe takes extra precautions, he tells us that the Gila monster bit him five times at a public show and his “finger was on fire.”
His passion for snakes, lizards and tortoises has led him to us. He’d rather train people to safely remove the critters rather than see them destroyed. He demonstrated with several of the animals that currently reside in his east side garage. To say he made it look easy would be a gross understatement. His calm demeanor and healthy respect for the critters (plus a close look at those blue eyes that are full of mischief!) had us transferring five-foot rattlers from one very large trash can using a 42-inch Pillstom metal tong. We were instructed to grab the snake gently but securely about one-third distance down from the head and walk about ten feet and deposit the confused snake into another trash can. Snakes can strike about one-half to two-thirds the distance of their body length so we learned to hold the tong with our arm extended. If we see a snake out hiking, give it the same clearance as its approximate body length.
During the four-hour training, we passed collared lizards to each other by gently holding their front foot, learned how to “tube” the head of a snake and hold its body safely. The Gila Monster, Pancho, got to use the glossy garage floor like a runway and show us his ears, mouth grip and how fat stored in his tail allows him to go long periods without food. We also got to safely handle his two tortoises, each about the size of his fist.
To complement Schwalbe’s presentation, we got to hear from Dr Tom Biuso, physician at TMC who spoke about snake bite treatments. We learned there is wisdom, if you are able, to call 911 before proceeding to any hospital. Not every facility has anti-venom on hand but if the individual is already nauseous, vomiting or losing consciousness- head straight to the closest ER. If others have a chance to attend this class, it is highly recommended! Thanks for organizing and hosting for us, Penny Miller!
Article written by Kathe Sudano, Cohort 3, Master Naturalist in Training
Photos below from Penny Miller (Cohort 2, certified Master Naturalist) and Kathy Carter McLin (Cohort 3, certified Master Naturlist)
You read the date correctly! Three and a half hours in the desert in the middle of what is referred to as Tucson’s “Pre-Summer.” This is normally one of the hottest and driest times of the year. Thanks to Sharon Overstreet for predicting a beautiful day and arranging this Advanced Training.
(16) Master Naturalists from all three cohorts met Sabino Canyon, volunteer naturalist Fred Heath at 0815. Fred provided laminated lizard identification cards and (as needed) binoculars. He then shared over three hours of incredible insight into both the flora and fauna of the bajada running from the visitor center to just above the Sabino dam.
Cohort 1: Deb Petrich, Don Eagle, Janel Feierband, Franklin Lane
Cohort 2: Sharon Overstreet, Carrie Barcom, Penny Miller, Joan Colcagno, Emily Bennett, Barbara Rose Gaynor
Cohort 3: Karen Vandergift, Vicki Ettleman, Monica Wnuk, Kathy Carter McLin, Hank Harlow, Josh Skattum
Within the first hundred meters or so we spotted our first Zebra-tailed Lizard: Callisaurus draconoides. In addition to the distinctive tail, often raised scorpion-like over the body to
distract predators, Fred pointed out that the males also have two, dark, stripe-like markings behind the fore-legs. They are from 2.5” to 4” long and measured, like all lizards, only from snout to vent.
Of the four common “whiptails” found in the area we saw several Tigers; Aspidoscelis tigris.
Our handout indicated that in addition to the tigris the habitat includes:
Gila Spotted Whiptail; Aspidoscelis flagellicauda (all female)
Sonoran Spotted Whiptail; Aspidoscelis sonorae (all female)
Canyon Spotted Whiptail; Aspidoscelis burti
Several individuals were happy to pose for pictures and were seemingly undisturbed by our gawking. Penny Miller was able to capture a number of great pictures.
Desert Spiney; Sceloporous magister P. Miller
Greater Earless; Cophosaurus texanus P. Miller
The last two species that I personally saw were a Common Side-blotched; Uta stansburiana and an Ornate Tree Lizard; Urosaurus ornatus, which our venerable host pointed out is unique in that it does a four-legged pushup. No slacker there!
Finally, because they are almost gone for the year, I should mention that we saw several Iron Cross Blister Beetles; Tegrodera aloga. Perhaps one of the most easily recognizable beetles in the desert but usually only seen during late Spring (April) and pre-Summer (May). Their emergence roughly corresponding to the high bloom time of Palo Verdes.
While I have failed to completely collaborate their life cycle, as Fred described, with other sources, I am confident enough in it (and him) to share it here. After mating, the female deposits her eggs at the base of a Palo Verde flower. When the eggs hatch the larvae attach themselves to visiting bees who then transport them back to (normally) solitary, burrowed nests. Once in their new home the grubs feed on the stored nectar and pollen as well as the eggs of the bee; fattening and growing in order to emerge the following Spring. Please let me know if you have any more insight on this phenology or on Tegrodera aloga itself.
Article submitted by Franklin Lane, Cohort 1, Certified Master Naturalist
Photos below submitted from Penny Miller
A morning’s hike to set up a Wildlife Camera on Cienaga Creek
Hank Harlow, Pima County Master Naturalist student, Cohort 3
An element of the Pima County Master Naturalist program is to participate in an activity with one of the chapter’s partners in order to obtain experience as a volunteer. I was fortunate to have the opportunity of spending a morning in the field with Deb Petrich, Axhel Munoz and Michelle Kostuk on the Pima County Natural Resources, Park and Recreation camera monitoring project. Axhel is a Pima County Natural Resources Environmental Education Coordinator, Deb, the Pima County Master Naturalist Coordinator for this project and Team Leader for multiple cameras, and Michelle, a Cohort 1 Master Naturalist and Sky Island Alliance trained tracker.
When I arrived at the Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead on a cool, breezy morning in March, the number of mountain bikers getting on their riding gear as well as day walkers and backpackers took me by surprise. I started wondering if I misunderstood our meeting point and was relieved when Deb called out my name and waved me over to meet Axhel and Michael. We shouldered our daypacks and were on our way down the trail.
Amazingly, as we cut off the main wash and proceeded up Cienaga Creek, within half a mile all the people were gone and we started looking for a proper location to establish a new camera-monitoring site. One of the criteria for the site was to be far enough up the drainage to be away from casual hikers, so we bushwhacked our way through a very healthy and beautiful riparian habitat for an additional two miles.
I was in my element being with three seasoned naturalists who loved to stop every 50 or 60 steps when something would catch their eyes and interest. We sited 11 species of birds during our morning as well as three species of butterflies and two species of fish. Down on our hands and knees, we felt and identified scat from coyotes, skunk, fox and perhaps ring tailed cat, as well as tracks from javelina, deer and cattle which are supposed to be restricted from the area.
Our most exciting find was a mummified carcass of a mammal about a foot and a half long but all contorted with its head bent back and legs tucked into a hard leathery package with tuffs of brownish fur and some black hair imbedded in the hard dry hide. We removed the head and, after taking out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, placed it in the plastic bag for later identification.
At home that night, I placed the skull in an aqueous solution of Biz and left it for two days. The enzymes softened the hard leathery tissue to be picked away and the bleach whitened the skull into a beautiful sculpture. Using ‘A Key-Guide to Mammal Skulls and Lower Jaws’ by Aryan Roest, I noted that the skull had a hard palate that extended about 4mm beyond its 4 cheek teeth, which keyed it out as a Hog Nosed Skunk. The claws were impressively long and the black fur under the leathery mummified exterior was characteristically skunk-like, so the lighter fur we observed must have been bleached by long-time exposure to sun and water.
Onwards – our group wasn’t just out on a nature hike; we had work to do. Deb and Axhel discussed the criteria for identifying a proper camera site to include: a bend in the river bottom, a diversion, a branch drainage, some type of constriction such as cliff or bounders, but most importantly, a pool which is not ephemeral but a long-term source of water which will attract wildlife.
Axhel has historic knowledge of Cienaga Creek and remembers when the three-mile stretch of surface water we are walking through used to extend 12 miles into Tanque Verde Wash and was home to Desert Pupfish and Yellow Billed Cuckoos. Decreased water flow may be a result of drought, increased agriculture and real estate development. Another threat to this area is the pending expansions of the Rosemont copper mine, which will have a devastating effect on water availability and quality, not to mention the impact on the terrestrial habitat through road development and noise. This pending perturbation makes camera monitoring the area of special importance.
While camera traps are not a tool to determine population density of a particular species, they are very effective in establishing presence-absence of species and relative abundance of individuals. The purpose of this camera monitoring study is to increase our understanding of the animal biodiversity that reside in this drainage using it as a corridor and depending upon its resources for survival. In addition, this study may also be an important way to document the impact of future mining practices by the Rosemont copper mine by conducting a “before-and-after” comparison over years to come.
After walking through shallow water and jumping over deeper pools for a couple miles, we finally found a deep pond at a bend in the creek bed with steep rocks and trees on one side and a sandy bank with shrubby on the opposite side. Deb and Axhel selected one of the trees to place our camera. These are Black IR or infrared sensitive cameras, which are triggered by body heat and give off a low intensive flash that does not disturb the animal if caught at night. We placed the setting at “Power Saving” which limits its distance to about 20 meters but conserves battery life. This should work out great because our positioned angle and height of the camera secured to the tree trunk provides a full picture of the pond and surrounding bank. While we thought this is a secure area with only occasional hikers, we padlocked the camera to the tree. We then took a GPS waypoint and named the site CC01 DRW to be revisited in the future to down load pictures and replace batteries every few months over the next several years.
Our job was completed for the morning, we felt good about our selected location for the camera trap and we started our walk out once again being naturalists; talking, telling stories but observing what was at our feet and in the air.
Cienaga Creek Wildlife Camera Species list-9 March 2019
White breasted nuthatch
Ruby crowned kinglet
Yellow-rumped warbler (Audubon’s)
Bullocks oriole (?)
Great Blue Hairstreak
Pipe Vine butterfly
Ring-tailed cat (?)
Canid (Fox (?)
Mummified carcass: Hog-nosed skunk
Dendrochronology Lab Tour November 2018
Cameron Becker, Cohort 2
On Saturday November 17, seven Arizona Master Naturalists took a tour of the University of Arizona Bannister Tree Ring Laboratory organized by the Advanced Training Committee. The Naturalists gathered in front of the (relatively) new building at 10am and were met there by the Laboratories Lead Docent, Randall Smith. Before even entering the Lab Mr. Smith proved to be a wealth of knowledge on a wide variety of topics. For example he informed us that the Lab actually consists of two entities, the Laboratory itself and the Archive, which have both been in the new facility for five years now. Named after the former Director, Bryant Bannister, the exterior of the building is surrounded by steel tubes which are meant to move slightly and resemble quaking Aspen leaves. The tubes originally moved more than they do now but were restricted after finding out that the noise they created was so loud it caused people in the building to be sick. Mr. Smith also informed us that he is a bit of a naturalist himself as he makes observations for Natures Notebook of two plants in the Krutch Garden on campus (a Jojoba and Wolfberry if you were curious!)
As we entered the front room of the building we were greeted by a massive ‘tree cookie’ cut from a giant sequoia tree from Sequoia National Park in 1931. Dr. A. E. Douglass, who founded the Tree Ring Lab and the science of dendrochronology, was originally looking for a connection between solar activity, specifically sunspots, which have a 22-year cycle pattern to another natural cycle measurement on earth. Ponderosa Pine rings are the easiest tree rings to read and within 15 years of work Douglass had used 7,500 samples to create a master chronology. Many other fields of have made connections with the use of dendrochronology such as research in archaeology, fire ecology, as well as in the study of climate and precipitation trends. Geologists and physicist on the Universities campus use dendrochronology to calibrate their carbon 14 dating machines. Dendrochronology has also been used for less obvious fields including to help solve murder cases and determine the providence of musical instruments.
Mr. Smith gave us a presentation in their conference room passing around samples of tree rings ‘cookies’ and explaining some of the work that is done in the building. The last part of the tour was a visit to the labs on the third floor which smelled amazing from all the different sections of wood stored there. We were able to see the workspace of scientists actively working on a historic harbor site found in Istanbul called ‘Yenikapi harbor’ as well as samples from the site. Some of the wood piers found at the archaeological site were sent across the world to this lab for analysis. They have determined that some of the wood is from oaks outside of Turkey and the scientists are using the data collected to piece together ancient trade routes with connections to Northern Africa, Morocco and the Balkans.
The Bannister Tree Ring Laboratory is a truly unique gem that we have here in Tucson. It has widespread connections throughout our community and provides a wealth of knowledge about our world and a connection to our local history and sense of place. A big thank you to Randall Smith for the tour and the huge amount of knowledge he conveyed to our group. Looking forward to visiting again soon!