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Cañon City, The Bank, and Shelf Road

A few weeks ago, a couple of friends from my former high school entomology club and I went on a camping trip to The Bank Campground, near Cañon City, Colorado. The trip was awesome, and similar to a spring trip we went on last year to Pueblo, Colorado. On that previous trip, we collected several ants I had yet to see in the state, and found a dead baby bighorn lamb in a place called Poison Gulch. On this trip, we did a lot of black lighting and found a ton of cool insects.


( Just finished this post that was sitting unpublished, Ant Course Stuff Coming later this week hopefully...)

Background: Entomology Club

I'm currently a part of an entomology club which I started (along with the help of Dr. O'Keefe and several students) at Morehead State University. But this is by no means my first rodeo with running an entomology club! Throughout my entire 3 years at Legend High School, I created and ran the LHS Entomology Club and all of its events. Among other things, we collected insects, sorted a small collection, and visited the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. But one of the things we did right before I graduated was go on a small collection trip to Pueblo During spring break.


That trip was awesome, but there were only 3 of us that went. So the plan for this summer was to do an entomology club "reunion" and do a trip with More of our former members. Originally we were going to have 5 people on this trip but it ended up being the 3 of us who attended the other pueblo trip.


Why Cañon City?

I chose our campsite (just north of Cañon City) Because I had never been to Cañon City before in 16+ years of living here in Colorado. Additionally, there were not very many records from Cañon City and absolutely none from the region our campsite was in (in between Cripple Creek and Cañon City)


Additionally, I guessed (correctly) that the arid desert environment around the area would be very conducive to insects showing up at the black light. We were far enough away from the City that we had very low light pollution and therefore great black lightning experiences.


The Bank Campground

 We stayed at The Bank Campground, it was an awesome campground but it was really out of the way. There were outhouses but there was no running water, and the road up to the campsite was very rugged. I would not recommend this campsite if you have a bad car for off-roading and dirt roads. However if your car can handle it and you bring water I would recommend this campsite, but maybe not during the dead middle of summer.


Views from the campsite.

View from across the campsite, we set up the black light directly beyond that campfire ring.


For one thing, the campsite was incredibly hot (95-100 degrees F) and very sunny. The first night we set up camp and decided to make some quesadillas, but as soon as we started making food we encountered one of the most unpleasant insects in the area:

This is a frit fly (Chloropidae), if you camp at the bank during the summer you will see these...


These tiny flies would swarm you while you were making food or sweating profusely standing still, and they would get so bad that you couldn't focus on cooking. They had a particular affinity for landing in your ears and it got to the point towards the end of the campout where whoever was cooking had to get someone to blow in their ears to rid the flies.


The flies were pretty much the only complaint about the campground. There were several cacti as well but most were in bloom so they didn't bother us that much. We even tried to grill them but I didn't know what I was doing so none were eaten.

Grasshopper nymph on an Optunia prickly pear

Kingcup Cactus (Echinocereus troglochidiatus) Flowering.


Other than cacti, there were several other species of plants lurking around the campsite. Here's a cool purple one I didn't take the time to identify. If you know it, let me know.

Unidentified Flower, if you know what this is please leave a comment on this post...


The first night, we set up the black light, but it was right in the middle of a wind corridor so all the wind blew it around. While it was running I found a better spot and we moved it there.

The black light setup, between a cedar and a strobus pine.


On the first night, we also found a ton of Myrmecocystus mexicanus running around beneath the light.

Myrmecocystus mexicanus nest entrance.

 

I also photographed an interesting moth species at the light which I had not seen before. INaturalist identified it as Coloradia pandora. Until now I had no idea that there was a moth genus named after Colorado. The species was first collected from Pikes Peak and is presumably a pine specialist (it certainly is here) although some specimens are collected from aspens.

A Pandora Pinemoth (Coloradia pandora) this species has interesting pink underwings which (of course) are not visible in this photo. Funnily enough, this is a photo from my camera I didn't take. I let my friend J try to photograph it and this image is technically taken by him. However, he doesn't want credit for the photo because he doesn't like being on the internet.


I also encountered this wonderful pink moth. It is a gold-striped Prominent (Hyparpax aurostriata). Usually, these moths are not as brightly pink, but this one was spectacularly pink. It was so pink that I thought it was an odd/discolored pink prominent moth (the pink prominent moth is much like the rosy maple moth, but rarer). It was a gold striped and not a pink prominent, but it was undeniably pink. As to why it was so pink, these are my best guesses:

  1. The moth just happened to be randomly pink

  2. The population of gold-striped prominent in Cañon City is more pink

(Above) The pink-gold striped prominent moth in question (Hyparpax aurostriata). (Below) more images of the moth.

Iridopsis dataria, a geometrid moth.


One of the group's favorites was this salt marsh moth. These are not my best pictures of this species (I got awesome ones at Bugshot) but I was requested to take a picture of this individual by My friend J.

The Salt Marsh Moth In Question...


We also found several other moths on the first night. See the pictures below. I only know that the first one is a sphinx moth. If you know what these moths are please leave a comment on this post!

 

We also found a cool antlion Brachynemerus sackeni, for those unaware, antlions (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontidae) are predatory Net-Winged insects. The larvae are famous, however, for their cylindrical pits and dietary habits. The larval antlion digs a conical pit to trap unsuspecting ants, and when they fall in, it bites the ant victims. The bites of neuropterans deliver venom to their prey (or sometimes aggressors).


The adult antlions look nothing like their larval counterparts. They go through an intense rebellious phase during their teenage years, as a pupa. Antlions (and all holometabolous insects actually) must have regretted their previous lifestyle because they go as far as to rearrange their tissues and create entirely new organs (and you thought your punk rock phase was metal). The insects (basically) digest themselves from the inside out.


Honestly, I'm all for it though because the result is a beautiful adult antlion. I mean look at this guy!

Brachynemerus sackeni ant lion male (presumably) this individual was also pinkish.


We also saw at least 3 other lacewings.

Meleoma sp.



Micromus sp.


And this unidentified green lacewing.


One of my favorite insects we encountered at the light was this firefly, Microphotus cf. pecosensis. I wrote a whole article about Colorado Fireflies where you can read more about them. But here is some info on our collection of this species:


This species has a pink larviform female, but we only encountered males during the trip. One of the males we collected came out of a Camponotus nest. This is the reason I gave them the name "Carpenter Ant Flashlight Beetle," we searched adamantly for the females (walking almost a mile in the dark) but found none, unfortunately. What may be interesting is that there is some buzz on inaturalist on whether or not this is a new species because it appears strange and has a fused tarsal segment.

Microphotus cf. pecosensis male, Colorado Lightning Bug

Microphotus pecosensis male on tweezers, notice how the hind wings are larger than the elytra? This is unique among fireflies. Some Microphotus males have tiny elytra, but the hindwings don't fold completely into them like an earwig or a rove beetle. You can see the folded wings above.

 

After our first night, we went out to town, although first we made breakfast, whilst being assaulted by frit flies.


When in Cañon City, we got new batteries for my flash (of course I forgot to bring extras and my flash batteries died the night before...) and then went on a hike somewhere by the Arkansas River that runs through town. We sampled a range of microhabitats and found a few different species of insects.


I photographed 2 ant species on this hike. One of them is quite ubiquitous in the desert southwest:



Pogonomyrmex rugosus

AKA: Black Harvester Ants

I have encountered a lot of different populations of P. rugosus, but this one stood out to me for one reason. The Size of these colonies in Cañon City was massive. They were nearly 9mm in length. This population also seemed to have a distinct color pattern as well. They were missing the characteristic red color patches I am used to seeing on P. rugosus workers.


Past the spot where we found the P. rugosus, the trail led to a lower valley where there was a small watershed that allowed for a few cottonwoods to grow. It was (for the most part) incredibly dry there, but the presence of water underneath the soil proved favorable nesting conditions for this Crematogaster colony, which was nesting under a rock in the middle of a bare patch of soil.


The focus in this image created an interesting line of workers that are in focus.

In this image, more behavior can be seen.


Crematogaster sp.

AKA: Acrobat Ants, Cocktail Ants

I honestly do not know what gives these ants their secondary common name (cocktail ants). They do topically apply their venom, and do something called 'flagging' where they stick their gaster in the air with a drop of venom on it. I presume maybe it has something to do with these behaviors. I am quite pleased with how these images came out, The mixture of clay/carton of the Crematogaster nest here is very interesting and the orange hues function to highlight the ants well. The incredible variety of soil types in Colorado never fails to impress me.


Later that day, we drove down the most terrifying road I have ever driven in my life. It was a 'two-way' dirt road on the edge of a giant cliff that barely fit our Ford Explorer. There was a point where we had to pass 2 massive jeeps on the edge of the cliff and I am pretty sure that only half of my outside tires were on the road. Unfortunately, we did not find many insects on the other side, but I did see some cool penstemons and a lot of summer desert heat. We did encounter one pollen wasp.






To Close off the trip, we visited the Insect Museum in the Springs. Which is very interesting. It is an old collection from an officer of the British (army?) who traveled to many locations within the British Empire. It was fascinating to see all the huge insects from Papua New Guinea and helped me get excited about Ant Course. (In Hindsight) I encountered some of the insects from the museum while in PNG. Including the massive Katydids and Stick Insects. More on them soon!


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