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Sabino Canyon

Monsoon rainfall patterns have been interesting this year. First, there was the rain in June; unusually early for a monsoon rain. We managed to collect 60 leafcutter queens from that rain, from a small swarm: enough to feel like the early morning trip down to Tucson was worthwhile, but not enough for all of the projects we want to do.

The more recent storm system has dropped a whole bunch of rain, but the prevailing winds have caused it to travel and drop that rain basically everywhere else except over our usual main collecting area, on the south side of the Catalina Mountains.

Even so, given all the rain elsewhere, I have been getting concerned that we'd missed out on opportunities to collect leafcutter queens from other places. So that justified a trip down. Looking at my schedule for the next couple of days, I determined that yesterday afternoon was the best time to go. We left at around 4:30, in order to get there while there was still enough daylight left to look around and see what areas might pan out.

Our usual destinations were dry, showing very little signs of activity, so then I suggested we head due east, towards the Seven Falls Trailhead area, where the nearby rain gauge had indicated higher rainfall amounts.

I was able to do some ant-spotting while sitting in the passenger seat as we drove around at dusk with the windows down. When leafcutter queens mate and then find places to dig and start new colonies, they leave distinct craters of soil tailings around their excavation sites, and these are reasonably obvious to someone with an experienced eye. The vegetation and soil near the Seven Falls Trailhead looked like the right kind, and soon enough I also spotted some of the distinctive craters that mature Acromyrmex colonies make. Shortly after that, we found a few patches of ground in a road median that looked promising.

That was enough to justify the entrance price to park at the trailhead, where we continued to walk around through an incredible sunset and the onset of dusk.

From here, I mostly want to note the other awesome wildlife that we saw while queen-hunting, although I'll also note that we managed to come back with 74 queens, which made the whole trip worthwhile. I very randomly caught the first one just after nightfall, in a non-obvious spot, which was an encouraging sign.

First, the tarantula hawks: big ones, at least 2 inches long, actively traveling around and searching at night for tarantulas. They are so beautiful, with their dark blue, shiny bodies, and shiny, red-orange wings. Also slightly terrifying, when you figure that they may fly towards the light from flashlights at night. Then, the tarantulas themselves - we saw at least 3 of them. Tons more mature leafcutter colonies, which will be really useful for some of N's dissertation projects. At least 6 banded geckos. A small Sonoran desert toad, and then a bigger 'un, the size of a softball, that scared me a little with its loud rustling. Lots of kangaroo mice. And then, late into the evening, 4 javelinas trotted close by, following a trail to get from somewhere to somewhere else. My first Arizona javelinas. Also a good number of millipedes, and at least one centipede, and a small snake that tried very hard to be inconspicuous, hiding in its hole.

It was a good collecting trip, and I'm keen to go back and visit that area again sometime. It was beautiful. We got back to Tempe by around 1:00 am, dropped the queens into nests, and so I got to sleep by 2 am.

This entry was originally posted at https://rebeccmeister.dreamwidth.org/1237294.html. Please comment there using OpenID.



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Jul. 20th, 2018 04:16 pm (UTC)
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