William H. Cross Expedition, May 10-15 2005-DeSoto State Park,
DeKalb Co. and Little River Canyon National Preserve, Cherokee and DeKalb Counties, Alabama
by Joe MacGown
May 10. This year's Cross Expedition was to DeSoto State Park and the Little River Canyon National Preserve in Cherokee and DeKalb Counties, Alabama. DeSoto State Park is a beautiful area located along the west fork of Little River in northeast Alabama and in the lower Appalachian region. Little River Canyon National Preserve, which is only a few miles away, is also part of the Little River system. It is a 14,000-acre preserve protecting the longest mountaintop river in the United States, which flows for much of its length down the middle of Lookout Mountain. Over time, Little River has carved out one of the deepest canyons in the southeastern United States. Both the state park and the national preserve are home to dramatic waterfalls, which are worth the visit here alone.
Little River Canyon Falls
Participants of this years expedition from the Mississippi Entomological Museum (MEM) included Edda Martinez, JoVonn Hill, Sang Mi Lee, Terry Schiefer, and me (Joe MacGown), with Richard Brown to arrive on Thursday. Most of us had ridden in the MEM vehicle, while JoVonn drove his own truck. We arrived at DeSoto State Park in DeKalb County at about 1:30 P.M. on May 10th (Tuesday) and proceeded to unload our many supplies. Two invited participants showed up at the chalet just after we arrived. The first to show up was Jason Robinson, a bushy-red haired, hillbilly-aquatics guy from North Carolina, but now working at the University of Tennessee. Jason came to sample aquatic insects from the Little River Canyon system as well as other streams and wetlands in the area. Additionally, he provided entertainment with his guitar and fiddle playing in the bluegrass style (he also apparently plays banjo, mandolin, and piano).
Our invited expedition leader (or visiting specialist), Matt Dakin also showed up (in fact, he was already there, but at the other cabin). Matt is a grasshopper man, and really all things orthopteran, who worked some 30 years or so at the University of Southwestern Louisiana before he retired over 10 years ago. Matt is a very easy going feller who enjoyed regaling us with stories and pieces of his extensive knowledge, but at the same time was quite interested in everyone else's research and life.
Matt Dakin, showing us the proper way to pin a grasshopper
Because the cabins in the park were somewhat small, we rented two cabins for the week, one of which was a chalet (a fancy name for a slightly larger and newer cabin) and a rustic cabin (a fancy name for a small older cabin). The chalet (#24) served as the base of operations and all of the supplies were unloaded there. Edda, Sang Mi, Terry, and I also slept there. Jason, JoVonn, and Matt slept at the cabin (#8). Unfortunately, the chalet and cabin were not next to one another. The chalet was up on a higher ridge and surrounded by fairly open mixed forest habitat with a grassy understory, with blackberry and other small shrubs intermixed. The area appeared to have sustained heavy damage from a storm or something (could have been a giant elf) within the last few years, as there were many trees down in the woods. The cabin was located at a lower elevation and was just above the Little River, which runs through the park. A beautiful trail wound through the woods at two or three levels below the cabin site. While we were there the rhododendrons, mountain laurel, Crataegus sp., fringe tree, and maple leaved viburnum were blooming. Needless to say, the habitat at the cabin was very different than at the chalet. The forest seemed to be less damaged, there was more understory, and it was all on steep slopes with large rocks and boulders present.
After we unloaded the supplies and personal gear, it was time to get to work. As it happened it was a beautiful day with temperatures in the mid 80's F. Edda and Sang Mi volunteered to go to the store in nearby Fort Payne to purchased food for the trip. While the others were getting ready to collect, JoVonn and I picked up a few ants near the chalet. Lots of Camponotus pennsylvanicus was running around and we found one nest in a hollow cavity of a living oak tree. In an open grassy area behind the chalet, we found several colonies of Formica pallidefulva and one colony of F. subsericea. Jason headed over to collect aquatics at the Little River behind the cabin. The rest of us headed over to Little River Canyon National Preserve to collect and put out traps. We parked on the Cherokee Co. side of the river/falls area. At the edge of the parking area we found some pink ladies slippers blooming (nice).
Pink Ladies Slipper
The main trail here led to the falls and JoVonn and Matt collected various insects in that area, especially concentrating on grasshoppers and ants. Terry and I hiked down the trail a bit, and then descended a small cliff, before ending up at a sandy beach-like area near the river. We suspended a Lindgren funnel trap from a dead tree on a rocky slope in the mixed forest between the cliff and the river. We put up a malaise trap in a somewhat sandy area behind the beach looking site at the river, trying to keep it from view from anybody who might visit there. The habitat was very interesting here with a wide diversity of trees and shrubs including such things as mountain laurel, rhododendron, maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), oak leaved hydrandrea (Hydrangea quercifolia), some type of blueberry bush (Vaccinium sp.), Calycanthus floridus (sweet shrub), and many others.
After we had put up the two traps and collected a while, we headed back to the state park, which was about 13 miles away. We went to the wilderness area and parked at the Orange trail head. Matt and JoVonn searched the roadsides and a power-line cut area. I collected a few ants near the parking area, while Terry scouted about for a potential malaise site. While collecting, some mountain bikers rode by and were curious as to what I was doing, so I felt compelled to tell them about the wonders of the ant world. When Terry returned, he and I went down the Orange trail about a quarter of a mile and then veered off into the woods toward a small creek. We put a malaise trap, a Lindgren funnel trap, and a barrier trap (flight interception trap) beside the creek. The Orange trail meandered through a mixed forest in a relatively flat area. The woods here were mostly open with some understory and there were several small seepage areas with sphagnum moss present. Farther down the trail was an open rocky area. The entire area seemed to be one large slab of rock with convolutions throughout, as though some forest god had made furrows in it.
By the time we had the traps up it was getting late, so we headed back to the cabin to see about some supper. While the food was cooking JoVonn and I caught some ants near the chalet. JoVonn noticed some small flying creatures apparently attacking Formica pallidefulva workers, very interesting. We observed them for a while and I managed to snag one with my aspirator. It turned out to be some sort of little parasitic wasp (to be id'ed a later date.) Meanwhile, the girls had thrown some frozen lasagna deal in the oven and made a salad. Anyway, not a bad deal. We ate the stuff and were so full we wanted to go to sleep. But, that was not to be, for the night was young and there was blacklighting yet to do. I put up one blacklight and sheet at the edge of the woods beside the chalet. This blacklight was electric and ran every night we were there. We then put up three sheets and lights along the trail near cabin 8. One of the sheets was located near Little River itself. Jason put out a small blacklight bucket trap beside the river to catch aquatic insects.
Little River, near the cabin trail
Although daytime temperatures were warm enough, things cooled off early in the night and it wasn't long before it was in the lower 50's F. As a result, the blacklighting was not great. However, we did collect quite a few moths and some larger beetles. Edda and Sang Mi collected mostly moths, Terry collected other insects, especially beetles, JoVonn collected various insects, mostly larger ones, Jason collected aquatic insects, such as Plecoptera, Trichoptera, etc. and I collected a combination of moths and other insects. Matt, being primarily a grasshopper fellow, didn't blacklight, but joined us as we collected. Sometime after 9:00 P.M. a storm starting rolling in. Some of us were at the last sheet when the rain and lightning started, so we took down that sheet with every intention of going home and headed to the second sheet. But, by the time we got there, the rain had pretty much dissipated, so we stuck around a while longer. Because the collecting was very slow we took down the remaining sheets about an hour later. We then went back to the chalet to collect some insects at the sheet there and to put the insects we collected into pitre dishes and relaxing chambers (the moths).
May 11. Early the next morning, and after breakfast, I put out one brown sugar/yeast bait trap at the base of an oak tree in the woods behind the chalet, and two more at the bases of oaks in the woods beside cabin 8. These traps are simply a mason jar filled with a mixture of brown sugar, yeast and water. We use them primarily to attract nitidulid beetles. I then put out 10 pitfall traps, with Edda's help, in the same woods near the cabin. I then put three barrier traps up in those woods. Meanwhile, Terry and Edda put up a malaise trap in the woods just across the road from the cabin. There was some sort of old road-cut, which looked like a potential flyway and the woods over there was mostly deciduous, rather than mixed, as it was across the road. Terry also put up a Lindgren funnel in the woods near the cabin.
After putting out all of our traps, JoVonn and I both collected ants (and some other assorted insects) along the trail near the cabin and near the river. We baited some trees with peanut butter as well. The peanut butter attracted Temnothorax longispinosus, which was only recently reported in Alabama. Matt, of course walked around the park searching for hoppers. Edda and Terry collected near the cabin. Terry did some beating and other general collecting and Edda looking for lepidopterous larvae on vegetation. Jason went to the Little River Canyon area to collect. Sang Mi had some sort of terrible sinus headache and took some medicine and rested that morning. After morning collecting we went back to the chalet and ate some fine sandwiches.
Replenished from our ever so nutritious lunch, we again hit the field. Like the previous day, it was fairly warm, with temperatures in the mid 80's F. Everybody went to Little River Canyon N. P. and we parked on the Cherokee County side of the falls. The falls here are beautiful and we took several pictures of the area.
Sang Mi at Little River Falls
We collected in this area for a while before then driving across the bridge back into DeKalb Co. We drove down the scenic drive overlooking the river a couple of miles or so until reaching the "Lynn Overlook". Terry and I scouted the area for a potential blacklighting locale, and then collected with the others. We found three nice spots to hang sheets from trees, so our scouting was successful. The trail went through some mixed forest and in places was very near the edge of the canyon. It was a terrific view from up there, which is probably why they made it an overlook. Go figure.
JoVonn and Matt, looking at a grasshopper (or, JoVonn taking a swing at Matt)
Along the parking area and the roadway was an abundance of Senecio, the species of which I am unsure (not a botanist), but it looked a lot like S. obovatus. There was also a lot of a little red sedum blooming and some oxeye daisy in the ditches. We also crossed the road and ventured into a power-line cut. There was a low boggy area in the power-line cut and also a nice trail running through a strip of woods at the edge of the cut. The trail eventually intersected a small rocky creek. Blueberries were plentiful along the trail and there were some interesting plants present such as trailing arbutus and a rare green pitcher plant, Sarracenia oreophila.
The green pitcher plant, Sarracenia oreophila (photo by Jason Robinson)
Beyond the trail area was an open area with a rocky floor and stunted pines. On past visits to this area, a blacklight-boxtrap had been placed here, and some good moths were collected there. We had nicknamed the site Lightning Ridge, because when putting out a trap there once, a serious storm came in and lightning was striking very nearby. Needless to say, we didn't take long in putting the trap out. We have also referred to this area as the "bald".
Edda, collecting insects at Lynn Overlook
After collecting and exploring, we went back to the chalet to eat supper and grab night collecting supplies. We ended up grilling some burgers and hotdogs. Mighty tasty. Before supper, JoVonn and I again watched the F. pallidefulva colony where we had observed the wasps attacking. Several of the same type of wasp were again seen attacking the Formica workers. JoVonn aspirated three of them. There was a colony of F. subsericea nearby, but no wasps were observed there. The light at the chalet was again turned on, and then we headed back to the Lynn Overlook.
Lynn Overlook, near the parking area
Everybody came along for blacklighting except Matt. Earlier in the day Matt had put out oatmeal bait for orthopterans (especially crickets active at night) along the rocky trail near the cabin. He spent the night periodically checking his bait. We put out three sheets and lights there along the trail, which overlooks the canyon area. While Terry and Sang Mi put out the sheets, I went down the road and put out a blacklight/ box trap in the bald area with the big car battery. Jason put out his aquatic oriented blacklight/bucket trap near the creek and boggy area along the trail separating the bald from the power-line cut.
After we put the sheets up, Jason sat cross-legged on a large square pylon thing, which was part of the rail keeping people from falling into the canyon. He played haunting melodies on his fiddle until dark while being attacked by mosquitoes. At one point a chuck wills widow started its evening repertoire and proved to be quite some competition to Jason's fiddling. He soon decided to mimic the bird and they went back and forth for a while. The sheet collecting was again slow. Hardly any small beetles, some scarabs (Phyllophaga, and Serica), trichops, ephemerops, moths, a couple of longhorns, and assorted other bugs. By 10:30 P.M. it was so slow, with few new things coming in, that we packed it up and headed to base camp. JoVonn had already left earlier to join Matt in cricket captures and also to check the sheet out at the chalet for cool insects.
Another view from Lynn Overlook
When we got back to the cabin, several people collected at the sheet. Afterward, everyone put away their insects and went to bed.
May 12. Early the next morning Jason and I went back to the Canyon area to pick up our respective traps. The boxtrap was not full by any means and the light was off when I picked it up. There is no telling when it went out, but its being out early may have affected the overall catch. Regardless, we picked them up and took them back to the chalet. Edda and Sang Mi sorted out the boxtrap that morning and since it was less full than other times it didn't take too long. They then got back to the serious job of spreading moths.
That morning JoVonn and Matt collected in the State Park, mostly on or near Azalea Trail. Jason did some more aquatic collecting, although I am not sure where he went. I collected some more at the Little River Canyon area in Cherokee Co. and later in the morning in the state park on Azalea Trail. Terry collected in the state park as well, mostly walking around beating vegetation in search of cerambycids. Unfortunately, this was not the best bycid collecting trip and we only hand collected 9 species. Lunchtime rolled around and we ate some stuff.
After lunch Terry, JoVonn, and Matt headed back out to collect. JoVonn and Matt went to DeSoto Falls, also in DeKalb County and part of the state park. Terry collected in the State Park near the cabin and down to Azalea Trail and the Red Trail. I went into Fort Payne to get some more groceries. When I got back Richard Brown had arrived. Terry and I then went to collect at DeSoto Falls. When we got there we found JoVonn and John Barone. John is an ecologist, rather than an entomologist, who has provided assistance to the museum in the past and he came along for a day or so to visit and observe our field collecting methods. The DeSoto Falls area was quite different from the Little River Canyon Fall, but still quite impressive.
Two photos of DeSoto Falls
The dominant ant at the DeSoto Falls area was Formica integra. In some areas their nests occupied several square meters. Along one side of a curb bordering the parking area, they had a continuous nest probably a hundred meters or more in length. Amazing. There were also F. subsericea colonies common there. Temperatures were in the mid to upper 80's F and we lost a lot of sweat walking up and down some of the steep slopes.
After collecting at the falls area, we went back to the chalet. I dug up one of the F. pallidefulva colonies at the chalet and found several scarab larvae. I wondered if they might not be a Cremastocheilus species, known for living in ant nests. While I was digging up the nest, JoVonn brought me his cell phone and told me I had a call from my wife Julie. I don't have a cell phone because they annoy me, but I talked on it none-the-less. She said that I had won the Zacharias Distinguished Staff Award in my category at Mississippi State University earlier that day. This was indeed good news, because I would be receiving a wonderful looking plaque and also a 1000 bucks. Sweet. Apparently Richard Brown had nominated me for this honor. He is such a good writer that he could make anyone look good, and the judges must have bought his spiel.
Edda, Sang Mi, and Richard had spent the afternoon spreading moths. At some point, we ate supper. We had grilled chicken, which JoVonn cooked, and coleslaw and beans. While it was cooking, Richard went over to Little River Canyon and put the box trap up in the boggy area on the power-line cut. He came back and ate. We then went over to the Orange Trail located in the wilderness area of the state park to night collect. We put three sheets and lights up along the trail. The first two sheets were not very far down the trail, but the third was quite a walk and was placed in the open convoluted rocky area. JoVonn put out a dead mouse near the trail head in hopes of attracting silphid beetles. He was in luck; three Nicrophorus orbicollis individuals found it almost at once. He watched their progress throughout the night as they moved the mouse a few inches and started to bury it. They went underneath the mouse and tunneled away dirt until the mouse was mostly submerged. Cool.
Two silphid beetles moving mouse
As far as the blacklighting went, it was again somewhat cool early. The last sheet ended up being the worst, although it had some stuff. Otherwise, there were some small beetles coming in early, (more than the previous two nights, but still not many), plenty of Phyllophaga (looked like about 3 or 4 species), some carabids, moths, etc. JoVonn and John (who didn't collect) went back early. Sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 P.M. we took the sheets down and went back to the chalet. When we got back to the cabin, several people collected at the sheet there. Jason and Richard played some bluegrass/old style music outside. Richard, played his harmonicas (harps), of course, and Jason played the guitar and sang occasionally. Finally got to bed around 12:30 A.M.
May 13. Early the next morning, sometime before 7:00 A.M., Richard and I went to the power-line cut and picked up the boxtrap. Although the light was running when we got there, the catch was still sparse compared to many boxtrap collections we have made. We took it back to the chalet where Richard sorted it, with the aid of Edda and Sang Mi.
After breakfast I collected at the Azalea and Red Trails in the park, as did JoVonn and Matt. John also joined them. Terry beat vegetation in the park. The Azalea trail was quite nice and was mostly in the form of a boardwalk, with a pavilion, a couple of picnic tables and benches. The woods here were more mature than some areas with many large trees present. While I was there I baited several oak trees with peanut butter in hopes of finding some good ants. Unfortunately, I didn't have much luck with the bait there. I did get off the boardwalk onto a nice trail through the woods where I collected quite a few species of ants. I sifted a lot of leaf litter and soil, but most of it seemed somewhat depauperate of ants compared to similar looking areas I have seen. There were plenty of some ants however, such Aphaenogaster spp., Camponotus spp., and others. I did find one nice soil sample beneath a rotting log that had some Proceratium sp., Amblyopone pallipes, and a few other species present, which I pulled out. I also collected two gallon bags of soil from there for later Berlese extraction. Anyway, we somehow all arrived back at the chalet for lunch. As usual, Richard, Edda, and Sang Mi had stayed at the chalet to pin moths all morning. Richard also collected stray flying insects that came into the screen porch, of which he had left the door open. JoVonn said he and Matt and John went back to DeSoto Falls sometime before lunch to collect some more. They said it was very busy with people frolicking in the water and hanging out.
I guess Jason had enough of us, because he decided to head back home. John Barone also headed back to whence he had come (some college in Georgia maybe). Terry continued his beating quest for cerambycids in the park with his journey culminating on the Red Trail. I also collected over there, where I saw him. He collected some nice Glyphipterigidae moths on some boulders there.
Terry, collecting Glyphipterigidae on boulders
I went over later and collected near the cabin area and on the trail near Little River. While I was there I took down the two brown sugar/yeast bait traps and combined them, as they were from the same locality. When I was collecting on the trail, I decided to cross the river, because the habitat looked different. I managed to get across by means of some strategically placed boulders. I found lots of Formica integra over there, which I had not seen elsewhere in the park except at DeSoto Falls. I found some erotylid beetles on a shelf fungus growing on a log. I walked around a lot and took a few pictures of the area. Eventually, I decided to go back to the chalet, as it was getting late. I found another place where I could cross the river upstream. This site was much more challenging than the first, but I somehow made it to safety. I went back to the chalet for some grub, where I encountered those other crazy bug people. We cooked up some spaghetti (Sang Mi and I) with some salad and garlic bread. It seemed to go over well enough; at least it disappeared fairly rapidly.
Following dinner, Richard put the boxtrap out in the bald area at Little River Canyon in DeKalb County, since the other time we had it out the light didn't last all night. The rest of us went over to the Red Trail where we put up three sheets and lights. Two of them were in high spots, and the third was in a lower area.
Boulders on the Red Trail
The collecting was similar to other nights in that it was somewhat slow. I did get a nice cerambycid, Leptorhabdium pictum, which was striking in appearance and something I had never collected. I found a little scorpion on a piece of wood and picked up a few of the Glyphipterigids on the boulders that Terry got earlier in the day. The entire area was loaded with a species of Sciaridae (dark winged fungus gnats) as well. I saw the biggest millipede I have ever seen, about 5 inches long. Sang Mi left early tonight, she was beat. Matt left next, but everyone else stayed until we took the sheets down near 10:30 P.M. When we got back to the chalet, Terry and Richard collected for a while at the sheet there. Richard stayed up late pinning moths.
May 14. Richard got up early and went and retrieved the boxtrap, which was not overly full again. The weather looked to be somewhat rainy that day. We couldn't complain about the weather though, because the rest of the week was beautiful. After breakfast, I picked up the brown sugar/yeast bait trap from the woods behind the chalet. This trap had more nitidulids than the other two combined, although they both did well. Later in the morning Terry and I pulled up the pitfalls from the woods near the cabin. We then drove over to Little River Canyon and got the malaise and Lindgren funnels traps. The malaise sample yielded many insects and the jar was almost full. The Lindgren funnel trap was on the ground and it appeared that an animal had chewed through the rope. Fortunately, there were still a few insects in the trap.
We went back to the chalet and abducted Edda and Sang Mi from their moth pinning. We took them to see two other waterfalls that they hadn't seen yet, Indian Falls and DeSoto Falls. We also stopped at the information center on the way back and looked at an Indian artifact show.
Joe, beside rail at DeSoto Falls
Back at the chalet we ate lunch. Matt decided to head home in an effort to beat the oncoming storms moving in, so we said our goodbyes. Terry and I then went to the Orange trail and took down the malaise, Lindgren, and barrier traps. The malaise sample here was also nearly full. When we got those traps down, we went back to the woods near the cabin and took down the malaise, Lindgren, and three barrier traps. We didn't feel that the malaise trap there was placed in the best spot, but we put it there because we needed to get it out. However, it seemed to do fairly well.
While we were taking traps down, JoVonn had been sweeping at the open area on the Orange Trail. He collected numerous flies, wasps, and other insects, including some ants. He managed to pick up a Dolichoderus (ant) species while there. He went back in the afternoon hoping to find some more, but didn't have any luck.
When we were through picking the traps up, I swept some vegetation in the woods near the chalet, mostly grasses. I also got several soil and litter samples to take back to the lab. The sky was quickly darkening, so I went back to the chalet just as it started to rain. JoVonn showed up later after having been caught in the rain down the Orange Trail.
With the weather getting somewhat messy, we decided to eat at the local restaurant in the park. It was not bad and the majority of us got rib-eye steaks. We really believe in roughing it on these trips.
Dinner-JoVonn, Edda, Sang Mi, Richard, Terry, and Joe
After dinner we went back to the chalet, where Richard put two sheets and lights out in the woods behind the chalet, in addition to the one we left out all week. After the rain had stopped, the temperature dropped considerably, and that seemed to have an adverse effect on the insects flying in to the lights. There were a few things, though, and people made periodic trips to the sheets to check them out. JoVonn spent most of the night at one of them, picking up things as they came. Richard finally took down the sheets some time after every one else had gone to bed.
May 15. Time to head back to Starkville and deal with these crazy bugs. Like most Cross Trips, it was raining as we loaded the trucks. The journey back was mostly uneventful, and we made it back around 1:00 P.M.
DeSoto State Park Sites
Chalet 24, near chalet and in woods behind it (Joe MacGown, Terry Schiefer, Edda Martinez, Sang Mi Lee, and Richard Brown stayed here) electric blacklight ran all week here, other blacklights on 14 May, brown sugar yeast bait trap,
ALA., DeKalb Co.
DeSoto St. Park
Cabin 8, near river, (JoVonn Hill, Jason Robinson, and Matt Dakin stayed here)-malaise trap, pitfalls, Lindgren funnels, 3 barrier traps, yeast bait trap (2), blacklight (10 May)
ALA., DeKalb Co.
DeSoto St. Park
Orange Trail-head of trail (malaise, Lindgren, barrier, blacklight (12 May), and day collecting)
ALA., DeKalb Co.
DeSoto St. Park
Azalea Trail/Red Trail Area (Blacklight -13 May, day collecting)
ALA., Dekalb Co.
DeSoto St. Park
DeSoto Falls (day collecting)
ALA., DeKalb Co.
DeSoto St. Park
Little River Canyon National Preserve Sites
Parking Lot and Trail Head on Cherokee Co. side of Falls (Day collecting)
ALA., Cherokee Co.
Little River Canyon N.P.
Sandy Area nr. river (Malaise, Lindgrens, and day collecting)
ALA., Cherokee Co.
Little River Canyon N.P.
Lynn Overlook (Blacklight (11 May), day collecting)
ALA., DeKalb Co.
Little River Canyon N.P.
Bald area (Box Trap-11 and 13 May)
ALA., DeKalb Co.
Little River Canyon N.P.
Boggy, wet area on powerline cut (Box Trap-12 May, and day collecting)
ALA., DeKalb Co.
Little River Canyon N.P.