I wrapped up 2019 with an off-trail hike near the Bug Spring Trailhead along the Mount Lemmon Highway. I was delighted (?) to find that there was actually a good quantity of snow on the ground, even at 5000′ elevation. It was mostly in low-lying areas and on north-facing slopes, but it made for a very familiar tromp through the brush, reminding me of springtime wanderings in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The area’s seasonal streams, fueled by snowmelt, were lively, and I made my way down to a particularly wide channel that was bordered by oak trees. There was a decent amount of snow near the water, and in the sunlight I saw a cloud of gnats. Upon closer inspection, I realized there were thousands of them, in pairs, mating on the surface of the snow!
It was about 55°F, but the sunlight made it seem warmer. I’m guessing that these gnats might have aquatic larvae, because I only saw them near the stream.
I turned my attention toward the higher-elevation ridges in the area, where there was less snow and plenty of sun. A brushfire that torched the area several (?) years ago left lots of branches and bark on the ground, which makes for good bug cover. I discovered a couple of spiders that were overwintering beneath tree bark:
This spider looks like it’s some sort of crab spider, based on eye arrangement. Note its missing leg.
This appears to be some sort of Gnaphosid. She wouldn’t let me take better photos; after this, she quickly scuttled deeper into the wood. As always, it’s important to replace bark and rocks how originally found! These forms of cover are crucial to the winter survival of many arthropods.
On New Year’s Day, I took a hike on similar terrain at the Gordon Hirabayashi Rec Area. A considerable amount of snow had melted, and it was a lovely 60°F. The seasonal streams were more active than the day before.
Exploring this particular area is interesting. Though none of the buildings still stand, there are lots of remnants of the prison camp that used to be here. Old pipes run alongside the seasonal streams, and footprints of structures dot the landscape. Bits of rusted metal and ceramic are a common find. As I’ve written before, the Gordon Hirabayashi Rec Area has a lonesome feel to it; even before I found out it was used to house prisoners and Japanese-American citizens during World War II, there was an odd atmosphere to the place. The people kept at this prison camp were instrumental in constructing the Mount Lemmon Highway, and every time I visit, I thank them.
While looking under rocks on a dry ridge, I found a colony of ants — they look to be Camponotus ocreatus, a type of carpenter ant that favors this habitat of upland oak/juniper.
My favorite find of the afternoon was a beautiful jumping spider that had taken winter refuge beneath a large sheet of rusted metal:
She’s some sort of Phidippus sp., though I’m not sure which. An interesting thing to note is her front leg, the one raised in this photograph, is smaller than the other, meaning it was regenerated with her last molt. The leg behind it looks like it was regrown, as well. Also visible is the sharp tip of one of her chelicerae! After photographing this spider, I carefully guided her back under the piece of metal. As ugly as old trash in the landscape can be, it often becomes important cover for arthropods and reptiles, especially in an area where natural cover isn’t so easy to find.
Happy New Year!