Friday, June 25, 2004

20 June
Davenport, IA

At the first rest area on I-94 in Indiana, I was washing my hands at a restroom sink when I spotted what looked like a green leaf stuck to a window screen overhead. I'm not sure how this works, but any long-time antenna-head can tell you that sometimes a twig or a leaf or a rock just screams, "Bug!" One closer look, and I said out loud, "Gosh, there's a huge luna moth on that screen!"

No one else in the restroom even looked up, so I shrugged, left the restroom, and collected Rick, and we walked around the building scanning window screens until we found it. Yup, an absolutely fresh male luna moth, green from his pronotum to the tips of his jauntily curled wing tails. Hope he did okay after dark, being so close to the highway and all. With antennae like that, I'm sure he got lucky, as long as he didn't wind up as a grille ornament.

First ant of the trip collected in the shower stall at our motel here in Davenport. A gyne, or virgin queen, of a small myrmicine species. Moving none too fast. Just about dead, in fact. Her intact wings gave her away as a wallflower from her mating flight. She's alcohol-preserved in an epi tube now, in a plastic pouch in my luggage.

Some people scream bloody murder when they find an ant in a motel room. Me, I consider it a special guest bonus.

21 June
Mitchell, SD

Last month, Mitchell found it amusing to visit his namesake town. Unlike Mitchell, I'm an omnivore, and I can't believe it took me so long to eat my first buffalo burger. Good stuff, although Rick and I were, at the time, in a pub that lacked a no-smoking section. I'm awestruck by the sheer number of cigarettes one person can smoke while eating dinner. I lost count, even though the guy was at the next table; couldn't bear to watch, I suppose. I had to follow my ground buffalo steak (excellent) with a double hit of albuterol, but it was sort of worth it.

Main bug story today: A family stopping here while in the process of moving south. Generally nondescript daddy longlegs (U.S. usage; you know, the arachnid. Harvestman. Opiliones) climbing up the outside wall outside their motel room. Small children who seemed to be really afraid of it. Rick and I hustled the bug out of the way. The kids' father smiled. "They grew up in Alaska." he said. "They don't see much up there."

I would have thought that they had harvestmen in Alaska, but then again, I haven't been there myself. Any readers up north: Help me out.

24 June
Gillette, WY

We camped for two days at Badlands National Park, and saw all of the requisite rabbits, buffalo, and (Rick's favorite) prairie dogs, then did a one-day whirlwind of Wind Cave and Devil's Tower (lots of deer and antelope playing, and sometimes attempting to do so on the hoods of passing cars). I'll have to admit that my favorite wildlife came in two flavors - myrmicine and formicine. The first were the Pogonomyrmex (harvester ants) at a campsite in Badlands (we would have tented there just to be near the ants, but it was the highest site we could find and the wind was a nuisance even in the sheltered places). The second: Formica exsecta group mound ants at a site in Custer State Park in South Dakota. It was a chilly, rainy afternoon during which insects weren't all that active, but a couple of the householders showed up, and they even bit me to make me feel at home.


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