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Callospermophilus lateralis “Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel” Sciuridae

Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor (BLM), MT
June 8, 2016
Robert Niese

Look at this adorable little fatling! Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels are a common, endearingly pudgy species found throughout western North America east of the cascades and Sierras. They, along with dozens of other ground squirrel species (41, to be precise), were part of the Great Ground Squirrel Generic Revision of 2009. In this taxonomic revision, mammalogists at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History determined that the mega-genus Spermophilus was likely a paraphyletic clade of 8 separate genera. Callospermophilus was one of those genera that rose from the ashes of the Spermophilus mega-genus. Today it remains a distinct genus with only three species, all of which are restricted to western North America. Here in the PNW, one of these species, C. saturatus, is endemic to the Cascade range where it likely became isolated by the Columbia River, allowing it to differentiate from its eastern sister species, C. lateralis.

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American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) Pelecanidae

Yellowstone River, Saugus, MT
13 May 1975
prep. Larry DePute; photo. Robert Niese

Unlike their brown counterparts, the American White Pelican is an overland migrant, spending its winters in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico before flying thousands of miles to breeding grounds in Canada and the northern United States. To facilitate this epic travel, these birds have an 8-10 foot wing span, the second-largest of any bird in North America. Now that we have fully articulated this massive specimen, we’re not entirely sure what to do with it… He can hardly fit through doorways!

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Trachemys scripta elegans “Red-eared Pond Slider” Emydidae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

Red-eared Sliders are a distinct subspecies of Pond Slider popular in the pet industry. Originally native to the southern US, these animals have been introduced to nearly every state including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam. As such, they are on the IUCN’s list of the 100 most invasive species in the world. They have not yet been reported in Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, or North Dakota. If you see a Red-eared Slider in one of these states, contact your state’s Fish and Wildlife department immediately. Here in the PNW, these turtles out-compete native Western Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta bellii) and the threatened Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata).

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Chrysis sp. “Cuckoo Wasp” Chrysididae

Missoula, MT
May 17, 2016
Robert Niese

Cuckoo Wasps are a massive, possibly polyphyletic group of parasitic wasps. More than half the members of this giant family are placed in the genus Chrysis (more than 1000 species!). Undoubtedly, in the coming years this genus will be stripped, split, and reorganized in favor of a more monophyletic and phylogenetically accurate set of genera. As their common name might suggest, cuckoo wasps lay their eggs in the nests of other wasps, and many specialize on a single host species. This lovely individual appeared to be waiting outside an old nail hole on the side of my house that was occupied by a cavity-nesting wasp of some sort.

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Calligrapha verrucosa “Warty Willow Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
May 26, 2016
Robert Niese

Caught, in flagrante delicto, mating right on the beach! Egads! These indiscreet little beetles are relatively closely related to those Cottonwood Beetles I posted yesterday. Their genus name “Calligrapha” is a reference to the beautiful calligraphic script on the backs of many species. This species’s coloration is not quite as script-like, but it definitely still appears painted. I’ll post some portraits later! These beetles are most common in the Northern Rockies of Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, but, according to some older sources, their range is far broader, stretching from Nebraska to California to Alaska. If you have photographs of these beetles please contact me to supplement our scientific understanding of their distribution!

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Chrysomela scripta “Cottonwood Leaf Beetle” Chrysomelidae

Missoula, MT
April 22, 2016
Robert Niese

These lovely beetles can spend their entire life cycles living off of a single poplar or cottonwood tree. Females lay their eggs in clusters on the undersides of leaves. Those eggs hatch and the larvae begin feeding on the leaf tissues until nothing but a skeleton of veins remains. Then, they pupate into adults which will continue the process of defoliating the tree by eating the thick veins and midribs left behind by the larvae. Some small saplings can be killed by a particularly hungry population of breeding Cottonwood Leaf Beetles. This species may not be present in the PNW west of the Cascades. If you discover them there, please let me know!

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Oxyopes scalaris “Western Lynx Spider” Oxyopidae

Missoula, MT
May 6, 2016
Robert Niese

Lynx spiders are some of my favorite arachnids! They’re stealthy, fast, agile and ferocious predators, some of which specialize on other spiders! Oxyopes scalaris is virtually the only species of lynx found in the PNW, however. It can be found in just about any habitat from the coast to the Rockies and as far north as BC. One additional species, the Striped Lynx (O. salticus) can be found along the coast from California through Oregon and, rarely, in southern Washington.

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Sympetrum illotum “Cardinal Meadowhawk” Libellulidae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

There are quite a few species of red dragons in the PNW and they can be pretty tricky to ID. The redder individuals tend to be males, and, as they mature they often lose all other markings that might facilitate identification. This species is most easily distinguished by the two white dots present on the lower sides of its abdomen (barely visible here). Even in very red, healthy, mature adults, the lower margins of these white dots are usually still visible. Generally, Cardinal Meadowhawks can also be distinguished from other red meadowhawks by their reddish legs, diffuse yellow-bronze wings, and black markings at the base of the wings.

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Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) Emberizidae

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 13, 2016
Robert Niese

These charming birds are relatively abundant and widespread throughout North America and are a quite underappreciated bird. Here in the west, they are generally only found in or around coniferous forests and pineland savannas, whereas their eastern cousins are a much more urban or suburban bird. Their song is a loud trill which, often to the chagrin of field ornithologists, varies substantially among individuals and can easily be confused with the trills of Dark-eyed Juncos, towhees, and many species of warblers.

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Ovis canadensis “Bighorn Sheep” Bovidae, male, 3 years old

Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake, MT
September 27, 1961
col. Wesley Woodgerd (photo Robert Niese)

Bighorn Sheep were first transplanted to Wild Horse Island in 1939 and, from a herd of only 8 breeding adults, the population grew to be more than 200 strong. By the 60s and 70s, when Wesley Woodgerd was studying their herds, the maximum number of sheep recorded on the island at one time exceeded 240 individuals. This deformed young male was born around a time when the herd was likely suffering greatly from inbreeding depression which may have contributed to its odd schnoz. Alternatively, without any predators on the island, perhaps this individual was injured at a young age and managed to survive and develop this malformity from its wounds. Learn more about the Wild Horse Island Bighorn Sheep here.