Sometimes I set out for one place and end up in another. In October I read some directions wrong and ended up in the eastern part of the state instead of the western. When I figured out I’d screwed up it was too late to go back so I stopped and consulted my gazetteer (doesn’t everyone keep theirs in the car?). You don’t have to go far in the northwoods to find nature preserves and trails. I also had John Bates’s book about Old Growth forests with me and so set out for the Pat Shay Lake State Natural Area.
Located within the Eagle River-Florence section of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest it was still hard enough to find that I didn’t have sufficient daylight to find the old growth part. Some of it was the way the written directions read to me…I misinterpreted something. Partly it was the one trail map sign I found near the parking area. Partly it was me being dumb. I’ll know for next time though and since I was in the National Forest there’s plenty to enjoy so it was fine in the end. I just needed to stop being crabby about not finding what I set out to see.
It was one of those perfect fall days. Clear blue skies. Bright sun. Mild temperatures with a gentle breeze. Warm enough to just wear a long sleeved shirt. Blaze orange for safety.
Backlight everywhere. The sun illuminating the mix of still green undergrowth and ferns and the golden leaves on the trees. It’s like catnip. I have to grab it in my paws and play.
These rare days are the best. If I’m lucky I get at least one in per fall. When I was searching in vain for the proper trail, I nearly got so frustrated that I thought about leaving. Irrational, I know.
But I snapped out of it. Just let go of the goal and decided to enjoy what I could find instead of what I couldn’t. My younger self would have sulked. Oh yeah, I’m mature, baby.
But just look. Oh it was amazing. The wind picked up a bit. There’s a little movement in the leaves and undergrowth, but not too much and I kept stopping to listen and feel the breeze on my face. As much as the foliage was entrancing, I did occasionally look down and see what I found! An oil beetle. It’s a little over an inch long.
According to my research this is a mature specimen – they don’t have elytra (wing coverings) that extend over the whole body like most beetles. They spend a lot of time on the ground (as you can see) and are found all over North America. This is my first time seeing one and I could be excused for thinking it got its common name from that beautiful iridescent blue color, but that’s not the whole story. It belongs in a category called Blister Beetles because they produce an substance called cantharidin which is caustic enough to cause blisters if handled. In larger quantities it’s a pretty effective poison and in smaller, perhaps, an aphrodisiac (Spanish fly anyone?). Lucky for me I only stirred the leaves around so I could get better pictures of it. Quite unperturbed at my actions it was a most willing model.
More research revealed that when the 10,000 larvae hatch and move out of their underground burrow (yes, this many in one clutch of eggs), they climb to the top of flowers and other plants needing pollinating by bees. Then they hitch rides on these bees and are taken back to their nests. They don’t harm the bees directly, but instead feed on the eggs and nectar. These little freeloaders pupate in the bee nest and emerge as adults in the spring. They do other interesting stuff, too, so check out this article (with fantastic photos).
I will probably go back and find the big trees. Lesson learned to pay better attention to written directions. As a matter of fact I feel a project coming on. To explore the forests discussed in the book and photograph them. Some don’t have trails so winter might be perfect since I can just follow my footprints back to where I started.