Going Hunting in Texas

In March of this year, I had the opportunity to visit retired colleague Charlie O’Brien at his house in Arizona, U.S.A., and work with him on his outstanding weevil collection.

While identifying members of a group of weevils that I had worked on in the 1980s for my Ph.D. thesis, I ran across a series of five specimens collected in October 2004 from McKenzie Lake in Gaines County, Texas, U.S.A. Because this was a group of weevils that I was very familiar with, I immediately recognized them as a new species, and perhaps, a new genus.

Lateral view of a weevil and a 2 mm scale bar.

A new genus? An undescribed species (and likely also an undescribed genus) of weevil from Gaines County, Texas. Image: François Génier © Canadian Museum of Nature

So, armed with the knowledge of when and where the specimens were collected, I set out this past month to find more, and to find out something about their biology and maybe their host plants. I set aside the week of October 19 (this matched the collection dates from 2004) and flew off to Texas to start the hunt.

A flat landscape with a hill in the background.

Sandy shores. Sandy salt flats along the north shore of McKenzie Lake, Texas. The white spots on the sand are deposits of salt left by higher water levels. Image: Robert Anderson © Canadian Museum of Nature

Arriving in Dallas, I rented a car and drove out to Gaines County in the high plains of west Texas. After miles of cotton fields, I came to the McKenzie Lake area, a rich natural oasis of some 1600 hectares of mesquite, sagebrush, snakeweed and myriad other arid land plants.

Because the weevils had been collected by an enthusiast of tiger beetles, Dave Brzoska, I spent the better part of my first day scouring the open sandy habitats favoured by these fast-flying, vividly coloured predators, hoping to run across the weevils.

The shoreline of a sandy beach.

A good place to hunt? The shoreline at McKenzie Lake. Insects (including beetles) and other debris wash up along the shores during windy periods. Image: Robert Anderson © Canadian Museum of Nature

About five hours and five litres of water later, I found my first specimen, lying dead in debris among other beetles washed up around the edge of the lake. Sadly, despite three more long days of checking various plants and walking the shores of the lake, it turned out to be the only specimen I found.

Rows of cotton growing beside a road.

Cotton fields. A small portion of the many cotton fields surrounding the native habitat around the lake. One can drive for miles in west Texas through what seems like endless cotton fields. Image: Robert Anderson © Canadian Museum of Nature

However, I had planned a couple of days to examine the collection of an entomologist friend Darren Pollock over in Portales, New Mexico, and as luck would have it, he had a specimen of the same species that he had collected earlier this year in March, in Quay County, New Mexico.

So although I did not find out anything about biology or host plants, I did get a second specimen and now knew that the species has a wider distribution than just the McKenzie Lake area, and was active in spring as well as autumn. And, with the now-seven known specimens, I had a good series from which to put together a species description and decide on the generic placement.

A flat area with plants and small trees.

Great for weevils. The native mesquite shrub habitat surrounding the lake. Lots of weevils were collected at night from the small yellow-flowered shrub when they came up onto the plants to feed in the cooler and more humid night air. Image: Robert Anderson © Canadian Museum of Nature

Although I collected only two specimens of the target species, while at McKenzie Lake I also collected hundreds of other interesting weevils of a number of different species. I caught the majority at night by sweeping plants with a heavy net (the weevils come up onto the plants then to feed in the cooler and more humid air).

Many of these weevils are restricted to the west-Texas high-plains area and are quite rare in collections.

You just have to be careful that your headlamp doesn’t go out on you, or that you get so distracted by the plentiful weevils or by the coyotes howling in the distance, that you step on a rattlesnake.

Natural oasis. A short panoramic video of McKenzie Lake in Gaines County, Texas, and surrounding habitat. A natural oasis in a sea of cotton fields:


McKenzie Lake, Texas, U.S.A.
Video: Robert Anderson © Canadian Museum of Nature.

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