The temperature peaked at around 110 degrees on the 6-hour drive from northern Louisiana to McAlester, Oklahoma. The drive was a test for us, as well as the camper. With no AC and max speeds well below the limit, energy and sanity evaporated. Not to mention, continuous thoughts of an overheated engine made for nervous driving.
My friend, Ben - a fellow camera and insect enthusiast - has been stationed in McAlester for the summer, helping a PhD student with his research. Seeing him, along with the lure of an endangered beetle, butterflies, and harvester ants made visiting a priority.
Ben has been working with the federally endangered American Burying Beetle, a carrion beetle whose range once covered most of the eastern half of the United States. However, by the 1920s the beetle was extirpated in most of those states. There's no simple explanation to the beetle's decline. It's likely that a number of interconnected factors are to blame. The beetle prefers carrion that weighs between 100 and 200 grams. Some suitable species populations slowly decreased or became extinct, such as the Passenger Pigeon. An increase in agricultural land and its subsequent edge habitat creation did increase mice populations, but they're too small for the beetle. Edge habitat is utilized by carrion eaters and predators, such as crows, foxes, raccoons, and skunks, all of which compete with the beetle for carrion (NYS DEC).
Ben and I spent two mornings at one of their field study sites, a wildlife management area about 30 minutes outside of town.
After Ben finished checking the traps, we ventured to some butterfly "hot spots." We saw at least 20 species in only a few hours. Some were old friends, but many were new to me.