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For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada

Mountaintop collecting phenomenon

One of the most amazing discoveries (for me at least) came from an impromptu visit with Tom Murray to the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, site of the "worst weather" in the US with recorded wind speeds of 231 MPH. We went there on a quest to find the extremely rare Pytho strictus, which was reported from Mt. Washington well over 100 years ago. (I'll do a seperate write-up on that search at some point.)

Although the presumed Pytho habitat peters out between half and two-thirds of the way up the mountain, the fact that it was a very nice, warm day and that I had never been to the summit of Mt. Washington led us to drive all the way up for a brief look-see. That's not exactly what happened though.

At the sumit are a well-fortified weather station, a gift shop, snack bar, museum, and various communications antennae and dish receivers. All over the rocky summit, buildings, trails, parked cars, and people were millions of insects that must ritually come there to meet and breed on warm spring/summer days before descending to their habitats at lower elevations. Most numerous were pentatomids of several species but there were also flies, ichneumon wasps and many beetle species that were new to me. Tom and I collected there for over an hour. I grabbed one large Calosoma frigidum that I suspect was there for other reasons, dinner probably. Both Tom and I will be posting images of these specimens.

It's hard to imagine that so much protien-on-the-hoof would not attract birds as well but we only caught a brief glimpse of one, a plover I thought, above the timberline. Maybe the hesitancy of birds to visit the peak played an evolutionary role in the establishment of this mass insect rendezvous phenomenon.

My guess is that distinct rocky peaks are most conducive for such bug hook-up conventions. Further, I'd guess the season and weather must be just right for this phenomenon to occur but when it does it presents a golden opportunity for the collector/photographer.

I am mindful that my conclusions are quite conjectural so please offer any information or explanations as comments below to help me understand my experience.

Frequency
A twenty-year veteran staffer in the observatory building says there are usually four or five days a year there with similar weather conditions when many insects swarm to the summit looking for sex partners. In 2006, however, there were a great many calm days and this hilltop lekking was a regular occurence.

Hilltopping
as it is referred to in entomological circles is a well known phenomenon. Any piece of high ground that is significantly higher than the surrounding area will attract almost all the insect species in the area.