Nature Notes

Mount Rainier National Park

Vol. III August 11th, 1925 No. 7

Issued weekly during the summer season, monthly during the winter by the Nature Guide Service.
F. W. Schmoe,
Park Naturalist.
O. A. Tomlinson,


Far less conspicous than other forms of life within the Park, yet in their own way fully as interesting, are the numerous types of insects that swarm over Mt. Rainier's slopes during the warm days of summer when an untold wealth of wild flowers provides an attraction not to be oevrlooked by winged creatures of tiny size. Just as trees, grasses, ferns and other kinds of vegetation in type at increasing elevations on the sides of the old volcano, so also do various types of flies, bees, and beetles find this height or that more agreeable than some other. In the flowery meadows at the elevation of Paradise Valley however, there is a greater abundance of insect life than elsewhere.

The diminutive pollinators perform a very necessary service for the plant life. Yet it is not the brightest hued of the flowers that offer the greatest appeal. Neither among the heather with its cuplike petals, nor in the beds of blue arctic lupine will the insect hunter find his richest harvest. Even the Indian paintbrush posesses less of attraction than does the strongly perfumed flower of the valerian, the greenish-yellow blossom of the hellebore, the avalanche lily, the mountain dock or the western anemone, above all of which swarm many kinds of bumblebees, sawflies, butterflies, and beetles.

On a warm, sunny day in August the air literally teems with insects. Dance-flies and wasps hover among the dwarfed fir and hemlock trees on the high ridges above the valley. Bee flies of many kinds warm themselves on the rocks; flies with coats of crimson or silvery hairs, and those that mimic in appearance the common western bee. Bumblebees by hundreds hum industriously above inviting blossoms of the rosy spiraea and the aster; syrphids investigate the flowers of the mountain ash, carpenter ants appropriate dead trees for their curiously carved chambers that remind one of the work of cliff dwellers, and the families of bark beetles, boring beneath the surface of living evergreens construct intricate patterns in the surface of the wood tissues that are indeed marvelous to behold.

Mazama Ridge offers a particularly find field for the enthusiast. Here tiger beetles, several species of horseflies, butterflies, and one of the most beautiful of the syrphus flies, Caliprobola pulcher, mingle with longhorn beetles, bee flies, robber flies, and tachinide in a whirl of activity where patches of fine sand reflect the warmth of the sun.

The pocota granddis, an especially large syrphid fly, may be found flitting above the flowers of the Indian basket grass and recently within an hour a close observer noted no less that fifteen different varieties of butterflies hovering above the Alpine flower fields. Of those fifteen species one at least is absolutely new to science having never been described as yet and another is the smallest butterfly known in the United States being a scant quarter inch in span.

Evidence that insect life has appropriated this mountain from foot to summit is found in the fact that at the barren, rocky base of McClure's rock locusts, spiders, flies and bees seem to find means of subsistence. Wineglass grasshoppers and lubber crickets live among the inhospitable wastes of pumice on the slopes of the peak, and even at the very summit of Rainier syrphids and butterflies may be found. In fact, the very glaciers themselves are inhabited, for the ice swarms with small, wriggling worms that disport themselves on the surface during dull weather and burrow into the ice when the sun proves too warm for their comfort. Strange as it may seem several species of insects are among the regular inhabitants of the glaciers and snowfields. Those are all of a very low order of insects - most of them Springtails or Thysanura. They are tiny fellows resembling sand fleas in appearance and as the glacier worms spend their entire lives in the ice.

Unfortunately, the insect life in the Park also includes an abundance of mosquitoes, buffallo-gnats, and bloodsucking Symphoromyias or "bad bitters" all of which are at times annoying to visitors, particularly while marshy breeding places due to melting snow are still numerous. Nevertheless, an intensive study of the insects offers much of interest for those whose fancies lie in this direction, and cinsiderable work of a pioneer nature still remains to be accomplished in this field.

P. M. Fogg, Nature Guide.

<<< Previous
> Cover <
Next >>>