#2 Roamin' in The Gloamin'
I arrived at the summit of Haleakalā just as the sun was setting; perfect timing for a night of hunting for native Hawai'ian Arthropods that call the top of this mountain their home.
Many of my recent trips to Haleakalā National Park have been after dark, rather than during the day. Instead of admiring the beautiful, sunlit vistas along with the rest of the park's visitors, I'd rather spend my time crawling around in the dark, on my hands and knees, looking for these elusive critters. Yeah, I know, not what you'd expect.
As I pulled into the empty parking lot, I was greeted by a gloaming sky of deep blue and orange and the first, faint twinkling of stars. I immediately set to work piling on warm clothes and gear. I was lucky enough to spend 4 winters in Upstate New York, at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and amassed quite a collection of jackets, fleeces, and every other piece of warm clothing one could think of. Many people don't realize that the summit of Haleakalā often experiences near freezing temperatures. Occasionally, in the winter, the top of the mountain will be blanketed in a layer of icy snow (which often melts by 9am after a brief encounter with the equatorial rays of the sun).
With my headlamp illuminating both the trail ahead and my billowing breath, I slung my camera bag over my shoulder and set out along the path for a long exciting night of hunting for tiny creatures. I walked slowly amongst the native shrubs that are scattered across the lunar-like landscape. These plants, which include Pūkiawe (Styphelia tameiameiae), 'Ōhelo (Vaccinium reticulatum), 'Āhinahina (Argyroxiphium sandwicense ssp. macrocephalum), and Kūpaoa (Dubautia menziesii), often play host to the insects and arachnids that I am looking for.
I stopped at a particularly large looking Pūkiawe bush and crouched down for a closer look.
After scanning the miniature forest for a few minutes, a slight bit of movement caught my eye. Tucked between a clump of leaves at the end of one of the branches was a tiny, delicate Lacewing.
This beautiful little creature (Hemerobiidae family) is endemic to the Hawai'ian islands and is only about 5mm long. I watched it as it fluttered among the branches, from leaf to leaf, looking for a midnight snack. These Lacewings often prey on aphids and other small arthropods that call this austere place their home.
The abrupt flash from my strobe lit up the night as I took a few photographs of the Lacewing. Not wanting to distract it too much from its hunting, I soon moved on.
Adjacent to the Pūkiawe was an 'Ōhelo bush. I began scanning across the leaves with my headlamp, looking for any small movements or contrasting shapes among to the branches. I soon noticed a small form resting on the end of one of the leaves. As I leaned in for a closer look, I was pleased to find an elegant Tephritied Fly illuminated by my light. These flies are endemic to Hawai'i and are often found on 'Āhinahina and other native species in the Sunflower family (Asteraceae), though this one seemed content on the 'Ōhelo leaf.
Tephritied Flies are characterized by the ornate designs on their wings. Many of Hawai'i's different species can even by identified by their wing's unique patterns.
After a few more successful hours of searching for and photographing these unique arthropods, I began to feel the night's frigid fingers creeping in through my layers of clothing and decided to call it a night. Damp wisps of clouds began to form and swirl around me as I made my way back to my truck. By the time I arrived at the parking lot, I was hidden from the brilliant night sky by a thick veil of clouds.
The interminable, winding drive down the mountain is always a mixture of longing for the coziness of my warm bed waiting at home and longing to be back up on the summit, crawling through the brush in search of bugs. But I guess the latter will just have to wait until next time.