I grew up in a small house in southern Illinois near the Ohio River.
Our yard was full of silver poplar trees, a nonnative relative of the aspen. These trees were originally from Europe and have been planted as ornamentals across the U.S. Ours ranged from giant, old examples to others that were only a few inches in diameter.
These silver poplar trees always produced a nice crop of cottonwood borers—a spectacular black and white Cerambycid beetle—for this young insect collector.
Over the years, I came to expect these large beetles each summer. But then I moved away to Champaign, Illinois—where I became an Illinois Natural History Survey entomologist—and the beetles faded from my memory.
When I judged 4-H insect collections, students from southern Illinois often had examples in their collections, but these only served to trigger a fleeting bout of nostalgia. In fact, until August of this year, it had been 52 years since I had seen a living cottonwood borer!
That all changed on August 20—the day before the great eclipse—at Fort Defiance State Park near Cairo.
While roaming the giant cottonwoods that grace the banks of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, I spotted a large example of a cottonwood borer! Luckily for the beetle, I did not add it to my insect collection; rather, I took the opportunity to capture my first photographs of this truly unique and beautiful species.
I, and my accompanying entomological colleagues, were thrilled as we encountered seven cottonwood borers on that memorable day.