First Comprehensive Survey of Monahans Sandhills Endemic Insects

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Sand dune and researcher at Monahans Sandhills State Park. Courtesy Scott Longing.

The Mescalero-Monahans sand dune systems of southeastern New Mexico and western Texas are known for their unique biodiversity including whipscorpions, scorpions, and the dunes sagebrush lizard.  A new dwarf morning-glory species was described from the region just this year.  Further contributing to the biological diversity of this system are nine endemic insect species.  Five of these species (the beetles, Anomala suavis, Nicagus occultus, Prionus spinnipenis, and Trigonoscutoides texanus as well as a Jerusalem cricket, Stenopelmatus monahansensis) are currently known only from the Monahans sandhills of western Texas, with the remaining four species (the beetles, Epitragosoma arenaria, Polyphylla monahanensis, Polyphylla pottsorum, and Prionus arenarius) occurring in both the Monahans sandhills of Texas and Mescalero Sands of southeastern New Mexico.  All nine of the insects are herbivorous and plant communities of the sandhills likely constitute an important food source, especially for the insect’s larvae that spend most of their lives below the surface of the sand.

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Monahans Jerusalem Cricket (Stenopalmatus monahansensis). Courtesy Scott Longing.

These sand-dune associated insects are all considered Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Texas Conservation Action Plan (TCAP).  Little to any formalized research has been conducted on these insect species since their original scientific descriptions.  In 2013, the Nongame and Rare Species Program at TPWD funded a proposal by Dr. Scott Longing of Texas Tech University to conduct the first comprehensive survey of these insects in Texas.  Funding for this project was made possible through TPWD’s State Wildlife Grant Program which is focused on supporting conservation aimed at preventing species decline and avoiding the need to list under the Endangered Species Act.

The goal of Dr. Longing’s ongoing study is to better define species distribution and habitat in Texas in order to establish baseline occurrences for the nine endemic insects; a previously unavailable data product.  Such data are critical to an accurate understanding of a species actual conservation status.  To learn more about this project, and to view more images, visit Dr. Longing’s Research Highlight: Invertebrates of Monahans Sandhill.