Bryan Suson was standing in the middle of the woods last Wednesday night, holding a longhorn beetle the size of a ring finger up to Gaven Mosher’s ear.
“If you listen closely, you’ll hear it giving off a distress call that sounds like a squeak,” Suson said. “I promise, it will not crawl in your ear.”
Suson knows what he’s talking about. A naturalist at the Pisgah Field School, he’s well-versed in the flora and fauna of Pisgah National Forest. Each Wednesday night through the end of July, he’ll be leading “Things That Go Bump in the Night,” an educational stroll along the Andy Cove Trail near Brevard. During the two-hour hike, Suson points out the immense biodiversity of the Southern Appalachians, aided by headlamps and flashlights.
Pisgah National Forest completed a couple “pilot runs” of the after-dark nature walks last year, Suson said. The response was overwhelmingly positive, thus the offering has been made available on a weekly basis for two months this summer.
“We’ve seen some special things — like a box turtle laying eggs and big silk moths,” Suson said. “I’d recommend the tour to anyone interested in nature. As long as people don’t come into it expecting to see bears every trip, they’ll enjoy themselves.”
Mosher, an elementary school-aged kid, was one of 12 individuals who followed Suson into the darkened forest last week. Mosher was on Suson’s heels all night, eagerly asking questions about mushrooms, spiders and everything in between.
“I would describe it as very cool,” Mosher said afterward. “Some of the bugs were a bit weird and exotic, but I really liked it.”
That finger-sized longhorn beetle certainly falls under the weird and exotic category. It’s not a creature that Suson often encounters. He was so impressed by the sighting, in fact, that he called it the “find of the night.”
“This is a tropical-sized longhorn beetle we’re looking at here,” he said, letting the thing crawl all over his hands. “This is something you might see in Costa Rica or the Amazon. Very impressive.”
Suson would know.
In the past, he’s led trips into the Amazon, and throughout Latin America. He’s since settled in Swannanoa (a small town of about 4,500 people 10 miles east of Asheville) and has stayed busy exploring the Southern Appalachians, famous for being the most diverse ecosystem in the country.
“Obviously, the closer you get to the equator, the more biodiversity you’ll find,” he said. “But for a temperate ecosystem in the United States, it’s tough to beat [the Southern Appalachians].”
This region is known especially for its salamander diversity. Two species in particular were spotted last Wednesday, including the Blue Ridge Two-Lined Salamander, which isn’t found anywhere else in the world. It was seen shimmying along the top of a branch, searching for a late-night snack.
Mosher was impressed — with the salamanders, the tour and the night in general.
“The salamanders were probably my favorite part of the whole thing,” he said. “And [Bryan] did a great job. He was very enthusiastic, and loved talking about all of the animals.”