The Ladybugs of Bockman Peak

The gentle gray walls of the South Couloir of Bockman Peak, southwest of Libby, Montana, provide just enough protection from the sun so the peak can hold snow late into the ski season. This is where I find myself in late May, heading straight up the couloir with ski boots on my feet. I stumble out of the couloir to find the snow is mostly burned off the ridge that connects Snowshoe and Bockman Peaks. Walking on chossy granite in ski boots, I continue toward the high point, and the summit rocks come into focus. The slate-colored rocks provide a sharp contrast to the snow’s whiteness and the short, green white pines growing near the top. Specks of red begin to appear as the ridgeline flattens and the peak nears. The rocks appear to be covered in red lichen. Yet upon further inspection, it is apparent that the rocks are not covered in lichen but hundreds of ladybugs.

I have stumbled upon convergent ladybugs coming out of diapause. The convergent ladybug (Hippodamia convergens) is a beetle renowned for its peak-bagging abilities. Every fall, many of this species migrate by the thousands to the upper reaches of tall mountains. This event marks the first stages of a 9-month hibernation process called diapause, where ladybugs form large colonies to maintain body temperatures, conserve resources and facilitate reproduction. The convergent ladybug, as its name suggests, builds large colonies in locations hidden from predators: under rocks and leaves and on mountain tops. Summit ladybugs will become covered by feet of snow, which will serve to insulate them from harsh winter conditions by sustaining a temperature right above freezing and protecting them from the elements. As the daylight increases and temperatures begin to rise, these beetles will come out of diapause, mate and move on to lower elevations in search of aphids.

The convergent ladybugs are fierce predators. While this beetle can survive on nectar and pollen alone, aphids are vital for its reproductive cycle. Females will not lay eggs if there is not an abundant supply of aphids. Both adults and larvae gorge themselves on aphids, consuming 30 to 50 aphids a day as adults. Aphids are one of the most damaging pests on crops in temperate regions, so the ladybug’s massive appetite for the insect makes it an ideal biological pest control for many farmers wary of using insecticides. But I haven’t climbed up to the top of Bockman Peak to cash in on an agricultural goldmine. I am here to ski.

I bid farewell to my hundreds of new friends and slide away from the 8,174-foot summit, traversing back down the south face until the slope begins its funnel into the South Couloir of Bockman Peak. The South Couloir offers a 2,200-foot descent before the couloir turns into a waterfall and stream that pours into Leigh Lake. The cliff that the ski line divides extends from the snow at a 50-degree angle, giving the couloir more of a gully feeling than a true walled-in chute. Still it is an eye-pleasing and long ski line. The slope of the run begins in the upper 30s on the top of the run and then mellows out to a somewhat consistent slope angle in the upper 20 to lower 30 degrees as the walls of the couloir narrow, leaving a strip of snow only 15 feet across. The length of the run, aesthetic nature, beautiful location and easy access from Leigh Lake make it an Inland Northwest classic. //

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