INSECT CRITTERS

ANTS

There are many different types of ants in Joshua Tree. They are a resilient and unavoidable guest wherever you might wander, and typically go on about their business when left undisturbed.



CARPENTER ANTS

Many species of Carpenter Ants are black, but some varieties are reddish with black abdomen
Name comes from the damage they cause to wood by tunneling and nesting
Can forage up to 300 feet from colony
Mature colony may contain 2,000 - 4,000 ants
Workers vary in size from 1/4” - 3/4” long
Carpenter Ants feed on other insects and nearly anything people eat, particularly sweets and meats found in kitchen and storage areas.

 

GHOST ANTS

Species features a dark brown head and light colored abdomen
Colonies contain numerous reproductive females and can occupy several different nesting sites
Improper treatment can actually increase and spread the infestation
Workers are extremely small, usually no more than 1/16” long
Ghost ants are attracted to sugar, cake, syrup, etc. They enter the home from a large number of colonies located outside.

 

 PHAROAH ANTS

Species features a pale yellowish to reddish body
Colonies may contain several hundred thousand workers and multiple queens
Can spread a variety of bacteria
Workers are usually about 1/16” long
Pharoah Ants nest in inaccessible areas, such as wall voids, behind baseboards, in furniture, under floors and between linens.

 
FIRE ANTS

Name comes from their ability to inflict especially painful stings
Species features yellowish-brown thorax with darker abdomen
Single queen mounds can number 80-100 per acre, each with up to 250,000 ants
Workers are usually 1/16” - 1/4”
Nests are usually situated outside, in the soil at the base of a tree, shrub, exterior wall or in clumps of grass, However, they can also next inside your home.

 

ARGENTINE ANTS

Species is small, light to dark brown
Colonies can include thousands of workers and many queens
Workers are very aggressive and usually eliiminate other ant species
Workers are usually about 1/16” long
Inside, these ants usually nest near a moisture source, such as water pipes, sinks, potted plants, etc.

 

THIEF ANTS

Named for habit of nesting near other ant nests, which they rob of food
Species can be pale yellow to light or dark brown color
Sometimes feed on dead animals and carry disease to human food
Workers are usually about 1/16” long
Inside, these ants usually nest in small crevices, especially in woodwork and masonry

 

 

BEES
 

The bees place in our world is important beyond our understanding. The little insect that works so tirelessly and quietly around us is one of the reasons, if not a main reason, for the possibility of human development on earth. Our friends up the road at "The Cactus Patch" maintain a couple of hives to keep the surrounding ecosystem happy, so if you see any honey bees buzzing around, they just might be a neighbor!

 

If a bee lands on you, it's because it is either attracted to you scent, or wants the liquid and minerals in your sweat to help hydrate themselves.

 

CARPENTER BEE

​Carpenter bees resemble bumble bees, but they tend to be more uniformly black. The upper surface of their abdomen is bare and shiny black while bumble bees have a hairy abdomen yellow markings. Carpenters are heavy-bodied and metallic blue-black with green or purplish highlights. Despite their similar appearance, the nesting habits of the two types of bees are quite different. Bumble bees usually nest in the ground whereas carpenter bees tunnel into wood to lay their eggs. Bare, unpainted or weathered softwoods are preferred, especially redwood, cedar, cypress and pine. Painted or pressure-treated wood is much less susceptible to attack. Common nesting sites include eaves, window trim, facia boards, siding, wooden shakes, decks and outdoor furniture.

The entrance hole and tunnels are perfectly round and about the diameter of your finger. Coarse sawdust the color of fresh cut wood will often be present beneath the entry hole, and burrowing sounds may be heard from within the wood. Female carpenter bees may excavate new tunnels for egglaying, or enlarge and reuse old ones. The extent of damage to wood which has been utilized for nesting year after year may be considerable.

 

 

HONEY BEE

Honey bees are what we normally think of as a bee. They are called social animals because they live in colonies and rely on each other.  Not all bees are social bees. Some are solitary. Honey bees have a division of labor among the various "kinds" of bees in the colony.  A colony includes a queen, drones, and workers bees.

 

The Queen Is the only bee in the hive that is sexually developed.  She is the largest, and can be recognized by here elongated abdomen.  The worker bee select which eggs will become queens.  Once a queen is born, she goes on a mating flight and drone bees fertilize her.  This fertilization flight can last her entire lifespan.  She lives longer than all the bees in the hive.  Some say she can live years and years, but she is most productive the first two years or so.

 

The Drones are the male bees in the hive.  Their job is only to mate with a queen (and not usually the one in their hive).  They do not collect food or pollen, they do not tend the babies.  In the winter time, they are often kicked out of the hive because resources are scarce. 

 

The Workers are the smallest but the mightiest bees in the colony.  They are all girls!  In a colony there could be as many as 50,000 to 60,000 bees! Worker bees pretty much work themselves to death.  In the beginning of their lives they are nurse bees, then they graduate to field and scout bees.  They also protect the hive and make comb.  They are very busy, and live only about a month or less.  In the winter, they can live longer.

 

 

HONEY BEE FACTS

  • During hot weather honeybees need water to cool themselves and their hives. They are attracted to any moisture source, including human perspiration.

  • Bees can flap their wings as fast as 11,000 times per second. They flap their wings to do a lot of things, but one reason is to heat and cool the hive at all times.  The worker bees keep the hive at a steady temperature (around 92 degrees if possible) all year round with their wing flaps. 

  • Honey bees fly in a radius of about 3-5 miles from their homes to forage for flowers and food. Bees gather both nectar and pollen from flowers and trees. Honey is actually like bee throw-up!!!  They bring the nectar back to the hive and regurgitate the nectar into a honey cell.  Then through flapping their wings (again!), the bees evaporate some of the liquid in the nectar throw-up until it is honey.  Then they seal it for later use.

  • Bees use pollen, which is really sticky, and combine it with nectar to make bee bread.  They feed this to the baby bees, which are also called brood.

  • Bees have a lot of hairs everywhere, even on their eyes!  People think this helps them to be really good at collecting pollen which they then move into their pollen baskets on the back of their legs and take home.

  • Bees see color and they use their eyesight to see flowers.  Bees can see colors that we cannot seen in the ultra-violet rage.  Some flowers even have "runways" that are colored maps showing the bees where to land.  We cannot see these markings on the flowers, but the bees can.

  • Bees preform an essential act by moving pollen and nectar from one flower to another.  They pollinate the flowers and trees which allows fruits and vegetables to be created and to grow.

  • Honey bees fly in the daytime and not at night.  Africanized bees can fly with moonlight though.

  • A hive can make 50-200 pounds of honey a year, and it takes over 150 trips to a flower or tree to make just one teaspoon of honey.

 
 
BLACK WIDOW SPIDER

Latrodectus

Drop for drop, a black widow's venom packs more punch than a rattlesnake's. It is a good thing these little girls rarely bite unless startled, touched, trapped, or brushed against. You will find them in their unspectacular irregular, tangled, sticky silken fiberwebs in out-of-the-way places around homes, wood piles, and old buildings. They are nocturnal and shy by nature. The spider very frequently hangs upside down near the center of its web and waits for insects to blunder in and get stuck. The spider rushes over to bite it and wrap it in silk. If the spider perceives a threat, it will quickly let itself down to the ground on a safety line of silk. As with other web-weavers, these spiders have very poor eyesight and depend on vibrations reaching them through their webs to find trapped prey or warn them of larger threats. The females frequently eat their male partners after mating. The prevalence of sexual cannibalism in Latrodectus females has inspired the common name "Black Widow".

BITES

Many injuries to humans are due to defensive bites delivered when a spider gets unintentionally squeezed or pinched. Ordinarily intrusion into their webs by any large creature will usually cause these spiders to flee. The female black widow has unusually large venom glands and its bite is particularly harmful to humans; however, the bites rarely kill humans if proper medical treatment is provided. Widow spiders inject a toxin that affects the nervous system (neurotoxin). 

The bite may feel like a pin prick, or not felt at all. You might notice two faint red spots (fang marks) surrounded by local redness at the bite. At first, there may be only slight local swelling. Within 30-60 minutes, severe pain/muscle cramps/spasms start and progress up or down from the bite, finally localizing in the abdomen and back. Pain increases for 6-12 hours. There may be pain in the muscles and soles of the feet, and eyelids may become swollen. Muscle and chest pain or tightness are common. Other symptoms may be nausea, profuse perspiration, tremors, labored breathing and speech, and vomiting. In more serious cases, a weak pulse, cold clammy skin, unconsciousness, or convulsions may occur. Fatalities from untreated widow bites are uncommon.

If you are waiting for medical help, clean the site well with soap and water. Apply a cool compress over the bite land keep the affected limb elevated to about heart level. Application of a mild antiseptic such as iodine or hydrogen peroxide prevents infection. Keep quiet and warm. The very old, very young, and those with high blood pressure are at greatest risk. In severe cases, physicians can intravenously inject calcium gluconate to counteract most effects of the toxin. A black widow antiserum also is available. Don't try to suck out the poison. 

There is a specific antivenin which is used when signs of systemic envenomation are observed. The pressure-immobilization method is not recommended since it can cause extreme pain in the affected area. Instead, ice packs could be used for relief.

 

 

CENTIPEDE

Centipedes are the "100-legged worms" you find under rocks and old logs. They use their venomous(to other insects) pincers to capture spiders and insects, and can sometimes give humans a painful (wasp-like bite) if they feel threatened. To stay on their good side, watch where you put your hands and remember to shake out your clothes after a night camping in the desert.

 

Centipedes belong to the insect class of Chilopoda and there are some 3,150 represented throughout the world. The class is further broken down into four orders by varying leg segments and total number of legs. While the word "centipede" itself translates to "100 feet", Centipedes can be found with as little as 30 legs or as many as 100. The most common residential North American species is the House Centipede which can grow to be over an inch in length. Other species can exceed six inches. 

 

 
CONENOSE KISSING BUG or "ASSASSIN BUG"

Triatoma sp

Often found in packrat nests, this non-venomous, blood-sucking insect has a painful bite that can cause allergic reactions. Campers should carefully inspect the area for packrat nests. These nests may provide shelter for this insect.

Assassin bugs are killer insects that feed on blood or other insects. The kissing bug label comes from the insect's ability to steal a blood meal by piercing the lips, eyelids or ears of a sleeping human victim. Assassin bugs have a flat, narrow body, with an abdomen that is sometimes widened in the middle. Its long narrow head holds the deadly weapon it uses to prey on its victims - a segmented proboscis (beak).

Typically, assassin bugs are between 1.2 centimetres and five centimetres long and are usually black, brown or sometimes spotted with bright colours. They have been known to hide out in bathtubs, sinks and drains, but they are more commonly found in savanna and forest habitats on bushes, tall vegetation or in wood rat nests and raccoon dens.

The assassin bug stalks and ambushes its insect prey. The kill is a carefully laid plan that involves leaping on the prey, grasping it with its two front legs, immediately stabbing it with its sharp proboscis and then injecting paralyzing venom.Many assassin bugs are bloodsucking parasites that prey on various mammals including humans. Others are predators that feed on flies, caterpillars, bed bugs and various other insects including other assassin bugs. Some bites can cause an allergic, life-threatening reaction in humans. At the very least, the bite is painful. 

 

 

FAIRY SHRIMP

Branchinecta

When desert rains cause pools of water to form, you are apt to find fairy shrimp emerging from their eggs. Fairy shrimp eggs lie dormant throughout long periods of drought. Look for them during the spring and early summer in low-lying clay pans. These tiny creatures are a food source that attracts shore birds and numerous migratory birds to the desert.

 

 

GIANT DESERT HAIRY SCORPION

Hadrurus arizonensis

There is an African saying: “A scorpion in the shoe early in the morning.” Always check your shoes before putting them on, your bedding, and zip up your bags at night to keep them from crawling in. Be careful in areas known to be swarming with scorpions and in places you cannot see well! Remember, if you find one scorpion, there are many others around. Check your boots, clothing, and bedding for scorpions. 

Despite their bad reputation, only one species in the U.S. (found in much of Arizona) and about 20 others worldwide have venom potent enough to be considered dangerous to humans. The venom of this scorpion may produce severe pain and swelling at the site of the sting, numbness, frothing at the mouth, difficulties in breathing (including respiratory paralysis), muscle twitching, and convulsions. Even so, death is rare, especially in more recent times. An antivenom is available for severe cases. Unfortunately, children, because of their small size, are at greater risk of more severe envenomation than the adults. 

Scorpions in Joshua Tree range up to 5 inches in length and are among the less toxic varieties. The so-called "giant" is usually not much larger than 4", and is not lethal to humans. It is a native of the Mojave desert. Unless you go poking around the desert floor with a flashlight at night, or peeking under rocks and bark by day, you are unlikely to find a scorpion.

Scorpions have stingers at the ends of their long tails which they use to stun spiders and insects. Most scorpions (including those in Joshua Tree) have a sting only about as strong as a wasp's. Only one kind in California has a sting strong enough to be deadly to us, and it is pretty rare (located in the extreme south-east).

Scorpions are nocturnal, predatory animals that feed on a variety of insects, spiders, centipedes, and other scorpions. Prey are located primarily by sensing vibrations. Scorpions have an array of fine sensory hairs called trichobothria that sense air-borne vibrations; the tips of their legs have small organs that detect vibrations in the ground. The surfaces of the legs, pedipalps, and body are also covered with thicker hairs (setae) that are sensitive to direct touch. Although they are equipped with venom to defend themselves, scorpions fall prey to many types of creatures such as insectivorous lizards, birds (especially owls), and mammals.

In case of an accident, the best you can do is to apply a cold pack and transport the patient to an emergency medical facility as soon as possible. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center also recommend cleaning the site with soap and water, cool compress, elevation of the affected limb to approximately heart level, and an analgesic as needed for minor discomfort.

 

 

PUPFISH

Fish? In the desert? Pupfish originally inhabited a stream and lake system stretching from the Sierra Nevada through the Colorado River system over 10,000 years ago. As the climate became drier, populations became separated and eventually evolved into the five distinctive species that exist today. Some have an exceptionally high tolerance for salty water and temperature extremes. The two- inch-long fish may be seen in Death Valley National Park and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

The Desert Pupfish is a small, silvery-colored fish with 6 to 9 dark bands on its sides. This tiny fish grows to a full average length of only 2.5 inches. Pupfish develop quickly, sometimes reaching full maturity within 2 to 3 months. Although their average life span is 6 to 9 months, some survive more than one year.

Pupfish have a short, scaled head with an upturned mouth. The anal and dorsal fins are rounded with the dorsal sometimes exhibiting a dark blotch. The caudal fin is convex at the rear.

Pupfish feed on brown and green algae. During winter months, when the water is cold, they become dormant, burrowing in the muddy bottom of their habitat.

LIFECYCLE: Towards the end of summer, most desert pools and other desert waters dry up, killing most pupfish. Only a few bodies of water do not dry up completely, so very few pupfish survive. During the coldest parts of winter, pupfish burrow into the muddy bottom and become dormant until the weather warms up. They then mate and reproduce quickly. Most pupfish have a life span of less than one year.

As spring approaches and the water warms, Pupfish become very active and begin their mating ritual. The breeding males become iridescent blue in color and defend their territory, chasing away all other fish except females that are ready to spawn. Spawning starts towards the end of February and continues through summer.

As temperatures become extreme toward summer, evaporation dries up most pools and streams, resulting in the death of most Pupfish. A few survive in the small number of pools, streams and springs that do not dry up completely.

The various species of Pupfish serve as evidence that a series of prehistoric desert lakes were once interconnected. This genus speciated when these Pleistocene lakes evaporated around 10,000 years ago, isolating different groups from each other. Among the 13 know species of Pupfish, C. macularius and C. diabolis (the Desert Hole Pupfish) are the most well known.

Several species of the Pupfish are endangered by desert development and the introduction of exotic fish species into their habitat. Pupfish are protected at various locations in Death Valley National Park, including Saratoga Springs, Salt Creek and a totally distinct portion of the park located in Nevada called Devil's Hole. Pupfish can also be seen at California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.



 

​ROBBER FLY ("ASSASIN FLY")

Asilidae

There are over 7000 species, with looks ranging from mosquito to fly to dragonfly to wasp. They are powerfully built, bristly flies with short, sharp, stout sucking mouthparts. The name "robber flies" reflects their notoriously aggressive predatory habits; they feed mainly on other insects and they largely wait in ambush and catch their prey in flight. All robber flies have stout, spiny legs and 3 simple eyes (ocelli) in a characteristic depression between their two large compound eyes.

 

They also have a usually dense moustache of stiff bristles on the face; this is called the mystax, a term derived from the Greek mystakos meaning "moustache" or "upper lip". The mystax probably affords some protection for the head and face when the flies deal with struggling prey; various Asilidae prey on formidable species including stinging Hymenoptera, powerful grasshoppers, dragonflies and even other Asilidae, in fact practically anything of a suitable size. Some Asilidae do however specialise in smaller prey, and this is reflected in their more gracile build. In general the family attacks a very wide range of prey, including other flies, beetles, butterflies and moths, various bees, ants, dragon and damselflies, ichneumon wasps, grasshoppers, and some spiders. They do so apparently irrespective of any repugnatorial chemicals the prey may have at its disposal. Many Asilidae when attacked in turn do not hesitate to defend themselves with their proboscides and may deliver intensely painful bites if handled incautiously.

 

SCOLID WASP

(Triscolia Ardens)

​If you're lucky enough to see a wasp with a bright furry red butt, it's a Triscolia Ardens Scoliid Wasp. Female scoliid wasps actively seek out the beetle grubs as hosts for their larval offspring.T. ardens is the only member of its genus in North America north of Mexico. It occurs from Texas to southern California and is relatively common. Females are robust, with short antennae. Males have long antennae and sport a three-pronged "pseudosting" at the tip of the abdomen. Scoliids of both genders can be found visiting flowers, especially milkweed, seep willow (Baccharis), saltcedar (Tamarix), desert willow (Chilopsis), mesquite (Prosopis), scalebroom (Lepidospartum), and buckwheat (Eriogonum). At the end of the day, the wasps bed down singly on vegetation, remaining alert but not not terribly motivated to move as the desert temperatures begin to fall. 

Their life cycle can be generalized as follows. The female wasps fly low over the ground, somehow divining the presence of subterranean scarab beetle grubs. Once one is detected, the wasp digs it up, using her densely spiny legs to send the soil flying. Once she unearths the grub, she stings it into paralysis. This allows her to lay a single egg on the grub. After she accomplishes her mission, she re-buries the grub and flees the scene of the crime (some species have been observed moving the grub deeper into the soil and fashioning an earthen cell around it before depositing an egg and sealing the tunnel). The beetle grub apparently never recovers from its coma. The egg of the wasp hatches, and the larva that emerges will feed as an external parasite on its host for about a week or two before spinning a silken cocoon and pupating. Most North American scoliids overwinter in the pupal stage. The size of the mature wasp is dependent on the size of the host beetle grub. Even the largest Triscolia ardens seldom exceed about 30 millimeters in body length, but one frequently finds "dwarfs" that obviously suffered a lack of nutrition in their youth. 

 

​STINKBUG

This walking black beetle freezes in a handstand pose at the slightest disturbance, emitting a disgusting odor to repel predators or perceived threats. The pose is enough to stop those familiar with this scavenger.

Wild horse, Equus caballus, and Burro, Equus assinus

 

 

​SUN SPIDER or "CAMEL SPIDER"​

Solifigud

One of these fast and scary looking creeps came crawling out onto the floor late one night as we watched the "Iron Chef", and what an appetite-killer it was! It was fast and threatening-looking and I couldn't get my wife to get rid of it for me.

Sun spiders are 1 to 3 inches (25 to 75 mm) long and are yellow or tan in color. They have eight walking legs, long club-like first appendages (pedipalps) and large, muscular chelicerae (jaws). The tips of the chelicerae are equipped with pairs of pincers that are quite formidable. When moving, sunspiders often hold their pedipalps in the air.

Sun spiders are found throughout the world in mostly tropical and subtropical areas. They are also at home in the hottest, driest deserts of the world. Sun spiders are good predators, able to run down their prey and catch it with great speed. This voraciuos carnivore feeds upon insects and arachnids, small lizards, birds and even small mammals. They are also good diggers and probably spend most of their time underground. They are most active in the desert southwest during the warm months of May and June, and they remain active throughout the rainy season during July, August, and September.

Pound for pound this hairy, largely nocturnal arachnid has a much deadlier set of jaws (or chelicerae- the insect equivalent) than a great white shark. In fact this creature, also known as the wind-scorpion, has the strongest jaws - relative to size -of any animal on earth.

During the day they can often be found under a log or in a crack in the soil. Staying cool is their daytime task and hunting their nightime joy. Its long legs allow it to traverse its habitat at a very high rate of speed. And if food is available, a solifugid will keep eating until its abdomen is so distended that it's practically immobile. 

 

 

TARANTULA HAWK (Wasps)

I was shocked when I first saw one of these magnificent creatures. It was like a Yellowjacket, but three times the size, and shiny metallic purple-blue-black with orange wings! The Tarantula Hawk! They are nectar feeders, and can often be found in groups of a dozen or more, feeding on flowers. They are especially fond of milkweed flowers.

Their means of reproduction is what gives them their name. Females, ready to lay eggs, are on the lookout for a tarantula. They often disturb the web near a tarantulas burrow, and when the tarantula rushes out the wasp stings the spider and injects venom. Instead of killing the tarantula, the venom only causes paralysis. The wasp then drags the tarantula to a burrow, stuffs it down the hole, and then lays her eggs on top of the paralyzed spider. Several days later the eggs hatch, and the larvae feed on the still living tarantula.

Tarantula hawks are most active in the summer, during the day. Only a few animals, such as roadrunners, eat tarantula hawks. The wasps are "nectivorous," and they have been known to become "flight-challenged" after consuming fermented fruit.

Tarantula hawk stings are considered to be the most painful of any North American insect. On a scale of one to four, Pepsis formosa was one of only two insects to rate a four. This compares with a one for a Solenopsis xyloni (desert fire ant), two for a Apis mellifera (honey bee) and three for a Dasymutilla klugii (velvet ant).

One researcher described the tarantula hawk’s sting this way: "To me, the pain is like an electric wand that hits you, inducing an immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations. The pain for me lasted only about three minutes, during which time the sting area was insensitive to touch, i.e., a pencil point poked near the sting resulted only in a dull deep pressure pain."

 

STINGS

Tarantula wasps are unusual in the severity of their stings. Generally, it is the more social insects that deliver the most painful stings because they have a large nest to defend. Although painful, the Pepsis sting is not especially lethal. It rates a 38 on a lethal capacity scale. This compares with 5.9 for a Dasymutilla klugii, 54 for a Apis mellifera, and 200 for a Pogonomyrmex maricopa (a desert-dwelling seed-harvester ant).

Treatment: Wash sting sites with soap and water and apply a topical antibiotic. If the victim has been stung several times, keep the stung extremity elevated to reduce swelling. Persons who show signs of an allergic reaction, including labored breathing, facial swelling, nausea, sweating or chills should go to a hospital emergency room immediately.

 

While our immediate reaction to bugs may be fear and disgust, we know that all creatures are an important part of the ecosystem. From pollination, to pest control, to being a food source, there is beauty and purpose for all creatures that we can appreciate. Except cockroaches. And house flies. Okayyyy, even them!

 

Bites and stings usually happen when people place their hands or feet into crevices or when they disturb or threaten the animal. Even then, most bites and stings, while painful, are not fatal. Poisonous insects use their venom to stun the creatures they plan to eat, and will only attack humans when provoked.

 

Always remember to look first before placing your hands or bare feet anywhere, especially into crevices, debris, piles of stuff like wood. And if the worst should happen, be safe rather than sorry and head for medical attention right away.

It's a good idea to shake out / inspect clothing, shoes (especially), linens, towels, etc. before putting them to use. You never know when a scorpion will decide to spend the night in your favorite sneakers!