Phoenix is crawling with interesting insects – literally! Yes, some are dangerous, but others are just wonderfully weird and harmless. Today we’ll take a look at these – and what you can do if you encounter one.
Giant Mesquite Bugs
Giant mesquite bugs (Thasus neocalifornicus) are a member of the Coreidae family. The insects (pictured above) are very large bugs — about 2 inches long as adults. As their name suggests, like to feed on the sugary pods and sap of local mesquite trees. But as Kathleen Walker, Assistant Specialist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona said, “Although they feed on mesquites, the trees tolerate them just fine.”
She also told us that “they are most noticeable in the hot pre-monsoon weeks of June when they retreat from the tops of the trees and you see collections of bright red and white nymphs on the tree trunks.”
Iron Cross Blister Beetles
Iron cross blister beetles (Tegrodera aloga) are, as Walker puts it, “truly freaky looking.” It’s a mixture of vibrant colors that include a red head and a yellow and black body. If you see one, it’s not hard to identify.
Kathleen said that these insects are pretty harmless, but to be careful picking one up. They typically won’t damage your lawn, but if you touch them with your bare hands, you could get some nasty blisters. They can put off a defensive chemical called cantharidin. While the cantharidin that iron cross blister beetles excrete is not deadly to touch, it could be fatal for a pet or livestock if too much is consumed.
Another fascinating, but weird insect that you can find in Arizona is the Webspinner (Oligotoma nigra). It’s hard to find elsewhere but is commonly seen in Southern Arizona.
Kathleen shared with us that “You find these small dark insects with huge front legs living under brush (or on your front porch under a house plant or pile of firewood) in silken galleries. They make the silk using special organs in their swollen front legs. They live together in these galleries and scuttle backward when you scare them. They are totally harmless.”
The Apache cicada (Diceroprocta apache) is another weird-looking insect you can find in Phoenix. It has clear wings and big, bulging eyes. It’s one of the types of cicadas that you’ll find during the hottest days of the summer. They can live two to five years, but most of this time they live underground in isolation, just waiting. During the heat of summer days, they surface to mate and lay hundreds of eggs – before burrowing back into the soil to spend their last few days.
The Arizona Sister (Adelpha bredowii eulalia) is a weirdly beautiful butterfly. It is a large butterfly that is black-brown in color mixed with patches of orange and white. But what makes it distinguishable from other butterflies is the blue bar that stretches along the white outer band of its hindwing. Unlike other butterflies, which are typically drawn to flowering plants, this weird little creature prefers mud, rotting fruit, and tree sap.
The Desert centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha) is a creepy crawling creature that likes to feed off of other creatures. Its carnivorous cravings include lizards, rodents, and other insects. If it is hard to imagine a centipede consuming a lizard or mouse, remember, this isn’t your ordinary centipede. The desert centipede is quite large averaging six to eight inches long and can live for up to five years. It has structures called gnathopods that it uses to inject its prey with venom before eating it.
The mere word, tarantula, is enough to strike fear into many, especially those who detest spiders. The weirdest tarantula in Phoenix has got to be the desert tarantula (Aphonopelma). It’s huge and hairy — with leg spans that can reach up to 4 inches. But what may be the weirdest thing about these spiders is the fact that as big and scary-looking as they seem, they are actually pretty harmless. If you provoke one, it might bite. But no need to call for pest control — leave it alone and it will leave you alone, too!
Giant Hairy Scorpion
It’s Phoenix, so of course a scorpion had to make the list of weird, creepy critters, right? Of the different kinds of scorpions that call Arizona home, the giant hairy scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis) has to be the weirdest. This scorpion is very large at 5 inches long — and intimidating. Surprisingly, bigger doesn’t equate to more poisonous. Although its sting will hurt, the giant hairy scorpion’s bite is not as dangerous as the bite from the more-common Arizona bark scorpion.