What do we have to say about insects?

Bugs belong here on earth. It’s all part of the chain – most bugs are food for animals, people, and even other insects. Other bugs break down dead or dying vegetation or other cellulose materials, which then converts to soil or back to the atmosphere. It’s all part of the natural, global event of ongoing decay and renewal.

In scientific terms, insects are in what’s called ‘phylum’ Arthropods – yes, the phylum of we people is “Anthropoids,” and that means “resembling a human.” Arthropod, according to the dictionary, means “having a segmented body, jointed limbs, and usually a shell that undergoes moltings…” However, insects can be described in broader terms than that.  Traits and lifestyle descriptions can also be more detailed, see below.


termites~The news about termites

Good news:  Is there actually good news about these destructive pests?  Yes; with proper prevention, a termite infestation never has to happen. 

Bad news:  In much of the world, termites are the one insect family that causes the most destruction to wood structures. 

Middlin’ news:  Termites break down not only natural materials, but also plastic.  If we become neglectful about recycling, maybe we can infest landfills with termites.

~An unpleasant encounter with termites
First, you see a small swarm of what may look like white winged ants in your home.  Next, you notice that the paint is cracking or bubbling on the walls.  You slap your hand suspiciously against the wall, and hear a hollow sound.  You then spot what looks like insect droppings, and tiny discarded wings.  Finally, you see small, odd-looking tubes that appear to have been made from mud.  Any or all of these signs give rise to what is an unpleasant encounter with termites, because they are most likely infesting your home.

~Details about the threat in Arizona
Among others, there is a type of termite specific to the southern Arizona desert which is less dependant on moisture and decay than other subterranean species.  These termites live underground, and feed on desert plants, but will also attack the wood in buildings.  Because of the heat and light of the sun, termites in the desert must build mud tubes above ground, which is a good way to spot a potential infestation.

~The best thing about termites
Termites are the world’s best recyclers.  Anything cellulose – which is the chief constituent of the cell walls of plants, wood, cotton, hemp, paper, etc. – can be devoured by termites, if they so choose.  They break down debris, which returns to the soil and atmosphere so that more cellulose materials can be formed, and the cycle goes on and on.

~Something interesting about termites
Termites don’t only eat the wood of your home for themselves.  They chew on it and swallow it, then what they expel is food for their young.

~A heartbreaking fact about termites
They eat books.  Because they prefer their food to be old, this means the books they eat were written long ago, before we had mass-publications.  How many great works of fiction, history, science, and so on became food to be chewed, expelled, and eaten again?

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arrowAnts (Fire Ants)

ants~The news about ants

Good news:  An ant can relocate the entire colony if their location becomes uncomfortable.  This means if you don’t like them living in or near your home, you can make it unpleasant for them, and they’ll leave.  Bad news:  Members of ant colonies can number from hundreds of thousands to many millions.  Middlin’ news:  Ants will only invade a home if given good reason – keep a clean kitchen, and it’s unlikely you’ll have a problem.

ant bites~An unpleasant encounter with ants

The type of ants that will bite or sting are most likely to be found outside.  We have fire ants here in Arizona, and the sting results in a tiny but significant point of burning pain.  Bear in mind the biggest reason ants will attack you is if you have intruded upon their work and/or nest.

~The best thing about ants

Ants take the place of earthworms here in the desert, aerating the soil, which helps with not only drainage but moisture retention.  Ants even fertilize and distribute native plants.  Also, even those terrible fire ants help us because they are predators on other insects.

~Details about the threat in Arizona

Here in Arizona, we have southern fire ants and harvester ants, which bite and sting.  Since we can run away and brush off the attackers, stings won’t kill us, but they can be very dangerous to those with allergies and sensitivities.  These ants are also capable of biting and stinging your domesticated animals – which is especially unfortunate if they cannot escape, as in the case of stabled horses.

~Something interesting about ants

Many ants cultivate food by using other insects.  They will care for aphid eggs in their own colony during the winter, and in the spring, they’ll carry their charges from plant to plant to gather sap.  The aphids excrete that sap as excess sugar, a “honeydew,” and the ants will “milk” the aphids.  The honeydew feeds the ant colony.

~The scariest thing about ants

The image: An adventurer is captured by an indigenous tribe and buried up to his neck at the base of an anthill.  The audience shudders as he is consumed by the ants, one burning bite at a time, screaming in pain and terror.  That’s the worst-case scenario, and it’s unlikely to happen anywhere other than Africa or Australia.  Ants will sting and bite (and chew and pick to pieces) any animal too slow to get away from them, and in the aforementioned countries, that includes human beings.

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bees~The news about bees
Good news:  In most cases, a single sting will only cause irritation, and most bees need to be provoked before they will sting. 

Bad news: There can be serious consequences for people who are allergic to bee stings, or if there are multiple stings by a swarm of “killer bees” (see below). 

Middlin’ news:  Although it’s true that multiple stings can be a serious problem, that’s unlikely to occur unless the hive itself is disturbed.

~An unpleasant encounter with bees
We expect to find bees in a hive in the yard (in a tree or cactus trunk), but they might also nest in sheds, attics, and even the walls of houses.  If the hive is disturbed, bees will swarm, and it’s the number of stings that can cause the most damage.  Cover your body – especially the head and face – and run for shelter.  Don’t jump in the water, because there’s a good chance the bees will wait for you to come up for air.

~The best thing about bees
Honey!  Others might say “pollen,” which is considered by some as “nature’s most complete food” (it’s loaded with protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes… and more.)  However, it’s possible that the best thing about bees is that they’re responsible for most of the pollination that happens in the world.  That’s pretty important, considering the fact that about a third of the human food supply depends on pollination of plants.

~Details about the threat in Arizona
There have been reports of Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) in Yuma.  It’s rare, but you might see a swarm.  If so, be very, very afraid.  According to reports, it isn’t necessary to disturb their nest to be attacked.  They can also respond with great anger to noise or even simple, innocent vibration (like walking across a wood deck).

~Something interesting about bees
Bees and light…  Bees refer to angle of light from the sun when they communicate the location of nectar to one another.  They are also able to see ultraviolet light, which is why they can navigate on the cloudiest days – ultraviolet light can penetrate clouds.

~The scariest thing about bees
Everyone is familiar with the term “killer bees.”  Why are they capable of causing not only serious injury, but even death?  It isn’t that their venom is stronger than that of other bees, it’s the fact that they attack in large numbers, and they’ll chase you for a lot longer than bees indigenous to our area.  If you get caught by a swarm, the best advice for protection is to cover your body as best as you can – especially your head and face.

~A sad thing about bees
Many bees live in areas where they can’t be caught in the death-clouds of agricultural spraying.  However, sweeping spray programs meant for mosquitoes and other insect pests is also killing massive numbers of bees.  Bees are also threatened by a pest of their own –the varroa mite – and it’s killing them off in staggering numbers.  The only thing saving the bees is when they’re being cared for by beekeepers, but that might not be enough!

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cockroach~The news about cockroaches
Good news:  Cockroaches seek secluded areas, so they don’t pester us like flies.  Bad news:  There area a lot of secluded niches to be found in human homes, and there are cockroach species that only exists to live with us.  A partial list of what they feed on is food, drink, plants, leather, fabrics, and hair.  Middlin’ news:  It’s unlikely a cockroach will be deadly to humans.  They’re just disgusting to most of us.

~An unpleasant encounter with cockroaches
Many desert dwellers know that in an infested home, one must stomp on the floor before turning on a light deep in the night.  If we don’t do that, we may surprise a gruesome cockroach party of Woodstock proportions.  Also, it should be mentioned in this agricultural community: Both open-air and greenhouse farmers can lose great crops to cockroaches.

~The best thing about cockroaches
These pesky pests are priceless to researchers who study biological morphology.  That’s an important field of science; it’s the study of the entire form and structure of organisms in general.  Cockroaches are also good for testing new insecticides, and we’re always looking for the safest way to control all pests.

~Details about the threat in Arizona
We’re mostly bothered by German cockroaches here.  They, like other species, can contaminate food and may transmit disease organisms.  However for the most part, contaminated food simply smells and tastes bad, and disease transmitted by cockroaches is rare.

~Something interesting about cockroaches
Some may say this is interesting, others that it’s just more bad news: The German cockroach, which is commonly found in Yuma, can live 20 days without food or water, 14 days with dry food and no water, and 35 days on water alone.  This is why “German cockroach” is a misnomer – all cockroaches that adapted to living in our homes originated in Africa.  The fact that they can live so long on low or no nutrition is why they were able to travel the wide world on ships.  Captain Bligh provided one of those transport ships, the HMS Bounty.  He battled the infestation – apparently, ineffectively –with boiling water.

~The scariest thing about cockroaches
Many of the organisms that cause human diseases are found on various body parts of cockroaches, including Salmonella.  Anybody who has ever had food poisoning is familiar with that the agony of Salmonella.

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fleas~The news about fleas
Good news:  If you don’t have pets, the chance that you’ll get fleas is extremely low.  Bad news:  Aside from the terrible itching flea bites can cause, they’re also capable of vectoring everything from typhus to the plague.  Middlin’ news:  Once the pet and the house is treated, and as long as preventative techniques are employed, repeated flea infestations do not have to happen.

~An unpleasant encounter with fleas
It’s bad enough that pets can be tortured by fleas, but many humans are also adversely affected by their bites – especially when a single flea jumps around and feeds over and over.  The bite on a sensitive person often begins as a red spot with a red halo and some swelling, then the itching begins.  Scratching too much can cause a secondary infection.

~Details about the threat in Arizona
Just about the only place fleas are unlikely to appear is in high elevations or exceptionally dry environments.  Because we live in a region that is usually warm, and we do experience humidity, fleas abound.

~The best thing about fleas
The best flea is a dead flea.

~Something commonly unknown about fleas
Fleas were responsible for the devastating plague that struck Europe in the 1300s.  Yes, rats carried the disease, but it was mainly fleas that transferred it to humans.  The resulting loss was 25 million people throughout the European continent.

~A strange and scary fact about fleas
This is connected to what is ‘interesting’ – Based on the ability of fleas to transmit disease, Japan, Germany, and the Soviet Union considered using them in biological warfare.  This was in the 1930s, but in WWII, Canada also studied fleas as disease vectors for the Allies.  During the Korean war the U.S. began researching the possibility of fleas as weapons, and it is reportedly still under consideration by countries today.

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gophers~The news about gophers
Good news:  Animal advocates will be happy to know that trapping gophers is as effective trapped as killing them.  Bad news:  Once a gopher has set up a tunnel system, other gophers will use it even after you’ve eliminated the instigator.  Middlin’ news:  For the most part, gophers live and work alone, so you won’t find a nest of them.

~An unpleasant encounter with gophers
If you notice your beautiful garden is being raided, and you spot (or stumble into) a hole, you’ve been invaded.  A gopher’s tunnel can often spread over hundreds – sometimes thousands – of square feet.

~The best thing about gophers
Gophers are beneficial to our ecosystem because they mix plant material and fecal wastes into soil, and aerate it, too.  Their activity also brings minerals to the surface, which forms new soil.  The earth loves gophers more than gardeners do.

~Details about the threat in Arizona
Because gophers spend so much time underground, which is cooler than above ground, living in the desert is not a problem for them.  They are not an uncommon pest in Yuma.

~Something interesting about gophers
Your garden-variety gopher is also called a ‘pocket’ gopher.  The reason is because they have those pouches in their cheeks, but what’s interesting is that those pouches are fur-lined.  Another strangely disturbing fact to visualize: a gopher’s lips close behind their four front teeth.

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termites~The news about pigeons
Good news:  Pigeons don’t bite or (voluntarily) invade the home.  Also, it’s extremely rare for an accumulation of pigeon droppings to be reported as a cause of human health problems.  Bad news:  The droppings of pigeons stiffens so severely that it can be quite difficult to clean.  It’s a nasty enough visual on cement, but it can actually damage buildings and cars.  Middlin’ news:  Have you ever seen a pigeon flock in flight?  They’re beautiful, and they don’t release their bowels while flying in a flock.

~An unpleasant encounter with pigeons
Depending on what sort of roofing you have, you might hear them stomping around up there looking for a place to roost.  You can also hear them calling in their dove-like tunes.  If the sound of them becomes common, you will begin to see the droppings – and at that time, you’ll be doing some scraping and polishing no matter how quickly you can get them controlled.

~The best thing about pigeons
‘Controlling’ a pigeon problem does not mean they will need to be killed, although that may become necessary in extreme situations.  Even then, they can usually be re-directed to a new roosting site, and only a few determined stragglers will need to be eliminated.

~Details about the threat in Arizona
The type of pigeon we have here in Yuma is called a Trenton.  They congregate (flock), causing the aesthetic “threat” posed by the abundance of droppings.

~Something interesting about pigeons
Pigeons mate for life and raise their babies as a couple – the father helps sit on the egg and feeds the young, too.  If a mate dies, the survivor will find another.

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The graphic below was provided by: Kenton Elliott

scorpionsGood news: There’s only one scorpion in North America that is dangerous to human beings. 

Bad news: That scorpion lives here in the desert, and is called the Arizona Bark Scorpion. 

Middlin’ news: Although the poison is dangerous, it’s unlikely to be fatal; the biggest threat is to the young, the very old, and people in poor health.

~An unpleasant encounter with the Arizona Bark Scorpion
The most dangerous scorpion that lives here bears the intimidating technical name of Centruroides exilicauda.  Being stung by this scorpion can cause extreme pain.  Numbness and swelling will usually appear around the bite, while the rest of the body may react with difficulty breathing, twitching of the muscles, convulsions, even frothing at the mouth.  For treatment, see below.

~The best thing about scorpions
Yes, there is something good about them:  They feed on not only each other, but also on other insects, including spiders.  Big scorpions will even eat lizards, snakes, and mice.

~Details about the threat in Arizona
We share this desert life with scorpions, and they’re bound to turn up now and again.  If you’ve seen them in the land around your home, it would be a good idea to check your shoes before putting them on – they may hide in such tucked-away places during the day.  A higher number of scorpions might be running around all the construction areas in Yuma, because their habitat is being disturbed.

~Scorpion sting treatment
There are two factors to state, here: 1)  Scorpions are nocturnal, so you can avoid them if you stay in at night.  2)  (And this should be obvious) If you’ve been stung by a scorpion, get to a doctor!  There is an anti-venom, and it will hopefully be available when and where you need it.

If you’re about to wander in the desert and won’t be near medical help, it would be a good idea to plan ahead.  Bring a bite extractor pump with you – this would be handy for snake-bites, too.  If the AZ Bark Scorpion gets you, use the pump to draw out as much poison as you can.  Next, you should also bring water and alcohol on your hike.  If you have no rubbing alcohol, the potable type will do.  Clean the wound.  Now you can try to make your way toward where a doctor can be found – the only other relief you might get along the way is if you can keep the wound cool.

It’s too easy for us to calmly make this statement, but make it we will: Try not to panic if you’ve been stung.  Over-excitement of the body will cause the venom to travel faster through your veins.

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arrowExotic Insects

antlionAntlion – This larva looks ferocious, but they don’t use their sickle-like jaws on humans.

licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Germany.

tarantulaMexican Redknee Tarantula – So terrifyingly beautiful it’s popular in the pet trade.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation.

Rhino Beetle – Males have a long horn on their heads, and use it for mating battles.

snout beetleSnout Beetle – A weevil with a snout.  It’s not healthy to find one in your food.

Bruce Marlin Own work

velvet antVelvet Ant – It’s actually a wasp famous for the pain of its sting.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation.

walking stickWalking Stick – This really is a bug!  Harmless to us but not flowers & plants.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation.

wind scorpionWindscorpion – More spider than scorpion.  “Seems fast as the wind.”
Used by permission, Arizona Cooperative Extension.

Used by permission, Arizona Cooperative Extension.

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