A study of desert insects necessitates a division between indigenous (natural occurring) and introduced (usually by civilization). But the presence of mankind affects both. Water (especially) and food sources may benefit both groups.


The most common indigenous desert insect seems to be the ant. Ants come in various varieties. On the desert, the most visible is the common harvester ant. Ants live in underground colonies that may stretch for several hundred square feet and have many entrances. The nest is controlled by a queen, whose sole responsibility is to lay eggs by the thousands. The rest of the colony is divided into "castes." There are soldier ants that protect the nest. Worker ants do most of the food collecting. The food, mostly seeds and pollen and even other dead insects (including dead ants), is taken underground to a "mulching chamber," where it is converted to food. Ants rarely, if ever, directly eat what they collect. The last "caste" is perhaps the most crucial. They are scouts, who constantly prowl the area, alerting the other ants of nearby food sources.


Harvester ants are beneficial to the desert in many ways. They sometimes, although rarely, invade homes, looking for food and water. Ants, I've been told, breathe through their feet. And anything that clogs these areas will kill them or at least drive them away.


Other varieties are the so-called red ants. Red ants are reddish in color and larger than the common harvester ant, and more aggressive. Ant colonies regularly declare "war" on other ants and colonies. Red ants, some of whom are desert dwellers, are not to be confused with fire ants, and there aren't many fire ants on the desert, yet!


Bees, of various varieties, and wasps are another common desert insect. Honey bees and bumblebees are both beneficial insects, both for pollinating plants, and for their delicious honey. They generally make their nest in trees and sometimes under the eaves of homes and outbuildings. Like ants, they live in colonies controlled by a queen. Some wasps are indigenous to the desert, and there are also yellow jackets. Both of these are more aggressive toward mankind, and their animals, and tend to nest in awkward places.


One of my favorite insects is the reclusive tarantula. It is becoming increasingly rare, because it can't tolerate disturbances caused by mankind. Tarantulas rarely bite, except for pray, and aren't as scary as they look. Tarantulas may live for a dozen years or more.


Scorpions, on the other hand, are more common than you'd think, and they do sting! The desert scorpion is well adapted and seems to thrive in civilization. Scorpions hide very easily, sometimes in unanticipated places, and they can even change color to be less conspicuous. A scorpion might change its color to green to hide in a lawn, or brown to hide on a branch. They are aggressive. But their sting (like the tarantula) might be painful, but rarely dangerous.


More dangerous is the black widow spider, and some others, like the brown recluse spider. Only the females bite (and "women's libbers" like they are) and they try to kill and eat their mates. Black widows are very common on the desert, because they adapt to and even benefit from the presence of mankind.


The desert also plays host to various centipedes (with their hundred legs), the beneficial yucca moth (which assists in fertilizing various yuccas), several species of butterflies, yucca beetles (also called "stink bugs"), and various grasshoppers.


And then there are those that are not native to the desert. The aforementioned black widow and some other spider varieties, fire, ants, various mites ant ticks, June bugs (which seem to proliferate where there are willow trees), and various varieties of pesky flies. All these are difficult to control.


The cicadas are beginning to "sing" in the trees at night, foretelling an early fall and winter. Some varieties "sing" during the heat of the day, but our local varieties only "sing" at night. Their singing is actually a mating call.


Next month will be fauna, beginning with birds. So stay tuned!