Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Life and Death

Around here, if a scorpion doesn't get you, the ants will. This Arizona desert scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis) I found on the sidewalk probably met its death by a crushing foot, but it did not take long for tiny Southern fire ants (Solenopsis xyloni) to swarm in for a feast.  At least the scorpions usually hunt solo. 

Also known as the Giant Hairy Scorpions for short stiff hairs along the sides of their legs, this species is reputed to be the largest in the U.S., measuring up to six inches long from the tip of their stinger to the small, sharp jaws or chelicerae. Add on all those legs plus the formidible claws, or pedipalps, and they are quite impressive. This one was about four inches long based on my calculations as sized up to my pen. (I need to add a small ruler to my pack for observations like this.) The ants are just a teensy fraction-maybe a sixteenth of an inch-or a couple of millimeters apiece if you prefer metric. Although scorpions can deliver a painful sting, they rarely cause a serious reaction in humans, and this one is actually one of the least toxic, despite its size. The dark back and pale legs also distinguish this species from the smaller, more dangerous and much more common bark scorpion (Centruroides exilicauda) that haunts the SW deserts. 
As gruesome as a scene like this may be, it is a reminder that all life thrives on death, humans included...unless you like your meat very fresh!

Thursday, November 14, 2013


After a month or two spent mucking about in a pond for food, the aquatic larvae, or nymphs, of dragonflies crawl out of the water, crack open the skin on their back, and begin new lives as aerobatic adults. I found these exoskeletons, or exuvia, of roseate skimmers (Orthemis ferruginea) clinging to a cement wall along the Central Arizona Project canal, where a trough of still water serves as a year round breeding ground for dragonflies, as well as dozens of other insects. The exuvia are perfect casts of the fearsome jaws and giant eyes that make the larvae successful predators. I would like to have witnessed the magical hour when dragonflies emerged from these chitonous skins. Even more, I would like to be able to shed my own skin and fly! 
This trough on top of the CAP canal collects debris and mud,
creating a year-round pond that is brimming with aquatic life.
An adult Roseate Skimmer rests on a blade of grass.
Dragonfly larvae blend in with muck at the bottom of the pond.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mussels and Clams

Quagga mussels (Dreissena rostriformis ssp. bugensis) and Asian clams (Corbicula fluminea) have claimed some territory along the Central Arizona Project canal, far from their native habitats in Ukraine and southeast Asia respectively. A small pile of shells is spread out across the trail after being scraped out of pipes in a water treatment plant in north Glendale, looking quite out of place in this arid scene.

Hitching rides on ships and then on smaller boats, both species have become naturalized in many freshwater systems in North America including the Colorado River and its system of reservoirs and canals. The clams are considered to be symbols of prosperity in Asia and have also been intentionally introduced through the aquarium trade and as a source of food.