Wednesday, October 23, 2013


This Elegant Bush Katydid (Insara elegans) appeared on my window screen recently. Also called a Mesquite Katydid, they are distinguished from other katydids by the long narrow wings marked with white stripes. Katydids are nocturnal, so this one seemed content to let me photograph it mid-day as it rested. The males are the source of some of the rasping night sounds coming from high in the trees during the summer around here.  The name "katydid" is supposedly and onomatopoeia for this sound, but that's a real stretch, at least for this species.  Elegant, yes, for the slim wings and extraordinarily long  antennae. This was the first year in twelve that I've seen this species in our neighborhood, which makes me wonder: Have they always been around, and I just haven't noticed, or are they having an especially good year, so more abundant? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Desert Shaggy Mane

The desert shaggy mane mushroom (Podaxis pistillaris) or "black powderpuff" is actually a type of puffball. Open it up and, depending on the ripeness, it will either be filled with thick white goo or erupt in a cloud of dark spores. These began popping up in gravel along Highway 17 after monsoon rains at the end of July this year. Sadly, they are reported as being inedible not due to toxins, but because they are just plain foul-tasting, as well as tough and woody. However, if you are truly desperate, or just curious, munching on an immature stalked puffball won't kill you.  This species is common in desert regions around the world. Australian aborigines have used the spores mixed with water for body paint and the dry spores for hair dye.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tailless Whip Scorpion

Last night we had an unusual visitor on our front patio: a tailless whip scorpion (Paraphrynus mexicanus). These long-legged relatives of spiders and scorpions are actually quite common in the Sonoran Desert, but they are normally very secretive nocturnal creatures. At rest it will fold up all of its legs and become an innocuous looking black blob about the size of a quarter. But when it extends all of its appendages, the whip scorpion expands to the diameter of a dessert plate. Crawling sideways like a crab, it rivals any sci-fi creation ever imagined by Hollywood.

Two serrated claws, or pedipalps, are curled up in front of the face, which is beaded with five shining eyes. A pair of forelegs serve as long thin antennae that it waves around to feel for potential prey.
They are members a group of arachnids called Amblypygids, which means "blunt rump," because they lack the curved tail that their cousins, the scorpions, wield for weapons. They have no venom or stinger, so are reportedly harmless to humans. Amblypygid moms carry their newly hatched young on their backs, a trait shared by scorpions; I like that these scary looking animals exhibit nurturing behavior.

Our visitor was very patient with us, posing for photographs and demonstrating its graceful movements without dashing away. Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to have a family of Amblypygids take up residence in our yard to help control the cricket population that has been keeping me awake at night. Or maybe they already have; it's been a little quiet around here lately.