There's more than just Rattlesnakes lurking out in the desert...
Many times at sunset, you'll start to catch glimpses of tiny little guys wildly flying around. At first glance, you think that they're moths, but it's really bats that have come out from their hiding places in the Joshua Tree rocks and caverns to grab a crunchy insect meal.
Bats vary greatly in their habits, depending on their species, but they are in general very shy creatures and like most wild animals, stay away from humans while going about their business of eating, reproducing and avoiding predators.
Bats are often thought of as flying mice,but they are more closely related to primates, including humans. As with most other mammals, the bat's body is covered by hair, with the exception of its wings; and those wings are what make bats truly unique: the only mammals that can fly.
Bats are found almost everywhere on earth, except in extremely hot desert environments and the cold Polar Regions. Most species also possess a system of acoustic orientation, often called "bat radar," but technically known as echolocation.
Although bats have the same basic arm and hand bones found in humans and most other mammals, the bat's hand and finger bones are very long and slender and there are only 4 digits. The delicate-looking skin between the arms, fingers, body, legs, and feet looks delicate, but is tough and resistant to tearing.
Size can vary greatly among the more than 900 bats species worldwide, ranging from the 0.5-ounce Bumblebee Bat with a 6-inch wing span to the 3.3-lb Flying Fox with a wing span of 80 inches.
Bats are fastidious creatures. When a bat returns to its roost for its hanging slumber, it will spend as much as 30 minutes cleaning itself before settling down to sleep. Wherever it can reach with its long, pink tongue will be thoroughly bathed. Often, moistened hind feet with their fingers free of the membrane will tend to the rest of the body.
When winter comes, insects are no longer available and weather extremes make flying hazardous. The bat, having at least doubled its weight since spring, will either hibernate or migrate. Some bat migrations are known to cover as much as 1,000 miles. By late fall, one way or another , the bat has accumulated a layer of fat that will sustain it either through a winter's sleep or a marathon migration flight.
All resident species of bats in the US are capable of being infected with rabies, but the incidence of rabies is the same as in other mammals. Left alone, bats pose no threat to humans. But most bats will bite when first captured and handled. Never handle a bat that appears unable to fly. Never use your hands to pick up a bat found on the ground. Before entering a bat roosting site to study specimens, contact the Board of Health and inquire about local rabies conditions.
Bighorn Sheep, Ovis canadensis
Besert Bighorns travel the desert's mountainous regions in groups as they search for the water and various plants that sustain them. When people and development began to encroach on bighorn habitat, they were granted protection under the Endangered Species Act. Nevertheless, illegal hunting is a problem. The dwindling bighorn population is forced to compete with burros for food and water.
Bobcat, Lynx rufus
Found mostly in the foothills, bobcats catch rabbits and rodents, reptiles, birds, and insects. Though night active, you may see them at dawn or dusk. The short, powerful bobcat body is adapted to pounce from ambush on their prey. Keen senses, patience, and night shadows aid this shy cat.
Carpenter bees resemble bumble bees, but the upper surface of their abdomen is bare and shiny black; bumble bees have a hairy abdomen with at least some yellow markings. They are heavy-bodied and metallic blue-black with green or purplish highlights. The bodies are covered with bright yellow or orange hairs.
Despite their similar appearance, the nesting habits of the two types of bees are quite different. Bumble bees usually nest in the ground whereas carpenter bees tunnel into wood to lay their eggs. Bare, unpainted or weathered softwoods are preferred, especially redwood, cedar, cypress and pine. Painted or pressure-treated wood is much less susceptible to attack. Common nesting sites include eaves, window trim, facia boards, siding, wooden shakes, decks and outdoor furniture.
The entrance hole and tunnels are perfectly round and about the diameter of your finger. Coarse sawdust the color of fresh cut wood will often be present beneath the entry hole, and burrowing sounds may be heard from within the wood. Female carpenter bees may excavate new tunnels for egglaying, or enlarge and reuse old ones. The extent of damage to wood which has been utilized for nesting year after year may be considerable.
Coyote, Canis latrans
You're about to fall asleep in your comfy Green Acres bed when out of the distance comes the otherworldy calls and singing of the Coyotes.
Coyotes trek the desert from the mountainous areas to the salt pans. They live well in this landscape, hunting rodents (their favorite food), insects, bird, lizards, fish, snakes, fruit, nuts, grass, tennis shoes, young tortoises, sick animals, and just about any other edible item. They also scavenge dead animals and will eat seeds and fruit. These social animals live mostly in groups. Some coyotes have become bold enough to beg from park visitors. Do not feed any wild animals.
Coyotes are renowned for howling, but they also bark playfully.
Desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii
Like many desert creatures, desert tortoises spend most of their lives "holed up." In spring and summer, they roam grazing on grasses and wildflowers, then head for their burrows when it gets too hot. In fall and winter, when it is cold and there is not much to eat, they stay burrowed in for six months or more at a time.
If you see a desert tortoise, you are seeing an endangered species. Please watch out for them on the roads. Tortoises live in washes and valleys where the soil is soft enough for them to burrow into, yet stable enough so they do not collapse. Remember, desert tortoises are protected under the Endangered Species Act and may not be handled or removed.
Fairy Shrimp, Branchinecta
When desert rains cause pools of water to form, you are apt to find fairy shrimp emerging from their eggs. Fairy shrimp eggs lie dormant throughout long periods of drought. Look for them during the spring and early summer in low-lying clay pans. These tiny creatures are a food source that attracts shore birds and numerous migratory birds to the desert.
The rabbits and squirrels that evade the night hunters must still search the day time skies for the silhouette of the stately golden eagle. Its keen eyes scan the landscape for the slightest movement as it soars from the mountain heights out over the valleys and desert floor. Its golden nap is visible only at close range. Its soft voice is hardly ever heard.
Muted jackrabbit fur colors provide a motionless defense from the searching eyes of many predators; coyote, bobcats and eagles. Strong eyes and keen hearing send the powerful legs into motion. Young are born well furred.
Kangaroo rat, Dipodomys microdipodops
Kangaroo rats can go their whole lives without taking a drink of water! They get enough water from the plants and seeds they eat. In the heat of the day, they hide out in burrows and seal the entrances to keep the humidity high.
Kit fox, Vulpes velox
The sandy-colored kit fox blends easily into the landscape and is difficult to see. Extremely well-adapted to life in the desert, they sleep in underground dens during the day. They hunt at night, using their large ears to help find and catch rodents. This prey provides them not only with food, but with much of the water they need.
Fish? In the desert? Pupfish originally inhabited a stream and lake system stretching from the Sierra Nevada through the Colorado River system over 10,000 years ago. As the climate became drier, populations became separated and eventually evolved into the five distinctive species that exist today. Some have an exceptionally high tolerance for salty water and temperature extremes. The two- inch-long fish may be seen in Death Valley National Park and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
The Desert Pupfish is a small, silvery-colored fish with 6 to 9 dark bands on its sides. This tiny fish grows to a full average length of only 2.5 inches. Pupfish develop quickly, sometimes reaching full maturity within 2 to 3 months. Although their average life span is 6 to 9 months, some survive more than one year.
Pupfish have a short, scaled head with an upturned mouth. The anal and dorsal fins are rounded with the dorsal sometimes exhibiting a dark blotch. The caudal fin is convex at the rear.
Pupfish feed on brown and green algae. During winter months, when the water is cold, they become dormant, burrowing in the muddy bottom of their habitat.
Lifecycle : Towards the end of summer, most desert pools and other desert waters dry up, killing most pupfish. Only a few bodies of water do not dry up completely, so very few pupfish survive. During the coldest parts of winter, pupfish burrow into the muddy bottom and become dormant until the weather warms up. They then mate and reproduce quickly. Most pupfish have a life span of less than one year.
As spring approaches and the water warms, Pupfish become very active and begin their mating ritual. The breeding males become iridescent blue in color and defend their territory, chasing away all other fish except females that are ready to spawn. Spawning starts towards the end of February and continues through summer.
As temperatures become extreme toward summer, evaporation dries up most pools and streams, resulting in the death of most Pupfish. A few survive in the small number of pools, streams and springs that do not dry up completely.
The various species of Pupfish serve as evidence that a series of prehistoric desert lakes were once interconnected. This genus speciated when these Pleistocene lakes evaporated around 10,000 years ago, isolating different groups from each other. Among the 13 know species of Pupfish, C. macularius and C. diabolis (the Desert Hole Pupfish) are the most well known.
Several species of the Pupfish are endangered by desert development and the introduction of exotic fish species into their habitat. Pupfish are protected at various locations in Death Valley National Park, including Saratoga Springs, Salt Creek and a totally distinct portion of the park located in Nevada called Devil's Hole. Pupfish can also be seen at California's Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
This walking black beetle freezes in a handstand pose at the slightest disturbance, emitting a disgusting odor to repel predators or perceived threats. The pose is enough to stop those familiar with this scavenger.
Wild horse, Equus caballus, and Burro, Equus assinus
The origin of wild horses dates back to the days of Columbus and Cortez, explorers who brought horses to North America. Burros were brought by Jesuit missionaries and later used extensively by miners. Many of the descendants of these horses and burros escaped or were abandoned by settlers, ranchers, prospectors, Native American tribes, and the U.S. Cavalry between the late 1800s and 1930s. These descendants formed the first wild horse and burro herds.
Considered pests by many who were trying to settle the west, these feral creatures were hunted by "mustangers" until the population was drastically reduced. A public outcry in the late 1960s influenced Congress to enact, in 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, providing for the protection, management, and control of wild horses and burros on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Federal protection and the absence of natural predators contributed to flourishing populations. In 1976, BLM began the Adopt-A-Horse-or-Burro Program to place wild horses and burros into caring homes.
Joshua Tree's resident bird species include Roadrunners, Phainopeplas, Mockingbirds, Verdins, Cactus Wrens, Ravens, Rock Wrens, Barn Owls, Mourning Doves, Le Conte's Thrashers, and Gambel's Quail. For the Winter, Whit-Crowned Sparrows, Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, and Hermit Thrushes wind their way through. In the Spring and Summer, expect Bendire's Thrashers, Ash-Throated Flycatachers, Western Kingbirds, Scott's Orioles, Northern Orioles and Western Bluebirds. Bird enthusiasts can pick up a handy bird checklist at a Joshua Tree visitor center.
This small owl checks-in to vacant rodent burrows. It feeds on insects, reptiles, and rodents at dusk, and it spends the warm daylight hours hanging out at the burrow entrances. It bobs and bows and crackles to ward off intruders, but has a mellow rolling coo-coo call.
Common Barn-Owl, Tito Alba
Range: All four of the Southwestern deserts. The barn owl occurs in great numbers in Southern California. Habitat: Hunts in areas rich in rodents, along desert washes and canyons, where trees for perching are available. Description: The barn owl can readily be distinguished from other owls by its unique shape, color and voice. This distinctive, medium-sized owl grows 15 to 20 inches in height. It has long, feathered legs and makes a loud, rasping hiss, rather than the hoot associated with other owls.
The Barn Owl is primarily white with buff, yellow and tawny shadings. It is delicately freckled with dark specks and the blending of colors in day-light has led some to call it, the "golden owl." Other common names are for it are the "White Owl" and "Monkey-faced Owl."
The barn owl's face is arresting. There are no ear tufts. The eyes and beak are completely encircled by a heart-shaped facial ruff of white, rimmed with tan while slightly curved feathers radiate out from the small, dark eyes.
The eyes of owls look forward in a fixed position and cannot move to the side, as the human eye can. Therefore, to see to the side or back, the owl must turn its whole head. They see extremely well at night. Their hearing must be extremely acute also, for it is known that a barn owl can strike a mouse in the dark.
Barn Owls are more nocturnal than other owls. They wait until dark before starting out to hunt, except when the demands of their young may start them hunting at twilight. Normally, before daylight, they retire to some shadowed or enclosed area in an old building, a hollow tree or a hole in a rocky cliff and remain there drowsily inactive all day.
When hunting at night, the Barn Owl sweeps the fields on silent wings catching its prey with its long, slender claws. It prefers small mammals but occasionally in winter when mice and gophers are scarce, it will take small birds. The prey is tom apart and swallowed -- bones, skull and all. The indigestible parts are formed into pellets and disgorged at the roosting area or about the nest.
Barn owls choose nesting sights almost anywhere, in old buildings, hollow trees and on or in the ground. No effort is made to build or even line the nest. The female lays from 5 to 7 white, spotless eggs at intervals of 2 or 3 days. Incubation starts after the first egg is laid. It takes from 32 to 34 days for the first egg to hatch, so a nest may contain 4 or 5 young of different size and age.
The young are called "owlets." They are covered with snow-white down for 6 days. This is gradually replaced by a buff-colored down which develops into a thick, woolly covering that is still in evidence for about 50 days.
The little owlets are hungry all the time. Both parents are busy night after night ransacking the adjoining areas to catch an unbelievable number of small ground creatures to feed their ravenous babies.
Adult plumage is acquired in about 7-1/2 weeks, at which time, after much practicing about the nest, the young venture out for their first lessons in flying and hunting.
Raven, Corvus corax
The common raven is a highly adaptable and intelligent bird resident of North American deserts. Ravens are scavengers, meaning they will eat almost anything living or dead. From dates to hamburgers to assorted roadkill, ravens are one desert species that has benefited from the growing human presence. One unfortunate habit that has brought the raven some criticism is their tendency to prey upon juvenile desert tortoises. Studies have shown that raven populations have increased dramatically wherever dumps and other sites of human garbage occur, such as campgrounds. This is one reason desert residents and visitors should handle their trash carefully. Less trash means fewer ravens and healthier desert tortoise populations.
Roadrunner, Geococcyx Californianus
Called paisano in Mexico, the roadrunner is a well-known desert resident that only superficially resembles its popular cartoon portrayal. The greater roadrunner has adapted to life on the run. Though it can fly well, it prefers to use its strong legs and X- shaped toes to run rapidly over the desert landscape.
Active predators, roadrunners aggressively chase insects, lizards, snakes, small birds and mammals. Tolerant of humans, they sometimes nest in protected eaves and garages when they are not building large stick nests in desert trees. Their vocalizations include bill clicking noises and a mournful cooing made during breeding seasons. They do not meep-meep.
Poisonous animals use their venom to stun the creatures they plan to eat, and will only attack humans when provoked. Bites and stings usually happen when people place their hands or feet into crevices or when they disturb or threaten the animal. Even then, most bites and stings, while painful, are not fatal. Always remember to look first before placing your hands or bare feet anywhere, especially into crevices, debris, piles of stuff like wood. And if the worst should happen, be safe rather than sorry and head for medical attention right away.
It's a good idea to shake out / inspect clothing, shoes (especially), linens, towels, etc. before putting them to use. You never know when a scorpion will decide to spend the night in your favorite sneakers!
Black Widow Spiders
Drop for drop, a black widow's venom packs more punch than a rattlesnake's. It is a good thing these little spiders rarely bite unless touched or brushed against. You will find them in their webs in out-of-the-way places around homes, wood piles, and old buildings. (Be careful in old outhouses; black widows sometimes lurk beneath the seats!)
There is a specific red-back antivenin which is used when signs of systemic envenomation are observed. The pressure-immobilization method is not recommended since it can cause extreme pain in the affected area. Instead, ice packs could be used for relief.
Centipedes are the "100-legged worms" you find under rocks and old logs. They use their venomous pincers to capture spiders and insects, but they will give you a painful bite if they feel threatened. To stay on their good side, watch where you put your hands and remember to shake out your clothes after a night camping in the desert.
Conenose Kissing Bug, "Assassin Bug", Triatoma sp
Often found in packrat nests, this non-venomous, blood-sucking insect has a painful bite that can cause allergic reactions. Campers should carefully inspect the area for packrat nests. These nests may provide shelter for this insect.
Assassin bugs, sometimes known as conenoses or kissing bugs are killer insects that feed on blood or other insects. The kissing bug label comes from the insect's ability to steal a blood meal by piercing the lips, eyelids or ears of a sleeping human victim. Assassin bugs have a flat, narrow body, with an abdomen that is sometimes widened in the middle. Its long narrow head holds the deadly weapon it uses to prey on its victims - a segmented proboscis (beak).
Typically, assassin bugs are between 1.2 centimetres and five centimetres long and are usually black, brown or sometimes spotted with bright colours. They have been known to hide out in bathtubs, sinks and drains, but they are more commonly found in savanna and forest habitats on bushes, tall vegetation or in wood rat nests and raccoon dens. Assassin bugs can be found throughout the world in areas including Africa, Central America, South America and American states such as Maryland.
When attacking another insect, the assassin bugs catches its victim by stalking and ambushing its prey. The kill is a carefully laid plan that involves leaping on the prey, grasping it with its two front legs, immediately stabbing it with its sharp proboscis and then injecting paralyzing venom.
Many assassin bugs are bloodsucking parasites that prey on various mammals including humans. And others are predators that feed on flies, caterpillars, bed bugs and various other insects including other assassin bugs. Some assassin bug bites can cause an allergic, life-threatening reaction in humans. At the very least, the bugs inflict a painful bite if you are unlucky enough to encounter them.
Some assassin bugs like Triatoma infestans carry a parasite that causes Chagas disease (known as American trypanosomiasis) that is common throughout Latin America. The disease is spread by the assassin bug's parasitic feces that can cause infection when scratched into an open wound or accidentally rubbed into the eye. The disease has been known to kill children in two to four weeks by weakening the nervous system and the heart muscle, eventually causing a heart attack. This disease in uncommon in North America.
Giant desert hairy scorpion (Hadrurus arizonensis)
Preventive measures: There is an African saying: A scorpion in the shoe early in the morning. Always check your shoes before putting them on, your bedding, and zip up your bags at night to keep them from crawling in. Be careful in areas known to be swarming with scorpions and in places you cannot see well! Remember, if you find one scorpion, there are many others around. Check your boots, clothing, and bedding for scorpions.
Despite their bad reputation, only one species in the U.S. (found in much of Arizona) and about 20 others worldwide have venom potent enough to be considered dangerous to humans. The venom of this scorpion may produce severe pain and swelling at the site of the sting, numbness, frothing at the mouth, difficulties in breathing (including respiratory paralysis), muscle twitching, and convulsions. Even so, death is rare, especially in more recent times. An antivenom is available for severe cases. Unfortunately, children, because of their small size, are at greater risk of more severe envenomation than the adults.
Scorpions in Joshua Tree range up to 5 inches in length and are among the less toxic varieties. The so-called "giant" is usually not much larger than 4", and is not lethal to humans. It is a native of the Mojave desert. Unless you go poking around the desert floor with a flashlight at night, or peeking under rocks and bark by day, you are unlikely to find a scorpion.
Scorpions have stingers at the ends of their long tails which they use to stun spiders and insects. Most scorpions (including those in Joshua Tree) have a sting only about as strong as a wasp's. Only one kind in California has a sting strong enough to be deadly to us, and it is pretty rare (located in the extreme south-east).
Scorpions are nocturnal, predatory animals that feed on a variety of insects, spiders, centipedes, and other scorpions. Prey are located primarily by sensing vibrations. Scorpions have an array of fine sensory hairs called trichobothria that sense air-borne vibrations; the tips of their legs have small organs that detect vibrations in the ground. The surfaces of the legs, pedipalps, and body are also covered with thicker hairs (setae) that are sensitive to direct touch. Although they are equipped with venom to defend themselves, scorpions fall prey to many types of creatures such as insectivorous lizards, birds (especially owls), and mammals.
In case of an accident, the best you can do is to apply a cold pack and transport the patient to an emergency medical facility as soon as possible. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center also recommend cleaning the site with soap and water, cool compress, elevation of the affected limb to approximately heart level, and an analgesic as needed for minor discomfort.
A half dozen kinds of rattlesnakes make their homes in California's deserts, but few folks ever see one. When rattlesnakes and people do meet, it is a scary moment for both. But just remember: they are not looking for trouble. If you back off, they will, too. Rattlesnake Bites.
Sidewinder rattlesnakes are one of the desert's most infamous characters. Named for their weird way of travel, sidewinders move forward by going sideways! It may look loopy, but it is a good way for a snake to travel across the loose sands on the washes and dunes. Sidewinders are nocturnal, hunting by night for desert rats and mice. Come day, they bury themselves in the sand, leaving only distinctive rows of parallel tracks to mark their travels.
Sun Spiders, Solifigud, or "Camel Spiders"
One of these fast and scary looking creeps came crawling out onto the floor late one night as we watched the "Iron Chef", and what an appetite-killer it was! It was fast and threatening-looking and I couldn't get my wife to get rid of it for me.
Sun spiders are 1 to 3 inches (25 to 75 mm) long and are yellow or tan in color. They have eight walking legs, long club-like first appendages (pedipalps) and large, muscular chelicerae (jaws). The tips of the chelicerae are equipped with pairs of pincers that are quite formidable. When moving, sunspiders often hold their pedipalps in the air.
Sun spiders are found throughout the world in mostly tropical and subtropical areas. They are also at home in the hottest, driest deserts of the world. Sun spiders are good predators, able to run down their prey and catch it with great speed. This voraciuos carnivore feeds upon insects and arachnids, small lizards, birds and even small mammals. They are also good diggers and probably spend most of their time underground. They are most active in the desert southwest during the warm months of May and June, and they remain active throughout the rainy season during July, August, and September.
Pound for pound this hairy, largely nocturnal arachnid has a much deadlier set of jaws (or chelicerae- the insect equivalent) than a great white shark. In fact this creature, also known as the wind-scorpion, has the strongest jaws - relative to size -of any animal on earth.
During the day they can often be found under a log or in a crack in the soil. Staying cool is their daytime task and hunting their nightime joy. Its long legs allow it to traverse its habitat at a very high rate of speed. And if food is available, a solifugid will keep eating until its abdomen is so distended that it's practically immobile.
Tarantulas, the largest spiders in North America, are typically two to three inches long and are covered with thousands of fine hairs ranging in color from tan to dark brown. Besides its eight legs, the basic sections of a tarantulas body are its cephalothorax (a fused head and thorax, or chest) and its abdomen.
Tarantulas have many natural predators including larger lizards, snakes, and birds. However, the most ferocious is the tarantula hawk, a large, metallic blue and orange wasp.
Should you observe a desert tarantula in Joshua Tree National Park this autumn, it is likely to be a male in search of a mate, who is waiting in a hole lined with silk webbing.
Insects like beetles and grasshoppers make up a good portion of the tarantula diet, and tarantulas in the desert may also devour small lizards, mice, and even scorpions. Tarantulas chase down their prey rather than snaring it in webs. Their eight closely set eyes are not useful in hunting. Instead, thousands of sensitive hairs on the spiders body allow it to detect subtle movements in its immediate environment and hone in on a victim.
The tarantula strikes with its fangs, injecting venom. There is a struggle while the venom takes effect, and the tarantula must grasp its prey with the palps, two arm-like appendages between the mouth and legs. If successful, the tarantula wads up its semi-paralyzed victim, secretes digestive juices onto it, and sucks up the liquefied prey.
If you encounter a tarantula, please do not disturb it. Wildlife should never be touched or chased, Contrary to appearance and reputation, the tarantula is a timid creature and will not bite human beings unless seriously provoked.
Tarantula Hawks (Wasps)
I was a little freaked out when I first saw one of these guys. It was like a Yellowjacket, only three times the size, and shiny metallic blue-black with orange wings! Never fear...it's just a Tarantula Wasp! They are nectar feeders, and can often be found in gatherings of a dozen or more feeding on plants. They are especially fond of milkweed flowers.
Their means of reproduction is what gives them their name. Females, ready to lay eggs, are on the lookout for a tarantula. They often disturb the web near a tarantulas burrow, and when the tarantula rushes out the wasp stings the spider and injects venom. Instead of killing the tarantula, the venom only causes paralysis. The wasp then drags the tarantula to a burrow, stuffs it down the hole, and then lays her eggs on top of the paralyzed spider. Several days later the eggs hatch, and the larvae feed on the still living tarantula.
Tarantula hawks are most active in the summer, during the day. Only a few animals, such as roadrunners, eat tarantula hawks. The wasps are "nectivorous," and they have been known to become "flight-challenged" after consuming fermented fruit.
Tarantula hawk stings are considered to be the most painful of any North American insect. On a scale of one to four, Pepsis formosa was one of only two insects to rate a four. This compares with a one for a Solenopsis xyloni (desert fire ant), two for a Apis mellifera (honey bee) and three for a Dasymutilla klugii (velvet ant).
One researcher described the tarantula hawks sting this way: "To me, the pain is like an electric wand that hits you, inducing an immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down ones ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations. The pain for me lasted only about three minutes, during which time the sting area was insensitive to touch, i.e., a pencil point poked near the sting resulted only in a dull deep pressure pain."
Tarantula wasps are unusual in the severity of their stings. Generally, it is the more social insects that deliver the most painful stings because they have a large nest to defend. Although painful, the Pepsis sting is not especially lethal. It rates a 38 on a lethal capacity scale. This compares with 5.9 for a Dasymutilla klugii, 54 for a Apis mellifera, and 200 for a Pogonomyrmex maricopa (a desert-dwelling seed-harvester ant).
Treatment: Wash sting sites with soap and water and apply a topical antibiotic. If the victim has been stung several times, keep the stung extremity elevated to reduce swelling. Persons who show signs of an allergic reaction, including labored breathing, facial swelling, nausea, sweating or chills should go to a hospital emergency room immediately.
Velvet Ant, Dasymutilla sp
These densely hairy, brightly colored insects are actually wasps that look like large ants. They get their name from the many fine hairs that cover their body. The wingless females can inflict a sting so painful it has earned the nickname "cow killer." Winged males have a menacing appearance but are harmless. Although the most extreme pain effects dissipate quickly, some pain and swelling may last for several hours. Some individuals may be allergic to this insect's sting.
The flightless females, which are often encountered while wandering on the ground, especially resemble ants. Velvet ants range in size from 1/8 inch to one inch, with great variation within species. Velvet ants look like miniature walking cotton balls. One variety, D. gloriosa, has been described as a "creosote seed with legs" due to its white, thistledown-like hairs. Red, orange, yellow, black or white bristle-like hairs, known as setae, cover the entire body.
Males have wings but no stingers, while females have stingers but lack wings. The heavy, deeply pitted integument (outer covering of body) functions as a suit of armor and can only be penetrated with
Velvet ants are active during the day. They retreat from high ground temperatures in the middle of the day by burrowing under debris or climbing into plants. Nectar is their preferred food. Velvet ants are active from April through November, depending upon local climate. If you see a walking velvet ant, you can be assured that it is a female.
The earliest known velvet ants come from 25 to 40-million-year-old amber found in the Dominican Republic. When harassed, and during mating, velvet ants produce an audible squeak. Velvet ants are also known as "cow killers" or "mule killers" because of their extremely painful sting. Like all wasps, they can sting multiple times. Because of their armor-like exoskeleton and painful sting, few if any animals consume this conspicuous wasp.