10.02.2007

Signs of Climate Change
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from desert USA.com

The other day I had to do something in the back yard - there is a fairly extensive area of graded, open dirt. I was surprised to see a large, winged insect land and start scrambling around intently, poking into each hole or crevice in the baked soil with its forelegs. The body was about 2 inches and it had wings of orange metallic hue - designed to warn hungry birds - a kind of "don't tread on me" message.

While I recalled seeing something like this before in Moab, Utah and arid parts of Southern California - I had never seen it in the temperate Bay Area.

Google had the scoop - it was a pepsis formosa or tarantula hawk - common in the desert Southwest as a predator of tarantulas. In fact, it is the state insect of New Mexico. It's regarded as having the most painful sting of any creature in North America.

from Desert USA: "Tarantula hawk stings are considered to be the most painful of any North American insect. Christopher Starr wrote an article entitled, "A Pain Scale for Bee, Wasp and Ant Stings." 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 hawk’s sting this way: "To me, the pain is like an electric wand that hits you, inducing an immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s 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."

It's lifecycle is similar to the villain in the movie Alien, and you can see for yourself by watching the youtube movie.


Then yesterday just before sunset there was a 2 foot lizard on the lawn - not one of the little fence post dinos but something like a fat chuckawalla - another desert animal







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