Jan 22 2012

Many-Legged Awe

Melissa Crytzer Fry

One book, among the many on my now-straining bookshelf, has earned a prime spot on the top tier, where it is easily accessible: my National Audubon Field Guide to the Southwestern States.

Before we officially moved from downtown Phoenix to our rural acreage in southeastern Arizona, I began rattling off the names of insects I had never before seen, as I saw them for the first time. (Thank you Audubon for the education – and for foreshadowing the many extraordinary insects I would eventually stumble upon … ones that simply do not exist in my native Pennsylvania.)

I thank my cats, Macho and Niña for this discovery. Their intense fascination with this beautifully painted mesquite bug outside our French doors prompted me to investigate. One of my all-time favorites (size of a silver dollar)! Click to enlarge.

Walking sticks are common on our property, as seen on this palo verde tree. I think they were absent from my childhood home due to pesticides sprayed on local crops? The western short-horned walking stick produces young without mating. Click to enlarge.

Meet the tail-less whip scorpion. I accidentally spotted this nocturnal guy with its antenna-like front legs, scuttling about under the cloak of darkness offered by our carport. This insect of the arachnid class can move quickly in any direction. Click to enlarge.

A black grasshopper? What? I was over-the-moon happy when hubby and I spotted these red-winged, grass-eating grasshoppers during a trip near Ft. Huachuca in southern Arizona. Actually, we heard them first. The “notice-me” grasshopper produces a loud rattling sound known as crepitation as it flies. Click to enlarge.

The armored stink beetle is a bit acrobatic. I first discovered these black tanks beneath lumber for our new home build. Then poor Niña encountered one in the kitchen. Yes, it raised its butt in the air and puffed its defensive, foul-smelling black liquid in her face. Poor baby sneezed quite a bit. Click to enlarge.

For me to convey how big the giant desert centipede really is, I have to explain that when it shot from beneath the outdoor garbage bin, my husband yelled, “snake!” When threatened, this invertebrate raises its rear legs, which resemble antennae, to confuse predators. Yes, this guy is mildly poisonous and bites. And two have made it into our home. Click to enlarge.

For Readers, For Writers: As writers, isn’t it our job to show the reader something new? As a reader, don’t you want to learn something new, discover something unfamiliar? You want to be exposed to a new world you’ve never before seen, interact with uniquely painted characters, and immerse yourself in sometimes supernatural, other-worldly situations.

Does your novel – or the book you’re reading – have its share of characters that exhibit traits like the nocturnal and quick moving tail-less whip scorpion, the sap-sucking but brightly colored mesquite bug, or the show-boating, frequent flyer red-winged grasshopper that engages in spectacular flight displays to attract a mate? What about those camouflaged walking sticks and cunning, head-standing armored stink beetles?

…Or kissing bugs, cactus long-horned beetles, ground mantises, milkweed bugs or broad-winged katydids? Maybe that’s another post (and, yes, I have photographed them all). I’m sure some of you are squeamish already.


32 Responses to “Many-Legged Awe”

  • avatar Denise Says:

    Oh. My. Gosh. I was okay until I got to that monstrous centipede!!!!!!! I’ll admit that the largish bugs, et al, we discovered while living in Southern California is something I DON’T miss 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh yes… I bet you saw your share of bugs in Southern California. Somehow, I’ve learned to live in harmony with the many-legged. Though, I confess, the sun scorpion, though helpful as it eats other insects, freaks . me. out…

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Lovely photos, Melissa. You always make me see things in a new light. I’m fascinated by bugs, but yea, squeamish of them too! But your photos show them to be quite beautiful us close! I never knew there were so many here.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    That’s the crazy thing, Cynthia. When I lived up in your neck of the desert, I never saw a single one of these. Most of it has to do with urbanization of the desert Valley (and pesticides), but the interesting thing is that just two hours south, where temps are just a wee bit cooler and we have different vegetation, we have an entirely different world of bugs and animals!

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  • avatar Sue Mitchell Says:

    Oh, the thought of the giant centipede in the house! Eek! We did have a scorpion in the bathroom once, but somehow that guy creeps me out more.

    At the same time, all of these insects are fascinating and beautiful. Thanks for showing them to us! Would love to hear more of your ideas about stink-beetle-like characters in novels. 🙂

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh, scorpions … Am NOT a fan. And the centipedes are not very fun, either. I thought one of them bit my cat, so I rushed her to the vet’s office. It turns out that she was simply nearing the end of life, but it freaked me out when I found it in the litter box!

    Stink-beetle-like characters: I’d say they’re the defensive type, with stinky attitudes :-).

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    Sue Mitchell Reply:

    You know the type. They seem normal enough at first, but if you try to get close to them, they do something stinky to keep you at bay. A form of self-saboteur. ;-D

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  • avatar Terri Says:

    I love this photo story and the education about each insect Melissa! Bravo!

    Interesting to “meet the tail-less whip scorpion,” that guy/gal has some really long legs and multi-jointed, very cool!

    Just yesterday I was writing a story for my Life Stories notebook and writing about how I un-learned my fear of insects! As a child my care takers and culture taught me to fear insects, snakes, spiders, etc. It was a deliberate effort to un-learn those fears. It required perseverance, determination, exposure and my Audubon field guides!

    Thank you for sharing another connection to the wild!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, the tail-less whip scorpion fascinates me. It runs kind of like a crab across the desert floor!

    You know, I was just talking with friends this weekend (about snakes) and how people’s fear of them translates to “Must kill.” People definitely DO have to unlearn those kinds of theories that are offered at childhood. So good for you to have conquered that fear! Insects really ARE fascinating. So, so many!

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Wow, incredible photos! I appreciate insects even if they creep me out a little! Along those lines, I do have a couple of creeps in my current WIPs, but I’m afraid sometimes I don’t “go there” and play it a little safe with them. This is a good reminder! Next time, I’ll put a little of the whip scorpion or giant centipede in some of my characters!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, you put that whip scorpion (and centipede) into those characters. I, for one, would love to scuttle about in every direction the way the whip scorpion does. Oh, come to think about it, my brain DOES works that way, ideas shooting off in different directions.

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    These pictures (and critters!) are amazing, Melissa! I can’t wait to share with hubby and the girls. That centipede though–yikes!!

    I’ve got a fella in my new book who is a bit acrobatic, like your little stink beetles. He proves himself to be doing quite a dance to keep some balls in the air, so that was fun to write. But tricky too in that I wasn’t sure how much to reveal and when–but of course, that’s every character, isn’t it? 😉

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh my… You don’t need to tell me about the difficulties of determining how much to reveal (and when). I’m going through that with the beginning of my WIP. I actually wrote down the things I was ‘saving’ for reveal and realized I will probably be driving my readers crazy with too much guessing. I need to adopt the ways of the walking stick (as Shary says below): “Hiding in plain sight is so clever.”

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    Your photos are so beautiful and when I learn about bugs (my dad would remind me that only certain kinds of bugs are actually called bugs) I’m fascinated. Outside in the garden, I don’t mind them at all (except for the really big ones) but inside, I squeal like a little girl. I’ve always loved walking sticks, though. Hiding in plain sight is so clever.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I definitely have my ‘least favorites’ when they somehow get into the house. Trust me! Girl squeals aren’t banned here. Yes, the walking stick is such a good example of literary technique: hiding in plain sight (the way motivations, secrets, themes and symbolism do in fiction). Love your interpretation!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Melissa your photos are almost too good for comfort. I have a feeling I’m going to nightmare about that giant centipede tonight! Eep! The rest of the bugs were way cool, though. You’ve officially convinced me to never move to Arizona. 😉

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    Oh my gosh! How creepy! I’ve seen some new insects since moving to Texas, including these crickets that look like cockroaches but hop/fly. It totally freaks me out.

    As for characters…I have a MC who’s so protective of herself that she can scare people off. It’s a trait she needs to work on 😉

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    When I was a kid, I used to turn on the backyard lights and wait for the bugs to come flying out of the woods. It seemed there was a new kind every night. Now I don’t see any of the ones that I used to experiement on in childhood (yep, sometimes I would try to “keep” them by pinning them to a display board; what a horrible way to go).

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    Hey there! This post made me think of why I love fantasy, both reading and writing it. You’re always going to learn something new…and as the writer I get to create something new. I love historical fiction, too, but something about a completely surprising, unique fantasy world gets me every time. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    It may not surprise you that I thought of YOU when I was writing about the “supernatural and other-worldly.” Do you also write historical fiction, or is fantasy your baby?

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  • avatar Nina B Says:

    Funny you should bring up this topic now. I’ve been hearing so much about the self-published sensation 50 Shades of Gray. It’s truly all I hear about and as usual I had to see for myself what it was all about. Um . . . it’s like hard core erotica. I was SHOCKED. Of course I’m finishing it! Definitely a “different world” though!

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    Melissa Reply:

    This is the first time I’ve heard of 50 Shades of Gray… reminding me of a book I’m reading right now that falls into that “different world” category – and has a lot of masochism in it, actually (The Taker). But it’s so well done, the writing is brilliant, and the story is so unique that I am rolling through it (shocked as I might have been in some parts). So I’m with you, girl. Here’s to different worlds.

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  • avatar Abi Burlingham Says:

    Gorgeous pics – I love bugs! Especially liked your mesquite bug and the walking sticks – phenomenal! I do like to create a fantasy type world in my writing sometimes – have done this with Buttercup Magic, but I also love the real gritty side of life and true characters, so I enjoy working on something that’s very true to life, but imaginative too. The joy of being a writer, that we can swap and change, or combine the two, as we please. Lovely post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    So happy to find other like-minded bug lovers out there. I, too, am more of a gritty-side-of-life reader and writer; I love immersing myself in the human experience, even when it IS painful. But, as you say – we’re lucky to be able to add those fantasy-life new worlds (or elements of them) as well.

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  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    So much wonder in the world around us! The colors and details on even the most dainty, tiny creatures never fails to amaze me. Love that you caught all this on camera! The black grasshopper! Beautiful and a little scary as I’ve never seen one! Thank you for sharing!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I LOVE the black grasshoppers! I agree – so much beauty in the world, if you only look!

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    I’m definitely impressed that your response is fascination rather than revulsion or fear. If I saw that centipede or scorpion (and I’ve seen both!), my first instinct is, “gyaa!” lol.

    There are qualities of all the insects and creatures in my WIP, for sure, and part of my challenge has been to sort of accept it, though those traits are a bit “gyaa!” to me. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    I laughed so hard at your comment. I’m not sure when my bug interest turned from fear to fascination — I think when we moved to this part of the desert where there were SO many different insects! So nice to know that those insect qualities exist in your characters, even with the “gyaa” factor.

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  • avatar Susan Okaty Says:

    Great post, especially the way you tied it to writing. When we moved to San Antonio from the Philadelphia area, we also found many new critters. I knew I was finally a Texan when I could shower with a gecko without freaking out! Loved the picture of the walking stick. Growing up in Connecticut, my brother and I used to find one once in awhile, and then they seemed to disappear. Haven’t seen one since then.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha… I’m from PA, too (other side of the state), but had to laugh about showering with geckos. We know all about that here in Arizona, too. I had a friend who was so terrified of them, she’d suck them up in her vacuum, the poor things! How sad, also, about the disappearance of the walking sticks where you grew up. I wonder if they’ve returned. I recall salamanders being present when we were kids, then they disappeared entirely. My mom said they’ve recently returned!

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  • avatar Amber Says:

    Como el tiempo es oro y más en esta ocasión donde
    por un lado, no se recomienda hacer la dieta de la piña durante
    más de 5 días, y por otro, recordemos que nos sometemos a ella
    por la necesidad de acudir de forma espectacular a un evento muy próximo a la
    fecha en la que nos encontremos llámese boda, cena de gala, ceremonia de graduación, comunión, bautizo, desfile presentación de un libro, os proponemos la dieta exprés de la piña y pollo.

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  • avatar Marlene Says:

    Les régimes à la mode peuvent tenter beaucoup, surtout quand vous entendez parler
    de votre mère célèbre préférée perdre 50 livres dans juste quelques
    mois après avoir accouché.

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