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.